Thoughts on Little Women the second time around–seeing Jo in a new light

I have just finished my second reading of Little Women. Both times I have listened to the free audio book on Librivox.com. The first time around wasn’t too bad until I got into the crux of Jo’s relationship with Professor Bhaer in chapter 46. The reader unfortunately had such a loud and grating voice that it totally ruined that chapter for me.

A dramatic reading

This time around I found a dramatic reading of the book which was done almost to perfection. The narrator (who also took on the role of Jo) was superior in every way. All the main parts were done well although it took awhile to accept Laurie’s voice.

Never fails to please

It is amazing how much this book yields in multiple readings! It’s a different book each time. But then you long-time fans know that already, don’t you? For some of you, it’s a yearly habit. I can certainly see why.

Changing view of Jo—her rite of passage

WinonaJoMarchThe first time I read Little Women I was put off by Jo and favored Amy. Jo was frankly rude, obnoxious and self-absorbed at times (part of being a teenager) and because I had spent so much time with her real life counterpart, Jo seemed a shadow of Louisa.

From this second reading I have a much better sense of Jo. Her rite of passage from the awkward teenager who never wanted to grow up to the mature and more sober woman of twenty-five moved me. Louisa did an outstanding job of tracing Jo’s journey to maturity and revealing some of herself in the process. Her grief over the loss of Beth and how she carried on in the aftermath transformed her heart, making it ready to love someone beyond her immediate family.

A perfect match

jo marchMany readers see her capitulating to marriage but I don’t see it that way. I still maintain that Professor Bhaer was the perfect match for her (and I’ve often entertained the idea that he was Louisa’s ideal for a husband who for her, did not exist in real life). Jo grew to be a better writer for having grown within herself, writing from that true place in her heart. (Oh, and by the way, Jo mentioned a few times that Laurie disapproved of her writing).

A quiet revolution

jo and professor bhaerShe and Fritz lived the companionate marriage that Louisa dreamed of and wrote about in Work A Story of Experience. Jo and Fritz shared everything, from meaningful work to family life. This in and of itself was a quiet revolution, illustrating a marriage between equals. I had missed the fact in my first reading that Jo actually was the one to plant the first kiss! Loved that. How like our Jo!

Ever present spiritual guide

jo and bethLittle Women began to shed light on a burning question I have entertained since I got interested in Elizabeth Alcott. Louisa often mentioned that her late sister Lizzie was her “spiritual guide” but she never detailed any of that in her journals or letters. I wondered then how that idea manifested itself in her life. Of course her books provide the answer. From chapter 40 on when Beth dies, I began see how real life Lizzie influenced her older sister. And I intend to go over those chapters carefully (especially 40 and 42) to find out more.

A treasure trove

little women in the garretThere is so much treasure to unearth between the lines of this book. And many universal themes, themes that do apply to today if you work at it a little bit. Thank goodness for places like Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House where the spirit of Little Women is kept alive for generations to come.

Speaking to you and me

little women 190I am late to Little Women, very late. Most of you are probably saying, “Of course! Duh!” This book has spoken to you throughout your lives. In my late fifties, it is now speaking to me.

That’s the mark of a true classic. Little Women is no mere “children’s” book. It’s a book for every age.

Your thoughts?

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Part four of 4-part interview: Meet filmmaker and producer Justin King and hear his passion for Orchard House

In part three of this interview about Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, we meet the documentary’s producer and filmmaker, Justin King. Hear his motivation for making this film:

I wish to thank WCOM-FM for granting permission to rebroadcast this interview. It originally aired on October 1st on the “Courage Cocktail” hosted by Lee Anne McClymont.

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Host Lee Ann McClymont wrote a lovely sonnet to Louisa which I will close with. Thank you for your support of the campaign!

Louisa’s Dream

Kindred sister, in thy grace,
Help me birth a gentler race.
Place inside the meaning clear
Through our voice disband the fear.
Ford our way through wide and narrow
Guide our vision through bone and marrow
Still the noise and ply your craft
With sound and vision restore the draft
Till eventide the sea must rush
Let moonbeams sweetly whisper “hush.”
The end is near for family’s lost
In time suspended hope’s only cost
Restore the pledge to live in light
Godspeed your craft
With fortress might!

Sweetwood-Spring 2009
Hillsborough, North Carolina

Remember to #PledgeYourLove at
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/632439913/orchard-house

And please, share these posts with everyone you know who loves Little Women and Louisa May Alcott!

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Part three of 4-part interview: Jan Turnquist recounts a fascinating story of a pilgrimage to Orchard House

little women in koreanIn part three of this interview about Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, Executive Director Jan Turnquist shares a poignant story of a pilgrim visiting Orchard House from the other side of the world and how Little Women impacted this visitor:

I wish to thank WCOM-FM for granting permission to rebroadcast this interview. It originally aired on October 1st on the “Courage Cocktail” hosted by Lee Anne McClymont.

