Rambling about “Little Women”

My commute to work is one hour or more each way so I have to do something to entertain myself. I tend to have what I call “brain dumps” while driving and when I do, I whip out my phone and turn on the Dragon app. Then I dictate what I’m thinking. A good portion of my writing is done in this fashion.

Today I had such a “brain dump” so I thought I’d share it with you. I’ve been enjoying the Much Ado about Little Women blog and realized I’d love to write more often about what I think about Little Women.

So here goes!

Thoughts on Chapter 42, “Alone”

I have written before about this, my favorite chapter.. The most nuanced and grown-up chapter in the book, it shows Jo’s willingness to allow grief to reshape her. Consumed with honoring her dead sister Jo was determined to follow to the letter of the law Beth’s exhortation on taking care of the family by renouncing her writing ambition. Marmee’s wisdom however led Jo to understand why she found this so difficult to do—it simply wasn’t in her makeup to do what Beth had instructed. She could not be Beth and needed to find her own way to care for the family while remaining true to herself.

Choice of husbands

Part of remaining true to herself was to reject Laurie as a potential husband. In our love for Laurie we forget that he was not entirely supportive of Jo’s writing. Professor Bhaer, however, was. In fact, it was Jo’s poem about the four chests in the attic that touched his heart. He disapproved of Jo’s blood and thunder stories because he thought she was capable of better and inevitably, he was proven correct.

A new life

In allowing the creative process of grief to shape her future, Jo was able to realize a life that to her was very satisfying (even if some readers disagree). She could expand her world to help others, especially the boys she loved so dearly. She was able to start her own family. And in time, with acquired wisdom, she was able to write as she had desired.

This is why Little Women is such a satisfying read for me. Even though she resisted the idea of making Jo a married woman I think Louisa still revealed desires for herself through Jo. While I have yet to read Jo’s Boys, at least through Little Women and Little Men, Jo was free in a way that Louisa it was not. Jo did not impose the chains of duty upon herself as Louisa did.

Was it fair that Amy won the trip to Europe?

On another front, with regards to Amy getting the trip to Europe—I believe Amy deserved that trip. Unlike Jo who rendered her service to Aunt March in a begrudging way, complaining to her sisters about her aunt and clearly not enjoying her company, Amy in fact did enjoy being with Aunt March. That made Amy tmore agreeable companion. Jo felt entitled to that trip and that was wrong. While at first it appears unjust because of Jo’s service, it was the way that service was rendered that caused Amy to be chosen. There is something to be said about that verse from scripture, “God loves a cheerful giver.”

Lucky or gifted?

Like May, Amy was not just “lucky.” Calling her sister “lucky” betrayed Louisa’s/Jo’s resentment towards her sister’s natural ability to get along with others. Louisa/Jo had a lot of difficulty with casual niceties and small talk and people were put off by that. She couldn’t help being the way she was but to resent May/Amy because of her natural ability was unfair.

Who is the shy one?

Beth is often characterized as timid and shy but in many ways Jo was shy as well. Both sisters felt unworthy and in need of improvement, even redemption. Yet while Beth retreated from life, Jo pursued a better course, doing battle with her life like a warrior, determined to prove she was worthy. Beth died, and Jo lived.

What do you think?

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Rare inside look at Louisa May Alcott’s edits on the frontispiece illustration for part 2 of Little Women

From the Firestone Library of Princeton University comes this fascinating and brief look inside the process of putting together the Second Part of Little Women for initial publication.

This article shows the original frontispiece illustrated by Hammatt Billings (showing Amy and Laurie in Europe) and Louisa’s comments scribbled in the margins. Then we get to see the final piece which ending up pleasing Alcott greatly.

Alcott also shares in a letter to a friend just how strongly she felt about Billings’ efforts.

This is a must see — click on the title:

Alcott to Billings: Oh, Please change em!

 

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Gossip from overseas: stories from “Little Women Abroad” by those mapcap Alcott sisters

I am pleased to present this guest post by Elizabeth Hilprecht, a regular reader whose insightful comments you have most likely read. We have been having a wonderful email chat back and forth about Daniel Shealy’s Little Women Abroad and I asked her if she would share some of the wonderful stories taken from letters to home written by Louisa May Alcott and her sister May describing their European exploits. She graciously accepted.

Little Women Abroad is a valuable book including a lengthy introduction, seventy one letters from Louisa and May (with fifty eight published for the first time) and many pages of drawings by May Alcott. Daniel Shealy’s scholarship is impeccable. Besides the colorful stories are letters about the death of John Pratt and the grief experienced by the sisters and business correspondences between “Jo” and “Tom” (Louisa and Thomas Niles, her publisher).

