Many, many years ago I accidently read Jo’s Boys, or possibly Little Men first and then Little Women. Watching the Greta Gerwig version of Little Women recently, cut up in non-chronological order, everything felt new and yet familiar. Unexpectedly, I enjoyed it. I say unexpectedly because I principally found Gerwig’s Lady Bird irritating, while everyone else raved about it. Lady Bird hit me wrong, and the fault is likely in me, rather than the film. Little Women, however, was right, even if somehow, the two films feel thematically similar. The sisters had chemistry, together and apart, without being too cloying. Laura Dern as Marmee wasn’t too sentimental. Jo was depicted as less tomboyish and more exuberant, but her independence, her determination to live, work, and write on her own terms, were there from the first minute. I did experience the Mandela Effect, as I was convinced Professor Bhaer’s first name was Max and the March family’s father died in the war. Hey ho. I have no idea what that’s about.
This story was always about the acquisition of emotional maturity and financial security, the costs along the way, and how maturity can only improve one’s art, if art is about authenticity. Which, as Jo knows, it doesn’t have to be, but such art might be what’s remembered (if not well by me).
There’s something painfully familiar about Jo’s story, but too obvious to talk about as a writer. Jo may have the big arc, but Amy’s ambitions are no less than Jo’s and her talent more obvious when she demonstrates it. We see Jo compromise, and bend her talent to suit her publisher, and to make money. Jo maybe a writer, but her practical eye is always on survival. Thus, Jo gives what the people will pay for. And, while Jo learns to drive a bargain to sell her book, she has been a writer for years by this point, and hasn’t before, bothered to research or ask about copyright, or contracts. Meanwhile, Amy who paints with talent and enthusiasm, can replicate a scene with accuracy but doesn’t set her heart on painting for a living. As an artist, Amy is clearly good at what she does, but Impressionism is not for her. With clear eyes and a steady hand, Amy is a realist painter, just as she is a realist about the economic transaction that is marriage, which she decides will be her way to survive. Amy mistakes having a set style as a failure. If Amy can’t be a genius (a category ‘determined by men’) she’ll resign herself to be an ‘ornament to society’. Jo, who outwardly doesn’t care about genius, or society, except that society pays to read her stories, takes time to grow into her style, even after Beth’s request, and pointed criticism from Freidrich Bhaer. Ultimately, I think Amy’s wrong to give up art, because it’s yet another Amy tantrum, but I like how the film shows the ways in which Amy differs from Jo, even if they share similar goals.
Speaking of ambitions. As a writer, this history feels like fantasy. Imagine earning enough money to support a family from writing short stories? I saw a comment on social media (see below) about how earnings have not changed since the US civil war, and yeah, whoa.
Today, if Jo wanted to write to earn money she’d be a publicist, or working in advertising, or studying an MFA before teaching the course to newer, brighter young things preparing to write the Great American Novel, which sounds like a set up for Lady Bird II (the post grad years), actually. Amy today, would perhaps have a better chance earning an income through her art. She’d be Insta famous, and she’d pay Jo to write descriptions of her paintings, and her art would appear on the walls of homes featured in a renovation TV series. Probably.
Anyway, I enjoyed this film. I think the cast were excellent, and characters who normally have little of substance in this narrative except as catalysts, were given more to chew on, notably Beth and Laurie, as well as Laurie’s grandfather. Laurie falls in love with the family before he falls for anyone else and why not. He has wealth, but his middle class next door neighbours have everything else: kindness, ambitions, light, warmth, and companionship, even amid grief, illness and sacrifice. Little Women is also a gorgeous film, the setting, the colours, the seasons, and costumes. Visually, some of the shots reminded me of Dead Poets Society, if only for the autumnal colours.
I do wonder why this story. Why not make Lady Bird II? Or even look at Louisa M Alcott’s other novels, even other novels about these characters (the aforementioned Jo’s Boys for one), but it’s this book film makers turn to, the start of the journey, and from a film perspective, perhaps one that never ends. I suppose that’s Aunt March’s dream, and the American Dream: that her kin keep going to continually improve their lot, so wealth becomes a barricade against war, disease, and strife truly touching them (as it does the Hummel family) very often, except to inspire their efforts further. And that’s Beth’s legacy. Their retold story keeps creating wealth and Aunt March would be pleased, I believe, if not faintly scandalised.
Anywho, you are welcome to draw your own conclusions about what it all means, if anything. I have to get back to my fiction, which hasn’t paid my way yet, but might one day, (if sustainable structural change occurs in the creative industries).
Steady as she goes – the 2022 writing update
Acceptances by publisher: 18
Acceptances by work: 22