Questions, questions … (part two) – turning to May

How did May Alcott get away with so much?

In 1868, she joined her sister Louisa in Boston to teach an art class. Louisa had just secured her position as editor of Merry’s Museum. She was 35 and May, 27.

Line of intrigue

Madeleine Stern wrote a rather intriguing line about May that sparked the above question:

May joined her to start a drawing class and gave every promise of abandoning her wild oats and settling down into a sober teacher of the art in which she was completely engrossed. (pg. 164, Louisa May Alcott A Biography by Madeleine Stern).

The bold is my emphasis.

Not so young, and free

May was 27, single, sowing her wild oats. She was free. How did she get away with it considering the many restrictions on women in the 19th century?

Acceptable for a woman

Was it because she pursued an interest that was considered acceptable? After all, many a fine lady took up drawing. In chapter 12 of Little Women, “Camp Lawrence,” Miss Kate, the fine (and snobby) Englishwoman is depicted as an artist.

The baby of the family

Was it because she was the youngest daughter that she managed to fly under the radar and avoid the responsibilities that Louisa and Anna had taken on with such gusto?

Attitude on life

Was it because May was blessed with that certain “joie de vivre” that made her appear younger than she was?

Oh so charming

Was it her expertise in the art of graciousness that could charm anyone?

What was it?

Your thoughts …

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6 Replies to “Questions, questions … (part two) – turning to May”

  1. Great questions, which might take a book to answer, ahem. I do think the birth order is huge. I know so many families where the youngest are most light hearted, and with Bronson’s attention to Anna and Louisa, it was as if Louisa were the oldest, too. Big age gap to Amy, which really made her the baby.

    1. Being the last of 3, the baby definitely gets away with a lot! I think the family was pretty distracted by the time May came along and somehow she was immune to all that was going on. I always though Lizzie might have been the “odd girl out” not being as creative or expressive as the others, but maybe May should take that title. She totally avoided all the burdens of the family.

  2. I dunno about odd girl out, but most certainly lucky. Its true about the youngest. My parents are far harder on me than my brother. I could win the nobel prize and my bro get a job and all the attention would be on his great feat. I also think she reaped the benefits of Louisa’s good fortune. I also think because of her parents, their struggle and their philosophies they weren’t as determined to marry May off as other parents may have been during the time period.

    I will confess. I hated Amy in LW. However, the more I learn about the real May the more interested I become in her. Its sad she died when she did. It would have been interesting to see how she juggled motherhood, a career and her wifely duties.

    1. Yes, I would have loved to have seen that played out. May had had it pretty easy up to that point and now she was committed to a husband and child.

      Louisa had ambivalence towards May which probably explains why Amy was such an obnoxious character in the first half of Little Women. She blossomed into a character I really liked but a lot of readers can’t get past the spoiled child. Louisa did her job a little too well there. 🙂

  3. What an intriguing character May Alcott was. I enjoyed Amy in Little Women, but May was so much more interesting…She definitely benefitted from being the youngest and of course Louisa’s wealth. Lucky for her, but she had the ambition and the freedom to accomplish what she did. When I visited Orchard House, there were so many of her works there…what a tragedy she died so young…

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