The boyish one:
Meg says something,
then Jo says something,
then Beth says something,
then Amy says something else.
The order sometimes varies, but the weird spelling-bee effect of the whole arrangement never dies. Let’s not even touch on the things that they actually say. (“All the married people take hands and dance around the husband and wife, as the Germans do, while we bachelors and spinsters prance in couples outside!” I’ve never had a wedding, but if I had, and the guests had suggested “prancing” or doing anything “as the Germans do,” I would have closed the reception hall down and sent their gifts back unopened. Not the March sisters. They love German prancing. They prance the shit out of that German business. They are prancing balls over at the March place. )
“There were six dolls to be taken up and dressed every morning, for Beth was a child still, and loved her pets as well as ever; not one whole or handsome one among them… [as one had] no top to its head, she tied on a neat little cap, and, as both arms and legs were gone, she hid these deficiencies by folding it in a blanket, and devoting her best bed to this chronic invalid. If anyone had known the care lavished on that dolly, I think it would have touched their hearts… She brought it bits of bouquets; she read to it, took it out to breathe the air, hidden under her coat; she sung it lullabys, and never went to bed without kissing its dirty face.”
“I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo; but I have learned not to show it; and I still hope to learn not to feel it… I’ve learned to check the nasty 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 shake, for being so weak and so wicked.”
About Jo: oh! My God! There is so much going on there! Endless papers have been written about Jo – as feminist, as queer, as portrait of the artist, as tragic figure – and, to be frank, you need a lot of papers to sort Jo out, for Jo is complex. Here are a few things you need to know: (a) Jo refers to herself as “the man of the house,” and responds to someone saying “he’s a stubborn fellow” with “so am I,” (b) Jo says she will never get over being born a girl and not a boy, (c) Jo’s “gentlemanly” or “boyish” demeanor is referred to throughout the book, (d) Jo uses slang and other forms of language (“can’t do that” instead of “I can’t do that,” for example) that are gendered male, (e) Jo is disgusted by the prospect of marriage, and when a boy kisses her, she backs away in a manner that is not at all flirtatious, but actually freaked out, (f) Jo insists that the boy address her as “my dear fellow,” (g) Jo insists that her income will be earned rather than married into, and that her happiness will depend on her professional success, and (h) Jo gives up all of this by the end of the book, and it is crushingly sad.
The one thing that everyone remembers about the second half of Little Women, aside from Beth finally dying, is that Jo turns down her friend Laurie’s proposal of marriage and ends up with some ancient German (!!!!!) who convinces her that she is a shitty writer and should give it up, even though she is well-published by that point. Laurie ends up married to Amy. This pisses people off to no end. What no-one remembers is that Jo never had any romantic interest in Theodore “The Fellows Called Me Dora” Laurence. She wanted him to marry Meg. When he kissed her, she apologized and said they shouldn’t drink together any more. The Laurie and Amy thing came about because Louisa May Alcott wanted to annoy people; she was incensed that, after Jo had explicitly stated her distaste for marriage (and possibly dudes?) 5,000 times, her readers kept writing her letters that went like “OMG can Jo & Laurie get married they r meant 4 each other!!!!” Laurie marries the most insufferable March sister for the same reason that Jo gives up her career to get with the AntiSexy: Louisa May Alcott was fucking with you. You wanted Jo and Laurie to get married? Fine! They do! To the worst imaginable partners! Suck on that.
What stands out about this story is that, unlike any of the jokes in Little Women, it is actually kind of funny. In fact, it raises the question of how a woman willing to pull this sort of stunt could tolerate the pious, mealy-mouthed, intolerable dreck shoveled out by noted author Louisa May Alcott. Here is a pretty interesting piece about Jo March and young women’s literature in the 19th century. It includes this little gem:
Alcott herself saw the book as a biographical and moral story about female coming-of-age, and feared its didactic, moral overtones rendered it boring (295). In response to one of the energetic young admirers who wrote to her praising the novel, Alcott replied, “Though I do not enjoy writing ‘moral tales’ for the young, I do it because it pays well” (Showalter 56-7). While she enjoyed the financial power (and to some degree the public recognition) that Little Women brought, the biographical evidence extant suggests that Alcott found little pleasure in the actual writing of the novel and tended to dismiss it, as well as the similarly-configured stories she produced after it for the same audience, as “moral pap” (Saxton 16).
Okay. You know what? I like this woman.