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 . . .)
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