Keep up with Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House blog

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House now has a blog with many informative and interesting posts related to the Alcott homestead. Click here to read more.

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Nuggets from The Afterlife of Little Women – Fiction, Fame and Romanticism 1868-1900

Continuing our discussion …

Looking at fiction

Jessie Wilcox Smith Little WOmenLittle Women was a subversive work in many ways, putting new ideas into the heads of children while managing not to upset their parents. One such idea was its endorsement of reading fiction. According to Beverly Lyon Clark, a leading authority on children’s literature, children were not encouraged to read fiction because of the way it absorbed the mind. Of Little Women‘s influence she writes, “its other oral would seem to endorse the pleasures of subverting adults’ strictures and of reveling in the glory of fiction.” She continues, “the text sets up two models for reading: readers have generally followed Jo’s enthusiastic example for their own reading even if they may endorse the moralizing model when they image how reading Little Women should affect others, especially those others are young.” (pg. 10)

If you read Little Women as a child, what was your reaction to Jo’s love of reading? Perhaps like me, you read it as an adult–did you find Jo’s enthusiasm infectious and if so, how?

Bronson’s influence

Louisa was compelled to write Little Women not only by her publisher but by her father, in part because he was promised publication of his book, Tablets, if she complied. But Bronson’s desire was genuine–he felt certain his daughter could write the perfect children’s book as he had shaped and molded Louisa and her sisters in his own image (or at least, attempted to). At any rate, he knew she would want to please him. While Bronson encouraged his daughters to read fiction, he deplored many of the books of his day. Little Women was to fulfill his desire for the perfect children’s book.

How much of Bronson’s influence do you see in Little Women despite the fact that Mr. March plays such a small role in the story?

I am currently going through my second reading of Little Women (listening, by the way, to a wonderful dramatic reading, available free on Librivox) and I see Bronson’s influence everywhere, from the use of Pilgrim’s Progress as the backdrop to the spiritual and moral lessons in the book. While Louisa could not seem to embody her father in a major character role, Mr. March is quite “present” despite his absence.

Why did Louisa May Alcott seem so approachable?

louisa readingLouisa deplored her fame even as she had wished for such as a child. Why did readers feel so bonded to her? And what was so onerous about it to Louisa?

Clark writes on page 20, “An early twentieth-century biographer declared that Alcott ‘felt the annoyances of glory more that most authors.’ But it seems likely that she was besieged more than most.” She goes on to cite sales of Little Women and writes, “Alcott was also a woman: she would have seemed more approachable than a ‘great man’ would, and … she had no wife or personal assistant to protect her. As an author whose works targeted children (as well as adults), she must have seemed more approachable still. Finally, given how autobiographical her Little Women series was, and given her willingness to call herself Aunt Jo, readers who felt intimate with the fictional Jo March seem to have felt intimate with Alcott. As an obituarist noted, ‘She wrote so much of her own life into books that she was nearer to the public than most writers.'”

Imagine yourself in Louisa’s time–would you have approached her? What would you have said to her? Do you think her fans were too intrusive?

I probably would have been too embarrassed myself to approach her and might have been disappointed in what I saw. I get the sense that Louisa could not always find it within herself to be gracious to fans. An inherently shy woman, the level of fame she experienced must have been excruciating at times. Still, that fame gave her entry into virtually any place where she could hob knob with other well accomplished and famous people. One of the things I most enjoyed about Madeleine B. Stern’s biography was how she described the pleasure Louisa sometimes took in her fame.

pickwick portfolioI think about the five Luken sisters who wrote to Louisa about the newspaper they published that was fashioned after the Pickwick Portfolio. How glorious it must have been to have the author of Little Women endorse your efforts! Louisa even made free contributions to the newspaper, impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit of the sisters.

Louisa the Romantic

jo writing (norman rockwell)As much as Louisa denied adopting the philosophy of her father, she could not prevent herself from living it. As Transcendentalism was influenced by the Romantic era in Europe, it makes perfect sense that drama queen Louisa (who I believe also had a martyr complex) would adopt such colorful images of herself as the artist possessed by her writing in the garret. She could not escape her upbringing no matter how hard she tried. She was excessively pragmatic in order to undo the damage of her father’s way of living that so deprived the family of material necessities and basic security. But at the same time her upbringing oozed through her writing and this is what attracted so many readers. It was so different, deep and inspiring to girls leading dull and limited lives. Jo March represented a breaking out of sorts, not only with seeking a career over marriage, but in her basic personality: her reading habits, the way she behaved, her use of the vernacular, and just the very fact that she lived her tomboy desires openly. Jo may not have always been the most likable character but she was real.

What is it about Jo March that attracts you? How has she inspired you?

I admit that Jo has not always been my favorite sister. I was first attracted to Beth as a child and always associated her name with beauty. As an adult I came to appreciate Amy as I learned more about her real counterpart, May. But now that I have become a writer, Jo is speaking to me. She hides out in the garret; I hide out in my cellar room decorated with posters of Norman Rockwell paintings of Jo. I love the whole romantic image of Jo as a writer and an artist. I relate to her bad temper, her unbridled enthusiasm and her desire to lead an uncompromising, authentic life.

