Marmee’s Memories – Inspired by Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women: Part 1

Agnes Meadows
Agnes Meadows
8 Min Read

The March family matriarch walks through memories of her four daughters – Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy – in her own words.

Sitting alone beside the fir on this cool, Spring afternoon, the book I’ve finished reading laying on the floor beside me, my mind slips away to my beloved daughters, and I wonder what they’re doing to fill their day.

Given that their father and I have always treated them equally, I have often wondered why the four girls grew to be so different in both character and temperament. There is only five years between them, Meg being the first born, with Jo coming a couple of years later, Beth a year after that, and Amy following two years later. God didn’t see fit to send me any more children, for which I was enormously grateful. Four was more than enough, besides it would have been impossible to stretch our limited resources any further.

Some would have called us poor, but I prefer to say we lived in genteel poverty; there had always been enough to feed and clothe us, sufficient to cover our living expenses, while our needs were modest because they had to be. As I often explained to the girls, it was more important to be honourable, truthful, and generous of spirit than to be wealthy, although it was sometimes a struggle to remember those qualities when life dealt us hard blows.

For me and my darling husband, equality of all people, regardless of colour, riches, or background has always been paramount, an ideal we instilled in the girls from the outset and which they wholeheartedly embrace to this day.

My life is a simple one; the girls keep me busy with their constant demands, and I also spend a lot of time visiting the sick and needy in the community – there are many folks in our Massachusetts town of Concord who are much poorer than me, and I try to help them whenever I can. My darling husband had been involved in the Civil War, so I also spent some of my time sewing Union Army uniforms, my way of supporting him in the only way I knew how.  He is a quiet and studious man who devoted his time in looking after his parish and making sure he provided for his family. He is the bedrock of our family, and we missed his stalwart presence when the War took him away from us.

Because the sisters are so different, it is impossible for us to have a favourite. We love them all equally, and know they love each other too, although that love didn’t always shine through when they had their petty squabbles.  Unless they asked for it, I seldom offered them advice, although they frequently came to me when they argued, knowing I would help them resolve whatever problems disturbed the tranquillity of their lives. 

Their arguments often made me laugh as they were so juvenile, even after they became adult women. Yet despite how much hard work my quartet of daughters has been, every day with them, quirks and all, always filled me with unutterable joy.

Our first-born Meg is a sweet-natured girl who tries her best to maintain a demure and ladylike persona, so she can be an example to her sisters. She’s a beautiful girl, plump and fair skinned, with an abundance of soft brown hair, and smooth white hands of which she is inordinately proud.  Her only real flaw is vanity; when she was younger, she yearned for luxury and beautiful things, like the pretty gowns and bonnets of her fashionable, wealthy friends.

Meg has always been a romantic at heart. She yearned for the love of a good (preferably rich) man, who would sweep her off her feet and give her the life she wished for. So, when John Brooke, tutor to Laurie, the grandson of our extremely wealthy neighbour Mr Laurence, began to pay her attention, she quickly opened her heart, blossoming under his romantic gaze. It didn’t take long for them to fall in love, despite John Brooke’s modest means. I was happy with their relationship, and even happier when they married and set up home nearby. They have a wonderful marriage and are the parents to three delightful children.

Who would have thought that the two-year age difference between Meg and Jo would make them such different people. Where Meg was only ever a lady, from her youngest days Jo had always acted like a spirited tomboy, telling anyone who would listen that she should have been born a boy. There wasn’t the slightest element of modesty or ladylike behaviour in her ways.  She had always been frank and down-to-earth, with a quick temper, although as the years have passed, she has become much less impulsive. She is not pretty or plump like Meg. Instead, she is tall and thin, with piercing grey eyes and brown hair reaching almost to her waist in a luxurious cascade.

For many years she was companion to our late Aunt March, a moneyed relative who made Jo’s life miserable with her disapproving ways. Jo found Aunt March’s tight-lipped attitude hard to bear, as she longed to be doing something a lot less stultifying than reading the bible to an elderly relative every day. But she suffered in silence, hoping that Aunt March would eventually take her to Europe the next time she made a trip there. Sadly, it wasn’t Jo Aunt March took with her on her travels, although when the old woman died, she left her huge mansion to Jo, which she turned into a boarding school for boys after she married.

Jo also spent her free time writing short stories and articles for local periodicals, and what little money she earned from her scribblings helped the family remain solvent, as well as bringing us the occasional luxury for which we were all grateful. Her writing brought Jo a degree of fame, especially after she had completed the novel of a fictional band of sisters and their exploits.

To be continued….

Click on the covers of these books by author Louisa M. Alcott, who also wrote under the name A.M Barnard.

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Agnes Meadows is a London based journalist and award-winning poet. She has toured nationally and internationally giving readings, workshops, and residencies and has guest edited the Spring-Summer 2020 edition of the Atlanta Review, one of the world’s leading journals of poetry. Agnes recently completed her first novel which will be published soon.