31 March 2009

OK, I Cheated

I peeked ahead, but I did it online. Jo does, indeed, get married. But not to Laurie.

And now, on to the thinking part.


Chapter 30: May Chester has revenge on Amy for Jo's pranks when they were out visiting. Jo talks Laurie and his boys into rescuing Amy from the out-of-the-way table she'd been sent to at the fair. Amy holds up with amazing grace. Jo learns that Amy, not herself, will be going to France with Aunt March. Jo works hard, and with success, at not spoiling Amy's good fortune with her regrets.

Chapter 31: Amy writes home to the family. She tells of the various sights she's seen and the art she has enjoyed. She also mentions that she thinks Fred Vaughn, of the English family at Laurie's picnic, may ask her to marry him. She says that if he does she intends to accept, though she is frank about not really loving him.

Chapter 32: Mother is worried about Beth, who is unhappy about something. Jo discovers that Laurie loves her and she runs away from it.


I cannot help but disagree with Mother's advice to Jo! Mother says,

"I don't think you are suited to one another. As friends you are very happy, and your frequent quarrels soon blow over, but I fear you would both rebel if you were mated for life. You are too much alike and too fond of freedom, not to mention hot tempers and strong wills, to get on happily together, in a relation which needs infinite patience and forbearance, as well as love." (Page 321)

It is the first time that I have truly disagreed with what Mother had to say when advising her girls. Obviously, the way that Jo feels, nothing will happen in the immediate future, but I can't help but think that Mother underestimates the way that people can learn to get along with each other. It seems to me that the first necessary ingredient for a good marriage is a good friendship, and Jo and Laurie already have that. Were Jo to be inclined to accept his offer I think they could have done a good job of it.

I did a little math to try to figure out how old Amy is at this point. I think that 17 is the oldest that she could possibly be, and it is quite possible that she is only 16. The description of the girls in chapter 1 says that Meg is 16, Jo 15, and does not give an exact age for Beth or Amy. Still, the oldest that Amy would be is 13. She would have turned 14 sometime in the year that we witnessed in part one, and then had three years between part one and part two. So the oldest she could possibly is 17.

Meg was also 17 when John proposed to her, and Amy now is considering if Fred Vaughn will ask her to marry him, and says she intends to accept if he does. This is interesting to me. I have long thought that we, as a society, keep our children children for longer than may be good for them. In Meg's case, there was some talk of her being young yet when John asked her, but no scandal. In fact, the thing that folks talked about the most was his lack of money. So she was not extraordinarily young to be engaged. Now, Amy, at the same age or slightly younger, is also considering marriage. The thing that is interesting to me about this is that the concern here is also money, not age. Further, Meg and Jo dropped out of school (though not education) and began working relatively young. They had real responsibility, and it gave them real maturity. There's this from the beginning of the book:

"When Mr. March lost his property in trying to help an unfortunate friend, the two oldest girls begged to be allowed to do something toward their own support, at least. Believing that they could not begin too early to cultivate energy, industry, and independence, their parents consented, and both fell to work with the hearty good will which in spite of all obstacles is sure to succeed at last. (Page 43)

Mother has clearly put in some effort early on to teach the value of work, and the girls are good workers. But she drove home the lesson in chapter 11 with the week of "vacation," which the girls did not enjoy at all:

"Mother, did you go away and let everything be, just to see how we'd get on?" cried Meg, who had had suspicions all day.

"Yes, I wanted you to see how the comfort of all depends on each doing her share faithfully. While Hannah and I did your work, you got on pretty well, though I don't think you were very happy or amiable; so I thought, as a little lesson, I would show you what happens when everyone thinks only of herself. Don't you feel that it is a pleasure to help one another, to have daily duties which make leisure sweet when it comes, and to bear and forbear, that home may be comfortable and lovely to us all? ... Work is wholesome, and there is plenty for everyone; it keeps us from ennui and mischief, is good for health and spirits, and gives us a sense of power and independence better than money or fashion. ... Have regular hours for work and play, make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets, and life become a beautiful success, in spite of poverty."

