If anyone were to ask me who my favorite character ever is, I would have to say Josephine “Jo” March, from Alcott’s Little Women.
Over the past day or so, I have been seized by the desire to have as many of my Louisa May Alcott books by my bedside as my poor little nightstand can handle. On there now, I have Alcott’s biography and journals, Behind a Mask & Other Stories, A Whisper in the Dark, From Jo March’s Attic, Alternative Alcott, Under the Lilacs, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, and The Inheritance. An Old-Fashioned Girl is sitting here on the arm of the couch next to me and my large hardback volume of Little Women is on the shelf above my head. I have read all of these books at least half a dozen times, some of them at full dozen at the very least.
I was gifted with my first copy of the 1990s film “Little Women” when I was but twelve years old, for Christmas. I fell in love with the March Girls, with Marmee (which is what I call my mother to this day, seventeen years later, and have gotten other people to refer to her as such), with Laurie, with Jo’s stories and determination to be a “great writer and earn barrels of money”. I have been blessed and excited to even have some parallel experiences with Jo in my life, such as selling my first story for $5.00 and marrying a teacher of German (instead of a German professor). Jo has always inspired me and she will always be my favorite.
Alcott’s books have always brought me joy. I remember when my mother put a copy of The Inheritance into my hands as a surprise, Alcott’s first novel written as a teenager and unpublished until that year. I was overjoyed and sat down to read it right then. Since then, I read that sweet little book about goodness and purity whenever I need a reminder of what is important in life. Just as I cry and remember my family losses when I read of Beth March’s quiet, patient, loving life and gentle departure from this world and resolve to live so that those gone would have been proud of me. Eight Cousins allows me to live, vicariously, through Rose. I have always dreamt of having brothers, especially those who were kind and loving. Boys whom I could love and care for as family. I was gifted with those in the form of God-sent male friends in college, and I am ever thankful for them. An Old-Fashioned Girl reminds me that there is nothing wrong with being a simple person with simple tastes and to have hands that are always willing to do for and encourage others, whether they notice it or not, appreciate it or not.
These are the books I grab when I need something to feed my soul, something to lift my spirits and give me hope and a smile. When I need invigorating, I pick Alcott’s “other” stories. Her sensation pieces, her “blood-and-thunder” tales. I was absolutely fascinated when my mother returned from a trip visiting her friends and gave me Behind a Mask & Other Stories (you can easily see who feeds my obsession). I read it and re-read it to make sure I hadn’t missed anything in the mysteries of these stories. My favorite collection of these sensation stories, however, is the now-out-of-print From Jo March’s Attic. I love “My Mysterious Mademoiselle”, “Which Wins”, and “The Countess Varazoff”. I actually ended up writing my thesis for my Masters of Arts in Literature on body theory as utilized by Alcott in her stories “Behind a Mask” and “Betrayed by a Buckle” to call for a reform of women’s rights and the constructs of what it meant to be a “proper woman in her proper place”. It was a joy to use two stories that I have treasured all my life, as well as Alcott’s strong views on equality and femininity, to produce a work that I dare to think she might have agreed with if she were alive to read it.
Alcott is imprinted on my brain, my emotions, and my heart, and she will always be. I would not have it any other way. And may I someday be a Jo, a Rose, a Polly, an Edith, and embody those beautiful qualities that she wrote into these amazing characters who remain my dear friends to this day.
Perhaps, like Alcott, I may, someday, be able to echo the lyrics that Jo sings in the Broadway staging of Little Women:
Here I go
And there’s no turning back
My great adventure has begun
I may be small
But I’ve got giant plans
To shine as greatly as the sun
I will blaze until I find my time and place
I will be fearless,
Surrendering modesty and grace
I will not disappear without a trace
I’ll shout and start a riot
Be anything but quiet
I’ll be Astonishing