Louisa May Alcott The Women Who Wrote Little Women by Julian Hawthorne

Check out this fascinating anecdote-rich article by an Alcott contemporary, Julian Hawthorne (son of Nathanial Hawthorne) Written in the 1920s he gives a unique perspective on the popularity of Little Women during the free-spirited flapper era. He also spills some gossip about he and Abby May. :-) Enjoy!

http://clickamericana.com/eras/1920s/louisa-may-alcott-the-woman-who-wrote-little-women-1922

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Holiday Greetings from Louisa May Alcott

louisa may alcott is my passion christmas card 2013

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I “met” Louisa May Alcott . . .

 . . . through the acting skills of Jan Turnquist, performer extraordinaire and director of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. From Jan’s website she writes, “Due to a ‘minor carriage accident,’ 20th century audiences have the opportunity to ‘meet’ Louisa May Alcott through the living history portrayal of Jan Turnquist.” She swept into the room in era costume, ‘apologizing’ for the intrusion, explaining about her carriage accident and how she would be with us for a few hours. Delighted that the audience ‘recognized’ her and knew of Little Women, “Louisa” then shared entertaining insight into her writings, her friendships with Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, her father Bronson’s then-radical views on education, and other important 19th century issues such as suffrage, abolition and the underground railroad.

This performance was hosted by the Hingham (MA) Public Library as part of the ALA/NEH Louisa May Alcott initiative (see the Events page for a complete schedule).

Because the show was sold out, I had to stand in the lobby to watch and could only take in about half the show since the doors to the room had to be closed due to noise. But Jan’s performance definitely made me want to see more. I especially enjoyed her insights about Bronson and his educational methods. There were many teachers in the room and it was fun to see “Louisa” explaining her father’s methods and philosophy as if they were brand new and controversial while the audience knew they were very much in use.

I fantasized about what it would be like to be so immersed in Louisa’s character as to take questions from the audience and be able to answer in her own authentic voice. I sensed a lot of research and work going into something that looked so effortless to the casual observer.  And I marvel at the commitment of people like Jan, and the authors I’ve met through this blog, who devote so much time to Louisa so that others can know about her wonderful work. It certainly strengthened my resolve to keep up with my own immersion process.

Jan was kind enough to send me her performance schedule and I’ve posted it on the Events page (check under Massachusetts and Connecticut).

In the meantime I’ve assembled a quick slide show so you can see Jan during her performance. I highly recommend taking in this performance if you live in the area.

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Rediscovering the late Madelon Bedell, author of The Alcotts Biography of a Family

I just ordered a bunch of new books and needed to rearrange my book shelves to get everything to fit. In the midst of the rearranging, I pulled out my copy of The Alcotts Biography of a Family and discovered a promotional photo of the author, Madelon Bedell, and an interview released by the publisher’s public relations division. Bedell has been on my mind since I found that her papers are now safe at Orchard House. Her biography of the Alcott family was a powerhouse  – a truly scholarly work published in 1980 that revealed at that time, many new and interesting facts and insights about the family. And yet this work is largely ignored by the public and is out of print (though fortunately available on the internet). Those in the ‘know’ appreciate its worth (and cite her work in theirs); I wanted to introduce you to Ms. Bedell in hopes that some of you will think about reading her book.

It’s tantalizing to think of those papers stored at Orchard House, including the only known interview with May’s daughter, Lulu Nieriker Rasim. Will someone perhaps take those papers and finish the work that Bedell was unable to do? I’d love to see it done . . .

Meanwhile, meet Madelon Bedell.

(This interview was part of a promotional package released by Clarkson N. Potter Inc./distributed by Crown Publishers, Inc.)

1.    How did you develop the idea of doing a biography of the Alcotts? And why did you choose to do a family biography instead of concentrating on only one member – Louisa May Alcott, or her father, Bronson Alcott, for instance?

My original idea was to do a series of critical essays on the image of women in the fiction of certain great women authors. I had in mind, Collette, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Doris Lessing, Willa Cather, and Louisa May Alcott. I decided to start with Alcott because I felt she would be the easiest to handle.

