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Review: "Jo's Boys" by Louisa May Alcott

Jo's Boys may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog. Cover art is by Janice Tarver, for sale at Etsy.

While I was reading Jo’s Boys I happened upon a review of the recently-published Fruitlands by Richard Francis—an historical perspective on a Utopian community established by Louisa May Alcott's father, Bronson Alcott. The community was founded in 1843, and author Francis suggests that its failure in seven months came about in part by Alcott’s (and his partner, Charles Lane’s) “tendency to take moderation to excess.” The idealistic members of the community agreed to follow a vegan diet, use nothing that came from animals such as tallow candles or even manure, to consume no caffeine or alcohol, to use nothing produced by slave labor such as cotton or cane sugar, and to refrain from sex. Such an idealistic approach to living might be possible (if fairly miserable) today. Imagine trying to follow such rigid disciplines before there were electric lights, tractors and extensive knowledge of alternative fertilizers.

Louisa May Alcott's ideas were much less rigid than her father’s, but one can see in the reading a similar idealistic streak, especially when it comes to the empowerment of women, disdain for alcohol, and penance for sinners.

Jo’s Boys is a continuation of Little Men, following the main characters of the previous book into adulthood. Franz and Emil, Tommy Bangs, Dolly, Stuffy, Nat, Dan and Daisy appear, along with the almost-grown-up Bess, Josie, Rob and Teddy. Although Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom appear to be Miss Alcott’s primary platform for her philosophical leanings, one can see in Jo’s Boys a reflection upon saints and sinners and their respective fates. In the perspective of Jo’s Boys, one need not wait until the next world to reap the harvest of the “crops” one has sewn. Each “little man” (or woman) reaps rewards almost in exact proportion to how good, or even heroic, he has been, how well he has handled his money and other resources, and, if he has fallen in grace, how well he has redeemed himself.

If Little Men was a wonderful fantasy of childhood, Jo’s Boys is a lesson in the cold, hard realities of adulthood. The contrast between the two stories brings to mind the lines from the sad, nostalgic song “Babes in Toyland”:  “Little Girl and Boy Land; Once you pass its borders, you can ne’er return again.”


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