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Remember to #PledgeYourLove at
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/632439913/orchard-house

And please, share these posts with everyone you know who loves Little Women and Louisa May Alcott!

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Part two of 4-part interview: Jan Turnquist talks about Bronson’s education and the support Louisa received from her parents

" . . . I press thee to my heart, as Duty's faithful child."

” . . . I press thee to my heart, as Duty’s faithful child.”

In part two of this interview about Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, Executive Director Jan Turnquist reveals how Bronson Alcott received his education and how important his love of learning was to Louisa’s development as a writer:

I wish to thank WCOM-FM for granting permission to rebroadcast this interview. It originally aired on October 1st on the Courage Cocktail Radio Show, WCOM LP. 

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Remember to #PledgeYourLove at
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/632439913/orchard-house

And please, share these posts with everyone you know who loves Little Women and Louisa May Alcott!

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Beginning today: 4-part interview with the movers and shakers of the Orchard House documentary and Kickstarter fundraising campaign

As you know, Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House has been promoting a Kickstarter Campaign to raise $150,000 to fund a documentary film on this extraordinary house museum (click on the photo to make your pledge).

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Those of us who have visited Orchard House know that it is far more than a museum; it is a place of pilgrimage. Countless visitors remark on the spiritual aspect of visiting the ancient house, “feeling” the presence of the Alcott family as they see drawings and paintings by artist May on the walls and secretly touch the desk where Louisa penned Little Women.

orchard house

 

Jan Turnquist, Director of Concord's Orchard House, shares the wealth of the historic Alcott home.

Jan Turnquist, Director of Concord’s Orchard House, shares the wealth of the historic Alcott home.

Recently Executive Director Jan Turnquist and film maker and producer Justin King gave a compelling interview on the radio program “Courage Cocktail” hosted by Lee Anne McClymont of WCOM LP 103.5 in Carrboro, North Carolina. The interview was an hour in length; to facilitate easier listening, I have split that interview into four parts to be posted Monday through Thursday of this week. I wish to thank WCOM for permission to rebroadcast this interview.

As you listen to this wonderful, passionate and magical account of Orchard House, please consider joining the hundreds who have already pledged their support at  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/632439913/orchard-house. With just 17 days left to go, nearly $100,000 still needs to be pledged.

This documentary affords Orchard House the chance to reach a far wider audience than they ever have before. Knowledge of this house is essential to keep it up and running as a museum. Build in the 1600’s, Orchard House is in constant need of repair. Your pledge keeps Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House alive and running!

Here is part one of the interview; it features Jan Turnquist describing the fascinating history of the house:

 

Remember to #PledgeYourLove at
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/632439913/orchard-house

And please, share these posts with everyone you know who loves Little Women and Louisa May Alcott!

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Remembering Louisa May Alcott through your pledge #PledgeYourLove

Over the next five days I will be posting video and audio featuring remembrances of Louisa May Alcott and her home, the Orchard House. You may know that Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House is in the middle of a Kickstarter fundraising campaign. The goal is to raise $150,000 to fund a documentary film about the history and legacy of Orchard House.

Any of you who have visited Orchard House know,  it is more than a museum. It is a place of pilgrimage. We can feel the presence of the family from Louisa’s mood pillow in the parlor, to Anna’s grey silk wedding dress on Louisa’s bed. From Bronson’s architectural improvements and the large library in his study, to Marmee’s family china in the dining room and her comb in the master bedroom. We pause looking at Lizzie’s melodeon and marvel at May’s paintings and drawings not only hung on the walls, but painted right on the walls. Most of all, we stop in front of the little half moon desk where a classic was born, a book that has inspired the lives of millions of women from around the world for well over a century.

The posts I will put up Monday through Thursday of this week will feature a 4-part interview with the Executive Director of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House Jan Turnquist; plus we will hear from the producer and filmmaker Justin King as to what inspired him to make the film.

I am deeply grateful to Lee Anne MyClymont for granting permission to take her interview and present it over these next few days. You can find her podcast here: “Courage Cocktail” hosted by Lee Anne McClymont of WCOM LP 103.5 in Carrboro, North Carolina.

As a warm-up, I wish to present my own remembrance of Louisa May Alcott and her sister Lizzie, just to get you started:

Remember to #PledgeYourLove at
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/632439913/orchard-house

And please, share these posts with everyone you know who loves Little Women and Louisa May Alcott!

To make sure you don’t miss these series of interviews, subscribe to the email list and never miss a post!

With only 17 days left in the campaign, let’s help Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House make their goal!