I found her life to be so fascinating that I decided to do a biography of her instead. As part of my research, I began also to study her father, Bronson Alcott. I found him so fascinating that I changed my mind again, and decided to do a dual, father-daughter biography. I worked on this project for some time, but I found it impossible to keep my spotlight focused on these two and their relationship with each other. The other Alcotts kept crowding in. Especially Abby Alcott, the mother, who would not stay in the minor role I had assigned to her, but insisted on intruding herself at nearly every point, sometimes overwhelming the action. After about two years of this kind of struggle, I gave in and decided to do the entire family.

2.    In your prologue, you state: “To find oneself in the lives of other people, long dead, why is this so entrancing an idea? It is the same for both reader and writer of biography, I am convinced: the need for self-validation . . .” If this means that biography explains ourselves to ourselves, how does the Alcott family explain the modern American family?

First of all in many specific ways. There are Bronson’s “infant diaries,” those astonishing records of his pioneering practices in child rearing, which forecast those of today. There’s the marriage of Bronson and Abby, both powerful personalities, a union of peers, in every way; unique then, still unusual today. And the all-female family with its ideals of feminism and independence for the daughters, all that is very modern.

But beyond that, the history of the Alcotts – which turns at every point, on the struggle to maintain the family unity against an inimical society – explains the ideal by which we measure our own families: the American family as a “haven in a heartless world.” Many of our strictures against the contemporary family stem from our disappointment in its failures to meet that ideal, I believe.

Moreover, the basic theme of the book – Bronson Alcott’s struggle against his family – his individualism versus their communalism – is a very modern one. The desire of each member for personal fulfillment meets up with and often must contend with the needs of the family as a whole – don’t we all face this problem, parents and children alike?

3.    The Alcott family history is supposed to be the true story behind the March family of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Exactly how close is the book to real life?

Astoundingly so. The cast of characters is the same. Just substitute Bronson and Abby Alcott and their four daughters, Anna, Louisa, Lizzie and Abbie May, for the Reverend and Mrs. March and their four daughters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. There’s hardly an incident in Little Women that doesn’t recall or explain an event in the Alcott family.

What’s more interesting, perhaps, are the points where the novel departs from the real life story. There’s a lot of sentimentalization. The Marches aren’t as poor as the Alcotts – they employ a maid, for example. Nor are they are radical in their social views. The crisis in the family life, which occurred when the Englishman, Charles Lane, tried to separate Bronson from his family, is never referred to.

But I think the most important departure from reality is the departure of the father from the book. The figure of Bronson Alcott dominated the Alcott family scene in real life. In the book, the Reverend March is a pale imitation, who isn’t even present most of the time. When Louisa wrote up the family legend, she turned the family into an all-female society headed by a matriarch, thus removing the riveting sexual tensions which permeated the real scene. In Little Women, for all its realism, you have a fantasy – an adolescent fantasy where women never have to deal with the politics and passions of sex as the Alcott women did.

4.    The Alcotts has been cited as a work of unusual scholarship, filled with new material and fresh insights on this family and the nineteenth century in general. What is this new material and how and were did you find it?

All over the place! Basically, however, it’s material on the characters of Bronson and Abby Alcott which throws a new light on their marriage. I found them both to be much larger personalities than had been supposed. Previous biographers, inspired no doubt by Little Women and its (false) relation to the genteel tradition, had cast them as sexless, passive idealists, who weren’t very interesting.

But I found Bronson to be a driven person, obsessed by sex, who sometimes wrote erotic poetry and conceived a passion in middle age for a woman half his age, Ednah Littlehale; and before that may have had a homosexual attraction toward his English follower, Charles Lane, which, incidentally, his wife was aware of. And Abby herself, her feminism, her radical social theories, her drive for power, her unusual gift for love, all that is exposed for the first time, too.

As for the material behind this – it’s all in their diaries and letters, some 200 volumes of them, stored all these years at Harvard University. You can’t just skim these, unfortunately, but must turn yourself over to them, become the person yourself as you read him or her, and live with them, as they were in their times.

But, then must discard about 90% of all that wonderful material you have discovered, push aside those note cards – keeping them only for reference – and write the story as if it had come from your own mind, fresh and new. To be able to do that is the real challenge of biography.

5.    Your book deals with the various social movements of the nineteenth century of New England – feminism, health reform, the advent of child psychology and the cult of the child, Transcendentalism, the anti-slavery movement, utopian socialism, progressive education. What among these has survived today?

You’ve just named them all. The first half of the nineteenth century was the time when American liberal ideology was formulated. All these movements and the ideas of human growth and liberation, which they represent, were born then.

