I get it now why Louisa became so close to her sister, May, and it’s because they were opposites. An obvious thought to be sure, but Ticknor’s memoir made that all the clearer to me.
Louisa was complex, conflicted, duty bound, guilt-ridden . . . a rather typical 19th century New Englander from all appearances. She had the extra added blessing/burden of possessing enormous creative energy which creates its own storms.
May somehow broke free and rose above these shackles. Fortunate to be the youngest of the 4, she escaped many of the experiences which scarred Louisa for life (such as Fruitlands). Her father had become less obsessed with documenting every moment of his daughters’ lives by the time she came along; it seemed that his storms were beginning to wind down a bit as she grew up. As the cherub of the family who radiated so much natural light and joy, the family was drawn to her like a magnet to relieve their burdens.
I believe that when Louisa was with May, she could forget herself for awhile and just be herself.
This passage from Ticknor’s book really struck me (pages May Alcott a Memoir pages 94-95):
Ticknor had just described how Louisa and May, while on their grand European tour, had been able to eavesdrop on an opera being performed next door to their hotel. They not only saw the opera, but all the backstage antics as well (as a voyeur myself, I would have loved that!). And they got to see it in their bed clothes! Ticknor then writes:
When an enlightening glimpse of the submerged Louisa Alcott, that fun-adoring, freedom-loving creature who was for over a half a century cribbed, cabined, and confined by her New England habitations. One is at this point tempted to inquire, Might not her brilliant literary gift have blossomed vividly and even luxuriantly could she have had, not days, but years of leisure and emancipation in an environment as lovely and inspiring as this described by her, with gay attire, moonlight on balconies, fine music floating from the throats of prima donnas in filmy robes, and gallant knights in armor? But it was not to be. The moving finger wrote but seven magic letters, and they spelled CONCORD.
Louisa Alcott’s pen was destined to keep alive not great, romantic, or historic personages, but vivid little people of New England, and not all the allurement of the New World could have drawn her from her home life of sacrifice. May could escape from her New England heritage, but not Louisa. [my emphasis]. Yet it is good to think of her, if only for a single night, wrapped in a yellow bedquilt, staring with “rapture” at gallant knights, and hearing them “warble to plump ladies”, while the stage thunder crashed and the philosophy of Concord was forgot.
Aligning myself with Louisa in temperament rather than May, I too would be drawn to such a breath of fresh air. In fact, I am, and I actively seek out May Alcotts in my life to remind me that life is not all work and obligation. The May Alcotts of this world are badly needed as they bring that joie de vivre back into life.