I think that you begin to see the fruits of Mr. and Mrs. March's teachings here in the second half of the book when the March girls are young, yet sensible and responsible. Ready for the challenges that their lives bring them. Responsibility, not age, seems to be the thing that creates an adult. When I look around the ward and consider the youth who seem the most "grown up" it is inevitably the ones who have real responsibilities in their homes. You can observe the opposite on any college campus: the most irresponsible are very often the ones who have parents who pick up the whole tab for the education, who make it all too easy. It makes me think that our society does wrong to its teens in expecting them to act like children, without any true responsibility, for as long as possible, rather than stepping up and acting like the young Men and young Women they are. Many things are different now than they were in the Civil War Era, and so our approach to teaching responsibility must be somewhat different than the March family's. But I do think that taking a leaf from their book and requiring work from children, from the time they are old enough to toddle around, is a very good idea.

30 March 2009

The Importance of Manners


Chapter 27: Jo begins to make money at her writing, and publishes several small "sensational" stories, as well as her first novel.

Chapter 28: Meg and John begin their life together. We read of some of her mishaps. She tries currant jelly, which won't jell, and then gets upset because John forgot and chose that day to bring home an unexpected guest. Meg also gives into temptation to live beyond her means, and they quarrel over money. However, mostly, it's a very happy marriage. The chapter ends with the introduction of their new twins, Daisy and Demi.

Chapter 29: I think this must be a set-up for something still to come, as it doesn't seem like much happened in this chapter. Amy and Jo went visiting, and they don't suit each other very well in this task: Amy likes to do it decorously, socially correctly, and Jo doesn't like to do it at all, and isn't very accommodating. Aunt March decides something during their visit, but we are not yet told what.


It seems to me that most of the "scrapes" mentioned in these chapters could have been avoided by making small adjustments in manners. Meg & John were not really communicating very well (which is pretty normal in a new marriage: communication is difficult!) but had Meg not been so terribly determined to not take family problems to her parents' house the whole thing could have been improved, at least. Plus, given that dinner was her responsibility (they both expected she would be the one that did the cooking), it really was rude to leave John and his guest hungry. She could have made up a little something that would have been better than exposing the disagreement to someone who truly WAS an outsider! That's a bit ironic, in my opinion, given the exaggerated "don't run home to Mama" posture they're taking. Jo, once she agreed to go with Amy, should have done a good job. Even the folks they visited hadn't been aware of her strange behavior, it wasn't a kind thing to do to Amy. Apparently, it's going to have repercussions...

28 March 2009

A Little Perplexity

Chapter 27
This week's reading starts out with Jo beginning her career as a published author. She finds there's a market for light reading that pays quite well. While Jo is grateful for the extra money and she uses it to help her family (trips to the sea, paying the butcher bill and buying new carpet for the house), she seems to find little real satisfaction in it. In Chapter 27, page 270, is describes it like this:
"... so Jo was satisfied with the investment of her prize money, and fell to work with a cheery spirit, bent on earning more of those delightful checks. She did earn several that year, and began to feel herself a power in the house; for by the magic of a pen, her "rubbish" turned into comforts for them all."

So, it seems that she doesn't think much of the work that she is doing, and everyone has their own bit to say about it: Father says, "You can do better than this, Jo. Aim at the highest, and never mind the money." While Amy thinks "the money is the best part of it." Still, it seems that Jo feels that the results are worth writing the "rubbish". Plus, her success with her short stories gave her courage to give a go with publishing her real work: Her novel.

However, Jo takes to heart everybody's criticisms and it seems that the finished work that she submitted, little resembles the original story she had composed. Still, it ended well; the book was published and she was paid $300 for her efforts. But along with that money came a flood of "praise and blame, both so much greater than she expected that she was thrown into a state of bewilderment, from which it took her some time to recover (Chapter 27, pg. 279)."

In doing this, I think Jo learned that you can't always take to heart every little thing that people say, and she became a better person for it. The final paragraphs of Chapter 27 sum it up nicely:
"...But it did her good, for those whose opinion had real value gave her the criticism which is an author's best education; and when the first soreness was over, she could laugh at her poor little book ... and feel herself the wiser and stronger for the buffeting she had received.
"Not being a genius, like Keats, it won't kill me," she said stoutly; "and I've got the joke on my side, after all ... So I'll comfort myself with that; and when I'm ready, I'll up again and take another."

Chapter 28
Ah another installment of a deep look at what Ms. Alcott's view of marriage was. I'm afraid that I don't have as much patience with the authors views as Ritsumei seems to :) Though, I am curious if the version Ritsumei is reading (with its authors side notes and editorial comments) has anything to say about Chapter 28.

