Little women, p.59
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Little Women, p.59

         Part #1 of Little Women series by Louisa May Alcott

  “My castle is very different from what I planned, but I would not alter it, though, like Jo, I don’t relinquish all my artistic hopes, or confine myself to helping others fulfil their dreams of beauty. I’ve begun to model a figure of baby, and Laurie says it is the best thing I’ve ever done. I think so myself, and mean to do it in marble, so that, whatever happens, I may at least keep the image of my little angel.”

  As Amy spoke, a great tear dropped on the golden hair of the sleeping child in her arms, for her one well-beloved daughter was a frail little creature and the dread of losing her was the shadow over Amy’s sunshine. This cross was doing much for both father and mother, for one love and sorrow bound them closely together. Amy’s nature was growing sweeter, deeper, and more tender; Laurie was growing more serious, strong, and firm; and both were learning that beauty, youth, good fortune, even love itself, cannot keep care and pain, loss and sorrow, from the most blessed for—

  Into each life some rain must fall,

  Some days must be dark and sad and dreary.lz

  “She is growing better, I am sure of it, my dear. Don’t despond, but hope and keep happy,” said Mrs. March, as tenderhearted Daisy stooped from her knee to lay her rosy cheek against her little cousin’s pale one.

  “I never ought to, while I have you to cheer me up, Marmee, and Laurie to take more than half of every burden,” replied Amy warmly. “He never lets me see his anxiety, but is so sweet and patient with me, so devoted to Beth, and such a stay and comfort to me always that I can’t love him enough. So, in spite of my one cross, I can say with Meg, ‘Thank God, I’m a happy woman.”’

  “There’s no need for me to say it, for everyone can see that I’m far happier than I deserve,” added Jo, glancing from her good husband to her chubby children, tumbling on the grass beside her. “Fritz is getting gray and stout; I’m growing as thin as a shadow, and am thirty; we never shall be rich, and Plumfield may burn up any night, for that incorrigible Tommy Bangs will smoke sweet-fern cigars under the bedclothes, though he’s set himself afire three times already. But in spite of these unromantic facts, I have nothing to complain of, and never was so jolly in my life. Excuse the remark, but living among boys, I can’t help using their expressions now and then.”

  “Yes, Jo, I think your harvest will be a good one,” began Mrs. March, frightening away a big black cricket that was staring Teddy out of countenance.

  “Not half so good as yours, Mother. Here it is, and we never can thank you enough for the patient sowing and reaping you have done,” cried Jo with the loving impetuosity which she never could outgrow.

  “I hope there will be more wheat and fewer tares every year,” said Amy softly.

  “A large sheaf, but I know there’s room in your heart for it, Marmee dear,” added Meg’s tender voice.

  Touched to the heart, Mrs. March could only stretch out her arms, as if to gather children and grandchildren to herself, and say, with face and voice full of motherly love, gratitude, and humility-

  “Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I never can wish you a greater happiness than this!”


  1 (p. 3) “Go then, my little Book, and show to all ....” JOHN BUNYAN: Throughout Little Women, Alcott makes much use of English writer John Bunyan’s seventeenth-century religious allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, from This World to That Which Is to Come. This epigraph is recast from part two (1684) of this moral-instruction classic, which Alcott absorbed as a child. Bunyan’s text narrates the journey of a character named Christian through many perilous adventures on his way to the Celestial City, or Heaven. During his journey, Christian encounters many evocatively named people and beings who try to help or to hinder him, including Faithful, Hopeful, and the Giant Despair. The book preaches for the bearing of life’s burdens and for remaining resistant to temptation. Many of the chapter titles in Little Women refer to events and locations in The Pilgrim’s Progress—“Beth Finds the Palace Beautiful,” “Amy’s Valley of Humiliation,” “Jo Meets Apollyon,” “Meg Goes to Vanity Fair,” “The Valley of the Shadow,” and so on—as each of the March daughters takes on one of Christian’s temptations particular to her temperament and personal failings.

  2 (p. 18) “Do you remember how you used to play Pilgrim’s Progress when you were little things?”: In the discussion that follows Mrs. March’s question, references to The Pilgrim’s Progress (see endnote 1) include: the City of Destruction, the evil birthplace of Christian and the starting point of his journey to the Celestial City (Heaven); Apollyon, the hideous fiend who attacks Christian in the Valley of Humiliation; the Slough of Despond, a treacherous bog in which Christian is trapped; and the roll of directions, instructions for Christian’s journey.

