26 January 2009

Food For Thought

"Character is the aim of true education; and science, history, and literature are but means used to accomplish the desired end. Character is not the result of chance work but of continuous right thinking and right acting. . . . True education seeks, then to make men and women not only good mathematicians, proficient linguists, profound scientists, or brilliant literary lights, but also honest men, combined with virtue, temperance, and brotherly love -- men and women who prize truth, justice, wisdom, benevolence, and self-control as the choicest acquisitions of a successful life. . . . It is regrettable, not to say deplorable, that modern education so little emphasizes these fundamental elements of true character. The principal aim of many of our schools and colleges seems to be to give the students purely intellectual attainments and to give but passing regard to the nobler and more necessary development along moral lines." (David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals p. 440-441)

25 January 2009


Chapter 13: The Busy Bee Society meets, doing a variety of useful things outdoor. You see a bit of Alcott in Jo: "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 some day." She also gently teaches about the value of work and the problems of idleness. Like Kate, I think this is a wonderful idea and I wish that my sisters were close enough to do this with! We'd have a great time!

Chapter 14: Jo publishes her first work, "Rival Painters," (which was also the title of Alcott's first published work). Laurie tells Jo that Mr. Brooke has Meg's glove, which upsets Jo terribly. She hates it that Meg is growing up and their lovely nest is going to be broken up by marriage.

Chapter 15: Father is ill and Marmee must go nurse him. Mr. Brooke is to accompany her (Meg is very pleased & grateful). Jo, knowing how Marmee feels about borrowing from Aunt March, and feeling much the same way, sells her hair.


These "little women" are ordinary girls, growing up into ordinary women; they are not depicted as being remarkable. Yet they are remarkable: they are remarkable in their goodness. Reading about them makes me want to be a better woman myself: I want a "Busy Bee Society." I want to have a theater group where we write and act our own works, the secret society complete with newsletter sounds like a blast! I love the way they readily took their own Christmas breakfast to a family that needed it. These girls are the kind of women that I want to be, and reading about them is inspiring. It pushes me toward greater goodness myself. It seems to me that this is just the sort of influence that good literature ought to have on the reader. It just remains to take the desire to be a better person that I feel when I'm reading & thinking and translate that into some sort of sustainable action.

I think that one of the reason that the March girls are able to be so good and get so much accomplished is that they are doing it as a group. Even though they are often doing very different things: the Busy Bee Society's requirement was that you be industrious, but there were no rules on how that industry had to be carried out. Amy improved her talents, Jo knitted Army socks and read to the group, Beth gathered supplies for future crafts and Meg sews. Each activity is suited to the girl that is doing it. Each girl chose something different. Yet they were united in their desire to be productive. I think this would make a great Relief Society mini-group. We could each bring something: scrapbooking, quilting, knitting, letters to write, whatever makes us happy. And just work and chat, or maybe do like the March girls and have someone bring a book and read a few chapters each time. The companionship would make it much more fun than just doing the same things individually.

16 January 2009

More than just "Fluffy Fiction"

I am really enjoying how Ms. Alcott uses her story to teach lessons. I don't know.. it's not like that is something I've never heard of or anything... I guess it's just that I keep being pleasantly surprised by how this is more than just the "fluffy fiction novel" I originally thought it would be.

In Chapter 13 we get a lesson on the importance of being industrious. She starts off with an unhappy and cranky Laurie lazing his afternoon away and ended with a new and very cheerful addition to the Busy Bee Society. I really like the idea of this society though; putting on hats and playing pretend on a certain level, but still getting much good accomplished. I may have to tuck this idea away for future reference :)

I think if I were to pick a Main Character, I'd pick Jo. All the girls are wonderful, and lovable, and I think, for the most part, Ms. Alcott gives them mostly equal time in the narration spotlight. However (at least for me) I feel like Jo is the one you hold your breath for when she goes to see if her story will be published. And while you're happy for Meg and her budding romance with Mr. Brooke and it gives the book marvelous intrigue, it's Jo's difficulty dealing with that change that tugs the heart strings.

Chapter 15 brings a cloud to the March family. Marmee gets a telegram saying that Mr. March is very ill. This causes great tumult in the household; all the pent up emotion and worry breaks forth momentarily, but then is once again stashed away and the little women spring into action. The love for their father, that is clearly present in previous chapters, is even more abundantly shown as each of the girls eagerly helps prepare things for Marmee's sudden trip. Marmee's love for her husband is clearly displayed as she is "not too proud to beg for father," and asks for assistance from several sources to get to his side. Jo sells her hair, a very generous and spontaneous gesture, which -though she cries a little bit later for the loss of her hair - she does not regret. I cried a little too.. hehe.

