The potential lives of Beth March

By Trix Wilkins

The last question from The Courtship of Jo March Comment Challenge! Thank you to Susan Bailey, as I have a bit of a soft spot for Beth…

Do you think that Beth could have married and started her own family? I wonder too if she would’ve been able to share her music outside of the family. Susan Bailey, Louisa May Alcott is my passion

Beth piano PIC
Beth at the piano; by Frank T. Merrill, courtesy of Project Gutenberg

Short answer: Yes and no (this is my husband’s favorite answer to questions. Maybe it’s a history-teacher thing….).

Long answer: I think Beth had so many potential lives!

She might have been single and stayed at home to care for her parents.

She might have been single and lived away from home to pursue a career, perhaps as a music teacher as Polly did in An Old Fashioned Girl (a character who very much reminds me of Beth, actually!). She and Jo might have been roommies.

She might have pursued a career while married.

She might have not pursued a career, married and had no children (children were not necessarily a given upon marriage neither in her days nor ours; many women are unable to conceive).

She might have married and had children (and maybe even grandchildren, great-grandchildren), career or no career.

(And by career I don’t mean simply “paid employment” but possibly involvement in volunteer work, social justice issues, community and charitable organizations, perhaps even one’s own business.)

Beth was so young and had only just begun to work out what she wanted for her life – that it might be useful, and those she loved and cared for might be benefited by who she was and what she did. There are definitely more permutations as to the above options!

For Beth, several factors influenced as to how her life would take shape – these are just a few, and there are likely so many more:

A vision for her life

What picture did she have of the significance of her life that was unique to herself? Something for her and her alone, that only she could contribute to those around her? What was she passionate about, had such joy to spend her days doing given the choice?

Medical advancements

We take for granted the medications and medical knowledge available to us today, often forgetting much of history is bereft of them. Beth’s life very much depended on adequate scientific and medical expertise to address her physical and mental health needs.

Opportunities to develop her talents

Beth loved music…What might her life have been like had she been encouraged and enabled in different ways to pursue music? What other talents and passions might she have discovered about herself during the course of developing this one?

Opportunities to develop her social skills

While Beth was afraid of people, she saw this fear as something she wanted to overcome; and sometimes she did, particularly while she was helping others (she wasn’t shy for instance with the Hummels, and James Laurence!).

Regular personal interactions with children

Beth knit all sorts of keepsakes for children; perhaps more personal interactions with children might have helped with her confidence and widened her view as to how “useful” her life really was and could be in future days.

Reduced household chores

Along with Hannah, I get the impression that Beth carried the brunt of home maintenance, which was much more arduous in the 1860s than it is today. What difference would it have made, had there been more paid help with the chores?

Adequate financial provision

Money very much plays into ability to purchase healthy food, medical care, an extensive education, and lessened manual labor in the home. For Beth to have access to all of the above, a certain amount of finances were required.

A suitable suitor

I honestly can’t see Beth being the least bit romantically interested in any man who wasn’t exceptionally fitted to her personality and passions, let alone accepting his hand in marriage.

For Beth to have married, I think the man who won her would need these characteristics:

  • Shares her interest in music, or at least something equally compelling for both
  • Impressive to Jo as well as Mr and Mrs March, on whose judgment she would have relied
  • Gently and softly spoken
  • Of strong moral fibre like her parents, particularly her father
  • Humble, sensitive, quick to discern her feelings and the interests of others
  • Aware of his own strengths and weaknesses, and open to her about them
  • Quick to recognize the lovable aspects of her character, and to affirm her in them
  • Encourages without the excessive flattery that daunts her
  • Willing to live with the Marches out of consideration for her sense of duty to her parents

Does Beth marry and have children in The Courtship of Jo March? Can’t give away that one… 😉

Author and book sale PIC

6 thoughts on “The potential lives of Beth March

  1. Your description of a suitable suitor for Beth sounds a lot like Professor Bhaer. He wasn’t “gently or softly spoken,” but he surely would have been with Beth. And I doubt he’d have wanted to live with the Marches, but he probably would have been willing to live close by. Other than those two items, he sounds a lot like the Professor to me. What he would have done for a living without Plumfield is a bit of a conundrum.

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    1. I can imagine Professor Bhaer being quite sensitive to the temperament and personality of whoever he was talking to, and being a good listener. I’ve always pictured him as the sort of character to be involved in a school, to be in his element getting to teach. Thanks for the comment 🙂

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  2. Remember that she didn’t care for the world beyond her own home.

    Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________

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    1. Absolutely, she didn’t at all! I wonder though whether that might have changed with time and circumstances…I do think it is possible. What I wanted for my life was very different between 13 and 17, and then 17 and even 23. I spent most of my life desiring and planning to be single, until I fell in love with my husband, and I certainly cared a lot more for the married-with-children idea after that!

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  3. Love all that, thank you for imagining a better life for Beth. I think her shyness was really about being super self-conscious (if you’ve ever experienced that, it’s like having a bright spotlight shining on you, exposing all your faults and you just want to drop through the floor. It’s very painful — I feel like that a lot). She was better with people when there was something specific, a task, an agenda, to fulfill — then she didn’t have to create conversation out of thin air but conversation would create itself around the particular task or agenda.

    Louisa never offers an explanation as to why Beth had such low self esteem, it’s a mystery. Just like there is no real explanation for her illness. These things make her easy to dismiss. I am so glad you don’t! She is worth the time.

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    1. I’m glad that answered your question 🙂 It is painful feeling self-conscious, difficult to battle through but also so much more the triumph when you do! I can imagine Beth would have spoken about music a great deal given the chance, and I always saw her as someone who generally spoke only when she felt she had something to say that would benefit someone else. She was a very lovable character and an astute thinker, it rather baffles me when she is dismissed.

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