Friday, November 29, 2013

In Celebration of the Spirit of Thanksgiving and the Advent Season 
we offer an excerpt from 
LITTLE WOMEN
by Louisa May Alcott 



Part One - Chapter Two 

A Merry Christmas


Orchard House in Winter

Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock fell down because it was crammed so full of goodies. 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 guidebook for any pilgrim going on a long journey. She woke Meg with a Merry Christmas, and bade her see what was under her pillow. A green-covered book appeared, with the same picture inside, and a few words written by their mother, which made their one present very precious in their eyes. Presently Beth and Amy woke to rummage and find their little books also, one dove-colored, the other blue, and all sat looking at and talking about them, while the east grew rosy with the coming day.
In spite of her small vanities, Margaret had a sweet and pious nature, which unconsciously influenced her sisters, especially Jo, who loved her very tenderly, and obeyed her because her advice was so gently given.
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 trouble unsettled us, we have neglected many things. You can do as you please, but I shall keep my book on the table here and read a little every morning as soon as I wake, for I know it will do me good and help me through the day.
Then she opened her new book and began to read. Jo put her arm round her and, leaning cheek to cheek, read also, with the quiet expression so seldom seen on her restless face.
How good Meg is! Come, Amy, let's do as they do. I'll help you with the hard words, and they'' explain things if we don't understand, whispered Beth, very much impressed by the pretty books and her sisters, example.
I'm glad mine is blue, said Amy. and then the rooms were every still while the pages were softly turned, and the winter sunshine crept in to touch the bright heads and serious faces with a Christmas greeting.
Where is Mother? asked Meg, as she and Jo ran down to thank her for their gifts, half an hour later.
Goodness only knows. Some poor creature came a-beggin', and your ma went straight off to see what was needed. There never was such a woman for givin' away vittles and drink, clothes and firin', replied Hannah, who had lived with the family since Meg was born, and was considered by them all more as a friend than a servant.
She will be back soon, I think, so fry your cakes, and have everything ready, said Meg, looking over the presents which were collected in a basket and kept under the sofa, ready to be produced at the proper time. why, where is Amy's bottle of cologne? she added, as the little flask did not appear.
She took it out a minute ago, and went off with it to put a ribbon on it, or some such notion, replied Jo, dancing about the room to take the first stiffness off the new army slippers.
How nice my handkerchiefs look, don't they? Hannah washed and ironed them for me, and I marked them all myself, said Beth, looking proudly at the somewhat uneven letters which had cost her such labor.
Bless the child! She's gone and put `Mother' on them instead of `M.March'. How funny! cried Jo, taking one up.
Isn't that right? I thought it was better to do it so, because Meg's initials are M.M., and I don't want anyone to use these but Marmee, said Beth;, looking troubled.
It's all right, dear, and a very pretty idea, quite sensible too, for no one can ever mistake now. It will please her very much, I know, said Meg, with a frown for Jo and a smile for Beth.
There's Mother. Hide the basket, quick! cried Jo, as a door slammed and steps sounded in the hall.
Amy came in hastily, and looked rather abashed when she saw her sisters all waiting for her.
Where have you been, and what are you hiding behind you? asked Meg, surprised to see, by her hood and cloak, that lazy Amy had been out so early.
Don't laugh at me, Jo! I didn't mean anyone should know till the time came. I only meant to change the little bottle for a bygone, and I gave all my money to get it, and I'm truly trying not to be selfish any more.
As she spoke, Amy showed the handsome flask which replaced the cheap one, and looked so earnest and humble in her little effort to forget herself that Meg hugged her on the spot, and Jo pronounced her `a trump', while Beth ran to the window, and picked her finest rose to ornament the stately bottle.
You see I felt ashamed of my present, after reading and talking about being good this morning, so I ran round the corner and changed it the minute I was up, and I'm so glad, for mine is the handsomest now.
Another bang of the street door sent the basket under the sofa, and the girls to the table, eager for breakfast.
Merry Christmas, Marmee! Many of them! Thank you for our books. We read some, and mean to every day, they all cried in chorus.
Merry Christmas, little daughters! I'm glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfasts a Christmas present?
They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke, only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously, I'm so glad you came before we began!
May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children? asked Beth eagerly.
I shall take the cream and the muffins, added Amy, heroically giving up the article she most liked.
Meg was already covering the buckwheat's, and piling the bread into one big plate.
I thought you'd do it, said Mrs. March, smiling as if satisfied. You shall all go and help me, and when we come back we will have bread and milk for breakfast, and make it up at dinnertime.


