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.


misskate said...

That is interesting that your footnotes commented about the little Irish urchins and called it the author's prejudice. (My book doesn't have any notes) And my take on that sort of side-comment was just that it was another indication of Ms. Alcott's writing in the style of Realism. I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that there was tension between the Irish and the Americans; they were the poor foreigners of the day.

Ritsumei said...

Mine has a few footnotes, usually presuming that you've read nearly nothing and so don't get any of the references, not even to the Bible. It's also got a few explaintory notes in the back; I think I'm up to #4 now. I actually find them more annoying than anything else because they 1. assume the reader is pretty dumb, and 2. I don't necessarily agree with any of the points they've made so far. They said in the chapter 11 that the Plumfield place Aunt March went to was a thinly veiled reference to the commune the family had for a while. I suppose that I'm not well enough informed about the Alcott family, even after reading several short bios, cuz I just don't see how such a short little sentence can carry the weight that the note seemed to give it. It was the same way with the street children: someone else was eating Amy's limes. Someone who didn't buy them, who wasn't the intended recipient, someone who would be constantly looking for poorly guarded treasures. It seemed natural to me that the girls wouldn't think much of the street kids. Why did it have to be a racist remark, as the note made it out to be?