Louisa May Alcott’s Jo’s Boys (1886)

For all that I remembered Jo as being another sort of character in Little Women, one passionate about writing and determined to be an author, there is, at least, a taste of that, finally, in Jo’s Boys.

The third chapter of this novel is devoted to the trials of Jo’s life as a famous author, having successfully published books for children who love her stories.

So successful is she that readers hound her for autographs and pester her for the mere touch of her hand; fans make pilgrimages to Plumfield and think of her amidst the likes of Emerson, Holmes, and Stowe. As if writing thirty pages a day (her allotment) wasn’t enough of a burden, her fame is definitely crimping Jo’s style.

She clearly loves books…the “joy of her heart and the comfort of her life”…and this is reflected in the advice she gives to a young man who comes to her at a turning point in his life: “Take some books and read; that’s an immense help; and books are always good company if you have the right sort.”

But the responsibilities of authorship are something else entirely, which stand in contrast to the kind of satisfaction she derives from life at Plumfield with Professor Bhaer and her boys.

It’s topical, this question of What Women Want. It was pertinent in the late 1880s and it’s still pertinent now. She addresses it as a character with her charges, and LMA addresses it through her to her readership.

“Mrs Jo gave little lectures on health, religion, politics, and the various questions in which all should be interested, with copious extracts from Miss Cobbe’s The Duties of Women, Miss Bracket’s Education of American Girls, Mrs Duffy’s No Sex in Education, Mrs Woolson’s Dress Reform, and many of the other excellent books wise women write for their sisters, now that they are waking up and asking: “What shall we do?”

What will Jo do?

There’s little doubt where her heart lies, but she does manage to hold the role of Celebrity Author as well.

At the end of Little Men, she says that “…one of my favourite fancies is to look at my family as a small world, to watch the progress of my little men, and, lately, to see how well the influence of my little women works upon them.”

But it is just one of her favourite fancies. Almost twenty years have passed since the publication of Little Women; perhaps Jo and Louisa May Alcott’s fancies changed, too, in that time.

I had my own fancies about Jo, imprinted her character with my own expectations and aspirations; I don’t think I saw her such as she was on Louisa May Alcott’s page until this most recent re-read. But, even so, I found a glimmer of her in Jo’s Boys. It made me want to ask her for her autograph.

Have you read this trilogy? Do you think you really knew Jo?