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LETTERS FROM WAKE ROBIN FARM

Little Women

Looks like everybody's weighing in on Greta Gerwig's Little Women and what the novel by Louisa May Alcott meant to them as girls growing up; turns out I'm apparently the only living female writer who doesn't swear to have fervently identified with Jo March.  She wanted to be a writer!  She had blazing ambitions! She didn't want to get married!

 

Sorry, I did want to get married and never had writerly ambitions as a child. To be honest I have to count myself among the legions of young readers who just couldn't see why Jo wouldn't marry Laurie. The stuffy old professor? Get out of here!  I still believed the princess should wind up with the prince. I actually identified with spoiled Amy.  At least she had the smarts to have golden curls and covet beautiful clothes. I wanted to wear those long dresses too, and felt pretty ripped off that I wasn't born in the 19th Century.

 

But never mind. The real impact of Little Women for me was Beth dying. Because I missed it! I was so proud of myself, reading this big fat book when I was only in the third grade. But here's the deal: I may have known all the words, but I didn't understand euphemism. So, forever burned in my brain is the memory of my nine-year-old self sitting up in bed, a couple of chapters past "The Valley of the Shadow" when something clued me in that Beth wasn't actually around anymore.  "Mom?" I hollered out to my mother, starting to cry.  "Moooooom?"

 

I didn't know a book was allowed to be like this.  I didn't know an author could make you love a character and then let her die. I've now taken out the lovely illustrated copy of Little Women once owned by my mother-in-law—the mysterious, iconic woman who died years before her son and I ever met—to see what words, what description of death had gone right past me. These must be the lines:

 

A bird sang blithely on a budding bough, close by, the snowdrops blossomed freshly at the window, and the spring sunshine streamed in like a benediction over the placid face upon the pillow—a face so full of painless peace, that those who loved it best smiled through their tears, and thanked God that Beth was well at last.

 

Hey, great!  Beth's well at last, right? Whew. Close one.

 

(You can bet, though, that I never got tricked like that again.)

 

Well, people are writing reams about the new movie so I'll be lazy and brief.  I loved every beautiful frame.  It was like a series of paintings, genteel poverty beautifully lit, the whole thing an amazing work of art.  For those of us who already know the story, the time shifts kept it intriguing. Each moment had me wondering just how Gerwig was going to pull it off. Yes, she took liberties with the historical record: Alcott actually scorned all the novels she wrote for young readers, including Little Women. But this screenplay works, and brilliantly. Gerwig has boldly fictionalized the writing of a piece of fiction which was itself based on real life. In choosing to not get into Alcott's actual, complicated opinions of her own books, Gerwig succeeds in showcasing a larger truth about women and their struggle to not have their creative ambitions stifled.

 

Apparently too much gorgeous and amazing female creative energy was involved in this film to allow it to warrant the attention of the patriarchal powers who bestow awards nominations.  Nuts to the folks in charge of the Golden Globe snub.  Thumbs up to Greta Gerwig and her entire cast and crew.

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