Ever wonder about the woman who inspired the character of Meg March?
In Little Women, Meg is the oldest of the March sisters and in all respects, the most mainstream member of the family. She is pretty, dutiful and virtuous, almost old for her age.
Meg’s major flaw is her yearning for material wealth now that her family is poor. She is cured of this desire when she visits her wealthy friends Sallie Gardiner and the Moffat girls and indulges in the shallow life of the well-to-do. All dolled up for a party, she faces the disapproval of Laurie and recognizes the hollowness of vanity and the value of simpler living.
Meg marries a man as virtuous as herself – hard-working poor John Brooke. They have two children and create a loving home; Meg lives the life of the quintessential 19th century Victorian woman.
Based upon Louisa May Alcott’s oldest sister Anna Alcott Pratt, Meg is prettier but her real-life counterpart was more interesting.
Getting to know you
Born on March 16, 1831 and the eldest of the Alcott sisters, Anna was the most studied baby in history. Her philosopher-educator father Bronson, eager to prove his theory about the divine nature of children, observed her in a scientific way, recording her physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual development in the minutest fashion.
Pleasing her father
Infant Anna, always eager to please, picked up on this vibe; her mother Abba noted that Anna “seems as if she is conscious of his observations, and were desirous of furnishing him with an item for his record.” (The Alcotts As I Knew Them, Clara Gowing, p. 43).
Love of acting
Anna inherited her father’s peaceful nature with such a retiring manner that “no one meeting her casually would ever imagine the amount of sentiment and romance in her nature.” (Gowing, p. 107). She loved the theatre and could have been an accomplished actress had she the ambition (partial deafness later in life made acting very difficult though she never lost of love of it).
She and Louisa shared this love of acting, writing plays together and entertaining the family with tableaux and original melodramatic plays such as “Norna, or The Witch’s Curse.”
Although she never pursued acting professionally, it still granted her many rewards, the best being meeting her future husband, John Bridge Pratt. They played the romantic leads in “The Loan of a Lover” and soon became lovers themselves.
Both she and Louisa were powerhouses on the stage but Anna faded into the background once off the stage. She preferred to defer to others and bask in their success.
Love of words
Anna’s abilities weren’t limited to acting. Several books mention her writing skill and her ability to easily learn foreign languages. In Eden’s Outcasts, John Matteson quotes family friend Llewellyn Frederick Willis (from his Alcott Memoirs ) regarding Anna, “Skilled in learning languages and a thoughtful writer, she perhaps exceeded all her sisters in terms of her pure intellectual gifts.”
Anna however, lacked ambition. Matteson continues, “Unlike Louisa, however, she lacked the confidence to try to publish them. Her excellent mind was ‘shown more in the appreciation of others than in the expression of herself.’ ” (p. 210 of the ebook).
A quick portrait
Matteson also writes of Anna,
“She was the most even-tempered and amiable of the four. Her sense of humor was keen but without Louisa’s tartness. While she partook enthusiastically in the game of her friends and sisters, her zest was tempered with a sense of dignity. She was more beautiful in her graceful bearing than in her physical features.”
More to come …
In my next post, I will share lesser-known facts about Anna including journal entries she made as a girl that reveal a dreamy pre-teen full of yearning (and even a desire to be famous). We’ll find out in part, what made Anna tick.
Are you finding Anna to be more interesting than Meg March? What did you think of Meg as a character in Little Women?
Are you passionate about Louisa May Alcott too?
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5 Replies to “Meet the real Meg March”
I’m absolutely finding Anna more interesting than Meg. And I’ve also been getting the impression that May was more interesting than Amy. Why do you think Louisa did that to her portraits of her sisters? (I don’t know enough about Elizabeth yet. Though Louisa sentimentalized her death, right?) Was she not aware that she was making them less interesting than their real life counterparts? Was she trying to conventionalize her “pathetic” and highly-unconventional family? Or was there an underlying jealousy of the greater approval her sisters received that made her attenuate their characters?
I haven’t read much biography yet (am currently reading Susan Cheever’s – have heard it’s not great, but it’s still a place to start) but I still feel that Jo is just as interesting as Louisa.
Since Louisa was aiming Little Women towards girls she felt the need to homogenize it. She had little faith that her “queer” family life would be of any interest so I’m sure she must have felt a need to make her characters more mainstream. Anna though was already pretty mainstream – it’s too bad that Meg is so two-dimensional in comparison.
Amy is pretty close to her real counterpart, May. What Louisa leaves out, of course, is how May ended up pursuing art seriously as a career, and unfortunately, May died soon after her marriage and birth of her child so we never got to see how she would have managed career with family.
Since I immersed myself in Louisa long before Jo, I’ve always found Jo too to be a watered down version of the original.
And Lizzie/Beth’s death was most definitely romanticized/sanitized!
All that being said, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy were still very vibrant, very real characters that have survived well the test of time.
That was very informational. Thank you! I am doing a major project on Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women,” and I have to make a fake facebook page for her, the antagonist (Meg) and protagonist (Jo).
Cool, I’m glad the blog could help. If you end up using materials from the blog, can you please credit it as the Louisa May Alcott is My Passion blog at http://www.louisamaylacottismypassion.com? Thanks, and good luck with your project!
Yes, definetely. Thanks!