New releases coming! New annotated Little Women edited by Daniel Shealy; plus book on Louisa May Alcott and Edith Wharton

Get your credit cards ready! Here are two new exciting releases coming up this year for Louisa May Alcott lovers.

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I found out about this one from Daniel Shealy. We conversed recently about his volume on Louisa’s fantasy stories (which I will be writing about soon).  This looks like a wonderful addition to make to my library: (all the information below comes directly from

little women annotatedLittle Women: An Annotated Edition

Louisa May Alcott (Author), Daniel Shealy (Editor) Release date: March 25, 2013

Little Women has delighted and instructed readers for generations. For many, it is a favorite book first encountered in childhood or adolescence. Championed by Gertrude Stein, Simone de Beauvoir, Theodore Roosevelt, and J. K. Rowling, it is however much more than the “girls’ book” intended by Alcott’s first publisher. In this richly annotated, illustrated edition, Daniel Shealy illuminates the novel’s deep engagement with issues such as social equality, reform movements, the Civil War, friendship, love, loss, and of course the passage into adulthood.

The editor provides running commentary on biographical contexts (Did Alcott, like Jo, have a “mood pillow”?), social and historical contexts (When may a lady properly decline a gentleman’s invitation to dance?), literary allusions (Who is Mrs. Malaprop?), and words likely to cause difficulty to modern readers (What is a velvet snood? A pickled lime?). With Shealy as a guide, we appreciate anew the confusions and difficulties that beset the March sisters as they overcome their burdens and journey toward maturity and adulthood: beautiful, domestic-minded Meg, doomed and forever childlike Beth, selfish Amy, and irrepressible Jo. This edition examines the novel’s central question: How does one grow up well?

Little Women: An Annotated Edition offers something for everyone. It will delight both new and returning readers, young and old, male and female alike, who will want to own and treasure this beautiful edition full of color illustrations and photographs.

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Thanks to a husband who totally supports this passion of mine (thank you, Rich!) I found out about this book, scheduled to be released in July of this year:

(from Amazon) Publication Date: July 9, 2013 | Series: Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies

sacramental shoppingSacramental Shopping: Louisa May Alcott, Edith Wharton, and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism

(Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies) [Paperback]
Sarah Way Sherman (Author)

Written a generation apart and rarely treated together by scholars, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868) and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (1905) share a deep concern with materialism, moral development, and self-construction. The heroines in both grapple with conspicuous consumption, an aspect of modernity that challenges older beliefs about ethical behavior and core identity.

Placing both novels at the historical intersection of modern consumer culture and older religious discourses on materialism and identity, Sarah Way Sherman analyzes how Alcott and Wharton rework traditional Protestant discourses to interpret their heroines’ struggle with modern consumerism. Her conclusion reveals how Little Women‘s optimism, still buoyed by otherworldly justice, providential interventions, and the notion of essential identity, ultimately gives way to the much darker vision of modern materialistic culture in The House of Mirth.

Sarah Way Sherman is an associate professor of English and American studies at the University of New Hampshire.

I just placed my order. :-)

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Susan’s ebook, “Game Changer” is now available From the Garret – download for free!

“The March Sisters at Christmas:” So, what did you think?

I went into this movie preparing to hate it. I don’t watch Lifetime and am not a huge fan of “chick flicks” (with the exception of “Pretty Woman” – Richard Gere <sigh> :-)

I am also wary of fan fiction surrounding Little Women although The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly and March by Geraldine Brooks were both terrific.

However, “The March Sisters at Christmas” proved to be a very pleasant surprise. Here’s what made it work for me:


These four women were very appealing. Many of my favorite scenes featured the four sisters together. Kudos to director John Stimpson for choosing the right people and creating a real sisterhood that was so key to the original story of Little Women. I also loved the chemistry between Jo and Teddy (and liked the fact that Laurie was known as Teddy). My only complaint was that he was a little too much in the beef cake department. :-)

Twists and turns

I liked the way the movie was not literally faithful to the book but was faithful in spirit.  All the different twists in the movie made perfect sense. Amy as a theatrical rather than an artist worked for me (and coincidentally, she was also portrayed that way in The Little Women Letters) – it brought in both the theatrics from the story and Amy’s artist temperament.

