Today, two very passionate lovers of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women have put together their thoughts on two very important aspects of the book to demonstrate how it remains relevant. They have asked me to be sure to mention that all opinions are welcome in the world, of course, but if you disagree with theirs, please take your comments elsewhere. They have FEELINGS – brace yourself, and enjoy. Also: SPOILERS AHEAD -Lydia
**The 1994 movie is the only adaptation we will be acknowledging in this piece. Because it is perfection.**
Timeless Love Story
*takes a few deep breaths* Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. We all repress memories in order to protect our peace, mental health, and overall well-being. However, today because of my deep love for the PageChaser community, I’m resurrecting a memory that is so dark, so heinous, that I long ago banished it to the deepest caverns of my soul. I am of course talking about the fact that Louisa May Alcott refused to allow Jo and Laurie to marry.
Let’s dive in. Jo is a rascal, and we love her for it. She refuses to fit into societal norms for women, and is uninterested in conversation about clothes, dancing, money, and boys. She is fiercely loyal, smart as a whip, and wildly creative. Her best friend is Laurie, the boy next door who just “gets” her. And he has since the day they met, hiding behind a curtain at a fancy party because she burned both her dress and hair.
*slowly starts weeping* Jo continues to grow into her boisterous, opinionated, vibrant self. Laurie adores every part of her, not only encouraging her in her dream to be a writer, but also befriending and caring for the most important people in her life, her family.
What we know today as Little Women, was first written and published in two parts. The first story ends with John Brooke proposing to Meg, the oldest sister, and the girls’ father returning from the war. After this story was published, everyone wrote to Louisa May Alcott, begging her to have Jo and Laurie marry in the sequel. Because anybody with a pulse could tell they were literally made for one another. The people of 1868 with their candlelit homes, horses and buggies, and barely post-Civil War society were sitting around in their parlors saying, “we’ve got to make sure Louisa has Jo and Laurie marry or else America is probably toast.”
Well, wouldn’t you just know that Louisa was so annoyed with everyone’s obsession with Jo and Laurie (BECAUSE THEY ARE PERFECT TOGETHER) that she refused to have them marry, writing in her diary, “I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”
*begins breathing into a bag*Louisa is like a Mom who had to take her kids grocery shopping. She always planned to buy them a piece of candy when they arrived at the checkout line. She loves her kids, she knows what kind of candy they like, it’s such a clear-cut decision. However, while she is buying groceries, her kids spend the next hour begging for a piece of candy and even though she had planned to buy it, she now refuses. She is a woman who will not give in to her children’s whims and uses this to teach them a lesson.
I mean, I can be as stubborn as the next person, but Louisa MUST WE SUFFER FOR THE SINS OF OUR ANCESTORS? Isn’t the world a tough enough place without us having to live with the reality of the literal perfect couple not ending up together and instead Laurie marrying Amy (the WORST) and Jo marrying Professor Bhaer (basically her grandfather).
I guess I’ve written all of this to say that I blame all of my relational issues on Louisa May Alcott, and if I never get married, it will be her fault. Thank you for attending my TED talk.
Goldie: The Jo Complex
“Oh, I’m definitely a Jo." This emphatic response to “Which LITTLE WOMEN sister are you?” has been ringing in the halls of college English Lit departments, book club living rooms, and libraries for decades. I’ve certainly worn this Jo badge of identity for a time or two. We love Jo. We believe in Jo. Jo is the audacious, relatable, Lizzie Bennet of the March clan, and she represents the courageous fight to blast through gender expectations and life’s obstacles.
But, I’m about to suggest something that is going to unsettle a few of us literary scarf-wearing, tea drinking, paperback-carrying book nerds. What if you’re not just Jo. What if sometimes you/me/we are Amy? Or Meg? Or gasp…what if we have a little Aunt March in us? Stay with me here…
I think the beauty, the wisdom, the classic-ness (let’s just pretend this is a word, thank you kindly) of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is that these beloved sisters and their matriarch represent the facets of all women in varying degrees. As much as we want to be identified as the plucky, brave, endearingly flawed Jo, I believe that Miss Alcott (and Marmee!), would rather the reader see themselves in each and every one of the March sisters. Not pitting the ladies against each other in a Magazine style personality test. (All Bs? Sorry, you’re Amy!)
