by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women Literature and Writing Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
I don't know whether the study of Shakespeare helped her to read character, or the natural instinct of a woman for what was honest, brave, and strong, but while endowing her imaginary heroes with every perfection under the sun, Jo was discovering a live hero, who interested her in spite of many human imperfections. Mr. Bhaer, in one of their conversations, had advised her to study simple, true, and lovely characters, wherever she found them, as good training for a writer. Jo took him at his word, for she coolly turned round and studied him – a proceeding which would have much surprised him, had he known it, for the worthy Professor was very humble in his own conceit. (34.36)
In this novel, the insights that you can get from reading great literature are the same kind of insights that come from "the natural instinct of a woman." While this doesn't necessarily hold true because of the stereotype involved, it's interesting to think about the fact that Alcott sees literacy and femininity as connected, or similar.
Jo wrote no more sensational stories, deciding that the money did not pay for her share of the sensation, but going to the other extreme, as is the way with people of her stamp, she took a course of Mrs. Sherwood, Miss Edgeworth, and Hannah More, and then produced a tale which might have been more properly called an essay or a sermon, so intensely moral was it. She had her doubts about it from the beginning, for her lively fancy and girlish romance felt as ill at ease in the new style as she would have done masquerading in the stiff and cumbrous costume of the last century. She sent this didactic gem to several markets, but it found no purchaser, and she was inclined to agree with Mr. Dashwood that morals didn't sell. (34.71)
At first, Jo thinks that her stories will be better as long as they are "didactic" – that is, as long as they teach lessons to the readers, like Aesop's fables. Mary Martha Sherwood, Maria Edgeworth, and Hannah More were very well-known female authors from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries who wrote didactic stories for children. But as Jo realizes, stories of this kind are, well, boring. Nobody wants to read them anymore. She'll have to find a different kind of truth to put into her stories if she wants them to sell and to be morally upright.
"I don't understand it. What can there be in a simple little story like that to make people praise it so?" she said, quite bewildered.
"There is truth in it, Jo, that's the secret. Humor and pathos make it alive, and you have found your style at last. You wrote with no thoughts of fame and money, and put your heart into it, my daughter. You have had the bitter, now comes the sweet. Do your best, and grow as happy as we are in your success." (42.21-22)
At last, Jo is able to come to the right mixture of morality and sensation. It's called realism.