Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Piece of Myself

Currently Reading: Villette by Charlotte Bronte and Wildwood by Colin Meloy

Winter is slowly dragging on, never quite making up its mind whether or not it wants to be over. Tantalizing whiffs of spring hang in the air on the warmer days, only to be masked by gusts of snow blowing over the farm fields and reminding us that winter is still here to stay. Nevertheless, Nate and I dubbed today our "cleaning day," finally putting away the Christmas decorations (I know, we're pathetic!) and brightening the interior with anticipation of brighter days to come. I always have a difficult time in the winter- the lack of sun and chances to go outdoors makes me moody and sullen. By February, my cheerful/optimistic side goes on vacation, while my grumpy/morose side takes the field. Poor Nathan. He's a trooper though, especially since I tend to fight the negative feelings with everything I have.

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I moved my pot of ivy to the coffee table and that alone makes spring seem closer than ever. So this morning, I am back to cheerful, enjoying little things like a clean bathroom, a mug of hot cocoa, almost-finished homework, and an afternoon of writing and Villette. Tomorrow I am meeting a good friend that I haven't seen in far too long, and I look forward to that too.

Last week, Nate and I finished Little Women, my first for Classics Club. This was my third re-read, but Nathan's first introduction to it. We did it right- Nate stretched out on the couch or on the bed as I read out loud, enacting each scene and character, complete with voices. I'm sure Jo would have been proud of me.

I have always loved Little Women. There is no need for me to explain what it is about the writing and the characters that are so powerful and endearing, for I know that many, many readers have experienced that too. We laugh at Jo's antics, and feel Teddy's heartbreak, and weep when Beth takes her last breath. But this time, the book tugged at me a little bit more, pulled me in a little bit deeper, and spoke to me in a way it never had before. I can't put my finger on why that is. Perhaps it is because Nate and I read it out loud together. It is amazing how much difference it makes to read with your voice, for it turns words from flat, two-dimensional blotches of ink into a conversation, a dream, an inward sigh. (Reading out loud has always been far superior to me than reading quietly... probably to the detriment of my family, but they never seemed to mind). The book took on a new life when I read it out loud, more real than before, more concrete, more alive. And sharing the reading experience together turned every evening into a literary date night. Now, I will always have the memories of sharing Little Women (and all of the discussions and laughs and tears that accompanied it) with my husband.

Maybe the book meant more to me this time around because I identify even more with Jo now that I've gotten older. How could I not see myself in her when I was a child- dramatic, feisty-tempered, bookish, and imaginative as we were? As a girl, I realized it was OK to be who I was, because Jo was too. But now, as a young woman working on discovering who I am and what my role is in life, Jo comes back, feisty as ever, to show me that we can still be ourselves, even with new responsibilities and expectations. We can still have moody February days, and be dramatic, and wonder whether we will ever achieve what we desire, yet still be good sisters and wives and daughters and mothers. Neither Jo nor I really changed when we grew up, and that gives me so much comfort.

And maybe the book means more to me now because I have recently been learning so much about its author, Louisa May Alcott, who is also a kindred spirit to me. Knowing the context of Louisa's life, as well as her relationship with the book, really helped me understand it in a new light. Nate and I often stopped to discuss the description of Mr. March, or Jo's relationship with her mother or with Beth, in light of how that reflected Louisa's own thoughts and realities. I believe it was Eve LaPlante's Marmee & Louisa which stated that Jo March is Louisa's alter ego, but she is also just as much Louisa as she wished she were, rather than Louisa as she was. Whereas Jo is loved and humored, despite her scrapes and mishaps, Louisa had a much harder time of it, very often misunderstood by her own family. Instead of living poor but comfortably in a stable home, the Alcott's moved all over Boston and Concord, from one temporary house or boarding house to another, and were often separated as the girls grew older and worked to support the family. In Little Women, Louisa wrote of herself and her sisters' childhoods, but she also imagined a new childhood for all of them, a childhood she wished she could have had. That knowledge and understanding illuminated Little Women for me in a new way and made the re-read both rewarding and unforgettable.

I know that Little Women will always be a book I come back to for comfort, guidance, and enjoyment. It will be a book I will read to my children. It will be a book that will still teach me, even as I age. And I hope I will never cease to find a piece of myself within it.


  1. Awesome post! I've only ever read the "Great Illustrated Classics" version (remember those?) but Jo was my favorite as well. She seemed the most real to me. That would make sense, if the author modeled the character after herself.

    Reading aloud is excellent. I have good memories of Tony and I reading "The Little Prince" in blanket forts and outside in the morning. I don't think we ever finished it, though. Now I have a new goal!

    1. Thank you, Shannon dear! I do remember Illustrated Classics.. weren't they the best? I love the image of you guys reading in blanket forts- I must do that now! :)

  2. Every time I reread this book (and it has been many times), it takes on a different meaning to me. In college, I was most taken with the girl's lessons from Pilgrim's Progress and thought of them as I tried to better myself. The last time though, I was most affected by their transitions to lives independent of their families. I love feeling like I share the same struggles as they do. I totally agree with you, no matter how old I get, they have something to quietly teach me.

    1. Nate and I plan on reading Pilgrim's Progress soon. I can't wait, because I think it will really change the way I interpret Little Women. I love hearing how Little Women has affected you, Caitlyn. I think the mark of a classic book is one that continues to "have something to quietly teach" us. :)

  3. The more you write about Louisa, the more I wonder why it's taken me so long to become interested in her life. It breaks my heart to know how similar yet different to Jo's her life was.
    I agree, Little Women can offer the same magic every time we read it, and yet add something new to the equation every time. I guess we learn to appreciate it more as a realistic and moving story, instead of simply entertaining and inspiring, the older we get.

    1. Thanks, Caro! I really encourage you to learn about Louisa... I have become head-over-heels fascinated with her. I plan on writing more about her, so stay tuned! And you make a really great point- the older we get, the more we experience, we interpret books in different ways. I can't wait to read some of these in twenty years and see how they have changed for me.


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