“Amy” meets a fan

Amy March of Little WomenI loved this section that I read in Carolyn Ticknor’s May Alcott A Memoir this morning. It details how May, while visiting the small village of Grez in France ( the latest mecca for artists), ran into a 14 year old fan of Little Women. Having read before how Louisa May Alcott was the first author to have experienced mass media-type fame (not unlike Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling), it follows then that her family members would be considered celebrities too. It never really occurred to me until I read this passage:

(the letter comes from an Isobel Osbourne ne: Mrs. Salisbury Field, and it was written in July of 1926, recounting that summer of 1877 chance encounter)
” I distinctly remember meeting her [May Alcott] at Julien’s studio, in the old Passage des Panormas, off the Boulevard des Italiens. I was very young them and of course had read and adored Little Women, and I was thrilled when told that the tall, distinguished-looking lady, who wore her hair in curls, was ‘Amy’ of that beloved family. I gazed at her with awe and admiration, just a little disenchanted to find her grown-up and reserved. I know I asked her several questions diffidently, and she answered kindly, but in a bored manner as though she had heard them very often before, ‘Yes, Laurie was a real person.’ ‘No, she did not marry him,’ that sort of thing.

As I remember her through such a mist of years, she was tall, very slender and graceful, and wore her hair in long curls down her back, rather unusual fashion even for those days. I was much interested in her, but she naturally was not particularly interested in a young person of fourteen, who stared at her with absorbed attention an asked all the usual questions. As I said, we left Grez before 1879, but she knew my mother at Julien’s studio, for I often saw them talking together.”

It reminded me of how I felt looking at May Alcott Nieriker’s room at Orchard House and seeing her pencil drawings on the walls of her room. I too had that same feeling of awe.

See a panoramic view of May/Amy’s room at Orchard House!

8 Replies to ““Amy” meets a fan”

  1. Can imagine that feeling. I would probably feel the same looking at Louisa’s room, if I’m ever that lucky to visit Orchard House. Maybe one vacation…

    But what are you saying about Laurie? A person who wrote the letter was told by May Alcott herself that Laurie was real person? Does it say who he was? Was he that Polish youth who Louisa met in Europe, or…?

    By the way, I love this scene in 1994 movie. Little Amy (Kirsten Dunst) first takes precious orange away but then generously decides to give it to poor needy Hummels, together with their whole Christmas breakfast.
    I’ve seen it dozen times, but unfortunately I haven’t seen earlier versions. 😦 Is 1949 the one where Liz Taylor plays Amy?

    1. Yes, Liz Taylor plays Amy in the 1949 version. Seems like odd casting to me although she certainly does pull off the haughty air of Amy. I just can’t get past the fact that she is so totally a brunette!

      You’re right, Laurie was based on Ladislas Wisniewski (aka “Laddie”), a young polish man she met on her first tour of Europe (he was in his early 20s, she was 32, I believe). Wikipedia says the following: “Alcott’s romance while in Europe with Ladislas Wisniewski, “Laddie,” was detailed in her journals but then deleted by Alcott herself before her death. Alcott identified Laddie as the model for Laurie in Little Women, and there is strong evidence this was the significant emotional and likely sexual relationship of her life.”

      With regards to visiting Orchard House, yeah, it’s pretty cool. If, on my blog, you go to the page about Orchard House and Sleepy Hollow, I’ve put up a link from the official Louisa May Alcott site where you can see a panoramic view of each room of the house.

      Harriet Reisen’s biography details the romance and a glorious fortnight the two spent together touring Paris.

      Some sources say that Alf Whitman, a young man Alcott befriended, was also used for Laurie, but Laddie was the main model.

  2. Thank you for the link, I just had an amazing virtual tour. I love that halfmoon desk in Louisa’s room. How thouthful to build it between windows so that she could get a lot of day light and rest her eyes looking at beauty of nature outside.

    Regarding “Laddie”, I don’t know what strong evidence exists there, but I hope that it really did happen and that she enjoyed every second of that romance. It was inappropriate at that time but now it became popular for celebrity ladies in their thirties to date and marry much younger guys. I guess Louisa was much ahead her time. 🙂

    I’ve put Harriet Reisen’s Woman Behind Little Women on my “to read” list, I must read every detail of those two weeks in Paris. 🙂

    And, yes, Elizabeth Taylor is great actress, however Amy should have hair of golden ringlets – can’t be a brunette. But I would still love to see 1949 movie.

    1. I think Liz wore a wig in the movie! You can see a clip on the blog – go to the Audio Visual tab. Scroll down a ways and you’ll see a scene from each Little Women movie. The clip I found for the 1949 version features Liz Taylor as Amy in the scene where she nearly got corporal punishment from her teacher for mocking him on her slate.

      BTW, the videos at the top are scenes from Harriet Reisen’s PBS documentary based on her book. This documentary is a must see! There is a link to her site where you can find out more.

      I loved your comment about the half moon desk in Louisa’s room, I never thought it that way before. I was there in August as I live only an hour away from Concord. I’ve been many times and each time something new strikes me. This time it was her sewing box in her room and May’s portrait from France in her father’s study.

  3. Oh, aren’t you lucky to live so close?! My home is on another continent – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Southeastern Europe, but I have relatives in New Jersey and I would try to visit Concord when I’m in the USA next time.
    Now that I visited Orchard House virtually, I even more want to experience it in person. Thank you for all these links.
    And for all this blogging.
    It gives fresh air of new thoughts for my writing. 🙂

  4. Went through Little Women clips in Audio-Visual.
    Oh, yes, Liz Taylor certainly pulls off haughtiness. 🙂 The scenes of Amy almost being struck with teacher’s ruler are almost the same in 1933 and 1949 movies, but in 1949 version Amy doesn’t shead a single tear. Though I should see whole movies before I could tell which one I like the best, so far I can say that like little Kirsten Dunst and Samantha Matis as older Amy in 1994 version the best. I love the scene of Amy and Laurie in the carriage when he promises to kiss her before she would die. 🙂

    Something reminded me on that sewing box in Orchard House.
    My Mom just brought some basil from her garden and I remembered that I read in Louisa’s journal that she was so happy when she got her room. Her work-basket, I guess that is the sewing box, was by the window and her mother put dried herbs in her closet that smelled very nice.

    Then I remembered that I read somewhwere else about herbs that smell very nice, and I opened Moods and found the scene in Geoffrey Moor’s garden where he gives Sylvia “a small but odorous nosegay” and explains her origins and properties of each herb in it.

    And basil, sage and lavender were among them and my Mom has them all in her garden and I heard her saying the same ancient saying “Why need a man die while a sage grows in his garden?” We use sage to make tea – it’s great for sore throat, dry lavender flowers we put in closet to keep moths away, and basil we use in kitchen – it’s great aromatic spice.

    I’ve been thinking about transcendentalist appreciation of nature. It’s getting back. We call it different names now, but vegeterianism is getting more popular, as well as organic food, traditional medicine based on herbs…

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