Jo was perfect. My husband at one point said that Jo was “annoying” and she was in the original story – abrasive and bossy, but also generous and kindhearted.

Meg was almost overly motherly, especially towards Beth; I liked the fact that it wasn’t certain at first between Meg and John and that there was another man in the mix.

Beth is a hard character to bring to the 21st century and at times the other sisters seemed to treat her as if she needed therapy because she lacked ambition and confidence. I was glad to see the kindness that is Beth’s most sterling quality brought forth with the Christmas presents.

Plot twists

I loved the brewing feud between Jo and Amy, playing itself out with an “evil” tweet! It wasn’t evident right away how Amy would get her revenge (I thought she was going to cut the power in the house and cause Jo to lose her story) and her injury from the water heater which brought Jo to her senses worked for me.

The writing

I appreciated the fact that the writer(s) had actually studied the book and remained faithful to it while at the same time showing some imagination in how the story would play out in current time. It again confirmed what all us Little Women fans know – that this story is universal.

What didn’t work

What didn’t quite work for me was how Jo and Teddy’s relationship worked out. It seemed like two weeks was not nearly enough time for Teddy to get over Jo and fall in love with Amy. But that’s TV for you! I also felt that Jo’s relationship with Marcus Bhaer was rushed and underdeveloped. Still, I liked the fact that he was the one holding back rather than Jo.

The verdict?

I really enjoyed “The March Sisters at Christmas” and was very pleasantly surprised. It was a lot of fun to watch (especially spotting the scenes from my hometown. And yes, I spotted all the Concord scenes too!).

You can catch “The March Sisters at Christmas” again today at 5pm on Lifetime. I have it on my DVR.

So, what did you think?
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Follow-up on new movie based on Little Women

I was unable to go to the filming that’s taking place in my home town of Grafton but it has been covered and I thought you’d like to see how it’s progressing:

Lights! Camera! Action! ‘Orchard House’ Hits Grafton Common

Actors and crew wait for the rain to clear before shooting a night scene outside of One Grafton Common for “Orchard House.” Photo Credit: Jennifer Lord Paluzzi

Click to Tweet & Share: Update on “Orchard House” the movie, a modern update of “Little Women”

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Join the discussion: Little Women – Feminist Novel?

Frank Thayer Merrill illustration of Jo and Laurie from the 1880 version of Little Women

During the month of July Nancy from The Silver Threads blog is hosting the discussion of Little Women at A Year of Feminist Classics.

She proposes that the book puts forth opposing messages: a feminist message of independence and self-expression, and a message of social conformity. She asks, which is it – a liberating view of female possibilities or an imposition of community expectations? Her proposition is that Little Women delivers both messages. The tension between them is what makes the book so real and so memorable.

What do you think? Click here to join in the conversation.

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Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge Update

2012 Summer reading challenge hosted at www.inthebookcase.blogspot.comHow are you doing on the Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge? I’ve been pecking away at the Little Women re-read along with a re-read of Louisa May Alcott: A Biography by Madeleine Stern. I’ve been keeping a casual reading journal for the latter and I’ll share some from that.

Still the best biography

Louisa May Alcott A Biography still stands for me as the definitive biography on Louisa. It was originally published in 1950 and updated in 1996.

Stern doesn’t waste a line – each one is pregnant with information! Yet, as dense as this book is, it doesn’t read as dry or scholarly, but more like a novel, and from the point of view of Louisa.

Reading from different perspectives

The first time I read this book I felt like I got into Louisa’s head and heart, living her life with her. I felt very sad when the book was done because the visit was too. But it was immensely satisfying.

