Monday, August 3, 2009

Little Women, Chapters 1-9

Ok, I’ve come up with a few questions – go ahead an answer some or all in the comment box. As I was telling the lovely Marsha, if a discussion gets particularly good, I’ll probably pull it out of the comments and make a new post. And, I’m taking some feedback requests – is anyone worried about spoilers? I’m worried about how this will feed into a Blog reader for those who haven’t read it before. Please let me know before we move on if you need me to come up with some filler…

On that note, a bit about Louisa May Alcott from The Louisa May Alcott
House website.

Louisa May Alcott was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania on November 29, 1832. She and her three sisters, Anna, Elizabeth and May were educated by their father, philosopher/ teacher, Bronson Alcott and raised on the practical Christianity of their mother, Abigail May.

Louisa spent her childhood in Boston and in Concord, Massachusetts, where her days were enlightened by visits to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s library, excursions into nature with Henry David Thoreau and theatricals in the barn at Hillside (now Hawthorne’s "Wayside").

Like her character, Jo March in Little Women, young Louisa was a tomboy: "No boy could be my friend till I had beaten him in a race," she claimed, " and no girl if she refused to climb trees, leap fences...."

For Louisa, writing was an early passion. She had a rich imagination and often her stories became melodramas that she and her sisters would act out for friends. Louisa preferred to play the "lurid" parts in these plays, "the villains, ghosts, bandits, and disdainful queens."

At age 15, troubled by the poverty that plagued her family, she vowed: "I will do something by and by. Don’t care what, teach, sew, act, write, anything to help the family; and I’ll be rich and famous and happy before I die, see if I won’t!"
Confronting a society that offered little opportunity to women seeking employment, Louisa determined "...I will make a battering-ram of my head and make my way through this rough and tumble world." Whether as a teacher, seamstress, governess, or household servant, for many years Louisa did any work she could find.
Louisa’s career as an author began with poetry and short stories that appeared in popular magazines. In 1854, when she was 22, her first book Flower Fables was published. A milestone along her literary path was Hospital Sketches (1863) based on the letters she had written home from her post as a nurse in Washington, DC as a nurse during the Civil War.

When Louisa was 35 years old, her publisher Thomas Niles in Boston asked her to write "a book for girls." Little Women was written at Orchard House from May to July 1868. The novel is based on Louisa and her sisters’ coming of age and is set in Civil War New England. Jo March was the first American juvenile heroine to act from her own individuality; a living, breathing person rather than the idealized stereotype then prevalent in children’s fiction.

In all, Louisa published over 30 books and collections of stories. She died on March 6, 1888, only two days after her father, and is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord.

Ok – questions:

1) The first chapter ends with a discussion between the four girls and their mother about Pilgrim’s Progress and how it applies to their lives. For those who have read Pilgrim’s Progress – how does your recollection of it match up with the way that the March family approaches their lives? For those of us who have not, how does the family approach match our impression of the book. For all – does this make a good framework for the story?

2) What is your impression of the four March girls? Which one most closely matches how you see yourself? Are the characters realistic?

3) I’m intrigued by the character of Beth. My mental impression of her has been that she was always sickly, but upon this reading, I am seeing a different character. What has struck you about the character of Beth, and does it match your previous impression of her?

4) For those who have read the book before (spoiler alerts in this question and answer) – knowing how it unfolds, are you seeing foreshadowing? If you have not read the book before – what is your impression of where the novel is going?

5)What did you think about Marmee and Jo’s discussion about anger and besetting sins? Do you think what Marmee said about the continual wrestling with a passion resonated with you and your experience? What did you think about Marmee and Mr. March’s agreement that he’d help her learn to curb her anger?