There is much more in Chapter One but I will leave that for you to read in The Afterlife of Little Women. The next post will dive into Chapter Two: Waxing Nostaligic 1900-1930.

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Check out this new and modern take on Little Women – The March Family Letters on Pemberly Digital on YouTube

Amy, Jo, Meg and Beth; from Hypable

Amy, Jo, Meg and Beth; from Hypable

Little Women updated–again! On December 25 a new series debuted on the Pemberly Digital Channel on YouTube called The March Family Letters featuring short video letters by a modern version of the March Sisters. Like the Lifetime movie “The March Sisters At Christmas” (see previous post), this series takes Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy into the twenty-first century. I enjoyed this first installment and the interpretation of each sister:

“The first episode introduces viewers to the updated (and aged-up) versions of the March sisters, who wish their absent mother a Merry Christmas. Meg is a stiff perfectionist, Jo a driven and enthusiastic idealist, Beth is thoughtful-bordering-on-sullen, and Amy is hyper and competitive. Tensions clearly exist between the four sisters, though their bond is evidently strong enough to keep them united for now.” (from Hypable)

Here is the first episode:

Great chemistry, good humor, interesting premise. That’s my take.

What do you think?

I have signed up for the website newsletter and hope to post new episodes as they come out.

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Merry Christmas from Louisa May Alcott is My Passion!

For your Christmas reading enjoyment, here is a link to all the posts I’ve done on Louisa’s Christmas stories.

And of course, you can always turn to Little Womenhere is a wonderful (and free) dramatic reading to carry you away.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Update on Wayside/Little Women artist depiction by Joyce Pyka

Joyce Pyka, the artist depicting The Wayside in the context of Little Women (see previous post), has posted an update for her painting — check out the interesting new details she has added:

detail laurie

dog

Here is the painting with these sketches:

painting as of dec 2014

Check out her website for all the details.

Wayside, and Thoreau, as you’ve never seen them before; and some news

I came across two fascinating blog posts today that shed a new light on cherished Alcott/Concord lore.

Walden's Shore Henry David Thoreau and Nineteenth-Century ScienceThoreau and rocks

First of all, the Thoreau Society is running an interview with author Robert M. Thorson where he reveals something entire new about Thoreau.. It was discovered during his research for his book, Walden’s Shore: Henry David Thoreau and Nineteenth-Century Science about Thoreau, the self-taught physical scientist.

robert-thorson-150x150

Robert M. Thorson

Check out his discovery here.

Wayside or Orchard House?

Little Women‘s numerous readers know that Orchard House is the physical setting for the story of the March sisters. But do they know that next-door Wayside is where the action actually took place? (I know you do!)

Artist Joyce Pyka has been painting a folk art version of The Wayside, visualizing it as the home of the March sisters. She has a delightful blog post showing the progress of her work plus drawings of each sister. Remarking on Louisa May Alcott’s  extensive knowledgeable about flowers, she discusses those preferred by each sister and depicts them in the painting.

Here is how the painting appears so far:

Be sure and visit her blogpost to see a larger version of the painting and read about her progress. The drawings of the sisters are adorable!

Prints will be available when the painting is completed. It will be made available at http://pyka-joyce.artistwebsites.com/galleries.html  under her Folk Art Gallery.

News and Upcoming Posts

I am thisclose to finishing my first book and will be submitting it to the publisher around December 1. I will finally have some free time! I thank you for your patience with the scarcity of posts.

rose in bloomI wanted to announce that I am currently reading Rose in Bloom, have written my first post, and will begin posting as I get further into the book. I want to makes sure I post on a regular basis on this book since in the past I haven’t always been so faithful. I am very much enjoying Rose in Bloom so far and look forward to discussing it with you all.

 

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Louisa May Alcott Society call for papers for 2015 ALA conference in Boston

American Literature Association 26th Annual Conference Boston May 21-24, 2015

Louisa May Alcott Society (Contact Christine Doyle)
contact email: 

“Transatlantic Alcott”

little women abroad2Louisa May Alcott’s status as a quintessentially American writer notwithstanding, literature and life on the other side of “the pond” interested her immensely. Her favorite writers included Dickens, Bronte, Goethe, Schiller, de Stael; admiration for their work surely added fuel to her own “burning” genius. New Englander though she was, she took not one but two European tours, producing sketches as well as fiction in response to the experiences.

Even in the most American of her novels, Little Women, several chapters take place in Europe, where Amy and Laurie visit many places Louisa experienced on her first European tour in 1865-66.

  • What does Alcott’s writing show about her reading of Europe and European writers? In what ways does she embrace them? Reject them? Re-shape them to her particular artistic temperament and to the American experience?
  • How does she make use of the personal experiences garnered in her travels in Europe, in her non-fiction sketches such as Shawl Straps, and in her fiction (The Inheritance, A Long Fatal Love Chase, the thrillers generally) as well?
  • How might themes in her work be considered to be in dialogue with English and European writers, or with other American writers (Hawthorne, Twain, James) who were looking transatlantically themselves?

One hundred fifty years after Louisa May Alcott (like Amy) first “sailed away to find the old world,” can we consider her Americanness in a broader, more international context?

Send one-page abstracts (approx 300 words) by January 19, 2015, to Christine Doyle (doylec@ccsu.edu).

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