This time I see it a new way. Stern’s thrust for the biography is Louisa the writer.  Every single event in her life revolves around how she can write about it. As an apprentice writer, I find this book to be an amazing teaching tool .

Here’s some examples of how Stern interpreted events as fodder for writing:

Life at Hillside

Stern describes the family’s life at Hillside as the culmination of so many of the things that fed Louisa’s happier writing. Little Women, which was based on part on that life, is a shining example.

Hillside had given Louisa a foundation of  stability to lean on for comfort during the leaner times, and fodder to draw upon for future stories.

Reading leads to doubt

Stern describes a crisis of confidence on young Louisa’s part as she read more and more of Emerson’s books from his library. She saw her limitations and stopped writing in her journal. Abba steps in to encourage her with a note in her journal:

“I’m sure your life has many fine passages well worth revealing and to me they are always precious … Do write a little each day, dear, but if a line, to show me how bravely you begin the battle, how patiently you wait for the rewards sure to come when the victory is nobly won.”

Turning the common into the extraordinary

Stern maps out Louisa’s influences, from Thoreau for Flower Fables to the Music Hall and divas Madame Sontag and Jenny Lind for The Rival Prima Donnas, written for The Saturday Evening Gazette. She writes, “surely no experience was too unimportant to serve as grist for the author’s mill …”

In her twenties, Louisa was leading a fairly uneventful life of hard work, mostly doing things she didn’t want to do. Such a grind could snuff out the inner life but not so with Louisa. Sterns writes of Louisa’s life fueling her ambition all the more: she meant to earn her living as a writer and therefore never missed an opportunity to develop life into a story.

It shows that you can lead a common life and still pull out the uncommon insights that turn these things into the extraordinary. You just need to have the eyes to see. Louisa excelled at that skill.

That’s my update for now. Are you participating in the challenge and if so, what are you reading?

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Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge – What I’m reading

2012 Summer reading challenge hosted at www.inthebookcase.blogspot.comThe In The Bookcase blog is holding a Louisa May Alcott summer reading challenge so you know I have to participate! :-)

Here’s what I plan on reading:

1. Finish my re-read of Little Women
(and Little Women (Norton Critical Edition) edited by Gregory Eiselein and Anne K. Phillips)

2. Finish my re-read of Louisa May Alcott:
A Biography
* by Madeleine B. Stern
(Also Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths and Their Shared Passion by Madeline B. Stern and Leona Rostenberg since Leona’s discovering of Louisa’s alter ego, A. M.  Barnard, was made while Madeline was researching her biography)

3. Finish Eight Cousins

4. Read Work: A Story of Experience

5. At least start Louisa M. Alcott, Her Life, Letters and Journals,
edited by Ednah Cheney

Come and do this with me!

Just click on the picture above to find out more about this challenge. It’s really easy and should make for a nice summer. And, it’s a very appropriate way to celebrate the centennial of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House as a museum. :-)

What do you plan on reading?

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For Moms and their ‘Little Women’

In honor of Mother’s Day, I am delighted to present this guest post by Barbara Solomon Josselsohn reprinted with permission from NYMetroParents.

A two-day trip to Concord, Massachusetts and the home of Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, is a great way to commemorate Mother’s Day—or any other time set aside just for the girls. Explore this weekend getaway and experience unforgettable memories, Little Women style.

To me, Louisa May Alcott is the quintessential feminist, a working woman who earned enough from writing to pay the bills, support her impractical father, and have a bit left over to vacation in Europe, where she reportedly enjoyed the company of a dashing younger man. To my teenage daughter, she’s an exquisite role model, a talented writer compelled to give life to the scores of beguiling characters dancing around in her head.

So when the opportunity arose for Rachel, then 15, and me to steal away for a weekend last summer, we could think of no better place than Concord, home to our favorite storyteller.