I thought it was kind of ironic that Ms. Alcott bases this other society of the girls on the "Pilgrim's Progress". I feel (while it may be soon to say this) that "Little Women" is kind of an updated version of "Pilgrim's Progress"; that woven throughout the story are lessons of self-improvement and even edification. It's pretty crafty. Kudos to Ms. Alcott.

10 January 2009


These chapters seems a little lighter than the previous three. Ms. Alcott is a gifted writer; she takes us from severe sadness and then brings us right up with some light-hearted humor in a very smooth way. (Though, I did feel like Chapter 11 was sort of the finale in that series of lessons on virtues from the last few chapters.)

In Chapter 11 the girls learn, up close and personal, the importance of hard work and being industrious. At first read I thought that the example was a little extreme. How dirty could their house get with just one day of not cleaning?? I was surprised at how any of the March girls would not know how to cook?? But then, on second read, I thought about how they have Hannah around. A whole person around solely to cook and clean would drastically change what skills the girls would have learned. Plus, I thought about how things were when I was living at The Parents' house and there were bunches of people running around doing their own thing. If none of us ever cleaned up after ourselves it would get impressively cluttered and dirty REALLY quickly. Even here, where there's only two of us, we are constantly getting things out and playing with them. It wouldn't take too long for it to get gross here either. So, upon second though, I have revised my opinions. Though, while it sounds nice in theory, I still wonder how effective it would be if translated into real life these days... I don't know. I thought it was great fun to read though!

Chapter 12 introduced a little romance into the March girls' lives. There was all sorts of stuff going on between Meg and Mr. Brooks. Ritsumei commented on the conflict that seemed present in the American-English interactions of this chapter. I think there was probably some national pride ruffling feathers, but also, I wonder how much of it was mild manifistations of romance (of sorts). I think perhaps Fred thought Jo was cute and hasseled her for attention. Jo, being Jo and competative to boot, reacted by getting all bristly. As for Miss Kate and Meg, I don't know that the conflict there wasn't largely due to two girls with their eye on the same gentleman :)

The Book I Meant to Propose

I had actually intended to propose reading "The Allegory of the Olive Tree," which is a collection of essays about Jacob 5. It's a good, dense read, and one that I think would submit well to this sort of thoughtful exercise that we're doing here. It's put out by FARMS, and the parts that I've read so far have been really interesting. Here's the catch: it's a difficult book to find. So if you're interested we can talk to Andy about where he found my copy & see if we can scour the internet to find another copy for those that want to participate.

09 January 2009

Humor Reigns

Still More Characters:

Miss Crocker: a gossipy spinster neighbor who happens to drop by the day Marmee & Hannah take the day off.

Ned Moffat: of the Moffat family that Meg earlier visited. Says he came just to see Meg.

Miss Kate, Fred Vaughn, Grace: guests at Camp Lawrence


Chapter 10: A hilarious peek into a "secret society" meeting. I wish that I had someone to be in a secret society with and a nice purple martin house to use as a post office! It sounds like a wonderful time!

Chapter 11: I nearly spit out the water I was drinking when I read "He's been starved, and he shan't be baked now he's dead." What a funny mess the girls have made! I'll have to remember this little lesson Marmee is teaching her girls about work and play.

Chapter 12: All four of the girls enjoy a lovely day with Laurie and some of his invited friends. Meg is showing signs of growing up, the boys are interested; she appears "womanly." Jo, for all her resistance to acting like a lady, is not far behind.


Ennui: I blogged this one a while back when I ran across it in Ivanhoe. It's still a very cool word.

Dyspeptic: suffering from dyspepsia (deranged or impaired digestion; indigestion)

Lexicon: a word book describing language with definitions; dictionary [What a funny thing to fire at someone!]


I don't find as much to say about these chapters in the way of deep thoughts, but if you were looking for wholesome amusements, these chapters are chock full! The secret club with the funny funny newspaper, the bird-house post office, the failed dinner party, the picnic all sound like such a good time! Ideas for things to do on long summer afternoons was not what I was expecting when we started reading this book, but it's a pleasant find!

I find the English-American interactions of the last chapter to be pretty interesting. The only Englishwomen I've ever met have been expatriates who had both been in the States for quite some time and have been wonderful women with fabulous accents. We didn't seem to have the sort of conflict that the book is depicting between the American Marches and the English Vaughns. Makes me curious to know if that's a fictional bit or if that's a detail that comes from Miss Alcott's experience.

