We have a winner!

You people are good! I barely had the question up an hour when I got a correct response. Our winner of Harriet Reisen’s Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women is Mia, also known as Emilija Knezevic and she is from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Truly, Louisa May Alcott’s fame and influence reach around the world!

Congratulations, Mia, and happy reading!

Be the first to answer this question correctly and win a free book!

Harriet Reisen’s excellent biography, Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women, has just been released in paperback and I have a free copy to give away!  This is an wonderful book and even if you’ve read scores of other bios on Louisa and her family, you will learn something new here. Reisen’s book gave me a real hunger to read more of Louisa’s works which in turn, started this blog.

The first person to answer this question correctly receives the book. Send your answers to susanwbailey@gmail.com. And yes, you can look up the answer!

Here’s the question:

In Chapter 27 of Little Women, Jo publishes a story that wins a $100 prize. Louisa based this on a similar incident in her life. What was the name of the story that won her the prize  and which publication did it appear in?

Good luck!

Awesome reflection on Little Women from one of you!

Yesterday I saw comments from a new reader, Jillian, where she posted a link to her amazing reflection on Little Women. This is a must read – see it on her blog. She’s set a goal of reading 250 great works of literature. Best of luck with that, Jillian: I’ll follow your progress. :-)

I can’t say it enough how much each of you reading and commenting on this blog has made it great. It would be nothing without you!

Psssst! P.S. Soon I will be giving away a free copy of the new paperback issue of Harriet Reisen’s Louisa May Alcott, the Woman Behind Little Women . . . watch for a contest to win this free copy. I wrote a review of this book in an earlier post.

A milestone – Over 100 comments!

Thank you to all the readers of this blog for such a lively and thoughtful discussion. We just surpassed 100 comments and the blog has only been in existence since August 13th! I am so thrilled with the quality of comments coming from you. It’s good after all these years of being a closet Alcott enthusiast that I can meet all of you out there.

Keep up the great work!

Amy wins the day, and Jo pays the price

In Chapter 30 of Little Women, “Consequences,” Amy for the first time became a fleshed out character for me and I liked her very much. Having May Alcott A Memoir so fresh on my mind, I could see for the first time what May Alcott was really like. No memoir could describe her quite the way her own sister did. It confirmed some things about Louisa that I had suspected for a long time as well.

The morality play here was so interesting. Amy really had learned virtue, showing extraordinary character through the ordinary events of this chapter. It’s true that being slighted by her friend May Chester wasn’t an earth shattering event, but it was important to Amy and it hurt her just the same. I envied her self control and strength as she fought off retaliation and emotional outbursts in favor of kindness.

Part of the fun of reading Little Women for me is learning more about what made Louisa May Alcott tick. I’m gaining great insight about her spirituality and morality and it’s deep and well thought out. This particular passage really struck me as true:

Many wise and true sermons are preached us every day by unconscious ministers in street, school, office, or home. Even a fair table may become a pulpit, if it can offer the good and helpful words which are never out of season. Amy’s conscience preached her a little sermon from that text, then and there, and she did what many of us do not always do, took the sermon to heart, and straightway put it in practice.

That, to me, belays an understanding of spirituality that runs pretty deep. Louisa may not have been a church goer, but she apparently understood well what it really takes to be a good Christian.  It’s these mundane little daily dramas and how we live them out that is the real mettle of spirituality.

I’ve noticed in the last few chapters that Jo’s “independent streak” is not so attractive to me as it was when she was a girl. Now emerging into adulthood, I see someone who goes out of her way to make her point that she will not conform to conventionality. I have to wonder if Louisa is being hard on herself, portraying Jo in this way. Was she really this awkward, decidedly stubborn and curmudgeonly? Jo approaches life in a very black and white fashion, not yet understanding the nuances. Principles trump all and while living a principled life is a good and noble thing, if it taken to extremes can cost a great deal. And Jo certainly paid the price in this chapter!

I always suspected that Louisa harbored some resentment and jealously towards younger sister May (though she fought hard against it) because things came so easily to May. A line from Chapter 30 certainly made that clear:

“It’s always so. Amy has all the fun and I have all the work. It isn’t fair, oh, it isn’t fair!” cried Jo passionately.

