Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Little Women

E has been reading M's copies of Beth's Story and Meg's Story from the Portraits of Little Women series--and you probably already know this, but my position on prequels, sequels, and abridgements is that they are A-OK, so long as they are upfront about their status, and E's reading of these is a perfect case in point: she really is not ready for the full book, and I think in fact is next going to tackle the abridgement that was my childhood copy, which I only realized was abridged when I went to read it to M when she was around seven, but she--now we're back to E--is falling in love with Little Women, and these books will bridge her right to the real thing, just like the Little House picture books led her into the novels.

But this post is not about literary principle, it's about Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, and more broadly about sisterly attributes.

Of course the question of which sister E resembles came up, it is sort of an innate kind of thing, there must be a gene attached to the gene for reading which is the gene for identification and sorting of real people by fictional characters. But at any rate E asked which sister I thought she was like, and I said Beth--not that she is musical or sickly, but that she is very alert and somewhat shy and gentle--except when she's not, oh my god, did I just call E, the feral maniac child, gentle? OK, but this actually supports my point: E said that she thought she was like Amy, and we did not have time to get into why, and I'm sure it has nothing to do with pickled limes, but I said I thought she was a combination of Amy and Beth (spoiled, baby of the family, observant, loving), and then we started talking about M, and realized that she is a combination of Meg and Jo (loves fashion, domestic, responsible, adventurous).

And that made me think that perhaps there are a series of sisterly attributes, or perhaps I should say sibling attributes, and if there are only two of you, they sort out among the two of you, and if there are four of you, they sort out among the four of you, kind of like differentiation of labor--is that even a real thing? You know, if there's one person in the restaurant, they cook and serve and do dishes. If there are two, one cooks and one serves and probably they both do dishes. Three: cook, serve, dishes. With four, you get to divide up the cooking. At seven, probably, you get a host.

Then again, when you get to a dozen siblings, I think the characteristics start to double up, like in Cheaper by the Dozen, where the kids are in groups: big sisters, little boys, etc.

Anyway, just a thought.


Jenny Davidson said...

I love it!

Goodness, I was obsessed with the "Little Women" books when I was a kid. Addicted. I think "Little Men" was probably the one I read about 50 times--but certainly "Little Women" and "Jo's Boys" also (that weird sort of second half of "Little Women" was not ownable in paperback, though I had it from the library every year or so just to remind myself).

Must not waste my early morning writing a super-long comment, we'll talk about this sometime, but I heartily endorse your niche theory--it is borne out by these twin studies in which twins raised apart are more similar than twins raised together...

(I don't have any sisters, but I strongly identified with Jo of course--however realistically I expect that I am more of a Meg type, although I always found her by far the most off-putting of the four!)

Libby said...

I was a Jo, too, and I treated my younger sister as if she were an Amy--as far as I was concerned both Meg and Beth were utterly forgettable. I was shocked, when teaching the novel, to find I had students who identified with either of them--but I did. (Hmm, though, like Jenny I fear I am actually more Meg than I can admit.)

I remember years ago friends coming home from seeing the LW movie (the one w/Clare Danes and Kirsten Dunst) and they told me Mariah was Amy, which was problematic because 1) Amy is always in conflict with Jo (me) and 2) Amy was Kirsten Dunst, who was also a little vampire around then. Anyway I love your theory, and, like Jenny, I loved all the LMA books I could get my hands on. I had a particular fondness for Rose in Bloom and Eight Cousins, for some reason.

Have your girls encountered the Streatfeild "Shoes" novels yet? Those are the other great sister-books of my youth...