By Trix Wilkins
The first day of the Summer Conversations at Orchard House (July 16-20) and how thrilled I am to be able to post this! Sadly I didn’t get to any of the other things from my original Little Women Summer plans – but thanks to the lovely folks at Orchard House, I did get to have a “conversation” with one of their staff, who just fell in love with Little Women and the home in which it was written. Here’s Part 1 of that conversation I’m so pleased to be able to share with you 🙂
Photographs courtesy of Orchard House
When did you first read Little Women and what were your first impressions?
I first read Little Women with my mother when I was a child; seven years old, I believe.
We do have these moments chronicled, to some extent, inside the front cover of the actual Little Women book we read together. I may have had a birthday while we read; I am a February baby, and I do remember us reading during the winter. We’d sit in the big green armchair in our family room, with a fire blazing, eager to begin another chapter. It was my favorite part of the day.
I wanted to know what would happen next, but I also never wanted the story to end. So, my mother, very obligingly, would let us savor it, reading at a steady, though not too speedy, pace.
My mother had read the book before, but as I recall, she was just as excited as me. I am blessed to have a mom that loved reading to me. She would explain words I didn’t understand. We’d examine the illustrations together and talk about them.
The copy we read, a hardcover Illustrated Junior Library edition of Little Women, first published by Grosset & Dunlap in 1947, contains beautiful illustrations by Louis Jambor. My mother and grandmother had purchased it together at Orchard House two years before I was born. It even has an Orchard House book plate inside. I absolutely loved this book and still do.
It was exciting to feel that I was entering a vast tradition, passed from my grandmother to my mother, and now to me – passed, too, among many other families, based on what I heard from friends.
In addition, I felt I was entering the March family. While reading Little Women, the closeness and warmth of their family, radiates off the page. Time with the Marches would put me in such a good mood. After reading, I would feel an extra little twinkle in my heart.
I loved the different personalities of the characters and how they interacted with one another. That is not to say all the characters got along all the time, quite the contrary, but the richness of the portrayals, and the very human drama of the characters, was exhilarating.
As an only child at the time, a story about sisters was incredibly appealing to me. I enjoyed entering their world, imagining what it would be like to have siblings of my own. I liked discovering the March girls’ personalities, dreams, activities, and trials. My father was involved in my life, but far away, and that aspect, too, of the Marches, was one I could relate to, on some level.
Louisa’s writing, so warm, sympathetic, and intimate, drew me in – she was most hospitable! It was as if I suddenly had sisters, suddenly had this warm family welcoming me.
Who is your favorite March sister and why?
Ah, the sister question! One that has always stumped me. So, Amy is probably not my favorite sister, especially from my initial reading of the book. She is not the sister I would fantasize about being (that would be Jo) as a girl, but upon learning more about Amy’s real-life counterpart, May, I have come to find this Alcott sister positively enchanting. While that is true of all the sisters, my adoration of May surprised me the most, given my initial read on Amy.
Design courtesy of Canva
For a favorite, I would probably say Jo. I like her emotional range and independent spirit. Sometimes she feels out-of-place, but she perseveres. There are moments when societal expectations baffle her, and she navigates them in her own way, sometimes with humor or even a bit of mischief, for instance in the chapter, “Calls,” when Jo, begrudgingly, pays a series of formal social visits with Amy. It is an amusing chapter involving some sarcasm, and tinged with the bittersweet.
Jo is a fun character; she is also one with drive, courage, and sensitivity. She strives to improve herself and the world around her. She is lovingly devoted to her friends and family. I admire her. I relate to her, and I enjoy “spending” time with her. I feel simultaneously connected to and inspired by Jo March.
As a child, playing dress up Little Women, was a delightful pastime for my friends and me. Sometimes, I would play a new character: “Meg-Jo,” “Meg-Beth,” or other iterations; if I were in a particularly daring mood, “Jo-Amy.”
The truth is I could not quite make up my mind about a favorite – I loved them all. We needed them all. There were usually three of us girls playing together, and we simply felt that we could not leave one of the March sisters out!
What are you most looking forward to in this year’s Summer Conversation Series?
I am greatly looking forward to this year’s Summer Conversational Series! I have seen Cathlin Davis and Gabrielle Donnelly present before — they were phenomenal, so I am excited to see them again.
The Little Women Letters, by Gabrielle Donnelly
I certainly enjoy my copy of Jeffrey S. Cramer’s Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition, and I am very excited to see him in person.
Earlier this year, Laura Dassow Walls gave a talk here in Concord that I was sorry to miss. I heard it was fabulous, so I am also looking forward to seeing her.
Those are a few, but I am really excited for all the presenters! It is also just a really nice week.
There’s a Louisa May Alcott and Orchard House fan who will be attending; I only see her from time to time, so I am looking forward to seeing her thanks to this gathering.
In the past, I have learned so much from this Series – I can incorporate tidbits on a tour, and better answer questions; plus, the whole week is just so stimulating and fun!
Join the Summer Conversations on Noble Companions and Immortal Labors
Design courtesy of Canva
Online registrations may have closed, but thankfully walk-ins are permitted according to space. Call 978.369.4118 x106 to check, then amble over to Orchard House to share in the Summer Conversations 🙂 Tomorrow’s sessions (July 17) are as follows:
The Very Highest Respect for Law and Civil Disobedience Today with Jason Giannetti
Philosopher Jason Giannetti has trained primarily in Ancient Greek Philosophy and Biblical Studies, which he has applied to his work on the New England Transcendentalists.
Saint John the Just: The Alcotts and John Brown with Sandy Petrulionis
Sandy is Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies at Penn State Altoona and author of To Set This World Right: The Antislavery Movement in Thoreau’s Concord.
Louisa May Alcott’s Virtuous Men: Friends, Mentors, and (Fictional) Lovers with Laura Dassow Walls
Laura teaches courses in early American literature and the environmental humanities at the University of Notre Dame. Her most recent book is Henry David Thoreau: A Life.
P.S. Tomorrow’s conversation: Discovering and coming to love Orchard House…
Thank you again to the lovely staff member at Orchard House who has taken the time to kindly answer my questions from half a world away! 🙂 Part 2 of the conversation tomorrow touches on how she came to discover and be part of Orchard House, and her favorite thing about it…
Design courtesy of Canva
Would love to have you join us in the conversation 🙂 When did you first read Little Women and what were your first impressions? Who is your favorite March sister and why?