07 October 2010


Character Connection 15

Read about Victor Frankenstein and other great characters
this week at The Introverted Reader!

If I were a decent Horror blogger, October would be all about what I call Scary Stuff. But the seasons of my reading life don't always correspond to the themes of the rest of the world, and now I find that I have one more governess to get off my chest.

(Once you start looking for them, you see them everywhere . . .)

Meg March
Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott

[Meg] found a place as nursery governess and felt rich with her small salary. As she said, she was "fond of luxury," and her chief trouble was poverty. She found it harder to bear than the others because she could remember a time when home was beautiful, life full of ease and pleasure, and want of any kind unknown. She tried not to be envious or discontented, but it was very natural that the young girl should long for pretty things, gay friends, accomplishments, and a happy life. At the Kings' she daily saw all she wanted, for the children's older sisters were just out, and Meg caught frequent glimpses of dainty ball dresses and bouquets, heard lively gossip about theaters, concerts, sleighing parties, and merrymakings of all kinds, and saw money lavished on trifles which would have been so precious to her. Poor Meg seldom complained, but a sense of injustice made her feel bitter toward everyone sometimes . . .

Yes, that's right: Meg March is a governess! But since Little Women is not a governess novel, well, we don't hear much about her work with the King family. Which is kind of funny when you consider that Alcott introduced all the March girls' jobs with a preachy line about "energy, industry, and independence . . . with hearty goodwill"--and kind of fishy when you look at the full treatment of Meg's character.

Her character-defining first line is, "It's so dreadful to be poor!" and her character-testing moment comes at a rich friend's party, which Alcott dubs "Vanity Fair". A sophisticated older girl takes quite a fancy to Meg's freshness and decides to play fairy godmother for the night: so she gives our girl a silk dress, a silver fan and some diamond jewelry, curls her hair, and instructs her to enjoy her magical night as Cinderella.

But Alcott is being a real proto-feminist here and has no patience with Cinderella. Instead of writing in a handsome prince for the oldest March girl, she makes it clear that the wealthy would-be suitor is an amazing bore--and makes sure that good friend and next-door neighbour Laurie, who is rich himself and presumably used to fashionable girls, is scandalised at the "fuss and feathers" of Meg's new look. It is a pointed (maybe too obvious) lesson that luxury does not always bring happiness--and that sometimes all it brings is head splitting hangovers.

In short, "all that glitters is not gold"--and Alcott throws in the corollary that a girl who tries to attract a man with some gold by glittering in a gorgeous dress is doubly shallow. It's a fine message, yes, but as far as Meg is concerned, it is the only message.

For all Alcott's insistence that girls should be more than pretty faces to grace even a good man's home, she doesn't have the imagination to take Meg's story beyond this preachy level. The same boy who prefers Meg's wholesome and modest look tells her directly that the key to her "castle in the air" is in her face; and by the time Part 1 is ended, Meg is on her way to domestic bliss in a cottage dubbed, without any irony, the Dovecote.

It doesn't get any better in Part 2.

Louisa May Alcott gave us one of the most unforgettable girl heroines in literature with Jo March, but she certainly dropped the ball with Jo's older sister Meg.

Image Source: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott


Sullivan McPig said...

I must confess I can't even remember Meg. Time for a reread. Maybe I should get myself 'Little Women and Werewolves' or 'Little Vampire Women' to spice it all up ;-)

Salome Ellen said...

I liked Meg OK, but I found her boring. I don't think Alcott developed her very well as a character. She was like one of those mountains painted on a screen in the background of a movie shot.

vvb32 reads said...

Too bad. I'll stick with Little Women then and our gal Jo! And I plan on reading Little Women and the Werewolves like the McPig.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sully: I had heard of Little Vampire Women but not Little Women and Werewolves. And since I can't stand vampires at the moment, but love werewolves . . .

As for the original Meg, she is pretty colourless. During my quick scan of Little Women, I realised just how flat and uninspiring she really is, and I felt a little sad. I think Alcott sacrificed character development for the sake of a very narrow moral.

Ellen: Of all the sisters, Meg must be the most boring--and I think it's because she is the least like Alcott herself and Alcott didn't know what to do with her except to "marry her off." =S

vvb32: Jo is the heart of the whole novel--and indeed, the whole series!

Now I'm really going to keep an eye open for Little Women and the Werewolves! =P

Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. =)

antiaphrodite said...

I like Jo, but I get the feeling that all the other March sisters are stereotypes set up to flatter the Ideal Woman As Personified By Josephine March. It gets tiring sometimes.

pennyyak said...

I made a longish comment, and then received an error message. Don't you hate that?

The only part I want to repeat is that your website looks different - it wasn't orange colored previously, was it?


Enbrethiliel said...


Antiaphrodite: You know, that makes sense.

Yesterday I remarked to Vvb32 that Jo is the heart of the novel. Now I wonder whether the more appropriate word is ego.

(Which is not such a bad thing--she hastens to reassure the Alcott fans--because Tyra Banks is definitely the ego of the ever-entertaining America's Next Top Model, and she works it out well, doesn't she? . . . And now she runs for her life, pursued by furious, feministic Alcott fans)

Penny: You're back!!! =D I've missed you!

Well, this blog used to be purple with yellow-orange text and lime green links. Christopher still misses the old palette.

And yes, I hate that error message, too. =( I've started copying long comments before hitting "Publish," in case they get lost.

IntrovertedJen said...

I confess that I never finished Little Women. I was young when I tried to read it and I'm pretty sure I put it down after


Beth died. Not my thing there. I did pick up a used copy at a library sale recently and I do intend to try it again. Someday.

I did love Little Men though! I thought they were more entertaining than the girls!

twowaysofrenouncingthedevil said...

I always took Meg as the straightman/canvas/beige background sort of thing. I thought she kind of had to be plain -- she seemed plain instead of boring -- to let the others have their colors?
But I did read it when I was a kid and I think the vanity went over my head. I thought Amy was the vain one. . .

CMinor said...

BETH DIED???!!!!!

(Just kidding.)
Good night, I thought Sully was inventing some clever mashup titles just to be funny--until everybody else jumped in! Not one, but two Little Women horror parodies? I may start hanging garlic braids on my bookshelves!

Enbrethiliel said...


Jen: I actually read Little Men first and for years it was my undisputed favourite of the "March family" novels. I think it was the mixed group of children (ten boys and three girls) and the fact that they were closer in age to me. I wanted to go live in Plumfield!

It was only when I got older and more *critical* that I started appreciating Little Women as well. Which is kind of funny because the more critical I allow myself to be towards it (as I have been in this post), the less I like it, too! =S

Marie: You know, that's what I was thinking when I was drafting this post. If Alcott had made an amalgam of Meg and Amy, she would have had an amazing character. I never understood why it was wrong for Meg to long for luxury (considering the implication that she had been brought up with it) and even consider marrying her rich suitor (who is bad because Alcott tells us, but never shows us), but totally okay for Amy.

CMinor: LOL! I just entered a giveaway for Tom Sawyer and Zombies. =P

No classic is safe!!!

Enbrethiliel said...


Erratum: The title is actually Tom Sawyer and the Undead. =P And I don't think I won that giveaway . . . =(

CMinor said...

Well, take heart--it looks like P&P&Z is going used on Amazon for under $2 and S&S&SM can be had for $0.98. Give Tom and the Undead until after Christmas and you'll probably be able to get them for a song!

(I've been keeping my eyes on the clearance boxes outside my local Borders for P&P&Z!)