Jo March’s Writing Career

I mentioned in an earlier post that I recently purchased a lot of old newspapers and magazines. I know some people like to rip old newspapers apart in order to frame their advertisements, but I collect magazines and newspapers for the articles and stories.

A lovely wood-cut illustration from Gleasons’ Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion.

Somehow, mixed in with the newspaper issues I purchased, the seller had added a few issues of a periodical called Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, all of which were dated in the 1850s.

I never heard of the magazine before. Flipping through the pages, I saw they were filled with poems, song lyrics, bits of news stories, brief biographies, and histories of all sorts.

But the best things were the stories. They have titles like:

The Pirate’s Dungeon

Rodolpho: The Mystery of Venice

The Clergyman’s Love

Conrado de Beltran: The Buccaneer of the Gulf. A Romantic story of the Sea and Shore

As soon as I saw the titles I thought immediately of Josephine March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Perhaps you’ve read Little Women, too.

In particular, I was reminded of the latter part of the novel, when Jo went to work as a governess to the children of a family friend, Mrs. Kirke, at a boarding house in New York. While there, she cared for Mrs. Kirke’s children by day, but at night she wrote sensational stories for a newspaper called The Weekly Volcano.

Her first story was a “thrilling tale;” and when the newspaper’s editor bought it for the princely sum of “twenty-five to thirty,” Jo saw a way to make some good money. She “rashly took a plunge into the frothy sea of sensational literature” and produced story after story.

Soon Jo’s “emaciated purse grew stout, and the little hoard she was making to take [her sister] Beth to the mountains next summer grew slowly but surely as the weeks passed.”

When I was young, the March sisters—Jo, in particular—were my favorite literary characters. But as I flipped through the pages of the old magazines I received, and saw the story titles, I realized it’s been decades since I last read Little Women.

In fact, my last read was so long ago, when I sat down to write this blog post, I couldn’t remember the titles of any of Jo’s sensational stories—or even if the titles were ever mentioned in the novel!

So, of course, there was only one way I could think of to answer that question: I had to drop everything and re-read Little Women to refresh my memory.

The Frontispiece from my poor battered, often-read copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Hours later, I’m still reading, unable to lay Little Women aside. I’d forgotten how well written and entertaining the novel is, and how much I care about Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy; and even Aunt March, Marmee, and Laurie. The last few hours of reading have reminded me of all the reasons I loved Little Women when I was young—and all the reasons this charming, entertaining novel deserves to be read much more often than once every twenty-plus years!

So, thank you to the book seller who tucked a few issues of Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion into my recent order. You have given me many more hours of pleasure than I anticipated.

How about you? Is there a book you loved in your younger years that deserves a re-read?

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