Little Women Abroad also provides a valuable look into the world of two independent and successful sisters (one already established and the other on the cusp) providing a bird’s eye view of Europe in the nineteenth century. We are indeed fortunate that the Alcott family so valued letter writing; Bronson in particular felt that letters should be saved and savored — he ended up transcribing all the letters sent to him and Abba during the daughters’ first year in Europe.

Here are some of Elizabeth’s initial thoughts. Continue reading

Origin of the P.C. and the P.O. from Little Women — it started earlier than you think.

katherine-anthonyResearch has a way of taking you places you never thought to go. I recently rereaded a 1937 biography of Louisa May Alcott by Katherine Anthony (of which I will write about in a future post) and started to wonder why so much came out about the Alcott family that year.

An era of the Alcotts

Odell Shepherd’s book on Bronson Alcott was also published in 1937. It then occurred to me that both books came out just before the fiftieth anniversary of the deaths of Louisa and Bronson, who died only a few days apart from each other after Bronson mysteriously invited Louisa to follow him “up” during their last visit together.

Happy Birthday

That led me to look again at the various artifacts I saw at The Wayside in Concord (specifically the North Bridge Center) where there were several newspaper accounts dating from the same period. The centenary of Louisa May Alcott’s birth was celebrated in Concord in 1932:

from the The Harriet M. Lothrop Family Papers (1831-1870) (Minuteman National Park, Concord, MA)

from the The Harriet M. Lothrop Family Papers (1831-1870) (Minuteman National Park, Concord, MA)

A very special guest

And in 1935 when the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association gathered for its annual meeting, they announced the visit during that year of a particular VIP:

The Harriet M. Lothrop Family Papers (1831-1870) (Minuteman National Park, Concord, MA)

The Concord Journal, December 5, 1935, from The Harriet M. Lothrop Family Papers (1831-1870) (Minuteman National Park, Concord, MA)

Louisa as micro-journalist

And, in the midst of these newspaper clippings, I discover a small article which sheds light on the origins of the Pickwick Portfolio from Little Women (aka, The Olive Leaf in real life):

The Harriet M. Lothrop Family Papers (1831-1870) (Minuteman National Park, Concord, MA)

The Harriet M. Lothrop Family Papers (1831-1870) (Minuteman National Park, Concord, MA)

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To my delight and surprise, the book referenced, Lilliputian Newspapers by James D. Henderson, was available for download from archive.org. Thus I was able to read firsthand about the origins of “The P.C. and the P.O.”

Creating a diversion

Those who have familiarized themselves with Louisa’s life recall the time in Boston when the sisters were in their teens and twenties when the family lived in acute poverty. To keep her family in good cheer, Louisa created a newspaper in 1849 (when she was seventeen) called The Olive Leaf, in honor of a favorite periodical, The Olive Branch. There were several issues, all available at the Houghton Library at Harvard University — the first issue is replicated in its entirety in Chapter 10 of Little Women.  Each sister took the role of a Dickensian character from The Pickwick Papers:

  • Anna/Meg as Samuel Pickwick
  • Louisa/Jo as Augustus Snodgrass
  • Lizzie/Beth as Tracey Tubman
  • May/Amy as Nathaniel Winkle.

Earlier origin

In Lilliputian Newspapers, James D. Henderson reveals that in fact, Louisa created the newspaper when she was twelve in 1844. Henderson writes, “The Pickwick was a manuscript newspaper, in size 10 and 8 inches, and comprised four pages, two columns to a page, entirely written by hand.” (pg. 60, Lilliputian Newspapers). Two issues were published between 1844 and 1845 when the family lived at Still River and Concord. Louisa wrote the early issues but when it changed to The Olive Leaf, all four sisters contributed.

Henderson noted the Weekly Report of their behavior (from “very good” to “good” to “middling” to “bad”) and this invitation:

“THE DUSTPAN SOCIETY will meet on Wednesday next, and parade in the upper story of the Club House. All members to appear in uniform, and shoulder their brooms at nine precisely.” (Ibid, pgs. 62-63)

Ode to Marmee

If you are lucky enough to see or obtain a copy of Lilliputian Newspapers, you will see a reproduction of the original copy of The Pickwick, found in the pocket of the inside of the back cover. The reproduction was made possible by Miss Beatrice Gunn, formerly of the Youth’s Companion, a magazine to which Louisa often contributed. The Concord Journal reprinted the poem featured in the “Poet’s Corner:”

The Harriet M. Lothrop Family Papers (1831-1870) (Minuteman National Park, Concord, MA)

The Harriet M. Lothrop Family Papers (1831-1870) (Minuteman National Park, Concord, MA)

James Henderson’s book was published in 1936. Lots of good stuff during the 1930’s. I look forward to sharing with you soon about Katherine Anthony’s biography which is surprisingly frank and objective.