They were soon ready, and the procession set out. Fortunately it was early, and they went through back streets, so few people saw them, and no one laughed at the queer party.
A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken windows, no fire, ragged bedclothes, a sick mother, wailing baby, and a group of pale, hungry children cuddled under one old quilt, trying to keep warm.
How the big eyes stared and the blue lips smiled as the girls went in.
Ach, mein Gott! It is good angels come to us! said the poor woman, crying for joy.
Funny angels in hoods and mittens, said Jo, and set them to laughing.
In a few minutes it really did seem as if kind spirits had been at work there. Hannah, who had carried wood, made a fire, and stopped up the broken panes with old hats and her own cloak. Mrs.March gave the mother tea and gruel, and comforted her with promises of help, while she dressed the little baby as tenderly as if it had been her own. The girls meantime spread the table, set the children round the fire, and fed them like so many hungry birds, laughing, talking, and trying to understand the funny broken English.
Das ist gut! Die Engel-kinder! cried the poor things as they ate and warmed their purple hands at the comfortable blaze.
The girls had never been called angel children before, and thought it very agreeable, especially Jo, who had been considered `Sancho' ever since she was born. That was a very happy breakfast, though they didn't get any of it. And when they went away, leaving comfort behind, I think there were not in all the city four merrier people than the hungry little girls who gave away their breakfasts and contented themselves with bread and milk on Christmas morning.
That's loving our neighbor better than ourselves, and I like it, said Meg, as they set out their presents while their mother was upstairs collecting clothes for the poor Hummels.
Not a very splendid show, but there was a great deal of love done up in the few little bundles, and the tall vase of red roses, white chrysanthemums, and trailing vines, which stood in the middle, gave quite an elegant air to the table.
She's coming! Strike up, Beth! Open the door, Amy! Three cheers for Marmee! cried Jo, prancing about while Meg went to conduct Mother to the seat of honor.
Beth played her gayest march, Amy threw open the door, and Meg enacted escort with great dignity. Mrs. March was both surprised and touched, and smiled with her eyes full as she examined her presents and read the little notes which accompanied them. The slippers went on at once, a new handkerchief was slipped into her pocket, well scented with Amy's cologne, the rose was fastened in her bosom, and the nice gloves were pronounced a perfect fit.
There was a good deal of laughing and kissing and explaining, in the simple, loving fashion which makes these home festivals so pleasant at the time, so sweet to remember long afterward, and then all fell to work.
The morning charities and ceremonies took so much time that the rest of the day was devoted to preparations for the evening festivities. Being still too young to go often to the theater, and not rich enough to afford any great outlay for private performances, the girls put their wits to work, and necessity being the mother of invention, made whatever they needed. Very clever were some of their productions, pasteboard guitars, antique lampshade of old-fashioned butter boats covered with silver paper, gorgeous robes of old cotton, glittering with tin spangles from a pickle factory, and armor covered with the same useful diamond shaped bits left inn sheets when the lids of preserve pots were cut out. The big chamber was the scene of many innocent revels.
No gentleman were admitted, so Jo played male parts to her heart's content and took immense satisfaction in a pair of russet leather boots given her by a friend, who knew a lady who knew an actor. These boots, an old foil, and a slashed doublet once used by an artist for some picture, were Jo's chief treasures and appeared on all occasions. The smallness of the company made it necessary for the two principal actors to take several parts apiece, and they certainly deserved some credit for the hard work they did in learning three or four different parts, whisking in and out of various costumes, and managing the stage besides. It was excellent drill for their memories, a harmless amusement, and employed many hours which otherwise would have been idle, lonely, or spent in less profitable society. ...

Orchard House in summer

16 comments:

  1. My favorite book!

    I have linked your post at my blog.

    Now, let's see who comes along to deprecate your post -- both here at your site and at my blog.

    PS: I'll have more to say later today. Mr. AOW and I must ready ourselves to venture out into the cold -- to PetSmart. "The girls" need kitty litter and food -- and Christmas presents.

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  2. ...well now the "less profitable society" arrives, and I enter.

    A very heart warming piece, I must admit.

    Have a pleasant morning!

