Highlights from Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott

As part of the Louisa May Alcott reading challenge hosted by the In the Bookcase blog, I pledged I would read and post on Jo’s Boys and Anne Boyd Rioux’s latest, Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters. This post will be about Jo’s Boys.

I am fortunate enough to own a first edition copy of Jo’s Boys. Knowing that this book existed while Louisa was still alive gives the reading of it a special meaning. I am enjoying Jo’s Boys more than I did Little Men. The March Sisters were not the main players of Little Men (and they aren’t in Jo’s Boys either) but they play more of a part. Of the boys, I was most interested in Dan and Nat and I’ve yet to get to the crux of their stories, and am looking forward to finding out how things turned out for them.

Chapter 3, “Jo’s Last Scrape”

There are three chapters so far that stand out for me, mainly for what they revealed about not only some of the March sisters but also about Louisa and Anna. Chapter 3, “Jo’s Last Scrape” is a wonderful and funny revelation of Louisa’s mixed feelings about fame. She was much plagued by pushy fans who insisted on calling on her unannounced, expecting that she would drop everything to sign autographs and visit. Many of you know the lore of Louisa dressing up as a maid to dismiss fans at her door.

It was gratifying to read that “Jo’s wildest and most cherished dream actually came true.” Putting off her writing until it had ripened with life experience proved successful. In the previous post guest blogger Jill Fuller wrote a line that describes Jo’s, and Louisa’s approach to life so well: “the push and pull of writing and living is not something to fight against. We don’t have to sacrifice one thing we love for another; we embrace them both with gusto and passion, and let them flavor each other.”

Jo’s history was not unlike Louisa’s: laboring for years over the book of her heart only to have it fail (Moods), while a book she wrote quickly on commission became wildly successful (Little Women). Fame, of course, was not what she imagined it to be:

“Jo came to consider it the worst scrape of her life; for liberty had always been her dearest possession, and it seemed to be fast going from her.”

Louisa then sketches out a day in the life of the now famous authoress to demonstrate the trials and tribulations of success. I enjoyed very much all the funny hijinks of her adoring and persistent fans, and what Jo had to do to cope.

Chapter 8, “Josie Plays Mermaid”

Josie wants to become an actress, much to her mother Meg’s chagrin. Josie admired the much acclaimed actress Miss Cameron who happened to be vacationing next door to Amy and Laurie’s summer cottage when Josie’s family was staying. Longing to meet her, she gets the chance by helping Miss Cameron find her bracelet which had fallen off into the water. In gratitude for the girl’s efforts Miss Cameron granted Josie a private audience to critique her acting. The advice she gave to the young aspiring actress was rich with the wisdom of the older one’s experience.

I remember reading in The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott (a novel by Kelly O’Connor McNees) about Louisa’s meetup with famous actress Fanny Kemble in Walpole, NH; Ms. Kemble had attended a play starring Louisa and Anna. As Louisa’s books contain many aspects of her life, it made me wonder if she did in fact meet Ms. Kemble in Walpole as the actress was known to visit there. Did Ms. Kemble critique Louisa’s acting much as Miss Cameron did with Josie? Whether real or imagined, it was clear how much Louisa enjoyed the theater. Although in Work A Story of Experience (an adult novel) she describes the downside of acting, here we get a sense of the great joy and satisfaction Louisa derived from the theater. And as later revealed in Jo’s Boys, we find out that Meg too enjoyed acting far more than she had dared admit when she was younger.

Actress Fanny Kemble

Chaper 10, “Demi Settles”

It is here in chapter 10 where Louisa reveals a new depth to Meg that aligns her more closely with her real-life counterpart Anna. In Little Women Meg considered theatricals childish and, anxious to grow up, appeared to have no trouble leaving them behind. Her real-life counterpart Anna enjoyed the theater as much as Louisa and acted well into her twenties before encroaching deafness forced her off the stage. She and Louisa both nurtured ambition to become great actresses and by all accounts, Anna was quite talented. So it was gratifying to me to see this part of Anna honored in Meg.

Demi, in trying to convince his mother to allow Josie to follow her dream, reminded Meg of her “unquenchable interest in the dramatic efforts of the young people around her.” He advocated for Josie, telling Meg that

“We don’t choose our talents; but we needn’t hide them in a napkin because they are not just what we want. I say, let Jo have her way, and do what she can.”

 

Anna’s sons John and Fred did theatricals.

He then proceeds to flatter his mother’s talents, hoping it will soften her heart towards Josie’s dearest desire. It worked to perfection.

Although Louisa and Anna were discouraged from professional acting by Abba because she deemed them too young, she and Bronson encouraged and nurtured their daughters’ many talents whether it be acting, writing or painting. The result was a best-selling author who earned more than enough to support her family, and a successful artist whose works not only earned her keep but were prominently displayed at the prestigious Paris Salon (a still life and a portrait).

Enjoying the read

I won’t finish Jo’s Boys before this challenge ends but I am grateful that it caused me to turn back to this last book in the Little Women series. Despite the book being written over seven years, it holds together well. Louisa was a master at simmering stories.

Have you read Jo’s Boys? What did you think?

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16 Replies to “Highlights from Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott”

  1. I haven’t read “Jo’s Boys” in years, probably decades, but I loved it. I loved the portrayals of each of the sisters. Jo’s dearest wish had been granted, because she was able to provide Marmee with comfort and ease before she died. And Jo had achieved her desire for fame and fortune (you’ve already described her reaction to that, so I won’t comment further). Meg is a devoted mother who still loves to act and is very skilled at it. Amy is a gracious lady who looks after the young ladies at Plumfield, still loves to paint and sculpt, and is a devoted wife and mother. I think May would have been pleased with the way Amy was presented. My favorite character is Josie, who is lively and spunky and fun. Louisa even paid tribute to her father, because he is still an honored member of the college that Plumfield has become. I think Louisa tried to please everyone with “Jo’s Boys,” and I think she did a good job of it.

    1. Although I am a little more than halfway through I think I’m going to find that I agree with you. It certainly seems to be true so far. I’m glad that Louisa paid more attention to the March sisters in this book.

  2. Yes, I agree, and am so glad you are enjoying this story! I don’t have a copy of it at this point, but I recall picking up from the book as a whole, just how tired and unwell Louisa was by 1886 and how relieved she was to “let the curtain fall forever on the March family.” I expect my copy of The Story of Meg No Beth and Amy in August from Amazon and just realized how close that is getting!

      1. You may be sure that you will be the first person I’ll tell when it is published!

  3. I read Jo’s boys when I was 12 years old. I loved it. I read again last year, and I still love it.
    My favorite character is Nat. I was so happy when he found love! But I don’t like Dan’s fate.

  4. How lovely. I’m glad you have shared some of your thoughts on Jo’s Boys, along with some historical cross-references. I hope you enjoy the rest of your reading of Jo’s Boys. It’s been so many years for me, I should probably read the whole series again, as I’m sure I would find new elements of the story in a re-read. 🙂

  5. I have always liked Jo’s Boys better than Little Men. My favorite part is Jo’s reaction to fame. When I was younger I could relate to Josie. She was my favorite character.

  6. My favorite book series’ final part! I’m so happy that you share your experience reading it for the first time with us! Really hope that you’ll write some more posts on it, to see what you think of the ending! Chapter 3 is also a big favorite of mine. Although I would like to read your opinion on Chapter 7: The Lion and the Lamb, or more specifically, on the adolescent Rob and Ted, for I adore Rob and am so pleased with Teddy respecting him.

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