As I said yesterday, I’m going to try for writing about books in the order they were written. Let’s see how how this works out. I’m reading one of Victoria Holt’s old novels (from 1968) and a book from 2015 and it’s been a long time since I’ve read any of the older novels from my younger days . No Hawthorne or Dickens or Twain or anything like that. So I’m going to do Little Women today and then, you know, in a couple of months or years or whenever, I’ll reread a 19th century novel and I’ll have to go backwards to catch that one.
This may take more editing than usual. I’m dictating this while I’m on the Riverwalk, so this is kind of fun. When I dictate a post at home, I’m walking around my neighborhood at night and there’s usually no one around, so I’m more comfortable speaking out loud. I’ve already passed two groups of people now and as a result, I’m speaking really quietly. I’m talking into my phone, so I’m pretty sure they won’t think I’m carrying on a monologue like the street preacher I passed about 15 minutes ago, but still.
Okay now if you live in United States you probably have some familiarity with Little Women. I mean, you might as well if you’re in a different country, but I have to admit that when I was in Italy, I never asked anyone “Hai mai letto Picolle Donne?”
So a little overview of the book may well be in order here. Little Women is the semi-fictionalized autobiographical story of Louisa May Alcott’s family. Alcott had three sisters, Anna Bronson Alcott Pratt (Meg), Elizabeth Sewall Alcott (Beth), and Abigail May Alcott Neiriker (Amy). The girls of the book have similarities with the sisters in real life such as the second sister (Jo/Louisa) being a writer and the youngest (May/Amy) being an artiest.
In Little Women, we start out Christmas of 1863, which is during the United States’s Civil War. The Marches live in Connecticut so they’re on the side of the North, the Union, the Yankees, whichever you prefer. And their father was off being a chaplain during the war. The family had had money at one point but Mr. March had lost their money in a bad business deal and so now they’re living in genteel poverty. They only have one servant left! The horror!
Anyway, the girls have no fashionable clothing and they have to make repairs on the clothing they do have. This doesn’t set well with Meg, who is very envious of the members of her peer group who can buy nice things. The girls become friends with Theodore Laurence, the grandson of the older man next door and we watch their families, one with love but no money, and one with money but no knowledge of how to express their love for one another, interact. We watch Jo attempting to make money from writing, and Amy become the favorite of their rich Aunt March, who helps her get training in her art. Meanwhile, Beth becomes friends with Mr. Laurence, and Mr. Laurence supports her love of music.
The book that we know of as Little Women is actually two books – Little Women and its sequel Good Wives. Little Women ends with the wedding of Meg and John Brook. Good Wives follows the young Brook couple and we also watch Jo and Amy find love. As for Beth? I don’t know if I need a spoiler alert for a book 150 years old, but Beth is too good for this world and dies young.
My mom was in English education major and she had Opinions about this book.
She hated the pairing of Jo and Friedrich Bhaer. She was totally a Jo/Laurie shipper. I can see that, but I can also see the Jo/Friedrich pairing. I ended up buying Jo & Laurie in part of the Germane Amazon Link and also so that I can see the ending my mom wanted.
On the downside, as much as I love my mother, I’m not blind to her misandry. Men scared her and confused her. So anytime something went bad in the life of one of the wives of a writer or a female writer or whatever, it was always a man’s fault. Like with Zelda Fitzgerald. My mom always said that F. Scott Fitzgerald drove her crazy.
She was very angry with Bronson Alcott for failing to support his family and leaving it to one of his children. She may have been onto something.
Bronson Alcott was a dreamer. He wanted abolition and to reform American education and convert people to vegetarianism and a pure way of living in harmony with the land. I mean, these were all good things, but the way he went about them was. . . suboptimal. For example, he tried to found a school without corporal punishment (hitting the students), which is a good thing. However, current sentiment hadn’t yet turned against corporal punishment, and that, combined with an unorthodox teaching style, based more on the Socratic method, where students and teacher converse in hopes of finding truth, which was also not the preferred method. Oh, and before I forget, he didn’t hit his students, but he encouraged his students to hit him, telling them that their failure was because he had failed them. He openly admitted that he was playing on their guilt and shame in doing this. Wow. I’m 110% against corporal punishment, but at least corporal punishment is honest.
Well, Bronson attempted to keep this school going for 10 years and ended up penniless. Then a friend gave Bronson the money to start Fruitlands, a farm dedicated to clean living and rejecting the use of farm animals. You know, like to run plows and things. So the people living there had to push the plow themselves,which is hard work. They also started this farm too late in the year to get a full harvest in by winter, so they almost starved. Fruitlands lasted seven months.
As a result of this lack of practicality on the part of her father, Alcott ended up writing children’s books for the rest of her life because they sold well and she could use the money to support her entire family.
Things I’ve been reading since I started my reread of Little Women indicate that Alcott may have been a transman. Now, I’m reluctant to decorate this post with pink-white-and-blue flags because, well, there was no real term such as transgender back during her lifetime and I really hesitate to sit here in the 21st century and label people based on what they might have defined themselves as today. One of the quotes that supposedly prove their status as a transman was one where they say “I am more than half-persuaded, that I am, by some freak of nature, a man’s soul put into a woman’s body. . . . because I have been in love in my life with ever so many pretty girls, and never once the least little bit with any man.”
Generations of lesbians have seen themselves in this quotation. So was Alcott a straight transman? Were they a lesbian? Were they nonbinary?
I can hear some of you now, ‘does it matter’? And as a straight-passing ciswoman, I say it does. Representation matters. Being able to see yourself in fictional characters and historical figures matters. And seeing yourself in somebody who may very well have been one of the heroes of your childhood really matters.