Jo March: An Inspiration for Writers

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“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!”- fifteen-year-old Louisa May Alcott

She succeeded.   One of her novels, Little Women, first published in 1868, was almost immediately deemed a classic.  Since then, there have been numerous film versions, plays, musicals, and even an anime based on the book about four poor girls growing up during the Civil War. 

Colt-like, tomboyish,  hot-tempered yet sensible Jo March, has been an inspiration for female writers (and perhaps more males than care  to admit) for over 140 years.    The image of Jo,  upstairs in the garret, using an old tin kitchen as a desk, pen at hand, is at once old-fashioned and romantic. 

While methods may have changed since then,  the passions and tribulations of writers forever remain the same.

Quotes  from Litttle Women

1.  “Jo’s book was the pride of her heart, and was regarded by her family as a literary sprout of great promise.  It was only half a dozen little fairy tales, but Jo had worked over them patiently, putting her whole heart into her work, hoping to make something good enough to print.”

2.  “Quite absorbed in her work, Jo scribbled away till the last page was filled, when she signed her name with a flourish, and threw down the pen. ‘There, I’ve done my best!  If this doesn’t suit, I shall have to wait till I can do better.’  Lying back on the sofa, she read the manuscript carefully through, making dashes here and there and putting in many exclamation points; then she tied it up with a smart red ribbon, and sat a minute looking at it with a sober, wistful expression, which plainly showed how earnest her work had been.”

3. “Jo’s breath gave out here; and, wrapping her head in the paper, she bedewed her little story with a few natural tears; for to be independent and earn the praise of those she loved were the dearest wishes of her heart.”

4.  “Six weeks is a long time to wait, and a still longer time for a girl to keep a secret; but Jo did both, and was just beginning to give up all hope of ever seeing her manuscript again, when a letter arrived which almost took her breath away.”

5. “Having copied her novel for the fourth time and submitted it with fear and trembling to three publishers, she disposed of it on condition that she cut it down one-third and omit all the parts which she particularly admired.  So with Spartan firmness, the young authoress laid her firstborn on her table and chopped it up as ruthlessly as any ogre.  It was printed, and she got three hundred dollars for it, likewise plenty of praise and blame.”

6.  “I don’t know whether I have written a promising book or broken all the Ten Commandments. “- Jo

7.  “I’ve got the joke on my side, after all.  For the parts that were taken straight out of real life are denounced as impossible and absurd, and the scenes which I made up out of my own silly head are pronounced charmingly natural, tender, and true.  So I’ll comfort myself with that, and when I’m ready, I’ll up and take another. ” – Jo

8. “Jo wrote no more sensational stories, deciding that the money did not pay for her share of the sensation.  She produced an intensely moral tale, but found no purchaser for it.  She tried a child’s story, but found that no editor paid for juvenile literature.”

9.  “I’ve no heart for it, and if I had, nobody cares for the things I write.”- Jo 

“We do.  Write something for us, and never mind the rest of the world…”  -Marmee

Jo never knew how it happened, but something got into her next story that went straight to the hearts of those who read it…

“There is truth in it, Jo- that’s the secret.  Humor and pathos make it alive, and you have found your style at last,” said her father.  “You put your heart into it, my daughter.  Do your best and grow as happy as we are in your success.”

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Published in: on July 19, 2009 at 4:13 pm  Comments (30)  
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30 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I love #7. 🙂

  2. Ok, we are WAAAY too in tune with eachother. Awhile back I bought a copy of the Winona Ryder/Susan Sarandon version of LW, but only yesterday did I break it out and sit down and watch it! I loved her books. Hmm, I wonder if reading her books as a child was the genesis of my desire to be a writer?

  3. I read somewhere that Alcott wanted Jo to stay a cheerful, busy, slightly eccentric maiden aunt, but the publishers insisted that Jo get married and have kiddies.

    The relationship Alcott wrote for her wasn’t bad, but I was kind of disappointed that Professor Bhaer quashed her writing of what he saw as inappropriate stories. And that in the sequels (Little Men and Jo’s Boys), Jo was a sweet nurturing maternal type rather than an imaginative tempestuous writer.

  4. The first version of Little Women I saw was an in Japanese animation. From there I knew that animation did not have to be “Disney” and consequently neither did my writing.

  5. Hey Melanie,

    Same here. It made me smile, because it’s so true.

  6. D D,

    Heh! Well, again, you’re not my Astro Sis for nothing.
    I just started re-reading LW a few days ago.

    How was that film version? I’ve seen the Hepburn version (my fave), and also the one with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy.

  7. Hi Marian,

    Yeah. Alcott refused to have Jo marry Laurie. (she was so correct in that regard) But she did give in to demands that Jo marry someone. I liked Mr. Bhaer until he trashed her stories.

    I don’t remember anything about Jo’s Boys or Little Men, except for the fact that I didn’t like them anywhere near as much. From your description- I can see why.

  8. Hey Ralfast,

    So you’ve seen the anime version. Cool! I’ve been wanting to.