We left Westchester on Saturday morning, and after stopping for lunch on the way, arrived in Concord in the early afternoon. A long, shady road led us directly to Orchard House, home to the Alcotts between 1858 and 1877 and the place where 36-year-old Louisa would write her classic novel, Little Women. The structure of the house is unchanged since the mid-19th century and the majority of furnishings once belonged to the family, so the feeling of authenticity is palpable. As we learned from our guide, the Alcotts were a tight-knit, accomplished group: Dad was a visionary, Mom was a social-justice advocate, oldest daughter Anna (Meg in Little Women) was an actress, and youngest daughter May (Amy) was an acclaimed artist whose paintings adorn the house. (A fourth sister, Elizabeth, died young, as did her namesake in the book, Beth.)

Of course, the best part was exploring Louisa’s bedroom and examining the half-moon shaped desk, nestled against a wall and between two windows, which her father built for her and where she would write her masterpiece. We learned lots of charming personal nuggets, such as the fact that Louisa had what she called a “mood pillow”—a small bolster that she’d position in one way or another to let her family know her temperament at any given moment. My daughter loved this idea so much that she bought a replica in the gift shop, to inform us of her changing moods.

Our guide said not to miss the historic and nearby Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where the Alcotts are buried. So after a quick stop in the center of Concord for iced tea and muffins, we were on the road again.

Within Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, we found “Author’s Ridge,” a rocky, shaded hill that serves as the final resting place for the entire Alcott clan as well as the great American writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathanial Hawthorne. It was here that we thought about the Alcott family’s later life, which was not entirely happy. Specifically, Louisa’s sister Anna was widowed as a young mother, and her sister May died soon after giving birth to a daughter. (Louisa would go on to raise the little girl as her own.) Louisa, who never married, suffered from chronic health problems, and died at age 56. It’s nice to think that she is buried close to her parents and surrounded by her sisters, the core of her life and the inspiration for so much of her creative output.

We stayed in Boston that night, thinking that we could use a little action after so much quiet and contemplation, and we chose a hotel right on the harbor and steps away from Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. Taking full advantage of this location, we had a tasty seafood dinner alfresco and then strolled the area, enjoying the street performers, shops, and summer breeze coming off the water.

The next morning we headed to the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard (45 minutes from Boston) to explore one of the lesser-known chapters in Louisa’s life. It seems that her father, like his friends Emerson and Thoreau, was a member of the Transcendentalist movement, which held that connecting with nature was the key to spiritual enlightenment. Partnering with like-minded philosophers, Alcott moved his family to a farmhouse, now the Fruitlands Museum, when Louisa was 10, in an effort to withdraw from society and live only on what they could grow. The problem was, the group knew nothing about farming, and Alcott’s retreat lasted a mere seven months.

Though Alcott left Fruitlands disillusioned and disappointed, his effort was not a total failure, as it inspired Louisa years later to write Transcendental Wild Oats, a deliciously funny, largely autobiographical account of her family’s ill-fated experience.

Today, Fruitlands is home to the restored farmhouse and museum, as well as to Fruitlands Café, a magnificent open-air eatery. Its canopied patio sits atop an enormous hill with a spectacular view of the Noasha Valley, and the altitude creates a lovely breeze even on the warmest summer day. Rachel and I enjoyed a lunch of fresh salads and homemade ice cream for dessert. More important, we had the chance to savor a relaxed, uninterrupted mother-daughter conversation—something we don’t get to do often enough, thanks to the rush of everyday life.

After lunch we stopped at the gift shop and spent way too much on a stack of Louisa’s lesser-known books—yes, they’d be cheaper on, but it felt more special to buy them here. Then it was back to Boston. We dropped in on the New England Aquarium for a quick visit because it was so close to our hotel, and then enjoyed the warm late-afternoon sun on a bench near the harbor, sipping iced Starbucks drinks and picking out which books we each wanted to read first.

