The Importance of Being Jo

*NOTE: This post may contain spoilers for Little Women... but if you haven't already read it then that's just too sad to contemplate.

When I was eight years old my grandparents bought me a copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I don’t remember receiving it – in fact I only know that I was eight because of the inscription in the front of the book – but I do remember reading and loving it. It became a quick favourite, the favourite, in fact, for I love it still, and read it each and every Christmas, preferably while sitting under the tree.

I’m sure this comes as no shock to anyone who reads my blog, as I've mentioned it already this year (here and here) and most definately comes to no surprise to anyone who knows me in person, as it is about this time that I go into my 'Little Women haze: reading, crying, and giggling happily. My house is usually filled with people who bounce between rolling their eyes at me and taunting me into telling them whether or not Beth is dead yet. Yes, they're that heartless and mean.

Because I'm certain that I'm not the only one who considers Little Women to be one of their favourites, I'm not actually going to review the book (I promise I'm not making a habit of this). Instead, I'd like to share something from the afterword of my new edition (written by Susan Straight).

Meg was lovely and mannered, and we saw her burned hair, her gloves, her mended dresses and pretty cheeks clearly, liking her immensely. Beth was saintly and devoted, her long fingers on the piano keys, her eyes always searching her sisters and mother even when her lips didn't move, and we loved her without reserve. Amy was pretty and pretentious, and we laughed at her mispronunciations, saw the lovely pickled limes lying in the snow, even understood how hard it must have been to follow those three with their places in the house firmly etched.

But even now, when many of us who read Little Women as children and teens are finally the age of Marmee, all the girls I've ever talked to wanted to be Jo [...] rough and galloping across snowy fields and tree-lined roads, wearing her writing cap in the attic, her fingers tinted blue with ink, her hair shorn awkwardly, Louisa May Alcott's legacy to millions of readers.

I have been thinking about this statement all week and, while looking forward to thinking it out here myself, I'd love to hear others thoughts on this. So! If you're inclined, I'd love it if you'd give it some thought yourself and let me know.

Growing up I always loved Beth as my favourite, and who wouldn't? Quiet, unassuming Beth; shy and homely, yet always ready with a smile and a kind word. I loved her gentle treatment of her poor Joanna, her devotion to all her sisters (her "wild, brave Jo" most of all), and her relationship with crotchety Mr. Laurence (the chapter where he gifts her with the piano remains my favourite even today).

I suppose I always fancied myself a bit of a Beth for, despite my faults (which Beth was not in possession of), I was a child who preferred to stay home, staying close to mother and family. This was definately a romanticism on my part, for a Beth I am not.

While I never was, and never became, the rough and tumble "wild girl" that so characterised Jo (I did, at least, maintain Beth's calm homeliness), I do remember actually thinking, as I came out my shell a little, that I was become more of a "Jo". As my bookish tendencies became more and more consuming and my hand turned to literary pursuits (though never with the dogged confidence or talent of Jo) I, with each consecutive reading of Little Women, longed to be more and more like the character I loved.

Her temper I would have happily left behind, but I admired her unfailing loyalty to friend and family. I respected her strongly held ideals and often think of her when I get on my own soapbox from time to time. I loved her generosity of spirit and openness of heart.

Throughout the years, and countless rereadings, Jo has shared much with me and, though she not know it, I with her. I have laughed with her, loved with her, and cried with her. And in return, she has cheered me, championed with me and comforted me. Most importantly she has lived with me. More so than any other character - a strong statement for a reader, I believe - Josephine March has touched and impacted me.

Despite my moments of wanting to be like her, I'm not sure if I ever wanted to BE her... but I certainly wanted to be her friend.

So come on, tell us, who did YOU want to be?

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