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.
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.”
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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