emma_in_dream: (steve)
Ethel Turner was promoted as the Louisa May Alcott of the South. This is unsurprising, given the obvious parallels between the Woolcott family and Alcott’s creations. There’s flighty, feminine Meg March and Meg Woolcott who is also on the road to matrimony and motherhood. Jo March is the wild harum scarum child, mirrored by Judy Woolcott. Amy March’s vanity matches Nel Woolcott’s. The main difference is, of course, there is no saintly Beth figure to die in *Seven Little Australians*.
emma_in_dream: (Singin')
The biography of Frances Hodgson Burnett features a composite photograph titled 'Image of Eminent Women'.

The writers listed were: Mary Livermore, Sara Jewett, Grace Oliver, Helen Hunt, Nora Perry, Lucy Larcom, Frances Hodgson Burnett. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Louise Chandler Moulton, Louisa M Alcottt, Julia Ward Howe, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

From that list I'd say Louisa M Alcott and Frances Hodgson Burnett are still read for pleasure. Julia Ward Howe and Harriet Beecher Stowe are read in courses of literary study. Are the others read at all?
emma_in_dream: (X Files)
*Eight Cousins* (1875) is good, but, frankly, would not be read now if it wasn’t by the author of *Little Women*. It recounts the story of Rose, who is sent to live with her uncle and to frolic with her seven boy cousins and one girl servant Phoebe.

Mostly the book is an excuse to propose an alternative way of raising girls. Her uncle lectures Rose (and the reader) at length about the value of free play, exercise, fresh air, simple foods, unstructured education, not wearing stays, abstention from alcohol, and free dress. These ideas were a lot more controversial in the nineteenth century than in the twenty first. In fact, a lot of it reminds me of Mary Wollstonecraft’s *Vindication of the Rights of Woman* (1792) which also spends a lot of time talking about the need to educate girls as we do boys and to free them from constrictive clothes.

The battle over the constrictive clothes is still not over. Little girls get bathers that ride up while little boys wear board shorts. I saw a little girl at the pool the other day in a polyester Ariel costume in which it was impossible to walk. And teenage girls often wear clothes which make running or moving comfortably impossible. High heels, why are they even a thing that exists? Ditto shaping underwear, which is just a corset by another name.

Yet at the same time I sympathise with Rose’s aunt who tries to get her some stylish clothes. The ones her uncle provides sound like a kind of brown track suit.

Here is Rose's aunt's choice of clothes for her.

Read more... )

And here is her uncle's choice.

Read more... )

Surely there must be some middle ground where both style and comfort are possible?
emma_in_dream: (Default)
Before she wrote *Little Women* Louisa May Alcott published many, many stories and novelettes as A.M. Barnard, all ‘blood and thunder’ novels or melodramas or gothics.

She wrote to Alf Whitman (a source for Laurie): ‘I intend to illuminate the Ledger with a blood & thunder tale as they are easy to ‘compoze’ & are better paid tha moral & elaborate works of Shakespeare so dont be shocked if I send you a paper containing a picture of Indians, pirates, wolves, bears & distressed damesels in a grand tableau over a title like ‘The Maniac Bride’ or ‘The Bath of Blood A Thrilling Tale of Passion’.

This is actually a pretty good description of the stories, except that in the two I read there are no distressed maidens. On the contrary, Jean Muir in ‘The Mask’ appears to be a demure, nineteen year old governess but is actually a thirty year old divorced actress who deceives everyone, compels every man in the house to fall in love with her, and triumphantly marries the head of the family.

Pauline, of said passion and punishment, is a firey woman who eventually, though not entirely intentionally, became a murderer. She is introduced with the following, amazing lines:

‘To and fro, like a wild creature in its cage, paced that handsome woman, with bent head, locked hands and restless steps. Some mental storm, swift and sudden as a tempest of the tropics, had swept over her and left its marks behind. As if in anger at the beauty now proved powerless, all ornaments had been flung aay, yet still shone undimmed and fillerd her with a passionate regret. A jewel glittered at her feet, leaving the lace rent to shreds on the indignant bosom that had worn it; the wreaths of hair that had crowned her with a woman’s most womanly adornment fell disordered upon shoulders that gleamed the fairer for teh scarlet of the pomegranate flowers clinging to the bright meshes that had imprisoned them an hour ago; and over the face, once so affluent in youthful bloom, a stern pallor had fallen like a blight, for pride was slowly conquering passion and despair had murdered hope.’

