There are so many lovely covers to the book Little Women. Here’s one, though not the copy I am reading, an image of which I cannot find online. Today I learned (or re-learned, if I once knew it) that May Alcott, Louisa’s little sister, illustrated the first edition. May was the real Amy. Her name was Abigail May Alcott, and, Wikipedia tells me, she was known as Abba or Abby until she chose to be known as May, and that’s how she is listed on this title page of the first edition, with her illustration opposite. So “Amy” is not just an anagram of “May” but echoes the two nicknames!
I loved this article about the real Amy—“What Greta Gerwig Got Right: Rethinking Amy March in Light of May Alcott Nieriker,” by Kelly Blewett in the Los Angeles Review of Books—re-seeing her in light of Greta Gerwig’s movie adaptation as well as a new book by Jane Smiley, The March Sisters: On Life, Death, and Little Women. Both authors recognize May Alcott as a modern woman and a feminist of her own times.
Clearly, a lot of us are re-reading and re-thinking Little Women right now. I am turning to it as a kind of “comfort food” during this time of crisis. Imagine my astonishment at discovering May Alcott’s illustration of Beth greeting her father on his return—wearing his scarf like a coronavirus mask!
And there are various other surprises, among them the number of nicknames. I had remembered Topsy-Turvy Jo, and, for Theodore Laurence, the boy next door, Laurie, of course, and Teddy, but I had forgotten Toodles as one of his nicknames!
A somewhat unnerving surprise was the common use of the word “trump” in a slang sense, with the entirely positive connotation it has from cards, where the trump beats everything! “Three cheers for dear Father! Brooke was a trump to telegraph right off, and let us know he was better.”
We live in a topsy-turvy world right now, changed forever. When we come through this hard time, and I hope we will, let it be for the better. I know we’ve been made vulnerable by the current president, a “trump” with entirely negative connotations, who must be voted out, my dears, so let us be strong and kind and do what needs to be done. There! That shows the influence of listening to Marmee and spending time with some admirable “little women.”