But as for me, I had a hard time with this chapter. Perhaps Ms. Alcott meant this chapter to be satirical. Maybe it's a humorous look into the very first months of marriage where the couple is undoubtedly learning to communicate for real. And I suppose there is some humor in the idea that Meg was so unreasonably determined to be "a model housekeeper" and perfect wife, and never ask for help that she brought all the trouble in the beginning of this chapter on herself.
And while the chapter begins with the statement that "[Meg and John] were very happy, even after they discovered that they couldn't live on love alone..." and "The little house ceased to be a glorified bower, but it became a home, and the young couple soon felt it was a change for the the better (pg. 280)", the story that follows doesn't seem to echo the same idea.

So, Meg says to John early on in their marriage (because she assumes it's what he wants to hear) that it's perfectly ok to bring anyone over at anytime because she'll be so perfect and the house will always be perfect it'll be no problem. Only, that was what he wanted to hear and he never questioned the reasonable-ness of it and just thought he'd won himself a capital little wife.

Then, one day, Meg, "fired with a housewifely wish to see her store-room stocked with home-made preserves", decided to attempt to make bunches of jam. Well, the jam making didn't go as smoothly as planned, and since she and John had resolved never to ask for help from anyone ever, she soldiered on alone making a complete mess of the kitchen and becoming very frustrated in the process. It was the unfortunate circumstance that this was the day that John, forgetting that Meg had this project planned, decided to drop in with a friend for dinner.. and from here the conflict begins.

Maybe it's supposed to be funny.. but I thought that the description of John was horribly arrogant and more than a little ridiculous and difficult to relate to:
"Congratulating himself that a handsome repast had been ordered that morning, feeling sure that it would be ready to the minute, and indulging in pleasant anticipations of the charming effect it would produce, when his pretty wife came running out to meet him, he escorted his friend to his mansion, with the irrepressible satisfaction of a young host and husband."
And then he was horrified that the door was locked and the house still dirty with "yesterday's mud"... he goes inside to discover what the problem is. Finding his wife in a teary, sobbing pile of stickiness, and when she explains the problem is just spoiled jelly, he laughs and says "Don't cry, dear, but just exert yourself a bit, and knock us up something to eat. We're both (his pal and himself) hungry as hunters..." Perhaps, this whole situation is meant to be funny.... but I could only roll my eyes. What ensued was a battle of wills that I was thought was very silly on both their parts. They each had determined, silently, to be "calm and kind, but firm" and be sure the other was shown "their duty" and deemed that they each deserved the first apology and spent a chill evening fuming inwardly while being well composed and polite outwardly.

Now, I suppose this situation could be a parallel to situations we might find ourselves today, and it is a good example of needing to be reasonable in expectations and practicing effective communications.. and I do agree that it was clear that someone needed to soften and be the first to apologize, but I did not care much for Ms. Alcott's description of the resolution. John was being a pooper and was essentially ignoring Meg up until the "penitent kiss" fell on his forehead. To be honest, I didn't get the feeling that they'd learned much from this episode.. they didn't seem to change the status-quo of bringing over people suddenly and so she just worked harder at being more gracious and perfect. But I guess they found their balance in the end and they were blessed with twins and everything was all better.. but I still found this chapter more than a little tiresome.

Chapter 29
And THIS chapter I was just befuddled by. Amy and Jo run around doing their social calls on their friends and neighbors. To try and do as Amy instructs, Jo acts very strangely and out of character and in general musses up each visit and Amy gets frustrated. The last visit they each essentially ignore each other and they have a good time, though Jo gets dirty and Amy is still upset.

I could see merit in both girls arguments for how to behave. Amy insists that Jo be dressed in her finest clothes and behave herself well. And Jo comments that "if people care more for my clothes than they do for me, I don't wish to see them."
It is good to be polite and treat people nicely, but at the same time.. people should like you for you.

So, they go about their visiting and during the final call, they visit Aunt March. Jo comports herself in a way that she feels is true to herself, yet in the end (as always) she upsets Aunt March and Amy is full of charm and is amiable. They essentially were being measured and, in being herself, Jo ultimately "deprived herself of several years of pleasure, and received a timely lesson in the art of holding her tongue (Chapter 29, pg. 306)". And the chapter ends with a bit of an air of mystery with Aunt March saying cryptically, "You'd better do it, Mary; I'll supply the money," and Aunt Carrol replied decidedly, "I certainly will, if her father and mother consent."

