My mom used to take us to this lady in our church who ran a beauty salon out of her basement. Neither my mom nor I were much for the whole beauty regimen so it softened the blow somewhat to go to Ann’s for the haircuttings and perms of my childhood. Ann was always amused by the fact that I read so much and was forever recommending books to me in the roundabout way of asking my mother if I had read thus-and-so or this-n-that and then waxing rhapsodic about the book. It’s an odd feeling to overhear your likes and dislikes and potential. Or underhear, seeing as Ann was standing over me with scissors and talking to my mother, who was sitting across the room.
It was in that way that I found out at seven that Little Women was A Classic Book That Every Young Girl Should Read and that perhaps I was too young for it but I should try to read it when I got a little older. Thus was the gauntlet thrown down, and thus did I not two days later coerce a copy of Little Women out of my mom. (Such things are easy when you live in a house of books with a teacher mother. Classic literature is invariably lying in wait.) I read and loved the parts of it you’d expect–especially Jo. I went around demanding that people call me “Jo”–since my middle name was Joan, it was only fitting. It wasn’t as if it was as huge a stretch as wanting to be called “Marie”, as did most of my friends in honour of Marie Osmond. Their names had nothing in common with “Marie” at all, other than a few vowels.
I started keeping my first journal in honour of Jo as soon as I finished the book. In fact, the first entry is me prattling on about getting people to call me Jo and wanting to be a writer and taking a trip to Ypsilanti to visit my mother’s relatives. All of whom were going to be badgered to stop calling me “Kathy”. It was a long weekend for the poor Nafe cousins. I wanted to be Jo so badly that I started hanging out in the area under our basement stairs, pretending that it was my “garrett.” (Yes, I know i’ve blogged about this before.) I dreamed of being Jo and, by extension, Louisa May Alcott.
Since it’s the Christmas season I decided to reread Little Women over the weekend and lost myself in the familiar story. I love revisiting old favourite reads and finding passages I’d overlooked on other incursions. I love seeing old scenes with new eyes and bringing the wisdom of longer life to find new pictures between the lines. There is no greater treat than re-reading a beloved book. But I found myself growing curious. This is the first time I’ve read the book since coming out of the closet as a writer and I began to wonder how much of Alcott was in Jo. So I went straight from Aunt March Settles The Question to Wikipedia and then to other Googled nuggets of insight. Two hours later I discover that
–Louisa May Alcott’s father was a shiftless dreamer whose constant meandering through the fields of intellect left his family penniless.
–LMA wrote to keep the wolf from the door, seeing as her father couldn’t be counted on to support the children he’d made.
–LMA confessed her lifelong attraction to females, saying that “she’d fallen in love with countless beautiful girls but never with any man.”
Those were all interesting facts that made me stop envying her success as an author and start thanking God for the blessings in my life. * But then I came across two of the most interesting tidbits of all.
Did you know she hated writing Little Women? It wasn’t her kind of book at all and every second of it she felt was drudgery. She cranked it out to please her publisher. She had to because her father was broke again and had approached the publisher to see if they would buy something she wrote (what an incredible ass Bronson Alcott was!). The publisher didn’t like her adventure and purpleish romance so he asked for a “book for girls” and thus Little Women and its three sequels was born.
The other thing….she was sick most of her adult life. She wrote a lot about her illness (sound like anyone you know?) and complained constantly about rheumatism and crippling headaches (again…anyone we know?!?) She blamed the mercury-based drugs they gave her for typhoid in her early twenties, much as I blamed a mis-prescribed antibiotic for many of my troubles in MY early twenties. But now several doctors and other nosey parkers have gone through her writings and looked at old photographs and diagnosed the long-dead author as suffering from an autoimmune disease, most probably Lupus.
Yeah. No kidding. Here I am spending 33 years wanting to be like a woman and I find out that in many ways we are more alike than I would have ever guessed. Huh. Isn’t that odd? Now I suppose if I want to be a rich and famous author–and I’m not so sure anymore that I do–I only need write something I truly hate.
So everyone be on the lookout for my Russian Inspirational Slash Squick Fanfiction. It’ll be a blockbuster.
* Upon rereading this I realise it sounds like I view her theoretical Lesbianism as a sort of curse. I should be more clear by stating that if she was indeed a lesbian or bisexual, as this statement would seem to imply, she had yet another hard row to hoe. It isn’t easy being gay now, I can only imagine how uneasy it would have been a hundred and fifty years ago.