On the other side of the kitchen door a dining room table was set for supper and a piano stood in the corner ready for someone to play. Later in the evening four sisters would wait in the parlor for people to attend their weekly open house. If the oblong pillow on the black sofa was vertical, then the second oldest sister would be in a mood to talk. Otherwise, it was better not to approach her. Listening to the guide as I stood in the parlor at Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, it was easy to imagine the lives of the four Alcott daughters that had inspired Louisa May Alcott to write Little Women. I was reliving scenes I had read as an eight-year old child who desperately wanted to follow in Jo March’s footsteps – getting up plays, going to the big city, and writing.
Over thirty years ago I first read the novel, and over twenty years ago I first entered Orchard House. Since then I’ve been exploring how stories, novels, places, and journeys come together. It is great fun to look back at favorite stories – and to follow in their paths when possible. Each time I’ve re-opened Little Women or re-entered Orchard House I have similar feelings of wanting to re-engage with my dreams – whether of writing, teaching, or just playing better. I leave the house or close the book, ready to begin.
These journeys have played a role in choices related to schools, graduate study, research, and even a renewed practice of writing. This blog can even be linked to it. Many other women tell stories of their connection with this story. It’s one of those books that people read expecting a merely a story about young girls. Something you can easily return to the shelf when finished. However, this book refuses to stay on the shelf.
Quotes like the following from Little Women keep me coming back.
“Why don’t you write? That always used to make you happy, said her mother once, when the desponding fit overshadowed Jo.
I’ve no heart to write, and if I had, nobody cares for my things.
We do. Write something for us, and never mind the rest of the world. Try, dear, I’m sure it would do you good, and please us very much.”
These and similar quotes provide for me a renewed imagination of what life can be. Writing does make me happy when other things seem to be crashing in on life – but maybe for others it’s painting or building or teaching. Whatever it is, being able to do it within a community – whether of family or a writing group – is a true gift and an opportunity for transformation.
Now I have an opportunity to share some of my ideas about the novel, the place, and pilgrimage with another audience – a small group who will hear me read a paper at a literature conference. I wonder how this ‘little’ paper will be received in the midst of what I perceive as cutting edge literary work. But does it even matter? More importantly I would like my writing to be a conduit for people to find this or other stories and places that draw them to live more fully.