Knowing something of the story, I know this is where it is decided that Amy will go to Europe and not Jo, even though she originally was promised the trip. So, it seems that we are to take away from this chapter that it is important to be civil and to know when to hold your tongue, and I do agree that there is much to be admired in being polite and well behaved. But I wonder if there isn't also merit in being true to oneself. Jo is a little coarse, but she is honest. I think that is admirable as well.

22 March 2009

Homemaker; Daughter of God


Chapter 24: A bridge between book 1 and book 2, this chapter also gives a description of Meg & John's new home & a brief look at the preparations for their wedding.

Chapter 25: Meg's wedding. If she couldn't have a temple wedding, this has got to be the next best thing. Kudos to her for keeping the simplicity that she wanted, and three cheers to her family for supporting her in it!

Chapter 26: Amy tries various artistic endeavors with varying success. She also invites a bunch of girls over, but it rains on her party, and only 1 girl comes on the "rain date." Marme hopes that Amy learned not to pretend to be more or less than she is or has.


Looking at Kate's comments about the house, I'm not sure that I agree. I think that a lot of the reason that the narrative focuses on Meg & "Meg's house" is because it's a story about the girls, from a Jo-centric perspective. John is really a bit character, for all that he's to be Meg's husband. Jo is still in denial about their little nest breaking up. She's convinced that the rest of them still have several years before they get married, even though Amy is constantly receiving attention from Laurie's friends. In addition, because the focus is on the March girls, the focus naturally falls upon her preparations to go from homemaker-in-training to Homemaker-in-chief.

One thing that I loved about chapter 24 was the comments on the beautiful gifts and services that Meg's family & friends had done for her as she prepares to manage her own home:

People who hire all these things done for them never know what they lose, for the homeliest tasks get beautified if loving hands do them, and Meg found so many proofs of this that everything in her small nest, from the kitchen roller to the silver vase on her parlor table, was eloquent of home love and tender forethought. -page 237

I've recently been coming to a similar conclusion myself, though I don't think I would have been able to say it so nicely! Gifts, particularly hand-made gifts, are physical reminders of the love of friends and family. And because they made all her ordinary things, sheets & dishcloths, in addition to giving her things that you might think of as more "regular" gifts, vases and paintings, she will remember her family's love as she uses them in ordinary, every day chores. And really, you use a dishcloth much more often than you notice a vase or a painting! At least, I do. Even when I love it (such as the painting my sister made me), it tends to fade into the background. Maybe the sheets & things would do the same. I don't know. But I remember thinking that the dishcloth Sister C. gave us, hand knitted, was the coolest thing! I recently started knitting and I hope that the things I've given away have said, "I love you and even the mundane things you do are important enough to recognize and enjoy."

The focus on Meg's new home seems fitting in light of Mrs. March's ambition for her daughters:

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... 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. ... My dear girls, I am ambitious for you... make this home happy, so that you may be fit for homes of your own, if they are offered to you, and contented here if they are not." -Chapter 9, page 99-100.

I think she was onto something. President Benson also spoke highly of the domestic art of homemaking:

“Teach your daughters to prepare for life’s greatest career—that of homemaker, wife, and mother. Teach them to love home because you love home. Teach them the importance of being a full-time mother in the home.

“My eternal companion has wisely counseled mothers: ‘Radiate a spirit of contentment and joy with homemaking. You teach by example your attitude toward homemaking. Your attitude will say to your daughters, ‘I am only a housewife.’ Or it will convey, ‘Homemaking is the highest, most noble profession to which a woman might aspire.’ ”

Like so many other aspects of this book, I find this section inspires me to be a bit better at keeping my own home. So many of the comfortable ways these girls were raised with are a thing of the past, and I think that our homes suffer for it. Sure, it's a lot of work to keep a home nice, but we are commanded not to be idle. Our homes are supposed to be "house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God... " (D&C 109:8) I have been finding my own efforts at homemaking to be somewhat wanting and have been working on improving myself in this area recently. I still have a long way to go before I can do it as well as Mrs. March. I suspect that even Meg would be able to teach me a thing or two about getting things done and still having time for some of the other things I like to do. Or she might just tell me that there is so much that is easier for me, due to modern conveniences, that I should roll up my sleeves, do the little work I have to do, and enjoy the fruits of my labor.