Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, Miss Alcott

Today is the birthday of one of the most significant figures in American literature, and the goddess of my idolatry, Louisa May Alcott.

Though often scorned at her own valuation, as a producer of "moral pap for the young," it only takes a small amount of historical acumen to realize how radical she was at her time; and only a little more social self-awareness to realize that in many ways, American society is still more conservative than her. Witness the reluctance of many, even most, of her modern readers to admit that

Jo was right not to marry Laurie!!!!!!

Louisa May Alcott was a hustler, writing to market, explicitly and obsessively writing for money to counteract the legacy of her idealistic and improvident father. She enjoyed catering to morbid fantasy, and did - the stories she satirized Jo for writing to make money for the illustrated papers seem mild compared to the drug use and sexual power games in the pseudononymous stories Madeleine B. Stern first unearthed for us back in the 70s - but the work that survives is unrelentingly realistic in ways that made (and still make) the public uncomfortable, to the point that many of us whitewash these things out of our reading.

Marriage is not the climax and happy-ever-after of life; it is the opening of a whole new can of worms. Too much candy will make you sick and too much ease will make you useless. Sexual attraction will not overcome other incompatibilities in the long term. Peer pressure will lead you to do stupid and even wicked things. It is possible to hate your little sister murderously and love her at the same time. Life is unfair. You have to deal with the world you're in, not the world you want, and the person you are, not the person you dream of being. You won't get it if you don't work for it and you may not get it even then.

Happiness is hard work.

But it beats the alternative.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting take on Louisa May Alcott. I too am endlessly fascinated by her, so much so that I spend all my reading time studying her life and works. Keeps my blog fed :-) I invite to visit http://louisamayalcottismypassion.wordpress.com - we discuss everything about her (including family and friends) and have a nice community. We'd love to have you too!