Monday, July 19, 2010

Being Jo

Little Women might have been criticised by quite a few people as sappy and sentimental, but to me, it still remains a comfort book. I first read the abridged version when I was seven; the shock of my English teacher when I was in middle school at none of us in class having read the full book spurred me into embarrassed action. It then rapidly turned into one of my favourite books, and to this day holds its place in the list.

You don't have to be a wild, heedless girl of sixteen to identify with Jo; the very idea of harmless romps with the boy next door, the constant scribbling, the tempestuous outbursts of a fiery hot temper and the immediate need to make up are still very much me. Jo built fantastic castles in the air- so do all of us. The March family is human- and as I spent the better part of this afternoon skimming through Little Women and Good Wives, I felt my more unrealistic notions ebb away and sense close in on me.

The sense attack notwithstanding, I cannot for the life of me imagine myself in one of the roles the March sisters played- unselfish and angelic like Beth, or fretting over a baby on each arm like Meg, for instance. My imagination will need to be churned and wrung around a good deal to make it capable of conjuring up images of wifely behaviour and patient, devoted motherhood. Jealousy, for now, is my biggest weakness, and I don't see how I'm going to overcome it soon to be a model of good behaviour. I cannot, in a whole lifetime, see myself doing anything to be famous for after I'm long dead and gone. Mirages of the future don't show me responsible, dignified adults- I see my friends and me just the way we are, carefree and enjoying the guilty pleasures of minor rebelliousness.

I got myself a green-and-white copy of Little Women a few years ago at a sale- it is the book I'd bury my head in on a long, lonely night of despair, when life seems to lie ahead in endlessly bleak years. I must have shed numerous girlish tears for Jo, lamented her marriage to old Prof. Bhaer, triumphed everytime she got published, blushed whenever she wrote sensational nonsense that would sell. It is the book to up my spirits whenever the doubts start to creep in, when further anonymity seems like the only antidote to an already nondescript existence. It is like the stranger's smile that warms your soul- no compliments, just a flash of kindliness. Like the rainbow that rewards you with its pale splendour after you've trudged through pouring rain and are drenched and cold.

I know I'm slipping deeper into idealism, but for now, just let me be.


willwriteforfood said...

I empathize, Goddess. Little Women was one of the defining books of my girlhood simply because with each successive reading I found myself identifying with a different March sister or well-wisher. :)

Fiery Jo with her ambition to get published, Meg with her little vanities discovering the wonder of motherhood, stubborn little Amy discovering love, spoilt Laurie frustrated in the throes of unrequited passion, unattainable Beth- whom I cried over when Jo cried for her..

Oh, these characters have lived and loved and grown with me. And every time I turn the pages of this book, I can unhesitatingly say, here, yes, here was when another page of my girlhood was turned..

wanderingbrook said...

This book doesn't age. And perhaps the only other literary girl-character I feel so strongly for, maybe even more than Anne, is Maggie Tulliver.

PS: Don't you dare call Laurie spoilt :P!