Our history goes in cycles and so these ideas are apt to go underground for a while and then surge forward again. The 1960’s were almost a repeat of the 1840’s, for example. The movement against the Vietnam War was characterized by the same moral fervor as was the anti-slavery movement of the 1840’s and 1850’s. The scene at the end of The Alcotts when Bronson Alcott takes part in the storming of the state house to rescue a runaway slave might well have taken place in the 1960’s – just substitute a draft register for a slave and the action and all the tumultuous feelings surrounding it are the same.

Or take such ideas as the current interest in holistic medicine. Except in its details it might be a replay of the health reform movement of the 1800’s in which the Alcotts were active. So, too, with feminism (Abby Alcott headed up a petition for women’s suffrage) and of course utopian socialism. Bronson Alcott’s commune at Fruitlands, in Harvard, Massachusetts, was a forerunner of similar groups that exist today.

6.    This is the first volume of your biography of the Alcotts. What will the second book be, and how will you approach it?

This first book deals primarily with the marriage of Bronson and Abby Alcott, and the childhood of the four daughters. The father is the central character (although the mother is the hero), and the theme is the founding of a family – the creation of a legend.

The next volume will deal with the adult lives of the four daughters, and focus on Louisa. The first book was also a social history of the antebellum – pre-Civil War – period in New England. The next one will be a similar account of the postwar period, showing how all those reform movements we talked about in the previous question, were overcome in the baronial capitalism of the Gilded  Age: how Bronson Alcott’s spiritual transcendentalism evolved into his daughter Louisa’s quite material, albeit enlightened capitalism.

7.    Which member of the Alcott family is your favorite?

If I had one, I would never tell anyone, not even myself. A biographer is like a parent. He/she must never play favorites, or the goal – the lives to be nourished and developed – will be lost.

The Alcotts Biography of a Family in hardcover was 416 pages in length and sold for $15.95. I wonder what the price would have been today . . .

The Conundrum that is “Moods”

I’m about a third of the way through both versions of Moods and have concluded that this book is a total mess! Now don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying it, but considering the capital Louisa May Alcott had as a famous author, you have to wonder why she didn’t just release the book the way she had originally written it. Did her publisher stop her? If anyone has information on that, let me know, I’d love to find out.

Here’s a perfect example of why this book is such a mess. The 1865 version published by A.K. Loring had fewer chapters but included a subplot left out of the 1882 version. That subplot involved Adam Warwick and a Cuban fiance, Ottila. The first chapter details their argument and his deciding to “take a break”, you might say, from the relationship, but as a man of honor, he would return to decide if he would marry her. He felt she had deceived him though it wasn’t clear to me exactly what the deception was. She probably played some games with him as lovers will do, but Warwick being such a black and white (and intolerant) character, probably was offended by that. Just my guess.

At first I didn’t think eliminating this subplot would present a problem but it does for later in the story, Warwick suddenly departs just as it appears he and Sylvia are recognizing their feelings for each other. Knowing the subplot, this departure makes sense – he’s a man of honor and he wants to either be true to Ottila or break it off with her so that he can pursue a relationship with Sylvia.

In the later version, there is no subplot. There is only some vague reference made to something Warwick must take care of, and he mysteriously takes off. I happened to know why from reading the earlier version, but the reader must scratch his or her head and say, “Huh?”

So Louisa keeps the subplot in the earlier version but cuts out so much more. There’s very little development in the relationship between Warwick and Sylvia so that when he does leaves, the reader may not even care. I found myself scratching my head over it. Two extra pages are added to the later version which seem incredibly important in moving along the relationship. I can’t imagine why she cut those pages out because they truly made it clear that Adam was falling in love with Sylvia. Without those additional pages, the reader can only guess.

The later version includes a chapter each on Moor and Warwick so that you can become acquainted with the character, and then includes a chapter called “Dull But Necessary”  which acquaints the reader with Sylvia (this chapter is included in a very queer place in the older version). It strikes me as quite funny the way that Louisa will suddenly take the reader aside, as in a confidence and say, “okay, you need to be filled in with the back story before we can continue.” I noticed she did that a little bit in Little Women too.

The answer? You have to read both versions to get the full story. Google Books has the 1865 version.