I really enjoyed her melodramas, though of course I am pleased that she gave up that genre once she found/invented a much better paying one.
emma_in_dream: (vintage)
Would anyone care to borrow my book of Louisa May Alcott's blood and thunder novellas? I will be discussing them at the end of the month.
emma_in_dream: (lotr)
Would anyone in Perth like a copy of Louisa May Alcott's *Rose in Bloom*? I have acquired two copies.
emma_in_dream: (Default)
I have been thinking about representations of female friendship. Here are a few thoughts... I’d be interested in recommendations from others.

Jane Austen’s *Sense and Sensibility* (1811) may not pass the Bechdel test* - most of the dialogue is about love and relationships and, you know, men - but it certainly is about female friendship. The love of Eleanor for Marianne is the centre of the novel. And the relationship between Lizzie and Jane in *Pride and Prejudice* (1813) is pretty cool too.

I guess I am reminded of Louisa May Alcott’s *Little Women* (1868) - Jo loves her sisters so much. There’s a line in there where she talks about wanting to marry Meg herself, to keep her in the family, which I guess is a bit creepy but in the context of the book just seems sweet. (And, indeed, the only one who does marry to get into the family is Laurie who is desperate to find a March girl who will take him in.)

*Little Women* would certainly romp home the Bechdel test as it’s essentially an all-female community which is interested in growing up and improving themselves. Ditto *Anne of Green Gables* (1908) which has the ‘kindred spirits’ of Anne and Diana.

Terry Pratchett’s *Witches* books take the Bechdel standard and toss it contemptuously aside as something far exceded. Each character is completely different and each one is completely kick ass. I particularly like the way they hand the roles of maiden, mother and hag around as they move through their lives.

Marilyn French’s *The Women’s Room* (1977) is basically all about women’s relationships, friendships. Like the blurb says, this book will change your life.

And, for another out of left field suggestion, John Marsden’s *Tomorrow When the War Began* series. Ellie Linton’s friendships with Corrie, Robyn and Fi are incredibly well drawn. She relies on them, idealises them, knows them so well, lives with them and fights by them.

So, what genres am I looking at? Not entirely sure actually. Obviously there’s tons of female-centred fiction in the genre of, say, school stories like the Chalet schools. Apparently there’s a lot of female friendships in classic girl’s stories like *Little Women* or *Anne of Green Gables* or, just thought of it, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s *A Little Princess*.

And when I get into contemporary writing, I’m all over the place. My examples don’t come from one genre. Perhaps that’s because there isn’t one genre of contemporary writing centred around female friendships?




* The Bechdel test - It has to have at least two women in it, who talk to each other, about something other than a man.
emma_in_dream: (bobby)
*Little Women* - fab! Famous from first publication onwards. I’m only going to talk about one aspect of it.

On one hand, it’s a feminist Ur-text. It is all about women, doing womanly things which are valued, which are at the centre of the novel.

On the other hand, the Little Women are only free of male authority because Alcott shuffled Mr March off to the war. He comes back at the end, bringing back the patriarchy. I find the conversation that Marmee has with Jo about how Mr March has trained her not to lose her temper very disturbing. Talk about looming male authority.

So, in a way, the freedom the girls have is an illusion. It exists only for a brief spring before they grow up. (The title of the sequel is Good Wives).

Which leads me to another issue. I really resent that Jo ends up with Professor Bhaer. (And I’m not the only one. See: http://community.livejournal.com/ship_manifesto/237830.html#cutid1)

Alcott wrote in the end of a later work that she would marry her characters as she knew people would like as she had received so much flak for not doing it in another book. And, OK, fangirls don’t get to make the ending; the author gets to make the ending. (Cough, Torchwood).

But if Jo cannot marry Laurie, why, why, why must she marry Bhaer? She and Laurie fight all the time - and this is because they are equals. Equals! Compare this with Jo’s deferential relationship with Bhaer who does nothing but squash her. He tells her not to write, not to be creative, which means that she can’t earn her own living.

The more I think abotu Bhaer - the older man, a Transcendentalist philosopher, unsuccessful, poor - the more I think he is modelled on Alcott’s own father, which just makes it wrong, wronger, wrongest.

So, on one hand, yay for *Little Women* as a feminist text. And on the other, darn the forces of patriarchy.
emma_in_dream: (Bronte)
On 24 April we discuss *Little Women*.

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