Given the right circumstances, we are all a little like Jo, Amy, Meg, and Beth. Don’t believe me? Outraged? Need a whiff of Aunt March’s smelling salts?
Or should we proceed?
These dazzling girls lived in a very specific time and place of contradictions. Reared in a community of ex-transcendentalists, in Civil War-era New England. They had much of the pedigree and social expectations of the Bennet girls but were also uniquely blasted with the chilling realities of both war in their homeland and sudden poverty. They were on the fringes of rapidly deteriorating privilege and society. Yet they were very much a part of the new, excitingly unrestricted middle class. Marmee held the humanitarian ideas of Thoreau and Emerson close to her heart even as Meg was advised on the critical nature of finding a good pair of white gloves for her social outings. This household was teetering on the desire to still be part of society. To be marriageable, agreeable young women but also resolutely committed to the virtues of nobility, charity, and humility.
Marmee was an extraordinary woman and mother who wanted her girls to be well-rounded, multi-faceted individuals of strong character. She did not belittle Amy’s desire to have new drawing pencils or Meg’s hope of having a full dance card. But, she also championed Beth’s commitment to tend to the sickly, German immigrant neighbors and Jo’s love for adventures with Laurie and the masculine pursuit of authorship. Marmee wanted her girls to be free to become kind, flawed, unique humans while navigating a world that very much expected them each to fit into a specific, corseted mold. Marmee would NEVER expect Meg to be just one passion. One type. One viewpoint.
So why should we? Sometimes I am brave and bold like Jo. But, more often, I am timid and even keeled like Beth. Feeling intimidated by the world and just wanting to stay home in a heap of quilts. Sometimes I want to fit in with the crowd and have a sense of belonging. Like Meg at a fancy party or Amy with her infamous limes. Maybe in her youth, Aunt March was much like Jo and after the realities and disappointments of life, ended up more like Amy? People so often compare Meg to Marmee. But it’s not hard to see signs of Marmee’s goodness in Beth, her strength in Jo, and her spirit for improvement in Amy.
What is so very special about these March women is that they are inextricably intertwined with one another. One ends where the other begins. They are the extension of a home, a haven, built on love, wisdom, understanding, empathy, and perseverance. The best and the worst of each other and of all of us. I love those girls as if they are my own family. I cannot, will not, should not pick a ‘favorite’.
Marmee said it best…
"I want my daughters to be beautiful, accomplished, and good. To be admired, loved, and respected. To have a happy youth, to be well and wisely married, and to lead useful, pleasant lives, with as little care and sorrow to try them as God sees fit to send. To be loved and chosen by a good man is the best and sweetest thing which can happen to a woman, and I sincerely hope my girls may know this beautiful experience. It is natural to think of it, Meg, right to hope and wait for it, and wise to prepare for it, so that when the happy time comes, you may feel ready for the duties and worthy of the joy.
My dear girls, I am ambitious for you, but not to have you make a dash in the world, marry rich men merely because they are rich, or have splendid houses, which are not homes because love is wanting. Money is a needful and precious thing, and when well used, a noble thing, but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for. I'd rather see you poor men's wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace."
"Poor girls don't stand any chance, Belle says, unless they put themselves forward," sighed Meg.
"Then we'll be old maids," said Jo stoutly.
"Right, Jo. Better be happy old maids than unhappy wives, or unmaidenly girls, running about to find husbands," said Mrs. March decidedly. "Don't be troubled, Meg, poverty seldom daunts a sincere lover. Some of the best and most honored women I know were poor girls, but so love-worthy that they were not allowed to be old maids. Leave these things to time. Make this home happy, so that you may be fit for homes of your own, if they are offered you, and contented here if they are not. One thing remember, my girls. Mother is always ready to be your confidant, Father to be your friend, and both of us hope and trust that our daughters, whether married or single, will be the pride and comfort of our lives."
"We will, Marmee, we will!" cried both, with all their hearts, as she bade them good night.
If you're not convinced that Little Women is still relevant today based on these passionate modern ladies, it may be time for you to give it a read (or re-read)!
Learn more about the new Winter Seasons Edition of Little Women - including how that beautiful cover design came to life - here!
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