14 December 2008

Keepin' It Real

Cast of Characters:

Meg (Margaret): She remembers living better and struggles to be graceful about their straightened situation, although it has obviously been the way things are for quite some time.

Aunt March: She is childless & offered to adopt one of the girls when the March family fell on hard times. She was upset by their refusal and initially refused to speak to them, but has since mellowed enough to take Jo as a sort of domestic assistant. Aunt March is a widow. See also: Jo.

The King Family: Thus far we have read about the 4 children that Meg tends. In addition there are two older sisters, Grace & Ellen, that are about Meg & Jo's age that have recently debuted and are enjoying all the little luxuries that Meg wishes for. There is also an older brother whom the father sent away because of some unspecified disgrace.

Jo (Josephine): She is "Josy-phine" to Aunt March and she considers Aunt March to be a considerable trial she must endure (but she also loves her). But Aunt March still has her late husband's library, which Jo loves. Jo is restless and ambitious, but as yet seems to have little direction for her ambition.

Beth: Because she did so poorly at school (she's very bashful), Beth is homeschooled, previosly by her father but now Marmee does it, and Beth also does a great deal working with Hannah to keep up the house. She is a tender thing who loves music and has a little hospital of discarded dolls.

Amy: Amongst the other girls, Amy almost seems out of place. Where the others have quite a few virtues, Amy seems to be selfish ("Not one whole or handsome among [her dolls], 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." Ch 4, pg 45) She's prissy and I find myself more than a little sympathetic to the irritation that leads Jo to constantly needle her. Her nose is her greatest trial?? She is, however, very artistic and a good student.

Susie Perkins: One of Amy's classmates. She gets in trouble for mocking Mr. Davis, the teacher.

Mr. Davis: Amy's teacher.

Laurie: bashful, but friendly and kind neighbor. He seems to be about the same age as Meg and Jo.

Mr. Lawrence: He's the gentleman next door and Laurie's redoubtable grandfather. He takes a nearly instant liking to Jo.

Laurie's parents: His father married his mother against the wishes of Mr. Lawrence; they both died young. Mrs. Lawrence was an Italian and a pianist.


Chapter 4: The March family struggles to remain happy in the face of trial. Marmee reminds them all that in spite of the things they don't have to remember how many blessings they have.

Chapter 5: Jo goes to visit Laurie and also meets his grandfather. It appears to be the beginning of friendly relations between the two households.

Chapter 6: Mr. Lawrence allows Beth to use his piano. She sends beautiful handmade slippers by way of thanks. He responds by giving this little girl, who reminds him of his late granddaughter, his granddaughter's piano. Mr. Lawrence and Beth become fast friends.


One of the things I just love about this book is the way that Alcott keeps it real. It starts with complaints ("Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents!") and although the girls & their Marmee are definitely wonderful women, they all have their cross moments in this second set of chapters. I love the way that Jo works against the grouchiness in the beginning of chapter 4 with the imagery of the Pilgrim's Progress and other good literature. But I think that there is a bit of wisdom in the comment about Meg:

"Poor Meg seldom complained, but a sense of injustice made her feel bitter toward everyone sometimes, for she had not yet learned to know how rich she was in the blessings which alone can make life happy." (Chapter 4, pg 44.)

What an ordinary human problem! I think that Meg is in good company with this problem. I think that Kate has the right of it: Count Your Many Blessings. It's likely the best and fastest cure for the problem. I should count mine more often.

The other thing that stands out to me here is the grand effects of simple kindness. Jo went out to shovel paths for Beth in the yard. She ended by going to visit Laurie, who was ill. Small and simple things bring great things to pass, and from these humble beginnings springs all sorts of wonderful things: Laurie gets out more and generally leads a happier life. There is much visiting back and forth. Everyone in both households is better off. Finally, in chapter 6, Beth and Mr. Lawrence each give the other kindnesses that are priceless to their recipients.

