10 Writers Who Were Inspired by Jo March of Little Women
Jo March, the standout character of the quartet of sisters Little Women, is one of the most iconic and influential female characters in literature. Tomboyish and ambitious, with a bit of a temper, she was an idealized alter ego of her creator, Louisa May Alcott. At right, Jo portrayed by Winona Ryder in the 1994 film version of Little Women.
Jo longed to be a writer most of all, and to find that happy medium between achieving independence and finding love. What’s unique and wondrous is that the fictional character of Jo March influenced generations of women writers and feminists, more so even than the real-life author who wrote her into existence. Here are 10 women writers who were inspired by Jo March. Certainly, there are countless others — maybe even you!
Simone de Beauvoir
The French feminist, novelist, and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir wrote in 1958 that she saw in Jo March “a glimpse of my future self … I identified myself passionately with Jo, the intellectual. Brusque and bony, Jo clambered up into trees when she wanted to read; she was much more tomboyish and daring than I was, but I shared her horror of sewing and housekeeping and her love of books.”
Barbara Kingsolver, the acclaimed author of fiction and nonfiction, was all in on Jo, writing in 1995: “I, personally am Jo March, and if her author Louisa May Alcott had a whole new life to live for the sole pursuit of talking me out of it, she could not.”
Ursula K. Le Guin
The multi-award-winning science fiction and fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in 1988: “From the immediacy, the authority, with which Frank Merrill’s familiar illustrations of Little Women came to my mind as soon as I asked myself what a woman writing looks like, I know that Jo March must have had real influence upon me when I was a young scribbler. I am sure she has influenced many girls, for she is not like most ‘real’ authors, either dead or inaccessibly famous; nor, like many artists in books, is she set apart by sensitivity or suffering or general superlativity; nor is she, like most authors in novels, male. She is close as a sister and common as grass.”
Poet Gail Mazur wrote: “Jo has given generations of readers like … me permission to try to become who we wished. She has helped us to recognize — and to live with, knowing we’re not alone — the conflict between the writer’s need for solitude and self-absorption and the yearning for the warmth of love.
Fiction writer and essayist Cynthia Ozick wrote in a 1982 essay on how she became a writer, “I read Little Women a thousand times. Ten thousand. I am no longer incognito, not even myself. I am Jo in her ‘vortex’; not Jo exactly but some Jo-of-the-future. I am under an enchantment: Who I truly am must be deferred, waited for and waited for.”
The Street by Ann Petry was the first novel by an African-American author to sell more than a million copies. She took much inspiration from Jo: “I couldn’t stop reading because I had encountered Jo March. I felt as though I was part of Jo and she was part of me. I too, was a tomboy and a misfit and kept a secret diary … She said things like ‘I wish I was a horse, then I could run for miles in the splendid air and not lose my breath.’ I found myself wishing the same thing whenever I ran for the sheer joy of running. She was a would-be writer and so was I.”
Former New York Times columnist and prolific novelist Anna Quindlen wrote in 1994, “Little Women changed my life.” And when asked about who her childhood idol was, she responded “Jo March … she wanted to be a writer, she became a writer. She stopped caring that she wasn’t pretty. She sold her hair to send her mother to visit their father during the Civil War. I even forgave her for not marrying Laurie.”
J.K. Rowling, who made contemporary publishing history with the Harry Potter series, starts some interviews with, “Call me Jo.” And while that’s the diminutive of her name, Joanne, it’s not totally random that it’s what she prefers to be called. She wrote: “My favorite literary heroine is Jo March. It is hard to overstate what she meant to a small, plain girl called Jo, who had a hot temper and a burning ambition to be a writer.” Follow this link to more about Rowling’s affinity with Jo March.
Prolific poet and activist Sonia Sanchez, who herself has been an inspiration to countless African-American female poets, felt a kinship with Jo: “I understood what it was like being an outsider … I didn’t identify with Beth and all the others … They were too formal, and they were women you expected them to be, but Jo broke the mold.”
When asked what book first inspired her to become a writer, poet, memoirist, and punk goddess Patti Smith responds with some variation of: “It was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. One of the main characters, Jo March, is a headstrong tomboyish writer. I identified with her at a very young age, and was inspired that she wrote. It made me feel like that was something I could also do, to merge imagination and energy within the written word. From then on I have always written. Even if only a few lines a day.”
Here’s a passage from Little Women about how Jo got into the zone, so to speak, when she was in a frenzy of writing. What writer wouldn’t give all to join her in that “vortex”?
Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suite, and “fall into a vortex,” as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace …
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.
Winona Ryder portraying Jo March in the 1994 movie version of Little Women
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