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Summer Conversational Series 2014 – “Navigating the Vortex: Creative Genius in the Time of the Alcotts” – the role of Faust

560 steve burby1Continuing with the Monday sessions, Dr. Stephen Burby was a new face on the scene. He currently teaches English in Brentwood, NY and has authored of AP English Language and Composition: An Apex Learning Guide (2004 and 2005 editions) as well as contributing to the production of editions in Barron’s No-Fear Shakespeare series and to their latest edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Faust, Goethe and Louisa

His topic, “Goethe and the Transcendendalists: How Faust Shaped the American Renaissance” traced the history of the Faust myth from its beginnings and through its evolution by the pens of Christopher Marlow, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and finally, Louisa May Alcott.

The myth, the man, the devil

faust and the devilThrough the characters of Johann Faust and the Devil (aka Mephistopheles), the myth began as a folk tale that was used by the Church (mainly the Calvinists) to warn the faithful against the intellectuals and the idea of the individual which could lead anyone into hell. Aimed at the working man, Burby described how the people wanted a “quick laugh”, a “quick tear” and the didactic lesson. In other words, keep it simple. Faust therefore represented the everyman; his fate could be anyone’s fate.

The story

So what did Faust do? Desiring youth and wealth, he sold his soul to the devil in return for twenty-seven years of youth and the “good life.” In the end the devil would have his way with Faust torn to shreds and his soul carted away to hell.

Not exactly subtle, but it served the particular historical period from which it came.

Deeper meaning

560 steve burby2Burby maintains that Faust speaks to us universally which is why the tale was explored more deeply and expanded, first by Christopher Marlowe and then by Goethe.

Marlowe’s take

Marlowe changed the legend in a subtle way by exploring the inner turmoil of Faust who comes to regret his bargain with the devil. The ending remained the same but the torture of Faust was more profound.

Goethe deepens the myth

Goethe took the story a step further. Burby suggested that Goethe was one of the “rock stars” of the era because of his poetry. By the time he took on Faust, it had lived out its usefulness and was often viewed as parody. By using Faust as the jumping off point, he transformed the legend using Faust and the devil as metaphors for striving versus stasis. Goethe not only has Faust repenting of his sin of bargaining with the devil, he also allows Faust to escape his fate. His point was to promote the idea that striving for knowledge, both for the mind and of the self, was important. Stasis was considered “evil” because of its prevention of indivdiual growth and creativity. This was the emerging German romanticism which eventually made its way over to New England, spawning the Transcendentalist movement.

Faust’s salvation and God’s role

Burby described the eternal feminine in the character of Gretchen whom Faust was madly in love with. It is through Gretchen that Faust finds his salvation. Burby also mentioned the comparison between this version of the legend and the story of Job in the Old Testament. In both cases, God makes a deal with the devil regarding the victim. God puts his stamp of approval on both Job and Faust thus justifying the need for struggle and striving.

Thus the legend of Faust has moved from concrete to the symbolic. What did Louisa do with the story?

A pleasure to indulge

Louisa enjoyed writing her “trash,” her potboilers, giving her a chance to express a side of herself she could not express in public. It was a creative vent for her passion, anger, sense of injustice, and for romance.

Two stories based on the myth

long fatal love chase2She devoted two books to the subject of Faust: A Long, Fatal Love-Chase and A Modern Mephistopheles. In each case she wrote about Faustian bargain more explicitly. The latter was discovered in the 1990s and published to great success; the story had been considered too risqué in Louisa’s time. In the story, Rosamond makes a deal with the devil for a year of adventure and Phillip Tempest comes along. When she realizes she cannot save him, she seeks to escape him. The novel turns from the legend to a gothic chase in which the heroine dies in the end. Phillip however suffers the harsher fate knowing he will never be reunited with his lover again.

The most lurid of them all

a modern mephistophelesA Modern Mephistopheles was published anonymously as part of a series in 1877, allowing Louisa to indulge in the lurid which she so enjoyed. The story deals with lust, deception and greed, touching on the controversial with references to sexuality and drug use, the deal is made between the starving poet Felix Canaris and the devil, Jaspar Hellwyze. The poet becomes celebrated and then lives a desolute life. It turns out he never wrote the poetry in the first place so he takes his name off the volume to free himself. The devil falls in love with the poet’s wife Gladys and feels remorse over the havoc he caused.

How much of Louisa was in the story?

Burby posed an interesting question: could A Modern Mephistopheles be about Louisa and her art? Do each of the four central characters represent parts of her whole?

As masculinity was thought to have created evil, it was also believed that it needed to be tempered by the eternal feminine. Louisa, being “masculine” in her thinking, often longing to be a boy, was right in the middle of this conflict. Her father complicated matters by exhibiting more feminine traits than his daughter. While I haven’t read A Modern Mephistopheles it would be interesting to approach it with this thought in mind.

Needless to say, Dr. Burby challenged all of us with his excellent and spirited presentation.

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