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  3. 
I wish all parents would take the charming excerpt, and read it aloud to their children.

    

Little Women, as you know, is largely autobiographical. It was written about a mother left alone to raise her daughters while her husband must be away risking his life and health fighting the War Between the States.

    

The Alcotts were hardly well off, and had to use their imagination and powers of determination to make up for what they might have been lacking in material comforts and advantages.

    

We must remember too they lived in New England in a large, rather draughty old house with no central heating, no hot water running in the taps, no telephone, no radio, no movies, no television, no computers, no automobiles, no supermarkets, and no men in the household to protect them and help do the heavy lifting.

    

I suppose there was a doctor in town, but his skills would have been very primitive by our standards today.

    

These dear people had only each other and a few friends and neighbors to rely on for company, comfort, aid, and cheer.

    

Even so, their instincts were to share whatever they had with those far less fortunate, as the story relates.

    

I don't think Miss Alcott ever makes specific references to Jesus Christ, but the book is intensely Christian in spirit.

    

In so many ways the March family was far better off than most modern American families. They were far more in touch with the great power of Mind, Soul, Spirit and the vital importance of Principle than most are today. As a result, assuming the book is an honest reflection of family life in that time and place, they were much happier, much more loving, much more thankful for the good things they did have -- and much better able to deal with adversity -- than we are today.

    

Do I wish we could go literally go back to the mid-nineteenth century?

    

Of course not, but because we have access to good Literature, Art, Music, and a broader knowledge of History, we SHOULD be able to take what was BEST about earlier times and make it work for us today, by keeping such awareness alive in our hearts and doing our best to live by the timeless wisdom and benevolence of eternal Truth and Love.

    

As we approach Christmas, we should make every effort to remember that "it is more blessed to give than to receive."

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  4. A paucity of comments on this one.

    Figures.

    **sigh**

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  5. "

I don't think Miss Alcott ever makes specific references to Jesus Christ"
    Probably because it was assumed.

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  6. I shall be certain our grandson and granddaughter are introduced when they have achieved a suitable age for understanding.

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  7. Hi, Ed. Yes, I think you're right. If the nation not officially designate as a Christian nation in our founding documents, it was undoubtedly because the vast majority -- whether they actually went to church and qualified as True Believers or not -- were surrounded, sustained, uplifted and permeated by the principles set forth in the Gospels.

    Much is made of the skepticism of Jefferson and other Founders, but despite whatever private doubts they may have had, they certainly showed respect for Christian precepts and principles.

    I am morally certain -- despite the recent-but--now-relentless debunking and denigration by Marxists, intellectual elitists, atheists, perverts, and garden variety rascals and mischief makers -- that our nation could never have survived and prospered without the strong faith most professed in the sustaining power and abundant Love of the holy Spirit.

    In my strong opinion it is never what people SAY that matters, but much more about what they DO.

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  8. Hi, Les,

    I believe it is a good idea to read aloud to children long before they reach what-we-call the Age of Reason. It's what we're exposed to from infancy through toddlerhood that influences us most -- or so I have read.

    I'm certainly no paragon, but I will be grateful to my dying day for the love my parents showed me by reading to me from the dawn of consciousness. They also read aloud to each other in the evening often by the fire in cold weather, and let me listen.

    I think they were gifted, because I remember these occasions as spellbinding, even though I probably hadn't much understanding of what it was all about.

    At any rate, I learned to read, myself, by age four, but still enjoyed having my parents read me "bedtime stories."

    Some of the books -- particularly Andersen's Fairy Tales -- were read over and over again.

    Wonderful!

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    Replies
    1. My lovely, and uncommenly gifted wife (she's the smart one) reads out loud to our 5 year old grandson when he stays the weekend, which is often. Unfortunately our granddaughter lives 2000 miles away so the relationship is not the same, much to our chagrin.

      But, to the point. You are right, in so long as the child is allowed to develop their own independence of thought early on.

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  9. My highest-achieving homeschool students were read to regularly as children -- and even well into adolescence.

    It should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with me here in the blogosphere that my parents read regularly to me as a child. AND every single day that I was living at home with my parents, I saw them reading, reading, reading.

    Now that I am the age that I am, I don't have somebody to read to me. However, I do listen regularly to audio books, some of them classics from my childhood. A good book read by a good reader is a joy and one of the wonders of the Information Age!

