Throughout my childhood, I was always the Jo March of my family. Success was my goal, writing was my one true love, and I could never quite comprehend the idea of an ‘ordinary’ existence. The thought of normality was abhorrent to me; growing up I dreamed of riches and reputation, which would obviously be granted through a prestigious authorial career. It is almost too easy to be so aspirational at such a young age since we are frequently taught that ‘the world is our oyster’. However, as the ageing process continues to churn out one birthday after the next, you slowly begin to develop a clearer view of future limitations as they situate themselves on your horizon.
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868) treats us with the perfect balance between the nostalgia of innocent dreaming and the reality of facing practical barriers against success. Jo’s flamboyant dreams of published authorship appeared reasonably feasible in her youth, as I can relate to all too well. However, as she travels to New York to become a governess, her idealised hopes for the future seem to dwindle under the complexities of surviving a mundane routine. I cannot claim to share Jo’s whole life experience. Unfortunately, I have not been a governess, nor have I ever travelled to New York. But I can understand the downheartedness that comes with realising that your fantastical, imagined lifestyle most likely will not become your reality.
As I said, the concept of having an ordinary life was intimidating to me. I had to avoid it at all costs. Throughout the first decade of my life, becoming an author was my heart’s true desire. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on, the weekly trip to the library with my Nana and Grandad was an utter treat. I wrote a multitude of books on their computer, many of which my Nana embarrassingly has saved until this day. Literature was something that I was raised to adore, but as the years passed I realised that a life spent in books would be a life without much money.
At the age of fourteen, I cast aside Jo March and embraced my inner Amy. I outgrew my childish naivety and began to perceive the world as an economic ladder. Scepticism took over and I realised that in order to take home a sufficient pay check, I would need to seek out a new interest. There came my obsession with the law. The majority of my teenage years were filled with an intense infatuation with lawyers, courts, judges; a career that I knew had the potential for social mobility and, along with it, an impressive income. The years passed and I collected work experience in legal centres, attended online courses, and began my law A-Level course all in definite preparation to apply to Cambridge (controversial, I know!).
With all this legal knowledge and experience, I sat down to write my personal statement.
I had absolutely nothing to say.
My inner Jo March was screaming at me not to go with my head over my heart. I knew law was not my passion, but it had the reputation and could provide the riches, so surely it was my clear path. I thought it over for weeks, going backwards and forwards between the sensible, rational voice of adult Amy March and the authentic, creative voice of Jo. I finally settled on the latter. Now, here I am, studying English Literature and Language at Oxford.
The prospect of an ordinary life doesn’t frighten me anymore. I often find the words of Meg March coming to mind in times of difficulty, and they reassure me that I am on a path that is right for myself in my current moment. “Just because my dreams are different than yours, doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.”
This quotation is less about being compared to others, but rather to remind myself that my outlandish dreams of authorship or my money-driven aspirations of a legal career should not label my current state as a failure. I no longer crave to have my name in literary lights, and although it would be wonderful to be flourishingly rich, I have come to appreciate the little things in life.
If Little Women has taught me anything, it is that female bonds are unmatched and essentially unbreakable. Having a close relationship with my younger sister and the most incredible best friends is infinitely more important than my naive, unfulfilled achievements. I no longer crave a frantic, girlboss lifestyle; I am perfectly content with a calm existence in which I have the time to metaphorically smell the roses, and most importantly, have a cup of tea.
I still share the same creativity and inclination for knowledge that is so praisable in Jo March, but now the concept of settling down to a steady existence feels inviting rather than restricting. I like to remind myself that my passion is still somewhere within me; it is not altogether lost, I can return to it later on if I so wish. Now I try to embrace life at a slower pace, and I condemn every time I ever mentally reprimanded Meg for her direct path into mothering, or felt frustration at Beth’s lack of upcoming goals. I understand their attitudes to life, and what’s more, I often find myself sharing them.
Louisa May Alcott may be my favourite literary icon of all time. I will always appreciate her determination to write and publish Little Women. Not only is it a classic, I believe it has shaped so many lives to this day. Alcott has presented us with the rare beauty of feminine growth that is so hard to capture within a singular novel. We see the excellence of innovation through Jo, the intricacies of societal understanding through Amy, the natural reward of a domesticated lifestyle through Meg, and the importance of treasuring every living second through Beth. I try to take aspects from each of the four sisters when encountering challenging situations, and usually find that a balance of each helps me reach the best outcome.
Mainly, I adore Little Women because it has reminded me to look for the beauty in the ordinary. As long as I have an interest that I am passionate about and close relationships with those that I adore, I really am quite content with a simple existence.