Tag Archives: Little women

Artists in Literature: Amy March from Little Women

4 Jun

Louise May Alcott’s coming of age novel “Little Women”, first published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, is a well-known and well-loved book, especially nowadays with many film versions and series being made. The novel follows the lives of four sisters, Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth, from their teenage years to their adult lives. The girls’ personal trials and growing pains are intertwined with the social hardships and tribulations that came with social events such as the Civil War. Amy March, the third sister, starts the novel as a vain, self-obsessed little girl occupied with all things of elegance and beauty, and as the story progresses Amy grows up to an elegant young lady who is still occupied with Venusian things but her obsession with personal beauty transcends into a love of Beauty in art and she eventually goes to study art in Paris with her aunt. The twenty-sixth chapter from the book called “The Artistic Attempts” deals with Amy’s growing pains of being an artist and I think it is very interesting because we rarely have artists as characters in a book.

“…mistaking enthusiasm for inspiration, she attempted every branch of art with youthful audacity.”

Amy March in Little Women (2017)

Here are the passages from the book:

It takes people a long time to learn the difference between talent and genius, especially ambitious young men and women. Amy was learning this distinction through much tribulation, for mistaking enthusiasm for inspiration, she attempted every branch of art with youthful audacity. For a long time there was a lull in the ‘mud-pie’ business, and she devoted herself to the finest pen-and-ink drawing, in which she showed such taste and skill that her graceful handiwork proved both pleasant and profitable. But over-strained eyes caused pen and ink to be laid aside for a bold attempt at poker-sketching. While this attack lasted, the family lived in constant fear of a conflagration, for the odor of burning wood pervaded the house at all hours, smoke issued from attic and shed with alarming frequency, red-hot pokers lay about promiscuously, and Hannah never went to bed without a pail of water and the dinner bell at her door in case of fire. Raphael’s face was found boldly executed on the underside of the moulding board, and Bacchus on the head of a beer barrel. A chanting cherub adorned the cover of the sugar bucket, and attempts to portray Romeo and Juliet supplied kindling for some time.

Winslow Homer, Incoming Tide, Scarboro, Maine, 1883, watercolour on paper

From fire to oil was a natural transition for burned fingers, and Amy fell to painting with undiminished ardor. An artist friend fitted her out with his castoff palettes, brushes, and colors, and she daubed away, producing pastoral and marine views such as were never seen on land or sea. Her monstrosities in the way of cattle would have taken prizes at an agricultural fair, and the perilous pitching of her vessels would have produced seasickness in the most nautical observer, if the utter disregard to all known rules of shipbuilding and rigging had not convulsed him with laughter at the first glance. Swarthy boys and dark-eyed Madonnas, staring at you from one corner of the studio, suggested Murillo; oily brown shadows of faces with a lurid streak in the wrong place, meant Rembrandt; buxom ladies and dropiscal infants, Rubens; and Turner appeared intempestsof blue thunder, orange lightning, brown rain, and purple clouds, with a tomato-colored splash in the middle, which might be the sun or a bouy, asailor’s shirt or a king’s robe, as the spectator pleased.

John Singer Sargent, Woman with Bow, 1887, Charcoal and graphite on off-white laid paper

Charcoal portraits came next, and the entire family hung in a row, looking as wild and crocky as if just evoked from a coalbin. Softened into crayonsketches, they did better, for the likenesses were good, and Amy’s hair, Jo’s nose, Meg’s mouth, and Laurie’s eyes were pronounced ‘wonderfully fine’. A return to clayand plaster followed, and ghostly casts of her acquaintances haunted corners of the house, or tumbled off closet shelves onto people’s heads. Children were enticed in as models, till their incoherent accounts of her mysterious doings caused Miss Amy to be regarded in the light of a young ogress. Her efforts in this line, however, were brought to an abrupt close by an untoward accident, which quenched her ardor. Other models failing her for a time, she undertook to cast her own pretty foot, and the family were one day alarmed by an unearthly bumping and screaming and running to the rescue, found the young enthusiast hopping wildly about the shed with her foot held fast in a pan full of plaster, which had hardened with unexpectedrapidity. With much difficulty and some danger she was dug out, for Jo was so overcome with laughter while she excavated that her knife went too far, cut the poor foot, and left a lasting memorial of one artistic attempt, at least.

Claude Monet, The Studio Boat, 1876

After this Amy subsided, till a mania for sketching from nature set her to haunting river, field, and wood, for picturesque studies, and sighing for ruins to copy. She caught endless colds sitting on damp grass to book ‘a delicious bit’, composed of a stone, a stump, one mushroom, and a broken mullein stalk, or ‘a heavenly mass of clouds’, that looked like a choice display of featherbeds when done. She sacrificed her complexion floating on the river in the midsummer sun to study light and shade, and got a wrinkle over her nose trying after ‘points of sight’, or whatever the squint-and-string performance is called.

If ‘genius is eternal patience’, as Michelangelo affirms, Amy had some claim to the divine attribute, for she persevered in spite of all obstacles, failures, and discouragements, firmly believing that in time she should do something worthy to be called ‘high art’.

