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.