By Trix Wilkins
Set in the early 1870s, this re-imagining of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is for all who have ever wondered how things might have worked out differently for the beloved March sisters – the life Beth might have led, the books Jo might have written, the friends they might have made, and the courtship that might have been…
Authoress Jo March has lost her elder sister Meg to matrimony. When the aristocratic Vaughns – elegant Kate, boisterous Fred, thoughtful Frank, and feisty Grace – re-enter their lives, it seems her younger sisters Beth and Amy, and even her closest friend Laurie, might soon follow suit.
Yet despite the efforts of her great-aunt March, Jo is determined not to give up her liberty for any mortal man. Besides, she’s occupied with saving to travel abroad, securing music lessons for Beth, and befriending aspirant journalist Tommy Chamberlain.
The Marches’ neighbor Theodore “Laurie” Laurence was born with looks, talent, and wealth – and Jo is convinced he has a promising future in which she has no part. He is as stubborn as Jo, and has loved her for as long as anyone can remember. But what will win a woman who won’t marry for love or money?
Why did you write this book?
I loved Little Women Part 1, and had no idea Part 2 (Good Wives) existed, until years later. Jo was my favorite character – her penchant for writing, striving for independence, and pushing against societal expectations, resonated with me. I liked Laurie because he despised “fuss and feathers,” and for his liking Jo best of all because of her character. I was disappointed with how things turned out for these two characters in Part 2.
I had hoped Jo would write and travel abroad. It was difficult to read of Laurie’s frittering away his talent and money. They had so much potential – Jo as an author, Laurie as a musician. And I started to wonder – under what circumstances might Laurie not been so frivolous at college, and Jo received a deeper education to further her writing? I had also hoped that if either did ever marry, it would have been to the other – a possibility I came to suspect hung on that moment when Marmee advised Jo that she and Laurie were not suited for marriage. And I started to imagine – what could Marmee have possibly said, that would have allowed Jo to love Laurie, had she chosen? How could Laurie have possibly proposed, in a different manner?
And Beth…how was it that the Laurences did not seem to do more to save her? This made sense in the context of Louisa’s history, as she had lost her sister Elizabeth – but simply agitated me to amend at least fictional history, even if I could do nothing about saving Elizabeth in real life.
But I didn’t plan to write a book! I was sitting on the couch with my husband while on holiday, doodling possible conversations…And as I wrote, I found the characters saying and doing things I hadn’t planned – and to find out what happened next, I had to keep writing. I felt almost like the story wanted to be written.
How this came to be a book started with just one comment – and I am so grateful for that timely line of encouragement! I have thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the lives of some of my favorite literary characters, and imagining what might have been.
What were your favorite parts to write?
The proposal scene was the first thing I wrote in full (as opposed to dribs and drabs), and still one of my favorites! I remember I got up in the middle of the night with the scene in my head, then wrote for hours. I also really enjoyed writing the chapter Neighborly in New York – in Little Women Part 1, Jo visits Laurie when he’s sick; in this chapter, Laurie gets to do the same for Jo. But I think my absolute favorite part is The Masquerade, which is very much inspired by Shakespeare’s As you like it.
If you could only share one snippet from the novel, what would it be?
Probably Jo’s speech to Kate Vaughn: “You speak as though they cannot be trusted with freedom to build a future for themselves, given the opportunity. Certainly humanity as a whole shares a collective guilt for incompetency in crafting a decent future for ourselves – more often than not, we seem eager to destroy others for our own selfish gain. If you truly care for their prospects once freed, then raise a voice and a hand towards that cause! But do not condemn those who work towards the step that must be accomplished first. Liberty first must be achieved, before anything else can have any meaning.”
I really wanted to have Abigail May Alcott’s (Louisa’s mother) concern for social justice be an undercurrent throughout the novel, and her gentle influence be evident in the life choices the March sisters make. The plot centers on the romance, but Jo as an advocate for abolition is more explicit in this variation.
Thanks and acknowledgements
My sincere gratitude to Andrew Hingeley of Kainos Print for giving so generously of his expertise and time to the publication of The Courtship of Jo March: a variation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
Thank you also to Nina Newton and Ruby for Women Magazine for a two-page spread on the release of the book on pages 30-31.