Oh, and here’s something else that confuses the issue: Even though the 1882 version includes a chapter called “Holly” (which was also included in the earlier version) it is not included in The Portable Louisa May Alcott where I am reading the later version! Glad I have the book on Nook. Geez!

The Field Trip of a Lifetime! (part one)

I have been anticipating my vacation between Christmas and New Year’s for several months because of a very special field trip I planned – a visit to the Concord Free Public Library where I would come into contact with the actual letters and manuscripts of my favorite author, Louisa May Alcott. The weather was beautiful and warm after the blizzard we had experienced earlier in the week; it was the foreshadowing of an extraordinary day.

The Concord Free Public Library’s William Munroe Special Collections section contains archives of handwritten letters, manuscripts, first edition books and drawings from the Alcott Family which anyone can request to see. All I had to do was ask the main reference librarian who referred me to the Special Collections section in the basement of the library. I want to publicly thank the curator, Leslie Perrin Wilson and her assistant, Constance Manoli-Skocay for their kindness and generosity to this total neophyte. I step very much outside my comfort zone entering this academic arena, much aware of my lack of study and experience, and they went out of their way to to guide me on this wonderful journey.

I knew I would be excited at the prospect of seeing and touching actual letters and manuscripts, but I had no idea just how much it would grip me. I spent several hours at the library in wonder at what I saw, and when I left, my heart was pounding and my head was spinning!

Flower Fables

It started with a request to see certain folders of papers, and the first thing I saw was a collection of fairy stories to Ellen Emerson that would eventually end up in Louisa’s first book, Flower Fables. It was all neatly handwritten by the teenaged Louisa on unlined paper, each line perfectly straight and perfectly spaced. And it was signed “Louy.” Occasionally there was a small edit (a scratched out word). She had hand bound the stories in a pretty folder and it gave me such a special thrill to leaf through the precious little book and read the stories. As a child I had dreams of being an author and used to write little books which I also hand bound. I’m certain the reading of Joan Howard’s book, The Story of Louisa May Alcott, fueled that dream. To hold in my hands a hand bound edition of a book created by Louisa who also dreamed (and became) an author was indeed a spiritual experience.

The Olive Leaf

Next I got a chance to see issue number 2 of the Olive Leaf (the Samuel Pickwick Edition), the family newspaper created by the sisters to cheer the family during their times of poverty. It was set up in 3 columns like a newspaper and included poems and stories.

“Thoreau’s Flute”

One of the most touching papers that I saw was Louisa’s poem about Henry David Thoreau, written in her own hand, entitled “Thoreau’s Flute.” I paused as a I looked at it, knowing how she felt about him. I understood that it took her awhile to process his death and I believe she finally was able to express herself when she became a nurse at the Union Hospital in Georgetown during the Civil War. Another spiritual experience.

Chapters from Little Women

Then I got to see two chapters from part two of Little Women (“Our Foreign Correspondent” and “Heartache”), written on blue paper with fading brown ink (probably was black at one time). There was some edits throughout, such as in this line from “Heartache” – “Oh Teddy, I’m so sorry, so desperately sorry I could slap kill myself if would do any good . . .”

It struck me how difficult it must have been for a publisher to put together a book without errors. Handwriting can be hard to read at times. Louisa’s writing had a pattern that was easy to figure out but I imagine it was still was a challenge. I noticed that the letters all leaned to the left and it occurred to me that she may have written it left handed. In other writings that I saw, her handwriting looked different, leaning to the right. I know she had to resort to writing left handed when her right hand became cramped.

Louisa’s Will

As this post is getting quite long, I will end with Louisa’s last will and testament, picking up in the next post with other extraordinary things I saw.

Louisa’s will was fairly simple considering how much she was worth. It was only a few typed pages (I can imagine today it would have been much longer and a lot more complicated!), dated July 10, 1887. The primary focus was the care of Lulu, making sure that she got the lion’s share of her money. Older sister Anna was named the Executrix of the estate, and her son John, legally adopted by Louisa and renamed John Sewall Pratt Alcott, was given charge of the copyrights. She directed that youngest sister May’s paintings and drawings be kept in the family; upon Anna’s death, the copies May made of certain Turner paintings would be donated to the Art Museum of Boston “as they are the best copies in the Country, and should be seen and used by many.” She did designate that one or two pieces of art be given to May’s husband, Ernest should he desire them.