  3 (p. 72) the little Irish children, who were their sworn foes: Amy’s scorn for the Irish children, although Alcott doesn’t go into it at length here, expresses the author’s own prejudices against this ethnic group; the Irish population had been burgeoning in the United States since the Great Famine in Ireland (1845-1850) and its consequent mass emigration. Even though Alcott and her mother, at one time a social worker in Boston, made a point of defending and accepting the humanity of other persecuted groups of the time—such as German-speaking immigrants (represented by the Hummels in this book) and African Americans (see Jo’s eagerness at the end of Little Women to include a boy of mixed race in her school)—the Alcotts dismissed the Irish as being lazy, dirty, and unwilling to help themselves in order to improve their situation.

  4 (p. 111) Plumfield is about as gay as a churchyard: Plumneld is a thinly disguised reference to Fruitlands, a utopian vegetarian and shared-work community cofounded by Alcott’s father in the rural town of Harvard, Massachusetts, in 1843, when Louisa was ten years old. Alcott’s family resided there for the duration of the community’s eight-month existence, suffering much deprivation and hardship, particularly toward the end.

  5 (p. 127) a smooth strip of turf for croquet : Croquet is a lawn game that was popular during the nineteenth century. Players use mallets to send wooden balls through hoops, called wickets, that are arranged on the lawn to form a course. Croquet terms used here include: stroke, a swing at the ball with a mallet; and stake, a marker at the end of the course.

  6 (pp. 131-132) “Up with the jib, ... ‘To the bottom of the sea, sea, sea,‘ where—”: Fred loosely drops many nautical terms here: Up with the jib is an order to raise the jib, a triangular sail forward of the mast; reef the tops’l halliards means to lower the topsail with ropes, or halyards; helm hard alee means turn the ship to the leeward side—that is, away from the wind—in order to tack, or bring the bow through the wind; a schooner is a two-masted vessel; lee scuppers are drain holes on a ship’s leeward side; the Bosun’s mate is the assistant to the boatswain, the officer responsible for maintaining the ship’s hull; take a bight of the flying-jib sheet is an order to slacken the rope that regulates the angle of the jib sail; start this villain means to start someone walking the plank; tars is a slang word for sailors; to scuttle a ship is to make holes in its bottom in order to sink it; all sail set means the sails are raised.

  7 (p. 231) PART Two: Originally titled Good Wives, the second part of Little Women appeared in 1869, a mere six months after publication of part one, as a response to the first March volume’s phenomenal overnight success. Readers had begged Alcott for information about their beloved girls’ future, especially how well and to whom they were married. Alcott wrote this sequel very quickly (in two months’ time); although she catered to popular taste by consenting to marry off her heroines, she refused to partner them in accordance with her audience’s expected, hoped-for conclusions.

  8 (p. 251) Murillo ... Rembrandt ... Rubens ... Turner: Bartolomé Estéban Murillo (1617—1682) was a Spanish religious and portrait painter. Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606-1669) was a Dutch painter known for his mastery of light and shadow. Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was a Flemish painter known for his voluptuous female figures. Joseph Ma
llord William Turner (1775-1851) was an influential, groundbreaking English landscape painter famous for his brilliant use of color and abstract, dreamlike effects.

  9 (p. 262) while Professor Sands was prosing away about Belzoni, Cheops, scarabei, and hieroglyphics: Professors Sands is discoursing on ancient Egypt: Giovanni Battista Belzoni (1778-1823) was an Italian explorer and archaeologist of ancient Egyptian antiquities. Cheops, or Khufu (twenty-sixth century B.C.), was a king of Egypt who erected the Great Pyramid at Giza. Scarabei, ancient Egyptian beetle sculptures, were symbols of resurrection. Hieroglyphics are characters used in a system of pictorial writing employed in ancient Egypt.

  10 (p. 307) for at Hampton I saw Raphael’s cartoons, and, at the Museum, rooms full of pictures by Turner, Lawrence, Reynolds, Hogarth: “Raphael’s cartoons” refers to painted sketches Italian Renaissance painter Raphael (1483-1520) made for a series of paintings depicting biblical scenes; the sketches are now displayed in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) was an English court painter who helped found London’s National Gallery. Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) was a fashionable English portrait painter and first president of the Royal Academy. William Hogarth (1697-1764) was an English satirical painter and an engraver. (See note 8, above, for information on Turner.)

