22nd Jun 2010
Jo March from Little Women
Like everyone else who read Louisa May Alcott‘s 1868 children’s classic Little Women when they were younger, Jo March was by far and away my favourite. Based on Louisa May herself, Jo is a fiercely independent tomboy with a passion for reading and writing. At a time when women were tied to the hearth and home and every aspect of women’s lives, from their career and relationship options to what clothes they wore, where they went and how they behaved were restricted by rigid social structures and convention, a young woman like Jo was a revelation.
Even before I’d done any reading around what an extensive legacy Jo has had, I was completely besotted with how brave, impulsive and outspoken she was. An inspiration and reaffirmation for creative, loyal, loudmouth dames all over the world, numerous autobiographies by my most-loved literary heroines have cited Jo as a favourite childhood character during their formative years. In Simone de Beauvoir‘s Memoirs of Dutiful Daughter, and in Patti Smith‘s most recent book, Just Kids, both wondrous women repeatedly reference what an impression it made on them in their early teens to find a character so similar to themselves in such a much-loved children’s classic. And since Patti and Simone are my absolute idols when it comes to wordsmithery, female ferocity and general fangirling all over the show, I’m pleased with the company I’m keeping in my adoration of Jo March.
Jo, with her hot temper, taste for men’s clothes and androgyny, her close friendship with her childhood sweetheart Laurie, and her internal battle between her devotion to her family and her desperate desire to adventure around the world, is a brave but conflicted woman trying to find her way forward, a situation most creative ladies today can still empathise with more than a century later. And, like a lot of women today, sometimes all she wants to do is ignore the real world for a while and sit up a tree with a good book and a bag of apples. But as Marmee March tells her: “When you have so many extraordinary gifts; how can you expect to lead an ordinary life? Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it.”
If you could be any fictional character, who would you want to be? Tell us in the comments, and we might use your suggestions for future posts!
(Image from the 1995 film adaptation of Little Women, with Winona Ryder in the role of Jo)
Post by Jane Bradley