Saturday, August 1, 2015
Revisiting Favorite Novels and Being A Girl
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was the first 'novel' I read, probably in the 5th grade, back in 1965.
What do I remember about it? That I liked it, a lot and that Amy, one of the characters, put a clothes peg on her nose to make it slimmer.
I, too, thought I had a fat nose, back then.
Funny what you remember, eh?
Lately, I revisited Little Women, by listening to a French audio tape online. Little Women isn't one of those novels you revisit in order to understand it from a more seasoned perspective.
It isn't 'great literature'. Or is it?
I can't help but deconstruct the book, despite its simplicity.
It's about being 'middle class.' Little Women clearly defines what is to be a middle class girl in the 20th century. (That is, to be as cultivated as a high class girl, but more spirited and more resourceful.)
No wonder it is a classic.
Like the middle class Nicholsons, a real family, explored in my ebooks Threshold Girl, Diary of a Confirmed Spinster and Furies Cross the Mersey, the Marchds are an independent female- centered family, although they rely peripherally on men to make their lives better.
Their mother is calm and wise, although it is explained she was not always like so.
The father is away being a doctor in the Civil War (the horrors of which are avoided)...a rich, reclusive neighbour boy befriends them, but he needs them as much as they need him.
The Nicholsons of Richmond, Quebec, my husband's ancestors, are three sisters (and a brother, but he's out of the picture by 1910) Edith, Marion and the youngest Flora whose father, Norman, in 1908-1913 is away working on the railroad.
Their mother, Margaret, is wise, if not calm. She's a bit of a nervous wreck because the family has money problems, caused in large part by her son's debts.
Despite being cash-poor, their family is well-connected and well-respected in Richmond - as they once were prosperous and they stilled lived on a fashionable street in a lovely house.
When the girls move to Montreal to teach, former Richmond families help them out.
I have no doubt that Edith, Marion and Flo read Little Women.. (Was the book popular back in 1910 before the movie version came out? I wonder..... Checked on Ngrams. No Little Women wasn't popular back then. The book soared to popularity during the WWII years, in between two film versions.)
OK. I have a little doubt. (Edith was a Middlemarch kind of girl.)
If the Nicholson women read Little Women, I wonder if they related to the Marches? How could they not?
As for myself, back in 1965, I had two brothers, so I was as much as a tomboy as Jo, on the outside. On the inside I liked all things girlie, horses, pink clothes, Yardley cosmetics, but I wasn't allowed to express this side. No money!
My father was always at home, by 6 pm anyway. My mother wasn't wise.
That's why the nose-business is all I can recall.
Oddly, I put a line in Threshold Girl that mimics one in Little Women: Magazines sure make you want things. The line in Little Women is The more things you have, the more you want.
I doubt Louisa May Alcott realized to what extent women's vanity would propel the new consumer age, although there were some Department Stores by that time.
Oh, another podcast I listened to in French was about "Body Image" - an extraordinarily complex subject.
The expert has spent years investigating women who undergo plastic surgery. She said she has total respect for these women, but not for the society that creates such women. Consumer society, she says, takes our innate fear of death and fear of not being loved and exploits it for commercial purposes.
A fashion model, speaking next, said she was in Venezuela and was shocked to see that Mom's gave plastic surgery to their daughters for 'coming of age' gifts. That's NOT in Little Women, although I wonder if Amy's fat nose is the equivalent or precursor. Wasn't Amy played by Elizabeth Taylor? Gee, no need for nosework there...but, then again...Oh, it is SO complicated.
Statue at Place Ville Marie. In 1970 I passed the same fountain with a school friend who said "That's all men want of women."