In the next post . . .

When I post again, I will share more about May as I had the unexpected pleasure of seeing copies of many of her works. Plus, I came upon two especially special letters written by Louisa which touched me so much I hand copied both of them.

Usually Alcott enthusiasts come to Concord to see Orchard House and Sleepy Hollow; I would but definitely add the Special Collections room of the Concord Free Public Library to that list. It’s a visit I will not soon forget.

We have a tie! Two winners of the DVD Giveaway

Thank you for the great entries for the DVD Giveaway of Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Woman, directed by Nancy Porter, written by Harriet Reisen, and produced by both. While all the entries were worthy, there were two in particular that really stood out. I asked Harriet if perhaps 2 DVDs could be given away and her publisher made an exception for our community!

Drum roll please, the winners are . . .

Dr. Beth Nolan, for her post on her favorite character, Mr. Laurence:
“While I love them all, I am particularly fond of the character of Mr. Laurence, Laurie’s grandfather. One of my favorite scenes is when he sends the piano over to the March home for Beth to play. Perhaps it’s because I’m a Beth who plays piano herself, but the poignancy of that scene has always stayed with me. I wonder who Louisa was thinking of when she created the character of Mr. Laurence. Her own May relatives, who often supported the family (including giving them a piano at one time)? Or Mr. Emerson, perhaps, who was a supportive friend to the Alcotts through thick and thin? Perhaps Mr. Laurence was missing his own daughter when he gave the piano to Beth, just as Mr. Emerson grieved for his lost Ellen. Regardless, I see Mr. Laurence as a gentle and kindly man – a true gentleman – and he’s a character of which I am very fond!”

And Jillian, for her post on her favorite character, Jo:
Jo March of Little Women is achingly like myself. She yearns for independence, yearns for patience, yearns for the ability to write and know that her words are heard and worth reading – by someone. We two write in the night. We two busy our minds, ravenous for a something to conquer, and aware that this very urge to conquer creates a hard edge that is unlike the woman we are, deep inside. We feel apart from our siblings though they stand beside us. We yearn to run and stamp out a life anywhere else, yet to leave home is out of the question. Home, hearthside, is where life pulses. Family is in the bones of us. Right and wrong war daily with passion. Shall we shout and stamp or be quiet and kind? Which is the true spirit of us? It blurs, just as I blur with Jo. To see her struggle with patience, to see her manage it, has taught me to curb my own anxiety. She is a sister to my soul and so, accordingly, is Louisa May Alcott.

Congratulations to our winners! DVDs will be in the mail on Monday.

And a Happy Thanksgiving to you all! I am very thankful for this wonderful community – you all have made this blog so much fun and it’s added some wonderful things to my life. Thank you all!

Wrapping Up Little Women Part Two – Mama and Papa Bhaer, and my favorite character

Chapter 46 of Little Women, “Under the Umbrella,” should have been a glorious chapter for me since Jo and Fritz finally decided to get married. Instead, it was incredibly frustrating, though it wasn’t all Louisa’s fault. :-) I’ve been listening to an audio book during my long commute and the reader for that particular chapter had a really annoying affected voice. That, plus all the games that Jo played before she finally let down her guard had me yelling in the car, “Will you get to it?!?”

If there was ever a time when the propriety of the era seemed to be getting in the way of happiness, this was it! My goodness, Jo might have let Professor Bhaer slip right out of her grasp simply because she couldn’t get past propriety to show how she really felt. Considering their friendship and how easy going they had been together, this sudden need to be proper (especially from Jo of all people) was exasperating.

Throughout the book I had often thought that a little propriety might be nice in this day and age where dating is an outmoded word (now it’s “friends with benefits,” or “we’re an item.”). There is so little structure today in relationships (and such a fear of commitment) that you wonder how anybody gets married anymore.

But after reading chapter 46, I just kept thinking, “Be honest! Tell him how you feel. At least let your face tell it!” Thankfully, she finally did!

