Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Little Women Read-Along Chapter 2-Merry Christmas

(This read along is being hosted by the wonderful blog The Edge of the Precipice and I decided to join in with my own posts.  To find out more about this read along, you can go to her blog.)

It's Christmas day and the girls awake to covered books that are never explicitly titled (more on this later).  After reading the little books and being much inspired, they go down to breakfast, only to find Marmee asking them to give their food to the poor Hummels who are starving and freezing.  Afterwards, there are presents for Marmee from the girls-Hemmed handkerchiefs from Beth, A big bottle of cologne from Amy (who exchanges the cheaper bottle for a nice one), Army slippers from Jo, and new gloves from Meg.  And then comes my favorite part of Chapter 2-The play performance put on by the March sisters for some friends, followed by a very kind Christmas gift of a post-supper play, provided by the neighbors, the Lawrences.
I'm going to be including a new Little Women book cover
in my posts for as long as I can keep finding them...

Here are my observations/thoughts for this chapter:

  • The never-titled books are hotly debated over, apparently.  Some people say that the books are Pilgrims Progress, a book referred to repeatedly in this book, and some say that the books are the New Testament of the Bible.  However, it seems quite obvious to me that the books are New Testaments.  Alcott's family was devout Christians, just as the Marches were and it seems that only people unfamiliar with the devotion with which most Christians view the Bible would confused Pilgrim's Progress with the following excerpts from Chapter 2:  
"Then she remembered her mother's promise, and slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book.  She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guide-book for any pilgrim going on a long journey."

"'Girls' said Meg seriously, looking from the tumbled head beside her to the two little night-capped ones in the room beyond, 'mother wants us to read and love and mind these books, and we must begin at once.  We used to be faithful about it; but since father went away, and all this war unsettled us, we have neglected many things."
  • I am so impressed by how gladly the March sisters give up their food for the Hummels.  Even though they are obviously very hungry themselves, they know that there is always somebody else who will be hungrier. 
  • If the Marches are as poverty-stricken as the book portrays them, why do they have Hannah as their servant?  Surely you have to at least be slightly upper middle class to be keeping a servant on to do all the cooking and cleaning?  Or is Hannah just a dearly-beloved friend who also happens to cook all their food?  I feel like this gets explained later in the book, but this does make me curious.
  • I read a biography about Alcott at some time and I remember reading that she and her sisters used to put on many plays for their family and friends.  Reading Alcott's careful descriptions of the acting, the ingenious props, and the sibling interactions shows how close to memory these plays were for her in real life.  
  • My favorite quote from this chapter of the book is:
"A good deal of hammering went on before the curtain rose again; but when it became evident what a masterpiece of stage carpentering had been got up, no one murmured at the delay….A tower rose to the ceiling; halfway up appeared Zara [Amy] in a lovely blue and silver dress waiting for Roderigo [Jo].  He came in gorgeous array, with plumed cap, red cloak, chestnut love-locks, a guitar, and the boots, of course….Then came the grand effect of the play.  Roderigo produced a rope-ladder with five steps to it, threw up one end, and invited Zara to descend.  Timidly, she crept to her lattice, put her hand on Roderigo's shoulder, and was about to leap gracefully down, when, 'alas! alas for Zara!' she forgot her train-it caught in the window; the tower tottered, leaned forward, fell with a crash, and buried the unhappy lovers in the ruins.  
"A universal shriek arose as the russet boots waved wildly from the wreck, and a golden head emerged, exclaiming, 'I told you so!'  With wonderful presence of mind, Don Pedro, the cruel sire, rushed in and dragged his daughter with a hasty aside-'Don't laugh, act as if it was all right!'."  
And then I dissolved into laughter imagining this scene.

Questions for Discussion:
1.) What are army slippers?  Does anybody know about this?  I've been trying to get a mental image and am coming up short.
2.) What do you think about the Bible vs. Pilgrim's Progress debate?
3.) Does this play stick out in anybody else's mind when thinking of Little Women?  Because I think this has to be one of my top 5 favorite Little Women moments.


  1. Oh hello! Just found your sweet blog through Hamlette's read-along! Isn't a read-along a simply lovely thing! I'm perfectly thrilled about joining in the fun! I've read Little Women countless times, but I'm really excited about reading it again and pondering more of the details...
    Personally, after reading the excerpt you included above, I feel that the girls were given New Testaments - 'The Best Life Ever Lived' - it just has to be Jesus'...
    And YES! I too love the play and sometimes wish my sisters (I have five sisters) and I could do something like that! Aww! So sweet! I love the humour Alcott included - it just seems more true to life that way:)
    I will be stopping by again very soon!
    Hugs to you and I almost forgot, very pleased to meet you!

    1. Thank you for your sweet comment, Kelly-Anne! I'm looking forward to checking out your blog!

    2. Aww! Thank you sweet Grace! Your comment blessed me today:)
      And I'm enjoying your blog greatly, my dear, so do keep up the writing!
      Loving Little Women...so lovely to share with everyone else and hear their thoughts!

  2. In my Penguin introduction, Elaine Showalter insists that the books are The Pilgrim's Progress, but she doesn't give a source for that statement. I don't see how "the best life ever lived" could refer to Christian (in PP) rather than Jesus, so the New Testament makes a lot more sense to me. I've always been curious about this too! And I love the theater scene. When I was growing up, I had only abridged editions that omitted the play, so I'm glad to read it in full now.

    1. Interesting-I've heard it argued that there's some part where Beth says that she had been reading in Pilgrims Progress and that that was proof that the book was Pilgrim's Progress. I think we have the same edition-mine also has that intro by Elaine Showalter. I've never read it, but I think I might.

    2. Ok, I sort of remember that part. I will have to look at it again. I definitely recommend the Showalter introduction; lots of interesting information there.

  3. I think they must be New Testaments, or maybe a retelling of Christ's life. I find it interesting that Alcott stresses it's about "the best life ever lived," not the fact that it's about how Christ died for our sins. As for Beth later saying she was reading PIlgrim's Progress and that being "proof" that's what book they got -- that's silly, I think. Obviously the family must own a copy (PP, Shakespeare's works, and the Bible were the three books people were likely to own back then), or have regular access to one, or else the girls wouldn't all know about it already in the first chapter.

    I've read Pilgrim's Progress and was very bored by it, I'm afraid. That was in high school, though, so I might have a different view of it now. But I'm not a big fan of allegory.

    1. Interesting. Yes, I think it's definitely a reflection of Alcott's theology that the importance of the NT was not just death and resurrection, but actions during life as well.

      I was also bored to death by Pilgrim's Progress-and I read it recently! It was so deathly allegorical that I felt like I couldn't pay attention to the story because I was so busy trying to figure out what this part and that part meant. I'm sure the Victorians loved that bit about Pilgrim's Progress, though.