  9. I haven’t seen the 1933 Hepburn version in a long time, so I won’t compare the two. This new version with Winona Ryder had some very good performances, and maybe I was just in a weepy mood when I was watching it but I was in tears more than once. Obviously it departs (a great deal in some ways) from the book, but the family bonds are portrayed well, and so I think keeps the spirit of the book. I can’t say I thought Gabriel Byrne was the best choice to be Prof. Bhaer, though. I always pictured him older, bearded, gray. Wasn’t he in his 50s in the book? The age difference always bothered me, even as a child. He just seemed SO OLD! 🙂

  10. Wonderful collection of excerpts. I love these and the picture of Jo they paint together. Little Women was one of my favorite books and I was convinced I was Jo for the longest time. In fact, I still am most days.

    Laurie and Jo would have been awful although conventionally appealing and romantic. However, Jo’s fierec independence would not have survived with Laurie. She had a much better chance with the clumsy, inelegant and ever so charming Bhaer to be herself. I don’t remember much of the later books either. The way I remember Jo, she probably won over Bhaer in time and convinced him to be her proofreader. That’s how I will continue to think of her.

  11. Jo was my heroine growing up! I wanted to be a writer because of her. I probably typed some of these quotes onto a different piece of paper; that book captured how I felt.

    I am hoping one of these days, my daughters will get hooked onto Little Women like I did.

  12. PS I was heartbroken when she and Laurie did not end up together… 🙂

  13. Hey Venus,

    I also felt very Jo-like. 🙂

    I like what you imagine between her and Mr. Bhaer. Quite possible, as he was proud of her writing. It was only her “sensational stories”, that he frowned upon. He urged her to write better, more worthy things. Or, I guess what he considered worthy. (he definitely wasn’t a Wilkie Collins fan)

  14. Hey Jewel,

    I hope your daughter loves the book, too. I was about nine when I read it the first time. It definitely stays with you.

    Regarding Jo and Laurie- As a kid, I also wanted them together. But now, rereading it as an adult, I applaud Lousia for not going for the obvious.

  15. D D,

    Thanks for describing the film. I do want to check it out some time. And yes, Mr. Bhaer was supposed to be in his forties.

  16. “He urged her to write better, more worthy things.”

    And you gotta admit, he (if there was a person who filled this role in her real life) was right. Like Jo, she did publish other stories, but they are largely forgotten.

  17. Loved the post!

  18. Hey D D,

    I do want to check out some of her sensation novels. Quite curious about them.

    I agree the character may have had a point. It’s just that in the scene he comes off self-righteous and irritating. He’s more encouraging later.

  19. Thank you, Patricia. 🙂

  20. One of my all-time favorite books.

    Through Jo, Louisa created a character that captures the essence of many female writers, still to this day, who are caught between writing dreams (all-consuming dreams) and being a wife/mother/having children.

    It’s the ageless concern of the female artist — how to balance feminine roles with creative dreams.

    But that aside, it’s a wonderful story. I read the book when I was young and have never forgotten it. There have been a few books I’ve wanted to read again, and that’s one — along with A Wrinkle in Time, Anne of Green Gables and the unedited diary of Anne Frank.

    A few months ago, I started by rereading A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I was just as enamored as in childhood — even cried a few times while reading, .

    You know that’s a fine book, when it reads just as well all these years later.

    Em

  21. Em!

    I also loved, Anne of Green Gables. Read the whole series. Plus I loved the film version of it with Megan Follows.

    The Secret Garden, A Little Princess. . .there’s a special joy in rereading childhood favorites.

    And it’s also interesting how opinions can change. (see above comments for my change of heart concerning Jo and Laurie). But also rereading now, I was surprised to see how much I liked Amy. We’re total opposites in just about everyway you can imagine (except for her love of art and travel), but I simply found her a fun character this time around.

  22. I think Jo and Laurie would have had the kind of romance where the partners quarrel fiercely but make up just as passionately. Some people like that, and some prefer a calmer, more reasonable kind of relationship.

    The only thing I didn’t like about Amy with Laurie was that it felt like Amy getting the boy who loved Jo as well as the holiday that Jo really wanted. You can tell whose side I’m on here. 🙂

  23. “I think Jo and Laurie would have had the kind of romance where the partners quarrel fiercely but make up just as passionately. Some people like that, and some prefer a calmer, more reasonable kind of relationship.”

    Very, very true.

  24. I loved this! It’s been awhile since I read Little Women; I think I’m gonna have to read it again now!

  25. Thanks Dara! 🙂

    It was definitely nice rereading it. I really think a lot of childrens books are even more enjoyable when you read them as an adult.

  26. It’s been so long since I read Little Women or any of Alcott’s other books…or any other books in the various series I loved so well as a child (Anne of Green Gables, Wilder’s Little House series, Lovelace’s Betsy books).
    Thanks for the refresher course on a character that really spoke to me as I read and reread the books.

  27. Hey Dominique,

    Glad you enjoyed going down memory lane! 🙂

  28. I love #6 🙂

    Oh, and I just picked up a book called “March” that looked interesting although I’m a little scared of reading it–it’s the father’s story. The mostly-absent father. 🙂

  29. Hi Sput,

    Number 6 is funny!

    I’ve heard the book, “March” is fantastic. Let me know what you think after you read it.

  30. Oooh, will do! First The Appointment, then Ellman’s bio of Oscar Wilde, then hopefully March 🙂


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