Book Idea

So, we're not even halfway through the current book, but I'm reading Beethoven's Hair, which is awesome and would be a fun one to revisit in a more thoughtful way in a few months. Something to consider, anyway.

07 January 2009

Tough Times

My, but the March family has been having a tough time in these chapters! Everyone seems to be hitting a lot of trials more or less all at once.


Mr. Davis: Amy's teacher. He does his best to teach and keep order, but isn't terribly gifted at it. He makes Amy dispose of her limes & then slaps her hand.

Katy Brown, Mary Kingsley: part of Amy's "set" at school.

Jenny Snow: a girl at school who tortured Amy about her "limeless state" tries to make nice when she's got them, and then turns her in when she's not favored with one.

Annie , Bellem & Sallie Moffat: Well-to-do girls that Meg visits for 2 weeks.

Mr & Mrs Moffat, Clara, Major Lincoln, Hortense, Ned, Fisher: "Extras" in the Moffat party.


Because there were a few words I needed to look up.

Dem·oi·selle: A young woman. [French, damsel, from Old French dameisele; see damsel.]

Benignanat: 1. kind, esp. to inferiors; gracious: a benignant sovereign. 2. exerting a good influence; beneficial: the benignant authority of the new president.

Apollyon: destroying angel of the bottomless pit (a name sometimes given to the Devil), from Gk. translation of Heb. Abaddon (q.v.), prp. of apollyein "to destroy utterly," from apo- "from, away from" + olluein "to destroy."


Chapter 7: Amy talks Meg into giving her a quarter for some pickled limes, which she takes to school in defiance of the rule. Mr. Davis finds her out, confiscates the limes, and slaps her hand several times before having her stand on the platform until recess. Mrs. March withdraws Amy from school over the matter, promising to consult with Father about where to put her next. Until then, Amy will study at home with Beth.

Chapter 8: Jo & Amy quarrel, it ends poorly when Amy burns the book that Jo has been writing. Amy tries to apologize, but Jo refuses to accept. When Amy follows Jo & Laurie skating she falls through rotten ice that Jo failed to warn her about. Marmee and Jo have a long and productive talk about how to master anger.

Chapter 9: Meg spends two weeks with the Moffat girls, with mixed results. While she does have some genuinely good times, the Moffats are much more wealthy and have very different priorities. This places Meg in an awkward position more than once. Further, she tears her dress, so the Moffats dress her up like a fashion plate or a doll & she indulges in champagne, flirting, and other minor faults. She is most disturbed by the assumption that Marmee plans to see her married to Laurie.


The first thing is a minor one. My edition has a few footnotes, and in chapter 7 when the Irish children receive Amy's precious limes the footnotes are quick to point out an Alcott prejudice. The notes don't give any justification for their slander by way of excerpts from notes, letters or the like, and I'm not sure that I see the situation the same way the book's editor did: It seems to me that middle-class school girls and poor street urchins would be likely foes, whatever the origins of the urchins.

On to the book itself.

I am completely impressed with Marmee's Mothering. She is gentle, protective, nurturing. She is able to praise and rebuke with equal tenderness and effectiveness. Her children know what good behavior is, and (with the exception of Jo listening to her demons about the ice, which she thoroughly repented of) and they perform as expected. It makes me wish that I could read a parenting book written by Marmee! Marmee deals with the limes incident in a way that is both sympathetic and just. She urges Jo toward forgiveness, and then helps her find hope again when Jo learns just how serious a fault a quick temper is. (No wonder the Lord tells us we should not be angry! Unintended consequences of angry actions cause all sorts of real-life heartache.) And she is right there and ready to help Meg sort out the tangle she finds herself in at the Moffat place. Further, Meg was well enough prepared to be able to handle herself in this difficult situation. One thing that is surprising is to hear that Mrs. March has a temper like Jo's. I think the way that Father helps her overcome it is beautiful. It's such a consciously thoughtful, Christ-like way of parenting.

Some of my favorite bits of Marmee wisdom from our chapters:

"I should not have chosen that way of mending a fault," replied her mother, "but I'm not sure that it won't do you more good than a milder method. You are getting to be rather conceited, my dear, and it is quite time you set about correcting it. [Way to have her take responsibility both for the fault and for the correction!] You have a good many little gifts and virtues, but there is no need of parading them, for conceit spoils the finest genius. There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked for long; even if it is, the consciousness of possessing and using it well should satisfy one, and the great charm of all power is modesty." -Chapter 7, page 74.