We left Boston early Monday morning, and were soon back to our everyday routines. My only regret about the weekend is that it went by so fast—and I truly hope we’ll do it all again one day soon.

An Alcott Adventure: Mark these important places on your itinerary:

Barbara Solomon Josselsohn is a freelance writer based in Scarsdale, NY  and the mother of three children. You can read her blog, Just Another Working Writer

Another Little Women back story – How did the March family lose their fortune?

In the last post, I shared Geraldine Brooks’ imagined back story on Marmee’s temper and how her husband helped her to control it.

Now from March I’d like to share Brooks’ version of how the March family lost their fortune. She creates a very plausible scenario with an historical figure, one that captivated much of Concord (the Alcotts among them) with his zeal for abolishing slavery.

His name? John Brown.

John Brown

John  Brown is infamous for the 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry where he sought to ignite an armed revolt by the slaves by seizing  a United States Arsenal (from Wikipedia). He had no qualms about the use of violence to bring about his means, even if it meant the sacrifice of his sons.


March appreciated Brown’s commitment but was put off by his violent methods. However, Marmee was very taken with him. March noted the animated way Marmee conversed with Brown, observing that  “I could see that Brown ignited the very part of my wife’s spirit I wished to quench: the lawless, gypsy elements of her nature.”

Winning his wife’s esteem

Marmee admired Brown as an heroic figure and March felt a stab of jealousy: “I want her to see me that way.” It was then that March decided to, in a sense, buy his wife’s esteem by funding Brown.

Questionable judgment

Brown had a sorted past financially, dogged by debt and law suits. Yet while he was fiery and off-putting in his public zeal, in private he was a very different man: humble and diffident. He won over March in private just as he had won over Marmee in public.

Foolishness leads to disaster

March is astonishingly naive, never realizing he should have been more careful. Determining that his past investments had supported the institution of slavery, he gives Brown whatever he asks for.

In the end, using up all the family money, March inadvertently supports the raid on Harper’s Ferry (along with Quaker donors who also vigorously opposed violence). Quite a price to pay for the purchase of his wife’s approval.


March must confront Marmee and share with her their now desperate plight. Always pragmatic, Marmee questions her husband’s judgment: “But must it have been our entire capital?” March’s answer is that he had to commit all since Brown risked his very life for his beliefs.

Marmee was not the only one who had been seduced by John Brown.

In the end Brown was tried for treason and hung.


March did not seek to build a new fortune as he was not the peddlar of his youth. He determined that his wealth had been obtained through less than high-minded means and he would not make that mistake again.

No help was to come from Aunt March who had inherited a great fortune from her husband. She added insult to injury by offering to “adopt” Meg. This truly set off Marmee’s temper which March sought to control. She rails at him:

“You stifle me! You crush me! You preach emancipation, and yet you enslave me, in the most fundamental way. Am I not to have the freedom to express myself, in my own home? In the face of such insult? You call our girls your ‘little women’; well, I am your belittled woman, and I am tired of it. Tired of suppressing my true feelings, tired of schooling my heart to order, as if I were some errant pupil and you the schoolmaster. I will not be degraded in this way.”

“It is you,” I said, trying to keep my voice even, though my pulse beat in my head. “It is you who degrade yourself, when you forgo self-mastery.”

Even the enlightened March must lord over his wife. Never mind that he, like Bronson, failed to provide for her.

What do you think of Geraldine Brooks’ scenario for the loss of the March family fortune?

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Adding back story to Little Women

I couldn’t leaveMarch by Geraldine Brooks behind without mentioning one other element of the book that I really enjoyed – the back stories Brooks imagined which enhance Little Women.

Haven’t you often wondered just how the March family lost their fortune? Haven’t you wanted to know more about Marmee’s temper and how her husband helped her control it? Brooks offers interesting scenarios.