What would Margaret March wear?

16 Apr

I already wrote a post about Amy’s fashion style, but now I’ll present you more mature and simpler, but still very elegant style of her older sister Margaret Meg.

”Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain.”

1860s day dresses, godey's

Meg, beauty of the household and a role model for her sisters, is sixteen years old at the beginning of the novel. She is sweet and caring but still human and often remembers the times when Marches were rich. She craves for luxury and idleness but realizes at the end that domestic peace and a happy family are much more important.

Since the Marches don’t put emphasis on clothes and frivolous pleasures, they didn’t encourage their daughters to follow the newest fashion and spent money on dresses, parasols, jewellery, fans and headdresses. Indeed, they didn’t have much money but even if they did such irrelevant matters should not be satisfied, especially in the war time.

1861. Godey’s Lady’s Book Fashions, September

“If I only had a silk!” sighed Meg. “Mother says I may when I’m eighteen perhaps, but two years is an everlasting time to wait.”

“I’m sure our pops look like silk, and they are nice enough for us.”

”…Meg’s in silvery drab, with a blue velvet snood, lace frills, and the pearl pin. Jo in maroon, with a stiff, gentlemanly linen collar, and a white chrysanthemum or two for her only ornament. Each put on one nice light glove, and carried one soiled one, and all pronounced the effect “quite easy and fine”. Meg’s high-heeled slippers were very tight and hurt her, though she would not own it, and Jo’s nineteen hairpins all seemed stuck straight into her head, which was not exactly comfortable, but, dear me, let us be elegant or die.”

(…)

“I don’t believe fine young ladies enjoy themselves a bit more than we do, in spite of our burned hair, old gowns, one glove apiece and tight slippers that sprain our ankles when we are silly enough to wear them.”

For the New Year celebration Meg and Jo have been invited to a party by Mrs Gardiner. Many other young ladies must have been gorgeously dressed in the latest fashions, according to Godey’s lady’s Book Magazine, of course. But not Meg, she dressed a silver gown, modestly, keeping a pearl pin, velvet snood, lace frills and a beautiful smile as her only decoration. Beautiful painting doesn’t need a frame, right?

meg 1

However, poor Meg had a chance to attend a ball dressed more elegantly, in April 1862. Her friend Annie Moffat invited her to a spring ball and Marmee gave her special possessions from the treasure box – a cedar chest filled with precious things from the past times. Meg got:

“A pair of silk stockings, that pretty carved fan, and a lovely blue sash. I wanted the violet silk, but there isn’t time to make it over, so I must be contented with my old tarlatan.”

“It will look nice over my new muslin skirt, and the sash will set it off beautifully. I wish I hadn’t smashed my coral bracelet, for you might have had it,” said Jo.

“It isn’t low-necked, and it doesn’t sweep enough, but it will have to do. My blue housedress looks so well, turned and freshly trimmed, that I feel as if I’d got a new one. My silk sacque isn’t a bit the fashion, and my bonnet doesn’t look like Sallie’s. I didn’t like to say anything, but I was sadly disappointed in my umbrella. I told Mother black with a white handle, but she forgot and bought a green one with a yellowish handle. It’s strong and neat, so I ought not to complain, but I know I shall feel ashamed of it beside Annie’s silk one with a gold top,” sighed Meg.

1862. nice white evening dress, Journal des demoiselles

Belle Moffat offered to turn Meg into Cinderella and lend her a blue silk dress which she have outgrew. Meg couldn’t refuse such a kind offer and became bell of the ball, at last for an evening.

”On the Thursday evening, Belle shut herself up with her maid, and between them they turned Meg into a fine lady. They crimped and curled her hair, they polished her neck and arms with some fragrant powder, touched her lips with coralline salve to make them redder, and Hortense would have added `a soupcon of rouge’, if Meg had not rebelled. They laced her into a sky-blue dress, which was so tight she could hardly breathe and so low in the neck that modest Meg blushed at herself in the mirror. A set of silver filagree was added, bracelets, necklace, brooch, and even earrings, for Hortense tied them on with a bit of pink silk which did not show. A cluster of tea-rose buds at the bosom and a ruche, reconciled Meg to the display of her pretty, white shoulders, and a pair of high-heeled silk boots satisfied the last wish of her heart. A lace handkerchief, a plumy fan, and a bouquet in a shoulder holder finished her off, and Miss Belle surveyed her with the satisfaction of a little girl with a newly dressed doll.”

I found two beautiful blue dresses, and though I’m fond of the first one, which I also find more suitable, I wanted to show you a second, more mature and classic option. How thrilled I was when I found a matching sky blue shoes and a cap! I must say, young miss March looks marvelous in blue – colour of the sky, rivers, opal, sapphire, colour of Meg’s big oval eyes.

1860s Evening dress, simple, perhaps for debutants or teens

1860s Cap and Shoes, France

1855. Fan, French, made of silk

1860. pale blue ball gown

1863. Civil War Era Ladies' Hair Styles, Godey's Lady's Book, June

For day dresses, Meg most likely wore simple and practical cotton dresses. She wore old dresses but I suppose she altered and decorated them occasionally to fit the newest fashion. Most of the time I imagine her wearing blue or white dresses, lilac perhaps. As far as hairstyles and accessorize goes, Meg was practical and used the most out of her small possessions. Here are some examples of spring/summer dresses that I could most definitely picture beautiful meg wearing.

