Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Dear Josephine

Louisa May Alcott's story, Little Women, continues to feed my soul in so many ways. I find so much comfort in the character of Jo (based on Louisa May Alcott herself; her entire novel is based on her life and those of her three sisters). Almost every time I watch the movie I cry, not only at the obvious moment for tears--when Beth dies--but depending on my life at the moment at a host of other moments.

One thing I always tell people about Little Women is that it contains just about every piece of the life cycle: birth, death, marriage, relationships between siblings, parents and children, husbands and wives, friends, even neighbors. Being a deeply relational person myself, this means everything to me.

I first read Little Women when I was fifteen, and I remember that, while loving it, I was still upset at the end when Jo didn't end up with Laurie, her best friend and devoted suitor, and furthermore, her spoiled sister Amy ended up with him. By the time I turned 21, my heart had changed and I understood the purity of Jo's love for Professor Bhaer and could differentiate between the examples of friendship and true, devoted, romantic love. Now at 24, I like to believe I am waiting for my Friedrich.

Aside from my love for older men, there are many other ways in which I identify with Jo. Shall we count the ways? Let's.

1. Jo is a writer. Duh.
2. Jo has three siblings. I have three siblings. While Jo's siblings are all sisters, Jo is certainly the odd one out, as the passionate writer, tomboy, and arguably, the most ardent feminist of the four. Similarly I am all these things, but am also the odd one out in my family, being the only girl.
3. After Jo refuses Laurie's proposal, she goes to New York to get away. While I am not escaping a proposal, I am looking at graduate schools in New York. This is partially for the programs offered in the region, but also much of my pursuit of graduate school in general is to begin a life changing, independence-birthing adventure for myself. A new life, basically, as Jo goes after the life she truly wants and deserves. Ditto for me.
4. Jo struggles doggedly with the idea of her sister Meg getting married. I was equally a tough egg to crack when my older brother Patrick was falling in love, proposing, and getting married. The breaking--which I am coming to see is not a negative break, but a blossoming--of a nuclear family unit is one me and Jo alike do not handle well, though we come around in time.
5. Jo's father serves in the Civil War as a chaplain (Louisa's real life father, Bronson Alcott, was a noted leader in the Transcendentalist movement, not exactly a religion, but certainly a noble chase after spiritual and moral ideals). My dad is a pastor.
6. Friedrich Bhaer encourages Jo to abandon her pursuit of fictional writing and write from her heart, about life, about her family. Hence she writes and publishes the book within a book, Little Women. I find that in my writing it is nearly impossible for me to write without discussing my family, and I have been told by multiple people (many of whom have not actually spent a great deal of time with my family) that I should write a book about my family. I do plan to do so.
7. Jo is the last one in her family to get married. This is yet to be determined for me, but I would not be surprised, People, if the same were true for me.
8. Jo chops her hair off for money in LW (in real life, FYI, Alcott was a Civil War nurse, and her hair was cut off when she was delirious due to mercury poisoning). Donating my hair to charity is in fact one of my hobbies.

Okay I think you get the point, this list could go on for a while, and that was probably a little more Louisa May Alcott trivia than you maybe cared to hear (just be glad, (or disappointed), that it wasn't Babysitters' Club trivia). However. If you have never read Little Women, men and women alike, please do. It will change your life for sure. Like I said, it continues to feed me through all the years of my life. I can't imagine you could turn the pages and not find something within them with which to relate.

Jo. I mean Louisa. I mean Bailey.

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