Because my TBR tote (a literal plastic box with books to be read) was getting full, Biscuit and I have worked hard for the last two years to get it down substantially by reading (for the most part) only books from the tote as part of our two-person book club. This go around, I chose Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (she/her), a chonky book about the March family, specifically four girls during the American Civil War. Their father, a religious leader, is off with the war effort, ministering to soldiers. Their mother, it is implied, works outside of the house, though I couldn’t tell you what she does. The four daughters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, are taught American work effort, and the oldest two contribute to the household as they can by nannying small children and their rich elderly aunt alike while the younger daughters focus on self-improvement activities, like piano and drawing. Constantly aware that they are broke, the sisters get on differently in their living situation, and it is their personalities that shape their futures.
Biscuit and I meet twice per week because we read our books in chunks. At the first meeting, she asked if Alcott hated children. I looked up the author and learned Alcott had no children, but was writing from experience with her own three sisters. I didn’t feel that the author hated children, per se, but did get weary of the moralistic approach to every moment. Not ethics, morals. At our last book club meeting, we had Lou @ Lou Lou Reads join us, who drew our attention to the week during which the four sisters are allowed to do nothing: no work, no chores, no responsibility. They quickly grow tired of their hobbies and become cross with one another. Meanwhile, their mother watches on, allowing the shenanigans to happen, and at the end of a miserable week, they all learn the joy in labor.
This led to quite a discussion spearheaded by Lou, who pointed out that the fictional family is very American in the sense that British people gleefully vacation about 5-7 weeks per week plus the national holidays. The most paid vacation days I’ve had in my life is five (plus the national holidays). I believe Biscuit mentioned something about two weeks. It’s true; Americans work so much that we often don’t choose to use the paltry vacation we’ve earned for fear of coming back to work that has piled up, or not going because we don’t want to inconvenience our coworkers/bosses/the company. In the far past, I’ve asked to use a vacation day and been told to switch shifts with someone instead because it is “a problem” when there is a gap in the schedule. But the point is to get money and not work, right?
Unfortunately, I’ve read recently (it was Reddit, where all human experiences go to be validated or destroyed) that Americans are moving to the U.K. and getting manager jobs, turning the office place into something that you would see in the U.S., and it’s making the Brits quite angry. Lou noted that some folks are even subscribing to the don’t-use-your-vacation mindset. I don’t know if it was that Apprentice show or what, but Americans love to fire each other at any sign of insubordination, such as, “No, I will not come in, HR approved today off for my father’s funeral.” Yes, this really happens.
Something else Lou pointed out: my copy of the book isn’t just Little Women, it is also Good Wives, the follow-up novel. I’m glad she pointed that out as she searched for which edition to use for our group. I noted one night to Biscuit that some of the old-fashioned spouse roles in Good Wives irritated me on principle, but that I subscribe to them myself. When Meg gets married to John, she has a horrible day during which she tries to make jelly, but it won’t jell. John brings home a friend for dinner without asking first, something Meg has encouraged him to do, and she gets mad that the house is a disaster and there’s runny jelly all over the place and this idiot brought home some friend without asking. Ugh! The couple quarrel.
But it was Meg’s admission that she wants a nice home for her husband to return to, and good dinner ready when he gets there, that struck me. I want those things, too, especially because in our situation, Nick makes the money and I manage it/the home — kind of like the wives from What Diantha Did. Yes, everyone, I go to school part-time, too, but I don’t work 40+ hours per week. Like a good 21st century husband, Nick will eat any burnt trash I make, despite me howling in his ear to quit scarfing that garbage. (This statement is largely about pancakes, but has included other foods in the past). It may be old-fashioned, but it’s still an element of my love and care.
Another stand-out point for me was clearly some folks have no idea what “poor” means. So, you don’t have a new bonnet every season. Are you poor? You can’t call the doctor when your baby is dying because you have no money. Are you poor? You are unable to enter “society” because you only have two good dresses. Are you poor? You were likely a slave and now you work 24/7 caring for six people’s needs in exchange for room and board. Are you poor? Isn’t this a fun game? Much like Sense and Sensibility, I got the feel those March girls weren’t poor, though the liked to think they were because they weren’t dawdling in carriages or meandering through Europe (well, not on their parents’ dime; someone else is happy to take them). Much is made of Amy trying to impress her rich friends by spending her savings on fancier food for a party, but is unclear about when said party starts, and no one shows. The family eats the fancy food for four days and ugh, aren’t they just worn out on it.
The lovely Lou has pointed out that the last two books, Jo’s Boys and Little Men are more interesting in their boarding house shenanigans and academic context. From my perspective, I can’t imagine every scenario being a learning lesson about morals, and all the lessons come from the same person (their mother). I did get wrapped up in whether tomboy Jo will get together with the rich playboy neighbor, but this is one of my flaws. By the end, I couldn’t help thinking what a wiener he is [insert big sigh].