Marmee’s temper

Addressing the latter first, we are all familiar with the heart-to-heart talk Marmee had with Jo about their respective tempers. In chapter 8, “Jo Meets Apollyon,” Amy is nearly killed because Jo could not subdue her temper. She feels deep remorse at her hesitation to save Amy from drowning after falling through the ice.

Seeking out her mother, Jo tearfully confesses and is astonished to hear Marmee say, “I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo, but I have learned not to show it, and I still hope to learn not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years to do so.”

She goes on to say that through the the love and patience of her husband, she learned to control her anger. In March, her husband says, “I tried to teach her something about her new place, giving her to understand, with gentle hints and loving guidance, that what might be considered lapses born of high spirits in a young maiden were in no way proper in one who was now a mother and a wife.”

Brooks fills in the blanks

Brooks describes Marmee’s passionate anger, expressed by fiery eyes and cutting tongue, as often being brought on by the discussion of slavery and abolition. Here Brooks draws upon Abba Alcott’s story, painting Marmee as a committed reformer.

Stepping on toes in public

In one scene, Marmee lashes out at Mr. Emerson, chastising him for his lukewarm talk about abolition and urging him to take a stronger stand. Being an active part of the Underground Railroad, she is convinced of the righteousness of her cause and has no qualms attacking someone publicly if they do not live up to her expectations.


In another instance, she stands up to Aunt March after the old woman comments that “slavery is more a matter of prayer than protest. Preferably, silent prayer.”

Marmee’s anger cuts like a knife and March gives her the agreed-upon signal – an index finger placed upon his lips – to remind her to restrain herself. When the atmosphere fails to improve, he sweeps her away from the scene, determined that she will “walk off” her anger.

Bronson Alcott Pratt portraying Mr. March in 1932 in Concord’s production of Little Women.

An example of serenity

March is concerned about the example Marmee is setting, especially with second daughter Jo who shows the same propensity for passion. Marmee does not wish to reign in Jo’s spirit, claiming it will be crushed soon enough, but March insists that she teach Jo to restrain herself. Just like Bronson, March favors serenity and insists his wife and daughters practice it.

In the next post, I will describe the back story that Brooks lays out which describes how the March family lost their fortune.

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Book Review: March by Geraldine Brooks

It feels like a lifetime since I started reading March by Geraldine Brooks a little over a month ago. Between this work and The Glory Cloak by Patricia O’Brien, my way of thinking has gone through a transformation. Fortunate, because otherwise, I never could have appreciated March.

Opening the mind

Historical fiction has proven to be a game-changer, slowing opening my mind like a can opener struggling over a can of tuna fish. My black and white approach to the world is changing as I learn how to embrace the shades of gray that life often is.

It takes a lot more courage to live in a gray-shaded world. March has shown me that.

Not for the faint of heart

As stated in a previous post, Geraldine Brooks’ writing is aggressive: poking, prodding and shaking the reader out of complacency. March is not a leisurely spring read.

The book opens with a letter March is writing to Marmee and the girls, taken from Little Women. Quickly the story moves from “sweet words” to gruesome descriptions of battle and desperate escape. Right away March is placed in a compromising position in his effort to save a dying soldier, eventually having to let him go as they struggle together to cross the river. This is only one of many events that will torment March with guilt.


As in Little Women, March is portrayed as an idealistic minister and dedicated abolitionist. Brooks recalls her motivation for writing March in an article by Linda Sickler of the Savannah Morning News:

“I was interested in what happens to idealists at war, people who go to war because of highly idealistic beliefs, but then find their ideals challenged by the very nature of war,” Brooks says. “I was thinking about this in the context of the Civil War.

“Then I remembered the absent father in Alcott’s novel, about whom we hear very little, except that he has enlisted to minister to the Union troops,” she says. “It seemed to me he would be an excellent vehicle through which to explore this question.”