 

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A dream book launch–Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message makes its debut at The Barrow Bookstore in Concord

1-outside the barrow-640For an author obsessed with all things Alcott,
does it get any better than this?

Launching a book about the most famous Alcott, Louisa, in The Barrow, a bookstore housed in a building owned by descendants of Anna Alcott Pratt in the heart of Concord, Massachusetts … it’s a dream come true.

A book store that is a treasure trove of books past and present, especially of the beloved authors of Concord.

An intimate setting at dusk with hosts who outdid themselves with their hospitality and with an audience of eager Alcott enthusiasts – what more could you want?

I want to publicly thank Aladdine, Jamie and Nancy for hosting me at their store. Although my presentation lasted just a half hour, the conversation afterward lasted well over an hour. Strangers brought together by their passion, all becoming friends. Even my husband had a good time! 😉

both sizes-640I read from Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message, sharing passages from Work A Story of Experience, Hospital Sketches and Little Women and their matching bible passages.

I shared how Louisa May Alcott is My Passion came into being and the role my late mother played in the creation of that blog.

It became a wonderful conversation on how the Alcott family has impacted our lives in quite personal ways.

It was my favorite kind of book event–organic.

large_audio-e1280245494342-316x300Here is my presentation:

Thank you to my extended Alcott family!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message comes in two different sizes – click here to order the smaller volume that fits in your purse; click here to order the large type edition.

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Louisa May Alcott, the Pope and me

I write articles and a monthly column for our local Catholic newspaper. This is my October column.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

17-houseAutumn in New England turns my heart towards Concord where an antique brown colonial stands. In that house a woman wrote a story that has resonated with readers around the world for nearly one hundred and fifty years. Many women cite this book as a game-changer, inspiring them to do great things whether it be running for political office, heading a large corporation, fighting for a righteous cause or simply making their homes a sacred space for their families.

That book is Little Women and the author, Louisa May Alcott.

I have been passionate about Alcott since childhood, finding a soul mate in “tomboy Louy.” Together we struggled with bad tempers and depressive episodes, wrote stories in apple trees, staged plays in the family barn (or in my case, the basement) and searched for a way to fit in.

drawing by Flora Smith, from The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard

drawing by Flora Smith, from The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard

I didn’t read Little Women until shortly after my mother’s death. Reading her copy dated 1911, complete with her personal nameplate, helped me feel close to her again. We turned the pages together, horrified over Amy’s dastardly deed of burning Jo’s manuscript; laughing over the escapades of the sisters with Laurie, the boy next door; incensed over the injustice of Amy winning the trip to Europe with Aunt March when it had been promised to Jo; shocked and saddened by Jo’s rejection of Laurie, and crying copious tears over the passing of sweet Beth.

little women combined

My mother’s copy of Little Women, dated 1911

I discovered something else as I read this book: beautiful spiritual lessons tucked inside of everyday life experiences. While Alcott called her children’s books “moral pap for the young,” I found analogies of God’s tender love for us.

One episode in particular struck me as I watched Pope Francis give his impromptu homily at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia on September 26:

“There were six dolls to be taken up and dressed every morning, for Beth was a child still and loved her pets as well as ever; not one whole or handsome one among them; all were outcasts till Beth took them in; for when her sisters outgrew these idols, they passed to her because Amy would have nothing old or ugly. Beth cherished them all the more tenderly for that very reason, and set up a hospital for infirm dolls. No pins were ever stuck into their cotton vitals; no harsh words or blows were ever given them; no neglect ever saddened the heart of the most repulsive, but all were fed and clothed, nursed and caressed with an affection which never failed.”

Little Women, chapter 4

A scripture came to mind as a result:

“The Lord also will be a stronghold for the oppressed,
A stronghold in times of trouble;
And those who know Your name will put their trust in You,
For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.”

Psalm 9:9-10 (NASB)

Suddenly the Pope’s message became concrete to me. In Little Women, Beth March did not just take care of broken dolls; she would later risk her life to cradle a baby from a poor family dying of scarlet fever.

Pope Francis has shown through his own actions how he cares for the marginalized in our world. How many times have we seen him step out into the crowd, putting himself at risk, to kiss babies and the handicapped? We’ve witnessed him washing the feet of inmates in a Rome prison on Holy Thursday. How often has he, like Jesus, deliberately sought out those whom society considers “different” or “outcasts?”

And how have we reacted to his actions?

Seems to me Louisa May Alcott was on to something. A reformer at heart, championing the causes of women and children, I believe she would have heartily approved of the pontiff’s words and actions. Now it’s time for me to act on those words too.

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