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sara lindsey
Unregistered User
(3/17/03 9:20:40 pm)
Fairy Tales and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women
Hello -
I am a student at Scripps College and am enrolled in a class about the self-myths of American women authors. I want to do my research paper on the use of fairy tale references in Little Women - I have found quite a few links, especially strong in the Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty traditions. I was just wondering if the lovely ladies and gents who frequent this site had any suggestions or insightful comments... Thanks a ton!
Lover of tales.
Sara

Heidi Anne Heiner
ezOP
(3/17/03 9:57:55 pm)
Re: Fairy Tales and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women
It's been several years since I read it, but I found Daniel Shealy's "Louisa May Alcott's Fairy Tales and Fantasy Stories" to be quite helpful when I was researching some entries I wrote for the "Louisa May Alcott Encyclopedia." I remember it dealt more with LMA's short fiction, but it must mention "Little Women" somewhere. I also haven't read "Little Women" in a few years, so my memory is fuzzy on the fairy tale references of which I am sure there many more than I remember. Do you have any particular examples to share to jog our memories or inspire us to pull the book off our shelves?

You might also check out "Before Oz: Juvenile Fantasy Stories from Nineteenth-Century America" edited by Mark I. West. It might have something useful, too. I found it referenced in my LMA old notes.

Heidi

swood
Unregistered User
(3/18/03 7:41:10 am)
LMA - Flower Fables
Heidi, I am in awe! I own the LMA Encyclopedia and will have to look for your entries. She has been somewhat of an obsession of mine over the past few years.

Louisa May Alcott's first collection of self-written fairytales, Flower Fables is recently back in print. Click through Heidi's links to Amazon to take a look.

Also, you probably already know this as it is discussed in the book, but John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress plays a big part in shaping the narrative. It definitely adds levels of meaning and allegory, although the Alcott's weren't particularly known for being Christian.

I think it might be interesting to look at disguise and how that shapes the book. It is a theme that also appears frequently in her other work. There could be parallels to Donkeyskin or Beauty & the Beast.

(The Nurse's Tale, on of her short story thrillers, has always struck me as being a sort of Beauty & the Beast.)

A lot of her work (I'm thinking Old Fashioned Girl) is also a sort of reverse Cinderella where the Ashenputtel shows her Ugly Stepsister cousins how to live the simple life.

One more thought, you might want to think of the effect Transcendental philosophy has on how she might shape traditional fairy tale themes. It is an extension of Romanticism and part of the whole movement that brought fairy tale collection into vogue.

Please let me know what you end up doing, or discovering. This is a topic that really interests me.

Sarah

Heidi Anne Heiner
ezOP
(3/18/03 9:03:06 am)
Re: LMA - Flower Fables
No need for awe! I just wrote three entries: (1) Dress Reform, (2) Eight Cousins, and (3) An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving. I had recently visited Concord and reread many of LMA's books when the call for writers was posted, so I eagerly volunteered to write a few entries. A friend saw the notice and passed it along to me knowing my own interest in LMA.

Heidi

sara lindsey
Unregistered User
(3/18/03 6:49:59 pm)
Little Women and Fairy Tales
Thanks for all the help so far - it is much appreciated!
As for some specific examples...

Meg as Cinderella:
Chapter: The Laurence Boy
Laurie calls Meg, "the young lady in the pretty slippers"
Chapter: Meg Goes to Vanity Fair
Belle Moffat (whose tastes are "quite French") wants to dress Meg up... She says, "I shan't let anyone see you till you are done, and then we'll burst upon them like Cinderella and her godmother going to the ball."
At the end of this chapter, Marmee tells Jo and Meg, "I'd rather see you poor men's wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace." This reminds me of "The Tale of the Handkerchief" in Emma Donoghue's Kissing the Witch, but I'm afraid that I don't know the origins of that story. Any ideas on this bit of motherly advice?

In the chapter, "Camp Laurence," everyone plays 'Rigmarole,' a game that creates a nonsensical story... The story is packed with allusions to many different fairy tales, but I would LOVE it if someone else could take a peek, since I'm sure I've missed some! Besides, any excuse to reread bits of Little Women will do...

I've wondered if Jo cutting her hair in "A Telegram" is representative of the final switch from the selfishness of childhood to the selflessness of adulthood (although that is a great oversimplification!) and is comparable to Rapunzel...

"Jo's Journal" chronicles her experiences in New York where, notably, she meets Professor Bhaer. (I have noticed a strong praise for all things German throughout the novel...) Jo and the Professor conduct their unusual courtship over the "pleasant little Marchen) of Hans Andersen.

The chapter "A Friend" starts off with a nice extended metaphor that likens Jo to Jack and the Beanstalk. Of course boyish Jo must be compared to a fairy tale hero, rather than a heroine!

In "Under the Umbrella," Professor Bhaer remarks that Jo's heart "was asleep till the fairy prince came through the wood and waked it up."
Some threads I'm especially interested in following up:

The idea of the storyteller before the hearth, employed in a domestic craft such as needlework (or spinning) - this picture seems to occur often in the novel...

The idea of castles in the air - we usually think of this phrase in relation to Thoreau (another Transcendentalist), but the OED assures me that it has been in existence since at least the 16th century. Jo says that she wants to do something splendid BEFORE she goes into her castle - does the castle represent the female, passivity, etc.? In Tatar's Annotated Tales, she has a note on the Sleeping Beauty tale, which reads as follows: The spindle or distaff is associated with the Fates, who "spin" or measure out the span of life. Spinning is also an activity that fostered female storytelling, and the spinning of flax often crossed over from the storytelling context into the story itself. The German term for spinning has a SECONDARY MEANING associated with fantasizing and BUILDING CASTLES IN THE AIR.

I'm so interested in the idea of spinning, spinning tales, the idea of a spinster - both literary and otherwise - and the Sleeping Beauty tale...

That's enough for right now - sorry that it got so long, but fairy tales and LMA (specifically, Little Women) are two of my favorite things!

Thanks,
Sara

Jess
Unregistered User
(3/18/03 8:37:59 pm)
Spinning tales and more
Sara,

This is fascinating. I want to hear more. Sometime in the recent discussion we had a thread about spinning tales. I went back to November through August, but did not find it. So it stands to reason it is still an active thread. If you haven't read it already, you may wish to go back and read the thread and stories referenced.

Another thought about Jo cutting her hair. It is possible too that by cutting her hair, Jo makes a transition not into selflessness as an adult (think Gift of the Magi), but into something more masculine and therefore in mid-19th C life, more free. In many, many tales, female characters disguise their femininity simply by donning male attire and cutting their hair. You see this too in opera and Shakespeare.

I don't recall LW well enough to know where precisely the hair cutting occurs in the book, but I do recall that she not only cuts her hair, but she takes on a fairly independent life style challenging the traditional middle-class female roles as Alcott describes those roles in her book. Is it possible that the hair itself is a device representative of freedom. Once she is free from the hair (and all the time and care related thereto?) is she free from these more traditional constraints?

Just a thought.

Jess

GailS
Unregistered User
(3/18/03 9:18:30 pm)
Jo's Hair
Didnít somebody write a short story about Joís shorn hair? It has been a while since I read the story, and even longer since I read LW, but if I remember correctly, Jo sold her hair to a wig maker in order to send money to her father. Her father does not accept her sacrifice and returns the money to her. In the short story, the writer traces the adventures of Joís hair as a wig. Canít remember the name of the story or the writer though.

GailS

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