Which of the Little Women are you? Meg, Jo, Amy or Beth?
PUBLISHED: 16:18 31 August 2018
The first volume of Little Women was published 150 years ago. Lynne Mortimer looks back at the family tale that has captivated generations of young women with a quick re-cap and a fun quiz
Little Women was probably the most heavily female novel I read in my youth.
It is about the four daughters of the March family, their mother (Marmie), a tartar of a widowed aunt and assorted neighbours.
The father of the brood is away, working as a pastor to troops in the American Civil War.
It is not a feminist book but it is about women making their way in the world − and it was a very different world in 1868. For Victorian women it was, intellectually, pretty much corset-free.
The story - there were to be sequels − is loosely based on that of the author, Louisa May Alcott and her three sisters and it is a much admired American classic of the mid-19th century.
Meg and Jo March, the elder two daughters, have to work in order to support the family and Jo acts as companion and helpmate to great-aunt March, a wealthy widow living in a mansion, while Meg teaches.
Beth, a fragile child, stays at home and helps around the place and Amy is still at school.
They are each of a type. Meg is beautiful and traditional, Jo is a writer and a tomboy; Beth is a peacemaker and a pianist; Amy is an artist who longs to be a part of elegant society.
The man next door has a grandson, Laurie, who carries a torch for Jo but she considers him only a dear friend. There are romances for Meg, Jo and Amy but the outcomes are sometimes unpredictable.
It is possible to draw comparisons between Little Women and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice − both feature an all-daughter family. The Marches and the Bennets are both genteel but unmonied. Each family has a feisty daughter (Jo March/Elizabeth Bennet); a beautiful one with fine manners (Meg/Jane) and a socially ambitious one (Amy/Lydia).
But beyond the similarities, the books describe very different times. Regency England was redolent with snobbery and the ultimate goal was a good marriage while mid-19th century America was a country establishing its identity with all the opportunities and hardships of an emerging nation.
Here is a chance to determine which of the March sisters you are (men are welcome to take part).
1. You are going to a ball, how long will it take you to get ready?
(a) All those people... I might stay home and read a book
(b) My hair will take an absolute age. Ringlets are a constant worry
(c) About 10 minutes if I can staple up the hem of my best dress... ah, we didn’t have staples until 1877. In that case an hour because I shall have to sew the frock.
(d) 40 minutes as long as my sister doesn’t take my beautifully laundered gloves.
2. A much older man asks if he may call on you, what do you do?
(a) Ask Marmie what to do
(b) Say ‘No, thank you, you’re old enough to be my dad.’
(c)Explain that you are young and would not welcome such a move
(d) Accept his kind offer to call and suggest an afternoon spent pond-dipping (not the same as skinny-dipping)
3. What is your signature dish?
(a) toast and butter
(b) boeuf en daube avec pommes de terre dauphinois... anything French, actually
(c) Roast dinner/Thanksgiving supper
(d) beans and molasses - preferably round a camp fire
4. What do you want to do when you grow up? (Choose only one of the following)
(a) help the poor
(c) be a good wife and mother
(d) Be a successful author
5. How would you greet a member of the British Royal Family?
(a) I’d blush bright red and bolt
(b) curtsey and give a secret smile to the good-looking prince
(d) Nod my head and say ‘hi’ in a respectful, American manner
6. What do you like doing in your spare time?
(a) playing Chopin on the piano
(b) Curling my lovely hair
(d) Climbing trees
7. What is your favourite Bible story?
(a) The Good Samaritan
(b) The Queen of Sheba visits King Solomon
(c) The Nativity
(d) The plagues of Egypt
8. Who told you the facts of life?
(a) I don’t want to hear them, thank you
(b) Everyone at school
(c) My sister
(d) I looked them up in a medical book when I was 10
9. Who is the most important person in your life?
(a) My Marmie
(c) My husband (whoever that turns out to be)
(d) William Shakespeare
10. What have you done that you regret?
(a) I try to be good all the time but I sometimes have unkind thoughts
(b) Well, I did tell my sister she looked awful... but, honestly, she looked awful
(c) People who criticise me are right, I shouldn’t agree with everyone all the time
(d) Cussing in front of the pastor. Twice
Who are you? Mostly (a)s: You are sweet-natured Beth, who likes to help others - you are almost too good for this world. (b)s: You are sparky, materialistic Amy and, trust me, you will get nicer as you get older. (c)s: Meg: You are a bit twee. You need to find yourself... if indeed you are anywhere to be found. (d)s: Jo: You are fun to be with, accident prone and know your own mind. Beware of intellectual arrogance.