    I rarely buy audio books as they are available at my local public library.

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  10. It's one of my favorite books, too, AOW. I read it aloud to my daughter when she was younger.

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  11. Orchard House in summer looks rather austere, doesn't it? Almost forbidding.

    Perhaps a strange setting for such heartwarming tales of affectionate family life?

    I read that Orchard House is really a "marriage" of two eighteenth-century dwellings already on the property when Bronson Alcott bought the place. The smaller of the two houses was moved and attached to the larger of the two.

    I wonder if the illustrations, which are really still shots taken from the latest movie version, are authentic? Little Women is such a VICTORIAN tale, and it is set during the Civil War.

    The two earlier movie versions showed interiors more characteristic of the 1860's. The stills from the movie are very attractive, however, and certainly plausible. The Alcotts were hardly rich, and may actually have had furniture from the eighteenth century for all I know.

    Handmade pieces were made to last a lifetime. It was usually only "the rich" who could afford to be fashion conscious and change their furniture to be in tune with the latest trends.

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  12. FT,

    Orchard House in summer looks rather austere, doesn't it? Almost forbidding.


    But not in the winter with the softening snow.

    Austere by our definition probably wasn't austere by the definition of that word in the 19th Century.

    Perhaps that happiest days that Mr. AOW and I were lived in a two room cottage without a bathroom. It was indeed an ivy-covered cottage and very romantic.

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  13. DEFINITIONS of AUSTERE from FOUR DIFFERENT DICTIONARIES

    I

    Severe or stern in disposition or appearance; somber and grave: the austere figure of a Puritan minister.

    Strict or severe in discipline; ascetic: a desert nomad's austere life.

    Having no adornment or ornamentation; bare: an austere style.


    II

    stern or severe in attitude or manner   - “an austere schoolmaster”

    grave, sober, or serious   - “an austere expression”

    self-disciplined, abstemious, or ascetic   - “an austere life”

    severely simple or plain   - “an austere design”


    III

    
plain in style and without decorationThe church is large and austere.
Thesaurus entry for this meaning of austere
    


    
strict and serious in manner - "A silent silent woman, austere in manner, showed him around the small apartment.
"

    an austere way of living is simple and not very comfortable


    austerity: a severe reduction in government spending likely to produce unpleasant effects - severe budgetary constraints adopted by a household or any orgnization


    IV

    stern and cold in appearance or manner

    somber, grave an austere critic

    morally strict -  ascetic

    markedly simple or unadorned - an austere office - an austere style of writing

    giving little or no scope for pleasure - austere diets

    Miss Alcott's writing is anything but austere, isn't it?

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  14. There is nothing wrong with 
plain in style and without decoration as far as I'm concerned.

    Maybe I'm thinking this way right now because I need to de-junk my home office. I am suffocating in all this clutter!

    Perhaps Mrs. Alcott was a warmer person because she didn't place a lot of value on "luxuries." She clearly had other priorities! Could she have afforded "luxuries" and her other other priorities? Or perhaps she chose not to lay up treasure where it would be corrupted by moth or rust.

    Now, I do like my creature comforts and, yes, some luxuries as well. But I find that I value much more the family antiques than whatever else might be in style as luxuries. I like feeling connected to my ancestors, I suppose.

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  15. After having seen the panoramic views of the interior of Orchard House -- room by room, I can only say their warmth and lean, clean elegance bely the strangely unwelcoming -- almost haunted -- look of the brooding all-brown exterior.

    I just learned that Bronson Alcott kept his family wretchedly poor, because he didn't think going to work befitted a man of his background, temperament and rare, idealistic predilections.

    Needless to say, the Alcotts would have to be called "liberals" today. Louisa May is described as an early feminist, an abolitionist, and self-styled social reformer.

    The Alcott's lived on a small inheritance left to Mrs. Alcott, and later income derived from the sale of Louisa May's writing -- some of it written under a masculine pseudonym and rather "racy" in character. [Apparently the kind of gamesmanship and chicanery used to bring in profits we deplore today in commercial entertainment was well underway in the nineteenth-century!]

    Almost impossible to believe, but in 1857 -- after moving some 22 times -- Bronson Alcott purchased the ten and-a-half acres and two eighteenth-century buildings, which were later conjoined and remodeled to become Orchard House for the princely sum of $945.00.

    And they say we've made "progress!" HAH!

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