May Alcott A Memoir did not shine any light on this but only kept referring to May as being “lucky.” May was indeed lucky but she created her own luck because she mastered the art of graciousness. Amy earned her good fortune of a trip to Europe with her aunt because she was gracious and solicitous towards her aunt (and without expecting anything in return). I loved how she described what it meant to her to be a true woman:

“Why, girls, you needn’t praise me so. I only did as I’d be done by. You laugh at me when I say I want to be a lady, but I mean a true gentlewoman in mind and manners, and I try to do it as far as I know how. I can’t explain exactly, but I want to be above the little meannesses and follies and faults that spoil so many women. I’m far from it now, but I do my best, and hope in time to be what Mother is.”

Someone who is gracious creates their own luck. And those like Jo unfortunately reap the consequences. I felt awful for Jo but Amy deserved to be chosen.

A view of marriage from a decided spinster

Louisa May Alcott was an astute observer of life. Her description of Meg and John’s first year of marriage in Chapter 28 of Little Women, Domestic Experiences, amazed me with its accuracy. She obviously studied her sister Anna and brother-in-law John Pratt’s marriage carefully, probably without even realizing it. Her keen mind picked up on so many subtle details, from the way Meg managed her household, and her trials and tribulations as a new wife, to how the couple managed their money and the impact it had on them. She dealt so beautifully with many issues so vital to a good marriage: sacrificial love, trust, and conflict.

When I began the chapter, I thought I would be bored but right away it captured my interest. The last portion was especially gripping, watching the dance between a husband and wife dealing with conflicts over finances, guilt and trust. I was very touched by Meg’s sacrifice of her silk dress so her husband could have the coat he needed. It wasn’t a sacrifice just to assuage guilt, but a sacrifice of love.

Louisa remained a spinster out of choice, to retain her freedom. The observations she made of her parents’ marriage coupled with her own independent spirit of unconventionality (and the trauma that was Fruitlands, where her parents nearly split up) formed her choice. She could have presented a very bitter, negative view of marriage (and may have been tempted to do so) but she didn’t. Instead she presented a very realistic view of a marriage that would be not only successful, but fulfilling to both husband and wife.

It amazes me more and more how Little Women, written strictly out of obligation, has so much heart. The characters are unfolding like beautiful flowers, layers and layers with such subtlety. These girls are so real and timeless, and this book, pure genius. The author was eminently pragmatic yet utterly inspired as well (whether she knew it or not).

While I loved Part One, Part Two captivates me even more. There is so much more to explore with young adults; the moral issues are much deeper. It saddens me that different religious institutions back in the day banned this book from their Sunday School shelves. Louisa’s spirituality was very deep and perhaps too subtle for rigid  and narrow minded religious thinkers. I find the moral lessons in Little Women to be compelling and multi-layered.

I can hardly wait to blog on Chapter 30, Consquences. That chapter really blew me away. But that post will have to wait until tomorrow. :-)

Three years later . . .

The first three chapters of Little Women, Part Two (aka Good Wives) certainly didn’t disappoint! I loved how the first chapter (Chapter 24, Gossip) brought me up to date on all the major characters – it was like hanging around the water cooler at work finding out what happened on my favorite TV show last night. All the details were fascinating. I particularly liked the first formal description of Mr. March, based on Bronson Alcott. It was pretty romanticized, of course, but having immersed myself in Alcott lore for so many years, it all sounded so familiar.

Meg’s wedding in Chapter 25 was based fairly closely on Anna Alcott’s wedding to John Pratt. I’ve read accounts of Anna’s wedding many times and had to smile when Laurie suggested they all form a circle and dance around Meg and John “like the Germans do,” just like what I had read about Anna and John. It was such a sweet account. I loved the description of their Dove cottage – I was dying to see it (I always liked looking at other people’s houses :-)). It bothers me though that critics call John Brooke ‘boring’ because he is a good and steady man who dearly loves Meg and only wants to make her happy. Goodness, I guess, isn’t all that interesting.

By far my favorite chapter so far though was Chapter 26, Artistic  Attempts. Watching Amy emerge as a young lady was so cool. Reading this on the heels of Caroline Ticknor’s May Alcott A Memoir made May Alcott come alive for me in an exciting new way. Again, it was all so familiar – the frenzied attempts at different forms of artistic expression (especially the poker-sketching, and Amy plaster casting her foot!). I’ve visited Orchard House several times and seen May’s pencil drawings on her bedroom walls and poker-sketchings in other parts of the homestead, so it was very cool to read about Amy doing these very things. Louisa’s description of Amy’s appearance and personality  gave me wonderful insight into how she saw her youngest sister.

All the reading I’ve done over the years about the Alcotts is really paying off, adding such richness to my reading of Little Women. I can’t imagine reading the story without knowing all these things.