Why Jo Didn't Marry Laurie: Louisa May Alcott and the Heir of Redclyffe(1)

By Sands-O'Connor, Karen | ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly), March 2001 | Go to article overview

Why Jo Didn't Marry Laurie: Louisa May Alcott and the Heir of Redclyffe(1)


Sands-O'Connor, Karen, ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly)


I enjoy romancing to suit myself ... I hope it is good drill for fancy and language, for I can do it fast, and Mr. [Frank] L[eslie] says my tales are so `dramatic, vivid, and full of plot,' they are just what he wants.

(Louisa May Alcott, Journals 109).

Louisa May Alcott is now well-known for "romancing" in the blood-and-thunder thrillers that she wrote before the monetary success of Little Women (1868) made such work unnecessary. Her ability to plot and vividly dramatize so quickly was certainly aided by her voracious reading throughout her life; Madeleine Stem suggests that Alcott worked deftly to "combine threads of her own experience with the threads of the books she had read and interweave them into a fabric of her own creating" (The Hidden Louisa xiv-xv). But even critics who discuss at length Alcott's credit to previous literature in her thrillers fall silent when it comes to Alcott's best-known work, Little Women. Many seem to take Alcott at her word that she and her sisters had "really lived most of it" (Journals 166), even though this was a comment made about the first half of the novel only. In the second half of the novel, Alcott wrote that, "I can launch into the future, my fancy has more play" (Journals 167). In fact, her fancy had considerable play in both halves of the novel, particularly where the hero of the story, Laurie Laurence, was concerned; and as with her thrillers, Alcott turned to the novels she had read as a source for her imagination. One of these novels was Charlotte Mary Yonge's The Heir of Redclyffe (1853).

Almost everyone who has read Louisa May Alcott's Little Women can remember the scene, early in the book, where Meg finds Jo "eating apples and crying over the `Heir of Redclyffe,' wrapped up in a comforter on an old three-legged sofa" in the garret (29). Jo's penchant for novels, and apples, and garrets is part of what made Alcott's character vividly alive to so many generations of readers, many of whom could empathize with the ability to become involved in the lives of "book-people." But the characters in Charlotte Mary Yonge's The Heir of Redclyffe were not just any book-people, and Alcott's choice for Jo's reading had great significance. The title character of Yonge's book, Sir Guy Morville, is a handsome, young, wealthy, idealized hero who befriends a family with four children, eventually marrying the daughter who is popularly referred to as "silly little Amy" (HOR 13). Jo, in Alcott's book, is found reading Sir Guy's story at the beginning of the chapter titled "The Laurence Boy." This is only the first of many links between Sir Guy and Theodore (Laurie) Laurence, Jo's handsome, young, wealthy next-door neighbor; Alcott's Laurie could have been an American relative of Sir Guy. The parallels are crucial, as Alcott's choice of role-model ultimately results in one of the most memorable rejections in all of children's literature: Jo refuses Laurie's proposal of marriage, throwing him into the arms of the only remaining March sister--silly little Amy.

This theory is, of course, a radical viewpoint that Alcott's own writings reject. In fact, in 1868 she devoted a whole essay (titled variously "My Polish Boy" in The Youth's Companion and "My Boys" in Aunt Jo's Scrap-bag) to the subject of Ladislas Wisniewski, a young Polish man she had met abroad. The essay ends with the words, "Laddie was the original of Laurie, as far as a pale pen-and-ink sketch could embody a living, loving boy" ("My Boys" 342). A couple of months later, Alcott added in a letter to Alfred Whitman, "I put you into my story as one of the best & dearest lads I ever knew! `Laurie' is you & my Polish boy `jintly'" (Letters of LMA 120). Most of the critics have since taken Alcott's words at face value(2) although Sheryl Englund warns against "an unquestioned focus on Alcott's historical identity and its relationship to her writing" ("Reading the Author" 202); and Ann Douglas, in her 1980 "Introduction" to the reissue of Ednah D. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Why Jo Didn't Marry Laurie: Louisa May Alcott and the Heir of Redclyffe(1)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.