Monday, September 28, 2009

On Jo and Joy and Irene and Elizabeth and Piglet...

HALLIE: "I'm Hermoine!" comes the breathless announcement. Another person with too much time on his/her hands has taken the Harry Potter Personality Quiz. Or "I'm Ginny." Or "I'm Harry!" God forbid you turned out to be Hagrid.

But it gets me thinking about the March sisters as Louisa May Alcott fictionalized her real sisters in "Little Women." She certainly gave her readers a choice of characters to relate to. There was Jo, the tall gangly one (I used to think of myself as tall and gangly), prickly and rebellious, who wrote in her journal and yearned for an independent life. Louisa May, a spinster, based Jo on herself, and said that if it weren't for her readers' expectations she'd never have had Jo get married.

Like Jo, Louise May was the second oldest of four sisters, a 'middle' child. Jo is especially close to Beth, her gentle, shy, sickly and doomed younger sister. The youngest, the artistic Amy with her blond curls, is vain and spoiled and adorable. The oldest, Meg, is nurturing, rule-bound and proper.

Researching the entry for "Little Women" in "The Bibliophile's Devotional" which comes out next month, I discovered that Louise May was pressured by her publisher to write "Little Women." In her journal she wrote, "I don't enjoy this sort of thing. Never liked girls or knew many, except my sisters, but our queer plays and experiences may prove interesting, though I doubt it." (I also discovered that Virginia Woolf doubted the staying power of her own work. Of her "A Room of One's Own," Woolf wrote: "I forecast, then, that I shall get no criticism, except of the evasive jocular kind." Fortunately she was dead wrong.)

So are you a Jo or an Amy? An Alice (in Wonderland) or a Dorothy Gale? A Tarzan or a Jane? Or what other character from literature do you identify with?

RO: I never identified with any of the Little Women...they were all such goody goodies..and the whole Marmy thing put me off. Although my circumstances weren't quite so dire I did have a brief identification with Francie, the little girl in "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." I didn't have to sell scrap metal as a child but it was the only book I knew of that was set in Brooklyn...and we were - if not quite as poor - certainly not well off. Then again..I also identified with Joy Adamson who wrote "Born Free." I wasn't exactly an Englishwoman living in Africa and raising lion cubs, but I thought I might be one day. I think it was the fact that she had no real job and got to hang out with animals all day that attracted me. It still does.

JAN: Elizabeth Bennett in "Pride and Prejudice." The intelligent form of Cinderella, isn't that every little girl's dream?? But to show you where my mind is at -- I had to really scrounge around for a female protagonist to relate to, but could immediately tick off three fictional male characters I was in love with....but hey, that's another blog.

HALLIE: That IS an interesting question. I carried the torch for ages for Gilbert Blythe. Points to anyone who remembers whose main squeeze he turned out to be.

ROBERTA: I think I'd have to go with Mole in "The Wind in the Willows." He was very interested in adventures with his pals, especially if they included picnics, but basically a homebody--not a river animal at all. Or maybe Piglet in "Winnie the Pooh":).

HANK: Little Women, no, never connected with them, somehow. Too sad.

I wanted to be Irene Adler, you know? Sherlock Holmes' nemesis and maybe-love? (In Pooh, I'm definitely Eeyore. Roberta, you are, as always, wonderful.) This is an interesting question, actually, since when I was a little girl, I wanted to be a character I can't remember the name of--she was voted the class president in some coming-of-age series of books about teenagers. She was always working really hard, and doing her best, all that. It wasn't Trixie Belden, but it was something like that. And there was some horse-owning girl in a series back then--I think her name was Connemara McGuire. (Oh. And I named my main character Charlotte McNally. I have not thought about that until this second.)

But as a high-schooler, oh, I was in LOVE with Henry V. I mean, I dreamed about him. So I guess I wanted to be...Eleanor of Aquitaine or whoever that was. And oh, Maid Marian, definitely. And Rowena in Ivanhoe.(Or Rebecca, I could never decide.)

HALLIE: Oooh, Irene Adler -- great choice! And I do see Roberta as sweet Piglet or Mole. This question is something of a Rorschach. Does it make you think of the adventures or the clothes or the food or the pets or the men in the characters' lives? Hmm.

So, gentle and not-so-gentle readers... which character is your alter ego? And first person who posts a comment identifying Gilbert Blythe's plucky girlfriend gets a copy of The Bibliophile's Devotional.