March and Bronson Alcott

Brooks delves into the life of Bronson Alcott as the means of fleshing out March. It’s the obvious choice and a perfect one to boot: Bronson is the poster boy of impractical idealists.  In an interview for the PBS American Masters documentary, Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women, Brooks admitts to an “immense soft spot” for Bronson. She also points out the difficulty of living day-to-day with such an idealist but contends that “they’re the ones that make the moral strides that lead humanity forward in its thinking … [Bronson] moved the bar to where we’ve all caught up with him now.”

Drawing upon real life

Bronson’s life story, beginning with his youth at Spindle Hill, followed by his career as a peddler, and culminating with his vocation as an educator and reformer, shapes the life of March. Brooks uses this history to create a convincing story of a loss of innocence and a fall from grace.

Ongoing themes

March explores several themes including the horror and insanity of war, the loss of innocence through moral failure, the meaning of courage and the necessity of compromise.

Interpretations of war

I couldn’t help but make a comparison between Louisa May Alcott’s Hospital Sketches and March when it came tothe descriptions of war, injury and death. Disquieting and disturbing, Brooks paints the consequences of war with a broad brush of senselessness and cruelty while Louisa manages to draw out nobility and meaning in the midst of the chaos. Undoubtedly the eras in which these two works were written explain the differences in interpretation but I found myself longing for the comfort that Louisa provides.

Innocence lost

March’s loss of innocence and its consequences constitute the heart of the book. The clash of idealism with reality is violent, and the result is that the idealist is quickly reduced to a very frail man with feet of clay.

Not only are March’s values challenged in the public arena with the war and slavery, but in the private as well with regards to fidelity. Although March is deeply in love with his wife Marmee, he is also in love with a slave woman he meets in his youth, Grace Clement. Having met her on one of his peddling trips, he now keeps a lock of her hair along with the locks of Marmee and his daughters, in an envelope close to his bosom.

The meaning of courage

Lapses in courage haunt March as well. Fear and his instinct for survival undercut his idealism, resulting in two deaths and great suffering for others. In lamenting his own weakness, March recalls the daughter with the deepest capacity for courage, his little Mouse, Beth.

Overcoming her extreme shyness, Beth befriends a slave girl, Flora, hidden in the March home. Beth is the only one Flora will open up to. As a result of the strong bond between them, Beth summons the courage to protect her by standing up to the magistrate who wants to take Flora away.

Through the examples of March and Beth, Brooks demonstrates the need for self-sacrifice as the only means by which courage can be drawn. March discovers to his deep shame and horror that he does not have that capacity. Impractical idealist that he is, he never takes into account how lofty ideas will play out in the arena of life.


March is not the only character who is all too human.

Part One of the book is narrated by March but switches to Marmee’s voice in Part Two since March is lying desperately ill in the hospital. Marmee, as depicted in Little Women, goes quickly to Washington to be by his side. It is here that she too discovers the idealist with the feet of clay.

She learns of his relationship with Grace by meeting the woman in person. Marmee learns through Grace of the horrors her husband faced during his service, details of which he never conveyed in his letters.

His compromises with regards to fidelity and truth leave Marmee feeling betrayed and angry. Soon, however, she finds that she too must compromise on the truth when it comes time to write to her girls of their father’s progress. It is this questioning of herself that causes Marmee to compromise on her anger and rededicate herself to her husband. Recognition of mutual brokenness ultimately preserves the union.

The verdict?

March is a compelling, albeit uncomfortable, read. Brooks does a masterful job of integrating the history of the Alcotts along with the story of Little Women to create a multi-layered, epic story with deeply moving characters. Every element of this story is painted in shades of gray, challenging the lofty idealism of the characters often portrayed in black and white terms. The true strength of the characters lies in their ability to adapt to the changing landscape. Fidelity is challenged but not sacrificed.

I am a reader who is evolving. March has proven to be an important stepping stone to a more sophisticated and critical approach to reading. It is an excellent companion to Little Women, providing a decidedly adult approach. It broadens and deepens the story of the March family.

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