"My dear, don't let the sun go down on your anger; forgive each other, help each other, and begin again tomorrow." -Chapter 8, page 80

"Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying, and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault." -Chapter 8, page 82

"I've learned to check the hasty words that rise to my lips, and when I feel that they mean to break out against my will, I just go away a minute, and give myself a little shake for being so weak and wicked." -Chapter 8, page 83

"I gave my best to the country I love, and kept my tears till he was gone. Why should I complain, when we both have merely done our duty and will surely be the happier for it in the end? If I don't seem to need help, it is because I have a better friend, even than Father, to comfort and sustain me. My child, the troubles and temptations of you life are beginning and may be many, but you can overcome and outlive them all if you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your Heavenly Father as you do that of your earthly one. The more you love and trust Him, the nearer you will feel to Him, and the less you will depend on human power and wisdom. His love and care never tire or change, can never be taken from you, but may become the source of lifelong peace, happiness, and strength. Believe this heartily, and go to God with all your little cares, and hopes, and sins, and sorrows, as freely and confidingly as you come to your mother." -Chapter 8, page 85.

"I was very unwise to let you go among people of whom I know so little -- kind, I dare say, but worldly, ill bred, and full of these vulgar ideas about young people. I am more sorry than I can express for the mischief this visit may have done you, Meg." -Chapter 9, page 98. [I love that she has the strength to apologize to her children. Admitting your faults to those who are "under" you is a very difficult thing to do.]

"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." -Chapter 9, page 100.

03 January 2009

Getting Back in the Groove

Right-o. Holidays are awesome! 2008's holiday season was pretty fantabulous :) There was the family time and presents and all that, but mainly, there was all sorts of relaxing. Awesome.
Back to business though :)

Ok, so Chapters 7 through 9.

I feel like, as we've continued on through this book, Louisa May Alcott is passing the expressing of opinions more fully to the characters. As readers, I think, we take our cues for how to react to certain situations from the tone of the writing. Whether it be from the characters reactions or the word choice of the author in describing things. I feel like, early on in the book, the author's voice was very "audible"; that through her descriptions it was always very clear what her opinions were on each situation. However, as the characters have continued to develop, I feel that their voices (Marmee especially) have become stronger than the author's. (which i think is a good thing).

It was in Chapter 7, when Amy gets disciplined at school, that I felt like this switch was noticeably complete. In the description of Mr. Davis, I almost feel like the author is sympathizing with his plight. When we meet him (pg. 69) he's described as a "much-enduring man", successful in banning all sorts of things that would aggravate any human teacher: chewing-gum, newspapers, note passing, nicknames, caricatures and had "done all that one man could do to keep half a hundred rebellious girls in order." And while admitting he was a nervous man with a tyrannical temper, the author does note that in this instance that caused Amy such humiliation, he also was clearly being manipulated by the little girls he was teaching. Plus he didn't joy in serving out the punishment, rather it was part of what was necessary to maintain his rules. So, it was about that point that I felt like the author was allowing us (the readers) to come to our own conclusion on the nature of this teacher. But then, just a couple paragraphs later, Marmee's opinion was made known.

In this week's reading, I found myself repeatedly enthralled by Marmee's reactions to things. While she may not be perfect, she is quite saintly indeed. Clearly she is not a fan of corporal punishment, they do not use physical discipline in their home and she does pull Amy out of school, but she doesn't let the use of it blind her to the lesson and intent behind Mr. Davis' actions. She says to Amy "I should not have chosen that way of mending a fault..." but about the whole situation and the limes Marmee says "I am not sorry that you lost them, for you broke the rules, and deserved some punishment for disobedience..." and then goes on to endorse the cultivation of humility.

I feel like in each of these three chapters, there was a very clear lesson on different virtues. The situations that lead to the lessons are quite intense, but the lessons that Marmee extracts from each of the situations are pretty impressive. Amy learns about humility. In Chapter 8, Jo learns a harsh lesson on anger and forgiveness. Then in Chapter 9, Meg learns about dangers of peer pressure and following group mentality. Also, Meg grows up (looses some of her childhood innocence) when overhearing gossip, but she also learns that "splendid" isn't necessarily better than cozy. Through these lessons, and all the chapters so far, I feel like the main theme of Little Women could be that 'every cloud has a silver lining' or maybe even 'horrible things can bring about goodness'. All that with a strong undercurrent of the importance of drawing close to our Heavenly Father. I feel like Jo's experience (pg. 85) sums it up nicely. "...In that sad, yet happy hour, she had learned not only the bitterness of remorse and despair, but the sweetness of self-denial and self-control; and, led by her mother's hand, she had drawn nearer to that Friend who welcomes every child with a love stronger than that of any father, tenderer than that of any mother."