  11 (p. 308) Napoleon’s cocked hat, ... Marie Antoinette‘s, ... Saint Denis, Charlemagne’s sword: Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was emperor of France from 1804 to 1814. Marie-Antoinette (1755-1793), queen of King Louis XVI of France, was imprisoned and guillotined during the French Revolution. Saint Denis (d.258?) was the patron saint of France and Paris’s first archbishop. Charlemagne, or Charles the Great (742-814), was king of the Franks and emperor of what later became the Holy Roman Empire.

  12 (p. 308) the imperial family: The reference is to the Second Empire family of Napoleon III (Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew, known as Louis Napoleon, 1808-1873); his Spanish wife, the Empress Eugenie (1826-1920); and their only child, Napoleon Louis (b. 1856).

  13 (p. 308) as he passes in his four-horse barouche, with postilions in red satin jackets: A barouche is a large, four-wheeled carriage; postilions are guides who ride on carriage horses in the absence of a coachman.

  14 (p. 310) Dannecker’s famous Ariadne: The 1814 marble statue Ariadne on a Panther is a principal work of German artist Johann Heinrich von Dannecker; in Greek mythology, Ariadne (King Minos’s daughter) falls in love with the Greek hero Theseus and helps him escape from the Labyrinth.

  15 (p. 311) the beautiful gardens made by the sector long ago for his English wife: Electors were German princes who took part in choosing the Holy Roman Emperor. The elector Frederick V (1596-1632) had a building and gardens constructed in Italian High Renaissance style at Heidelberg Castle for his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of King James I of England.

  16 (p. 343) though Kant and Hegel were unknown gods, the Subjective and Objective unintelligible terms: German philosopher, logician, and metaphysician Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) sought to characterize and determine the limits of knowledge and consciousness. German idealist philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) celebrated reason as the spirit of man. “Subjective and Objective” is a reference to Hegel’s theories of subjective and objective logic.

  17 (p. 365) criticizing the latest celebrity who has arrived—Ristori or Dickens, Victor Emmanuel or the Queen of the Sandwich Islands: The celebrities mentioned include Adelaide Ristori (1822-1906), a leading Italian tragic actress, and Victor Emmanuel II, king of Italy from 1861 to 1878. The queen of the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands was at this time probably the beautiful, partly Caucasian Queen Emma, widow of King Kamehameha IV (1834-1863).

  18 (p. 369) “the lovely road to Villa Franca, Schubert’s Tower, just below, and ... that speck far out to sea which they say is Corsica?”: Ville franche is a port district on the Mediterranean east of Nice. Amy refers to “Schubert’s Tower,” but it was French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz who in 1844 stayed in an old tower in Nice. Corsica, a French island in the Mediterranean, is the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte.

  19 (p. 372) “A daughter of the gods, l Divinely tall, and most divinely fair,”; The quotation is from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “A Dream of Fair Women” (1833), referring to Iphigenia, a legendary Greek princess almost sacrificed by her father, Agamemnon, so that his warships could pass to Troy; she was saved by the Greek moon goddess Artemis (whom the Romans called Diana).

  20 (p. 415) from gloomy St. Gingolf to sunny Montreux, with the Alps of Savoy on one side, Mont St. Bernard and the Dent du Midi on the other, pretty Vevay in the valley, and Lausanne upon the hill beyond: These sites are in the canton of Vaud, Switzerland, an area that was very popular in the nineteenth century because of its tourist resorts, vineyards, and alpine views. St. Gingolf is a village on the France-Switzerland border at Lake Geneva. Montreux is another tourist resort on Lake Geneva, southeast of Vevey. The Savoy Alps are a mountainous region on the France-Italy border whose highest point is Mont Blanc. Mont St. Bernard is an alpine mountain on the Switzerland-Italy border. Dent du Midi is a mountain in the Swiss Alps, south of Montreux. Lausanne is an important Swiss city on Lake Geneva famous for its Gothic cathedral.

