The Internet Personified: Christmas isn't Christmas without any presents
On Little Women: the film, the book, the phenomenon
It’s been a couple of weeks since we spoke—blame the finally emerged Delhi winter sun, the last few weeks of comfortable sitting on our suntrap of a balcony, and the fact that everyone is realising this at the same time. My social calendar is a WHIRL, I tell you, a regular WHIRL. I, for one, am ready for warmer weather, I am never as unfashionable as I am in the winter months, layering makes me miserable, especially when I can’t shed a heavy coat to show a pretty dress underneath, because even the inside of my home is as frigid as the outdoors. (Not anymore! We are nearly done! I will be sweating profusely in the next two months and perhaps I will be nostalgic but for now, I’m looking forward to different weather.)
Anyway, yesterday, I went to watch Little Women, the Greta Gerwig film with my mother, my aunt and K. All of us were approaching it from different angles: my aunt had not re-read in years so she mixed up Jo and Meg, my mother had re-read but not as obsessively as me, I, as you know, know the book practically by heart, Jo in her attic drove me to become a writer etc etc, and K had never read the book at all.
Here are my thoughts, in a harum-scarum Jo-ish list of disorder. They go up and down and all over the place. (Comments are now enabled—click the newsletter heading to go to the website and add your own!) (There might be one or two spoilers of Little Women, the book, so if you haven’t read it, maybe now’s your chance? Here’s a link to the free Gutenberg version.)
I was prepared to slightly loathe the adaptation, as I hate most film adaptations of books I love. My past objections to Little Women, the movie, which would be the ‘90s version starring Winona Ryder as Jo, was just: NO. I love Winona Ryder as a good 90s/noughties person does, but she is NOT Jo, and she never will be.
I mean, look at that Jo in the gif above ^ she looks timid and small and shy, all very BETH things, but not Jo at all. Although I do prefer this 1994 Laurie to current Timothee Laurie, because TimoLaur looked so much younger than all the March sisters it was hard for me to imagine anyone even wanting to marry him and have sex with him and what not, and not just pat him on the head and send him off with a lollipop.
Which brings me to the Amy problem. Florence Pugh in Gerwig’s Little Women, is MAGNIFICENT. Gerwig deliberately plays Jo and Amy off against each other, the two artistic sisters, the two sisters with the hottest tempers, the ones who are in many ways, the most similar to each other which probably leads to a general loathing. In previous movies (including the PBS version that came out in 2018/19 and was quite boring even though it was super faithful to the book) Amy is seen through Jo’s eyes, because we are all Jo, we are the awkward, bookish girl who doesn’t know how to be a lady. But that’s actually doing a disservice to the book, Louisa May Alcott might’ve been a little jealous of May Alcott her whole life, but she was fair in Little Women. Amy was a manuscript burning bitch, but then she changes in Good Wives, the sequel that features them five years later, married or about to be. In Good Wives, she is sweet tempered—that’s what wins her the trip to Europe, while Jo is rude and awkward—and she gets whole POV chapters about her time in Europe and she loves Jo as Jo loves her, they are sisters, if not friends, and I know, I know, Laurie married her but Jo turns him down first and Jo herself is genuinely glad for Amy and Laurie’s happiness and in later years in Little Men and Jo’s Boys, Amy, as “Mrs Laurence” does indeed smooth things along with money and patronage for people her sisters long to help. Amy also gets a tragedy, she is only ever able to have one child—Lou doesn’t go into specifics but it’s understood, so I imagine that she had complications with birth and doesn’t have a uterus anymore, because her and Laurie are totally still doing it with lots of sexual chemistry up until their decripit 40s—and her one child is a delicate creature so Amy can’t buy everything, says Louisa wisely.
That was still not the Amy problem. The Amy problem re: Little Women movies, is this: the actor playing her has to be both twelve and nineteen in the same film. In Gerwig’s version, almost side by side, as she made the (good!) creative choice of shooting Good Wives as present day and Little Women as the past. But even someone as charming and deep-voiced and mobile faced as Florence Pugh, could not carry off being 12. She just looked like a grown up in short skirts. With Saoirse Ronan (Jo! And my favourite Jo so far!) she played older and younger quite easily, just by changing her hair and adding and subtracting expansive hand gestures as well as changing her face somehow from optimistic to weary. She was very good, but 15 to 21 or however old she is in Good Wives is not as hard as 12 to 19. (It was hard especially for a first time viewer—using K as an example here—to be able to figure out from the rapid scene switches, which was past and which was present.)
Also with Amy and with Jo, and with a 2020 adaptation, there was a certain amount of post-woke messages being shoved in, for “historical context.” These definitely added something to the movie (in case you can’t tell, I loved the movie, I LOVED LOVED LOVED it) but can be a bit jarring—Amy holding forth on marriage as an economic prospect, Aunt March bitching about Jo’s dad and so on. I did enjoy the decision to sort of merge Jo’s life with Louisa May Alcott’s though, that was fun and new.