That being said, as I intimated before in a comment to the last post, I was not terribly happy with the end of the book. I had so hoped to witness Jo’s wedding but Louisa passed right over it (I guess it was just too much to ask to have her write about her alter ego actually go through the ceremony). The book had been operating somewhat in a real time setting – now all of sudden it jumps ahead several years. It just didn’t feel right. Plus, the ending was so syrupy. Sure, I could see the reasoning for a happily-ever-after ending for a children’s book but goodness, it was just so sicky sweet! A tiny dose of reality was thrown in with the paragraph that hinted that Amy’s child was sickly like Beth (and was even named Beth!) and that she might eventually lose her, but it came and went so quickly and seemed really out of place with the rest of the chapter. I expected this book to go out with a bang but it went out with a whimper.

Still, I have enjoyed this read immensely. The character development was wonderful and I enjoyed the different morality dilemmas and the growth that each character experienced. Sure, it wasn’t a sophisticated, adult, gray treatment of morality, but especially in this day and age where everything seems to be gray and truth is relative, the world of concrete morality was a nice place to be.

I mentioned in a comment that I read chapter one of Martha Saxton’s biography, Louisa May Alcott A Modern Biography, in which she gave her own analysis of Little Women as it related to Louisa. I had said that I found her treatment annoying because she was so heavy handed in her psychoanalysis. I failed to mention that she found the world of concrete morality where someone learns from their adversity and grows spiritually to be unsophisticated and not adult-like (my interpretation of her words). I happen to be a big believer in growth from adversity, it’s what gives suffering meaning. I happen to believe in Someone bigger than myself and that Someone guides my life, allows adversity to happen, and helps me to grow from it. I don’t consider it to be unsophisticated. It’s a life that gives me great peace in the midst of trouble – why would I want to trade that in for Saxton’s vision which I’m guessing was a lot more gray and a lot more chaotic?

I wish I had her book in front of me so I could quote from it because I’m just spouting off here, but it annoyed me tremendously reading Saxton’s analysis.

BUT, on to better things . . . my favorite character . . .

And my favorite character is . . . . AMY!

Remember in earlier posts when I said I couldn’t stand her and that Beth had always been my favorite? I’ve changed my mind. I have to admit that I’m very influenced by my recent immersion into May Alcott Nieriker, but I believe that Amy was more than she seemed – more mature, more compassionate, in many ways as loving as Jo. The difference is that Amy was into the details. Chapter 30 was the beginning of my conversion, so to speak (see Amy wins the day, and Jo pays the price). She reminded me of one of my favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux. Known as “The Little Flower,” St. Therese taught that it was in the little, day-to-day things where one could grow in virtue and holiness. Hidden acts of kindness were her style, and she was much misunderstood by the other nuns in her convent. A simple smile to someone she didn’t necessarily like, helping a cranky sister with her dinner, things like that were the kinds of virtues St. Therese practiced throughout her short life. For that she became one of the most popular saints of our day, and was made a Doctor of the Catholic Church.

Now Amy was no saint but she practiced the same kind of spirituality. It was all in the details, the little mundane things of life. I admire that and was won over by her completely. Graciousness is a wonderful thing to master.

Beth still mystifies me because I’ve never known anyone like her. Her real life alter ego, Lizzie, is even more of a mystery. I just can’t help wondering about someone like that.

And why wasn’t Jo my favorite? Because I knew Louisa first and Jo seemed like a shadow to her alter ego. I think perhaps if I hadn’t known Louisa and met Jo first, that she might have been my favorite. But Louisa is real and so much more interesting and complex. She is the one who inspires me.

I’d love to hear who your favorite character was and what you thought of the ending. BUT, save the favorite character part for my next post. Harriet Reisen, in honor of Louisa and Bronson’s upcoming birthdays on the 29th,  is giving away a DVD of her excellent documentary on Louisa, and I want to make this giveaway a short essay contest. So hold thoughts on your characters for the contest  if you want to enter.  I will post information about the contest this weekend.

Little Women was such a great ride! I had a ball. :-)

Wrapping up Little Women Part One – Amy and Laurie

I finished reading Little Women last week and will comment on that in the last post that I do on this book. But first, I wanted to address how Louisa brought about the pairing of Amy and Laurie.

I wish that I had not known that Amy married Laurie because I could never feel the obvious disappointment that readers felt when Jo turned Laurie down. In her usual, logical fashion, Louisa laid out the case for why Amy was the best match for Laurie and I bought into it.

