Thursday, December 1, 2016

Into the Writing Vortex with Jo March & Louisa May Alcott, 1869

Thursday, December 1, 2016
Isabella reporting,

As Loretta and I have mentioned here before, we are each furiously racing towards our separate book deadlines. We commiserate with one another long distance (she's in Massachusetts, and I'm in Pennsylvania), but for the most part we're so deep in the writing morass that we're not very sociable.

We're not alone in this, of course. Yes, writers write, but there is also much wailing and gnashing of teeth. That's why I love this particular passage from Little Women, the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott. First published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, Little Women features the March sisters, four young women who remain among the most memorable female characters in American literature. Jo aspires to be a writer, and because Alcott based Jo loosely upon herself, Jo's writing process has the ring of truth to it. So does the illustration, left, from the first edition. Substitute old sweats for Jo's "scribbling suit" and a laptop for her pen, and you have a pretty good idea of how things are going for Loretta and me this month.

"Every few weeks [Jo] would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and 'fall into a vortex', as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for til that was finished she could fine no peace. Her 'scribbling suit' consisted of a black woolen pinafore on which she could wipe her pen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with a cheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks were cleared for action. This cap was a beacon to the inquiring eyes of her family, who during these periods kept their distance, merely popping in their heads semi-occasionally to ask, with interest, Does genius burn, Jo? They did not always venture even to ask this question, but took an observation of the cap, and judged accordingly. If this expressive article of dress was drawn low upon her forehead, it was a sign that hard work was going on, in exciting moments it was pushed rakishly askew, and when despair seized the author it was plucked wholly off, and cast upon the floor. At such times the intruder silently withdrew, and not until the red bow was seen gaily erect upon the gifted brow, did anyone dare address Jo.

"She did not think herself a genius by any means, but when the writing fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon, and led a blissful life, unconscious of want, care, or bad weather, while she sat safe and happy in an imaginary world, full of friends almost as real and dear to her as any in the flesh. Sleep forsook her eyes, meals stood untasted, day and night were all too short to enjoy the happiness which blessed her only at such times, and made these hours worth living, even if they bore no other fruit. The divine afflatus usually lasted a week or two, and then she emerged from her 'vortex', hungry, sleepy, cross, or despondent."

Now back into the vortex....

Above: "Jo in a Vortex" from the 1869 first printing of Little Women, Part Second. Louisa May Alcott Collection, Hale Library Special Collections, Kansas State University.


jaceybedford said...

Yes, that sounds about right, especially the reaction of the family! Except, of course, it's every day not every few weeks. I guess Jo didn't have a publisher's deadline hanging over her head. :-)
Good luck with your deadlines. Mine is January. 70,000 words done, 60,000 - 70,000 words (approx.) to go.

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