Thursday, June 14, 2012

"Subversive?" I Don't Know About That.

I've seen some talk about The Mother of All Girls' Books by Deborah Weisgall in The American Prospect and just finished reading it. The article is subtitled "The Secret Subversiveness of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women." My question is, How is it subversive?

Was Alcott secretly trying to upend the position of "little women" in nineteenth century New England society? Were the good little women of her book who sacrificed and always tried to improve themselves different from other girls of that time? I don't know. Certainly by our standards, Jo is the subversive character in the book, the young woman with literary ambition. But as Weisgall says, "Alcott piles punishments on Jo." She loses the young, good looking man to a sister who isn't half the woman she is and gives up writing at the urging of the man she marries. I don't remember feeling particularly outraged by this when I was a child reader. If I was supposed to be distraught and want to live differently, "the secret subversiveness" was too secret for me.

This article has encouraged me, once again, to read more about Alcott. Maybe by the end of the year.


Sarah Rettger said...

I'm still not sold on "subversive" as the appropriate adjective, but there are definitely layers to the book. And as Louisa was not so much a fan of reader expectations for the sequel, Professor Bhaer was a very deliberate -- and therefore interesting -- choice.

Highly recommend Harriet Reisen's Alcott bio. It filled in a ton of stuff I'd never even considered. (And, as a plus, it's both well-written and not a tome!)

Gail Gauthier said...

I think an argument could be made that Alcott, herself, was subversive. As an adult, she did not live the kind of woman's life that her books portrayed.

I don't think I was aware of the Reisen book. I know there's supposed to be a recent book about Louisa and her father.