It always appeared to me that Jo and Laurie had a brother-sister relationship, and that it seemed unnatural to Jo to feel any differently for him. I’m not so sure that she was running away from a more passionate relationship – she may not have been capable of such a relationship. Her pairing with Professor Bhaer felt very right to me – they seemed to be soul mates intellectually and emotionally, and he brought out the best in her, at least to her way of thinking. She wanted to be more like Beth and he enabled that.

Laurie tapped into the more rebellious and volatile side of Jo and while fans may have applauded that, Jo would not have ( at least as I see her character).

Amy, on the other hand, seemed like a perfect match for Laurie. He wanted to be improved and she did that, bringing out the best in him. She was able to challenge him out of his doldrums without causing a huge fight (which I think would have happened had Jo challenged him like that). They shared similar sensibilities and desires. I found their courtship to be very charming and loved hearing descriptions of Amy’s deftness in getting Laurie to do what she wanted.

Laurie ended up then bringing out the best in Amy, tapping into her generous nature. She had begun to mature, realizing that wealth alone was not enough. She needed true love, and she needed something philanthropic to do in her life. Laurie made that possible, not just through his wealth, but through his nature.

Passion makes for a great read but doesn’t always make for a lasting relationship. While it was highly disappointing to many that Laurie and Jo did not end up together, I felt that Louisa’s treatment of both relationships showed maturity. Yes, it’s true that she avoided such commitment in her own life but I’m glad she was able to realize it at least in her characters.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one – what do you think? Even if you knew already that Amy and Laurie were married, were you still as disappointed?

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Comparing the March sisters with their real life counterparts

Harriet Reisen, author of Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women, sent me this. It’s interesting and fun to see the comparisons. I’d love to hear what you think!

Thanks, Harriet, for this contribution!

Gentle Readers:

Asked to compare Louisa May Alcott’s fictional sisters to her real four, I find that they are inextricable in my mind, as I suspect they were in Louisa’s.  That she found it impossible to write of Amy March after the death of May Alcott suggests that to me. I find the beginning of Jo’s Boys almost unbearably touching for its image of Amy March in a terrestrial heaven (“Mount Parnassus”).

Little Women led me to Louisa Alcott, of course.  It tells a great deal about her, and is her masterpiece, but her works, her life, and her times, are quite different, and much more than that one wonderful novel.  I re-read Little Women only once for the book – I needed to read the 23 other books she wrote, not to mention poems, short stories, journals, letters, etc – and so you, dear readers, are undoubtedly more expert than I am on the fine points of the Alcott versus the March sisters.  I would love to know how you would flesh out and/or change this chart, esp.

Here’s my chart, a Wikipedia entry in the making?

Alcott Family March Family
grueling poverty, hungry genteel poverty, had a servant
teenage years 1840s teenage years 1860s
teen years lived in Hillside house teen years lived in Orchard House
moved some 30 times had one home
Louisa was nurse in Civil War Mr. March was minister in Civil War
were social and political activists concerned with plight of poor
Anna Alcott Meg March
plain but loved beautiful things beautiful (“Someone had to be”-LMA)
married John Pratt, amateur actor married John Brooke, tutor
married at age 29 married in early 20s
two boys, Fred and John girl and boy twins, Daisy and Demi
Louisa Alcott Josephine March
nicknamed Louy nicknamed Jo
tempestuous and moody “wild nature”
independent in Boston supervised in New York
serious about acting and theater theater a beloved childhood pastime
had hair cut off while very ill sold her long hair
was seamstress, laundress, servant was aide to wealthy Aunt March
never married married
had no children had two boys
lived in Boston mansion; 10 servants lived at Plumfield College, not wealthy
Elizabeth Peabody/Sewall Alcott Beth March
called “Lizzie,” “Betty,” rarely “Beth” called “Beth”
died age 23 died age 16
“her pretty hair all gone” at death loss of hair not mentioned
enjoyed playing music was musically gifted
intended never to leave home asked Jo to take her place at home
Abigail May Alcott (May) Amy March
accomplished artist, worked hard things came easily to her
attracted benefactors (Aunt Bond) attracted benefactors (Aunt March)
graceful, poised at young age graceful, poised at young age
gave free art lessons somewhat self-centered and vain
chosen for Paris salon twice became a professional artist
married at age 37 married in early 20s
died at 39 after birth of Lulu happy and benevolent; mother of Bess

To see other ways that Louisa was not Jo March, check out this video.  It’s less than a minute, and it’s funny.                                                 –Harriet Reisen