I like the way this book makes me want to be a better woman myself. The fruits of goodness and kindness are so clearly and so realistically displayed in the March family's lives as we read about them. But more than the benefits they receive for their goodness, it's clear that their goodness makes them wonderful people. I want to be like that. I like that this book makes me think that kind of thoughts.

13 December 2008

Count your Many Blessings (chapters 4-6)

Our story is definitely picking up speed and gathering momentum. There was so much advancement of the plot in these three chapters; so very dense chapters. And heavy on the character development: Meg, who seemed so lovely and darling, is shown to have a cranky side. Jo, who was sketched to be so clumsy and awkward in all things, gracefully befriended a lonely boy, and brings the whole family in on it. We get greater insight into Beth's character and even Amy is fleshed out.

Marmee, while demonstrating some frustration (p. 37), still remains a very admirable woman. I am intrigued by her parenting style. As we come into the story, we're much too far along in the narration to read what it was that Marmee did to establish such an solid and wonderful relationship with her girls, but we clearly see how she works to maintain it. In chapter 4 (p. 47), they all take turns telling stories, essentially sharing their day's events with each other. Marmee not only listens actively to what her children are saying, she uses their own stories as a teaching tool. Through her teaching, she not only re-emphasises her tenets of living an active Christian life, but also she clearly demonstrates to the girls that what they say is important enough for her to pay real attention to. This validates them and can only work to build them up more and more. (haha.. listen to me go on as if i know something about parenting) But I definitely see that as something I'd like to [eventually] achieve and emulate in my own life with my own eventual kids.

I really like the development of the connection between Beth and Mr. Laurence. I was touched by how tenderly he worked to get Beth to come play his piano. I must say, of all the characters so far, I relate to Beth the best and I thought the exchange of gifts between them, at the end of chapter six, was so very sweet.

I really am enjoying this book. It makes me wish my life was more like this story. Not so much that I wish I were more poor or necessarily more humble.. but it would be really wonderful to have my blessings so beautifully (and clearly) laid out so I could better appreciate them.

Other, Outside Stuff
Ritsumei mentioned, in the comments of my last post, her curiosity surrounding the "Pilgrim's Progress" book that is occasionally mentioned in Little Women. Originally, I assumed that the mysterious Christmas book (chapter 2, p. 14) was a Bible, but further comments in the book, and Rit's mentioning it again peaked my curiosity as well and so I Googled "Pilgrim's Progress".

According to Wikipedia, Pilgrim's Progress is an actual book written by John Bunyan published in 1678. It is a Christian allegory about a man who quests for the "Celestial City" (representing Heaven, or the life to come). I think this may be the little book the Little Women are reading and using as a motivator to be better people. The actual text is available online here.

07 December 2008


Well, since Ritsumei already posted a wonderful break down of the character list and summaries, I'll start with my thoughts and initial ponderings.

So far there are lots of things that I like about this book. I like the world that Louisa May Alcott has created in Little Women; such a wonderful family and home. I like the dynamics between the sisters. I was amused by the description of the King children and the pointed timing of it. After having spent the first few pages of the book detailing just how poor the March family was, yet concluding that despite it all, they were happy, I thought the stark contrast in description of the wealthy King children, "... fighting and fretting all the time, in spite of their money", (pg.5) was very telling of Louisa May Alcott's position on what brings happiness.

Overall, I think her characters are diverse and very interesting, with just the right touch of realisim thrown in so they are believeable. They're not super developed yet, but we've only just had a taste thus far.

