I’d have a stable full of Arabian steeds, rooms piled with books, and I’d write out of a magic inkstand, so that my works should be as famous as Laurie’s music. I want to do something splendid before I go into my castle—something heroic, or wonderful—that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you all, some day. I think I shall write books, and get rich and famous; that would suit me, so that is my favorite dream. (Jo March in "Little Women")
Each year at Christmas, I pull out my Little Women DVD (the version with Susan Sarandon and Wynona Ryder) and settle down for an evening of reacquaintance with Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy and Marmee. It's a personal tradition, and brings back many memories of the beloved little book I fell in love with years ago.
When I was 13, my grandfather presented me with a copy of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I devoured the book within a week, then quickly proceeded to read Little Men, Jo's Boys, Under the Lilacs, Rose in Bloom, and every other book penned by Ms. Alcott that I could lay hands on, shortly thereafter. Little Women has long remained my favorite. I adored the four March sisters and their loving 'Marmee', but I was drawn to identify with impatient, independent, headstrong Jo. I laughed at her follies, cried with her at the loss of her sweet Beth, felt her anguish as she mourned the failures of her character, pondered the lessons of the Pilgrim's Progress along with her, admired her pluck, courage and selflessness as she chopped off her beautiful chestnut mane to earn money for her mother's travel expenses, and cheered when she sold her first stories. I felt her keen sense of injustice when cantankerous Aunt March chose Amy, over Jo, as her traveling companion to Europe. My 13-year-old self was disappointed when Jo failed to return the romantic attentions of her handsome and wealthy young neighbor Laurie, but later understood Alcott's decision to wed her heroine to the considerably older, and decidedly less dashing, Professor Bhaer.
In an age where comportment and decorum were highly regarded and the roles of women clearly defined, Jo represented a break with the traditional view of the Victorian woman.She held a job, spoke (much to the chagrin of her sisters), in the slang used by the young men of her time, was a regular tomboy and longed to go fight alongside her father in the Civil War.
I hate to think I've got to grow up, and be Miss March, and wear long gowns, and look as prim as a China Aster! It's bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like boy's games and work and manners! I can't get over my disappointment in not being a boy. And it's worse than ever now, for I'm dying to go and fight with Papa. And I can only stay home and knit, like a poky old woman!
Little Women would leave an impression upon me. Like Jo, I dreamed of being a writer and went on to major in Journalism. Some years later, I'd marry into a Punjabi Indian family and would receive instruction in the importance of the appropriate dress, appearance and comportment of a new Indian bride from my inlaws, who wanted me to make a good impression on friends and family, as I accompanied them on various social calls. I openly rebelled against their advice and complained about the requisite social calls, remembering Jo's own aversion to "society":
She hated calls of the formal sort, and never made any till Amy compelled her with a bargain, bribe, or promise. In the present instance there was no escape, and having clashed her scissors rebelliously, while protesting that she smelled thunder, she gave in, put away her work, and taking up her hat and gloves with an air of resignation, told Amy the victim was ready.
Jo March, you are perverse enough to provoke a saint! You don't intend to make calls in that state, I hope,: cried Amy, surveying her with amazement.
Why not? I'm neat and cool and comfortable, quite proper for a dusty walk on a warm day. If people care more for my clothes than they do for me, I don't wish to see them. You can dress for both, and be as elegant as you please. It pays for you to be fine. It doesn't for me, and furbelows only worry me.
Jo's sentiments about clothing and dress echoed my own at the time. I didn't understand what all the fuss was about, and felt if people couldn't accept me for who I was, regardless of how I was dressed, I had no use for them. And Amy's response quite echoed my mother-in-law's, when I would announce that I had no desire or intention to change into the clothes she'd suggested.
Over the years, as my interest in art and design developed, I began to view the form and function of clothing a little differently, but I still recall fondly the simplicity and idealism of my 26-year-old self as a new bride, and see how Jo helped to inspire and shape the person I was. What stood out to me about Jo's character was her persistence and belief that women could do anything that men could.
Admittedly, there are passages in Little Women that would annoy the modern reader, certainly some that espouse old gender stereotypes and many that read as Puritanical and prude, but given the context in which the book was written, i.e., against the backdrop of the Victorian era, 19th century America, Little Women was ground-breaking literature for young women of the time, and Alcott influenced other writers of literature for girls, including Canadian author L.M. Montgomery who penned the Anne of Green Gables series, (another favorite).
Little Women remains a timeless classic. Once we get past the straight-laced, "goody-goody" passages, we can retain its valuable message. The sweet and simple lessons it imparted a little over a hundred years ago still hold true for us; that the things that matter most are those that cost the least - family, sisterhood, charity, character, humility, laughter, friendship, compassion, learning and love. And that as humans, we are constantly a work in progress; we make mistakes, we err and commit foibles that we later wish to erase, but we go on to learn from them, always holding true to our values, and to who we are on the inside.
“Women work a good many miracles…”
Hoping you had a wonderful Christmas!