  21 (p. 416) They had been talking of Bonnivard, as they glided past Chillon, and of Rousseau, as they looked up at Clarens, where he wrote his Héloise: The Swiss monastic prior François de Bonnivard (c.1493-1570) supported a revolt against Charles III, the duke of Savoy, for which he was twice imprisoned, once at Chillon, a medieval castle fortress on Lake Geneva; his story inspired numerous works of nineteenth-century literature, most famously English Romantic poet Lord Byron’s poem “The Prisoner of Chillon” (1816). The influential Swiss philosopher and political theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) set his popular epistolary romance novel Julie, or the New Heloïse (1761) in this region, in the resort village of Clarens.

  22 (p. 468) Mr. March strolled placidly about, quoting Tusser, Cowley, and Columella: Thomas Tusser ( 1524-1580) was an English poet who wrote on agriculture; his verse gave rise to many proverbs. Abraham Cowley (1618-1667) was an English poet and scholar. Lucius Junius Columella was a first-century Roman writer on agriculture.


  Began the second part of “Little Women.” ... Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only end and aim of a woman’s life. I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.

  —Louisa May Alcott, from her Journal


  Louisa May Alcott wrote for money, to “take Fate by the throat and shake a living out of her.” With the overwhelming success of Little Women, she became solvent enough to repay her family’s accumulated debt, while combining her twin passions: her love of words and her talent for teaching children. Alcott cared deeply about the rearing of children, about high standards and role models, about morals and a robust work ethic. She deplored the rough, ill-grammared boys of Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: “If Mr. Clemens cannot think of something better to tell our pure-minded lads and lasses, he had best stop writing for them.”

  In the wake of Little Women’s popularity, Alcott furthered her agenda of writing high-minded children’s literature by publishing several more episodes of Jo March’s clan. Little Men: Life at Plumfield with Jo’s Boys (1871) was the first sequel. The book opens with a raggedy boy named Nat arriving at Plumfield to discover Alcott’s characteristic atmosphere of education and recreation:

  The house seemed swarming with boys, who were beguiling the rainy twilight with all sorts of amusements. There were boys everywhere, “up-stairs and down-stairs and in the lady’s chamber,” apparently, for various open doors showed pleasant groups of big boys, little boys, and middle-sized boys in all stages of evening relaxation, not to say effervescence. Two large rooms on the right were evidently schoolrooms, for desks, maps, blackboards, and books were scattered about.

  Little Men was followed by Aunt Jo’s Scrap Bag, publish
ed in six volumes between 1872 and 1882. The saga of Jo’s progeny continued with Jo’s Boys, and How They Turned Out (1886). Jo’s Boys chronicles the boys’ lives as they become men and offers a glimpse into the sagac ity of Mrs. Jo and Mrs. Meg as they age gracefully: “Now we are expected to be as wise as men who have had generations of all the help there is, and we scarcely anything.” Alcott’s posthumously published Comic Tragedies Written by “Jo” and “Meg” and Acted by the Little Women (1893), a lively collection of plays, furthered her mythology.


  Of the various attempts to bring Alcott’s Little Women to the silver screen, two stand out as exemplary: George Cukor’s 1933 version and Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 adaptation. Cukor, the legendary film-maker who later made David Copperfield (1935) and My Fair Lady (1964), blends high production values and the nascent technology of sound to re-create Alcott’s Civil War—era Massachusetts. Twenty-six-year-old Katharine Hepburn stars as the fiercely determined Jo; the film is the second of ten collaborations between Cukor and Hepburn, including the masterpiece The Philadelphia Story (1940). Little Women features a crisp script by Sarah Y. Mason and Victor Heerman.

  Cukor’s film is unabashedly sentimental, indulging in scenes of the turbulently emotional March sisters consoling each other in the parlor, that sanctuary from the war that threatens to keep their father away for good. The lively sorority of Jo, Meg (Frances Dee), Amy (Joan Bennett), and Beth (Jean Parker) reveals itself in homegrown plays, in which Hepburn, playing multiple roles as well as her sisters’ acting coach, dons a mustachio and a blonde wig by turns. Jo’s girlish enthusiasm is sorely tested in her return to take care of Beth in the film’s most moving sequence. Hepburn’s chirpy, headstrong, and innocent performance captures the essence of Jo so completely that many critics have branded Cukor’s the definitive version of Little Women. In addition to Mason and Heerman’s Oscar-winning adaptation, Little Women was nominated for Outstanding Production (Best Picture) and Best Direction. Cukor later refused to take over the direction of the 1949 film of Little Women, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Janet Leigh.

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
  • 112 531
  • 0