One of the questions that we have over there on our list of questions to ponder is: "Does the author have an agenda" or "Does this book have a theme"?
I don't think the words "agenda" or even "theme" are quite the right word that I would use to describe the approach Louisa May Alcott uses with this book, I think "tone" might be a better word. But already I am definitely seeing a very strong tenor of Christianity in the writing of Little Women. (not that i think that's a bad thing or that i disagree with her clearly stated opinion of the goodness of it) Mostly, it's something I noticed. I rather like the unabashed way she clearly promotes an active Christian lifestyle (meaning the doing of service, the general improving of one's self and being happy with life even when it's not what is generally accepted as perfect) And I find it interesting how different that is from uses of that theme in more recent literature. I think Christianity and productivity is still a predominant theme in many books. However, I feel that today it is more likely that the approach to that sort of theme would be either laid out almost apologetically, or it would be the bash-the-reader-over-the-head-with-how-THIS-is-what-they-should-be-doing. Louisa May Alcott's approach is more matter of fact, almost understated; just another aspect of life at the March house. I think it probable that this is a result of the "Realism" movement that Ritsumei touched on.

I like it.

05 December 2008

Poor but Happy (Little Women, ch 1-3)

Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott, 1868 & 1869

Somewhat autobiographical: Louisa & Jo are closely related.

List of Characters (in order of appearance):

Jo: Leading Lady. 15 years old, described as boyish, though she seems more awkward than masculine. Bookworm.

Meg: Jo's older sister, 16 years. Prim & a bit fussy, kind & mothering.

Mother/Marmee: A Christian woman in every sense of the word. Loves her girls.

Amy: Youngest of the sisters, a bit self-important, puts on airs.

Beth: Just older than Amy. Introspective, quiet.

Father: Away as a Chaplin in the Civil War. Sends letters full of love & wishes for the growth of his "Little Women."

King Children: Well-to-do acquaintances who are neither happy nor well-behaved.

Hannah: A servant in the March household, "considered a friend more than a servant."

Aunt March: A relative the girls make sheets for.

German family: recipients of the March family's Christmas breakfast.

Mr. Laurence: sends over Christmas dinner

Scrabble: The rat in Jo's attic. I wonder if he's autobiographical?? [shudder]

Ms. Gardiner:Throws the party Jo & Meg attend.

Sallie: A girl at the party

(Theodore) Laurie Laurence: grandson of Mr. Laurence. Hides in the same alcove as Jo & they chat then dance at the party.

Annie Moffat: Sallie's friend who invites Meg for a week-long visit to include a trip to the Opera.


Chapter 1: It's Christmas Eve (how very seasonal for us to read this now!) and the March girls begin the evening by sitting around and complaining, but soon enough they find better things to do. They plan gifts for their mother, read a letter from Father in which he encourages them to be their best selves, which they resolve to do, and then the girls practice their play.

Chapter 2: Christmas morning starts out with gifts from Mother (a Bible?) and then they continue on with some unexpected Christmas service: they give their holiday breakfast to a family that's even poorer than they are. But the day continues in a jolly & festive vein. They perform the play and are given a lovely Christmas dinner by a neighbor that heard about them giving away their breakfast.

Chapter 3: Meg and Jo are invited to, fuss over, and then attend a dinner/dance party. Meg is much more at ease in this sort of situation, but sprains her ankle. Jo makes a mess of everything, but gets to know the neighbor boy, Laurie, who takes them home in his carriage because of Meg's ankle.

Initial Ponderings:

Mrs. March is a gem of a woman; a true Christian. Hannah's description says it all:

"Where is Mother?" asked Meg, as she and Jo ran down to thank her for their gifts, half an hour later.
"Goodness only knows. Some poor creeter come a-beggin', and your ma went straight off to see what was needed. There never
was such a woman for givin' away vittles and drink, clothes and firin'," replied Hannah...

Although the girls (being ordinary mortals) are having a hard time with having such a slim Christmas, they do a right decent job of making their own fun without a lot of Things. -The gifts for Mother, the Christmas breakfast, the homemade theater, the resolve to be better women. These are all the acts of remarkable young women.

Other, Outside Stuff:

Found a literary timeline that places some books (not ours) alongside some historical events (I'm thinking BoC) and also mentions a bit about literary movements. It would appear that Little Women fits in nicely with their definition of the "Realism" movement, wherein authors wrote about ordinary, rather than extraordinary things.