And stay tuned. Wednesday we hear from author/chef Lora Brody on cooking for Julia Child (it involves a rubber chicken). Friday Elizabeth Benedict talks about her new book of essays, "Muses, Mentors and Monsters: 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their Lives."


  1. Anne Shirley?

    But I was with Jo all the way. It was the writing thing, and the independent spirit.


  2. I totally identified with Anne Shirley. She was a little odd but interesting, loved to read and make up stories. Gilbert Blythe wasn't half bad, either.

  3. Hey, Edith! You got it in one. Email me your address offline and the book's in the mail.

    I confess, I don't remember Jo being a goody-goody. Maybe she was. Anne Shirley certainly was NOT...except in the movie versions of Anne of Green Gables.

  4. Hi, Karen! I identified with AS too and neither of us had long red braids.

  5. I always wanted to be Alec in the Black Stallion series. Only Alec should have been a girl. Tom Swift was pretty cool, too. Then I read Andre Norton's BEAST MASTER. I wanted to be Hosteen Storm. I wanted that connection with his critters!

    Wait...I'm seeing a trend here. Animals. SciFi. Animals....hrm....

    I hate to admit that I didn't read the Anne of Green Gable books until I was in junior high. My small-town library didn't have the series until someone died and left their personal library.

  6. I loved the Anne of Green Gables series! Remember the time she decided she hated her red hair and tried to dye it black (with ink?) and it came out green instead?

    And definitely Jo in Little Women. My mother handed me the book when I was sick in bed with measles, and I devoured it--I definitely aspired to tomboy. If you ever have a chance, visit the Alcott house in Concord, MA--it tells you a lot about Louisa.

  7. I identified with Trixie Belden's awkward adolescence, went through a suffering heroine stage with Sara Crewe and, yes, I'm a big-time Anne Shirley fan. (Mark Twain was, too.) The character I most wanted to be, though, was the girl or woman who was not in the book: Huck Finn's sister, Robin Hood's sister, the Hardy girl. I still do this.

  8. I always wanted to be Anne or Jo, but even then realized I was much more like Beth. Very, very, very shy and awkward as a kid. I hide it much better than I used to :) Also wanted to be Nancy, and yes another Hardy-girl-wannabe here, and even Bilbo(Bilbette??)

  9. Hallie--I didn't know you had another book coming out--congratulations!

    No wonder I liked Little Men SO much better than Little Women. And still do.

    I was Anne. Soooo Anne. Except I didn't manage quite as much mischief or get Gilbert Blythe to pay me that much attention. :)

  10. When my dad read Winnie the Pooh to us, he used the voice of WC Fields for Eeyore. Of course, at the time, I didn't know it, but the first time I saw a WC Fields movie, my head snapped up -- what the heck was Eeyore doing there?

    Never could get into the Disney version.

  11. Coming to this late, just as I came to Anne Shirley late (I didn't read the work until I was an adult -- loved it, but a bit late to identify with! Or not).

    As a kid, I probably most closely aligned with one of the girls in the Shoe books. Maybe Selina, in Party Shoes, or Harriet in Skating Shoes. Both were somewhat isolated from their families, and both came to learn the things they loved indirectly -- surprised by joy, to borrow from Wordsworth.

    I also quite liked Belle Watling in Gone With the Wind, which I read when I was 9 or so. Didn't understand a lot of it -- but she had red hair, I had red hair, and she didn't seem to give a fig for convention. I might have identified with Scarlett, too. Particularly her selfish streak and her will to survive. (I was not a charming kid, I think.)

  12. Oh yes, it's Anne Shirley. I just couldn't get here quickly enough! How I loved the Anne of Green Gables series.
    I remember that I couldn't wait to get out of school. I would run up to W.T. Grant Co. and buy a Nestle Bar for a nickel out of my measley allowance. Ouch! Am I dating myself?
    My mom taught school and got together afterwards with her co-workers to hash over the day at the coffee shop so I would have the house to myself for a while. I'd read those books lying flat on my bed, doling out little bites of chocolate and never wanting either the book or the candy bar to end.

  13. Mo, I was into Sarah Crewe, too. Odd looking. Serious. I had her black hair but I would have killed for those green eyes. That's another book (The Little Princess) that no movie has done justice to... they all want to make the protagonist pretty and sweet. Feh!

    What is it about authors giving character GREEN eyes, anyway. And for that matter, red (not black) hair was far more common in fictional worlds.