Wow—I have never seen such a classic burn on Mr March before. Let’s face it: we don’t quite buy Mr March, he’s absent, and then suddenly he’s there playing with his grandchildren, but it’s like he’s being humoured by the energetic women of his family, no? (You must read Geraldine Brooks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning March, an alternative re-telling from his point of view.)
I also found it interesting that Greta Gerwig put some of the focus on Meg’s unhappiness after marriage. I mean, I’d never seen it like that before, I thought those two were very happy, John as the patronising but loving husband and Meg as the doting young sometimes silly wife, but wow, would it not be super irritating to have your husband a) laugh at your lack of ability to cook, b) go over your household accounts with you, and have a good laugh at all your fripperies, c) when you’re worn out raising twins—TWINS—by yourself, he fucks off and goes to his friend’s house because he’s “tired of being told to hush in his own house” and “feels like an intruder in Babydom.” My god, man, grow a pair. Also, before we went for the film, K asked if “Little Women” was an insult, like “aww, you’re just a little woman” and I said no but then I realise the two people who actually called them little women were their dad (blech) and John Brooke (would not marry him if he was the last man on earth.) Poor Meg. Poor, poor Meg.
Emma Watson has lost a lot of weight and Meg is supposed to be a “plump little Quaker dove” so that was terrible casting by the way, did not enjoy it, she didn’t even have enough bosom to fill out her scandalous dress at the debutante ball.
Am I the only one unmoved by Beth’s death across mediums? I totally spoilered it for K though, which was sad. She was about to die, in my defence, and I said, “I never really figured out what her cause of death was” and he was quite upset. But Beth has always remained a cipher to me, she’s good and shy but that’s it. Why do we love Beth? I don’t know, but I’d have been a lot sadder if Meg died in childbirth or something.
Laura Dern was a slightly-too-hectic Marmee for my liking, but really, it was Laurie that I objected to the most. (ALSO THAT HOT BHAER THEY GOT, BHAER IS IN HIS 30S AND IS DESCRIBED AS PORTLY!!!) However, it got me thinking about Laurie in general—this boy next door adopted by the four sisters, and how he realises that the only way to go from being an orphan to being part of a family is to marry one of them. Jo seems the obvious choice, but when she turns him down, look at the alternatives: sick, childish Beth, already married Meg, of course he’s going to marry Amy, guys. He wants the sisters, the mother and the father, the family meals. I get it, Laurie, I’m an only child myself. One day, it is my hope that someone will write a prequel novel about Laurie’s Italian mother and his grandfather’s general rage, but for now, let’s speculate: Mr Laurence has two children: a daughter who dies young and a son who disappoints him by not going into business with him but running off and marrying an Italian musician instead (Italian musician in those times being quite a scandalous person to marry). Laurie has lots of musical talent because of his parents, who were cut off by his grandpa, but he’s encouraged to go into business as well, where he does quite well. This is at the encouragement of Amy who has also decided that she’s “not a genius just talented” and I want to say, “Girllll half of it is just working hard and you gave up too soon.” Anyway, Laurie turns out quite conventional too, and Louisa implies that this is a happy ending, they all have happy endings, but different from the endings they dreamed for themselves, so let’s just for a second, think of an ending where Meg goes off to be on the stage, and marries a rich man with pots of money who lets her do what she likes, Jo is a writer, and maybe she’s with Bhaer and maybe she isn’t, but she’s also acknowledged as a genius in her own time, Beth does not die, and instead lives to stay home, a happy spinster, and Amy is a famous or not famous artist who lives in Paris and occasionally takes a ship home to visit and is very bohemian and fashionable, and Laurie, well, once he gives up hope of marrying any of the Marches, decides to become a musician like his father and mother and while he is touring in Italy, meets an Italian opera singer who he eventually marries, but by this time, Mr Laurence is too old to raise any objections, and anyway, the couple only rarely visit. Mr March dies quickly and painlessly, and Marmee and Beth are sad but also like, not that sad, plus Aunt March just leaves them her whole house and fortune so they’ve got cash and a spare room for Jo whenever she comes home from New York or wherever she is and they all live happily ever after.
If you want MORE of my Little Women musings, because that was not enough, here are some links:
How I got over my literary grudge against Amy March.
Things I object to in Louisa May Alcott.
What else to read when you want more Alcott.
New thing, because I have been lurking on Reddit more these days. I call it Best Reddit Thread of The Week (BRTOTW)
What is a little known but obvious fact that will make us all feel stupid?
What else to read this week:
(lots and lots and lots of links because of our long break)
Lovely story about Shaheen Bagh, the people and the locality in Caravan.
Also very much enjoyed this story on India’s continual CONSTANT obsession with fair skin by Neha Dixit.
An India-specific story on how to read labels on beauty products which is nice.
A Kashmiri NRI on how conversations with her family have broken down.
Nice long read on visiting Kidzania which is kind of like a theme park except where all the kids get to test out adult employment.
This old piece by Naresh Fernandes made me immediately order P Sainath’s Everybody Loves A Good Drought.
Is that it? That’s it.
Have a great week! Talk to you sooooooon. I’m going to go re-read Little Women.
Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.
Who are you?Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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