1862. summer fashion, Godey's Lady's Book

1861. outdoor dresses, La Belle Assemblee, september

Now the part I’ve been most excited about – the wedding dress.

”Meg looked very like a rose herself, for all that was best and sweetest in heart and soul seemed to bloom into her face that day, making it fair and tender, with a charm more beautiful than beauty. Neither silk, lace, nor orange flowers would she have. “I don’t want a fashionable wedding, but only those about me whom I love, and to them I wish to look and be my familiar self.”

So she made her wedding gown herself, sewing into it the tender hopes and innocent romances of a girlish heart. her sisters braided up her pretty hair, and the only ornaments she wore were the lilies of the valley, which `her John’ liked best of all the flowers that grew.

“You do look just like our own dear Meg, only so very sweet and lovely that I should hug you if it wouldn’t crumple your dress,” cried Amy, surveying her with delight when all was done.

Victorian fashion plate of wedding dress 18611865. Godey’s Lady’s Book

Meg’s wedding wasn’t a luxurious one, but the young bride must have sewn her wedding dress modeled after one of the dresses in Godey’s or Peterson’s magazine. Meg always looked like an angel in white, plus her glowing charm and beauty on her wedding day; she looked beautiful in a simple wedding dress after all.

1864. wedding dresses, Le Follet, april

What would Amy March wear ?

14 Nov

Little women is one of my favourite books, and although I love all the characters, Amy is my favourite and I find to like how her life turned out at the end. I never could help it wonder ”what did Amy March wear ?” Since I entered the magical word of history of fashion I have been able to answer my question, and now I’ll answer this question to all of you who were wondering the same.

1861. ladies in evening dresses, may

Amy March wore simple and casual dresses when she was a child. The Marches were poor and simple family and it’s only natural that they didn’t put much emphasis on clothing and fashion. Amy is twelve years old at the beginning of the book, so unfortunately she missed most of the civil war era balls that Meg went to. Amy was too young at the time so she always stayed home with Beth.

1863. children's fashions

1863. Children’s fashions, La Follet.

”Little Raphael”, as her sisters called her, was in a fair way to be spoiled because everyone pampered her indulged her often selfish wishes. But there was one thing, however, that quenched her vanities. She had to wear her cousin’s dresses.

Now, Florence’s mama hadn’t a particular of taste, and Amy suffered deeply at having to wear a red instead of blue bonnet, unbecoming gowns, and fussy aprons that did not fit. Everything was good, well made, and little worn, but Amy’s artistic eyes were much afflicted, especially this winter, when her school dress was a dull purple with yellow dots and no trimming.

She hated her purple school dress with yellow ”skyrockets” on it. Seriously, who wouldn’t ? Now, let’s take a look at some fashion plates from the Civil war era:

1864. children's fashions October, Godey's

1864. Children’s Fashions for October, Godey’s Lady’s Book.

Descriptions for the four girls:

”Fig 1 – Gray poplin dress, trimmed with a fluted ribbon of Tartan colors. Gray straw hat, trimmed with plaid velvet and gray feathers.

Fig 2 – Solferino merino dress, trimmed with black silk and Solferino braid.

Fig 3 – Napolean blue cashmere dress, trimmed with rows of black velvet. White muslin guimpe, finished at the throat with a worked edge. White muslin de laine petticoat, trimmed on the edge with a fluting of the material. Above this are three rows of black silk braid.

Fig 4 – Gray cashmere skirt, trimmed with a bias band of white cashmere, edged and braided with scarlet velvet. Garibaldi and sash of white cashmere, bound and braided with scarlet velvet. Scarlet cloth jacket, braided with white and trimmed with black drop buttons.”

1860s children's clothing

Now, I know that the beginning of the story was set in December 1861. but this particular fashion plate shows the dresses which a twelve year old Amy would most likely be wearing. At the age of twelve girls wore dresses just little bellow the knee. Amy was just between being a child and a woman; she was indeed a little women.

Although the dresses of little girls highly resembled their mothers, I’m sure that Marmee would never force Amy into wearing huge crinolines that were fashionable at the time. Amy’s dresses were probably more simple and comfortable than these fashion plates suggest.

1861. paris fashions for women, teen and a child

As Amy grew older she started wearing more elegant and fashionable dresses. At the age of sixteen she was very beautiful with big blue eyes, perfect porcelain skin and golden locks. Although her dresses weren’t the newest or the most fashionable she knew how to use the best out of them. Amy also had a sweet, almost angelic personality so everybody liked her, especially aunt March who decided to take her to Europe as a companion. Aunt bought her some dresses and bonnets in London because she packed herself in a rush and forgot half of the things.

”Aunt Mary got me some new things, for I came off in such a hurry I wasn’t half ready. A white hat and blue feather, a muslin dress to match , and the loveliest mantle you ever saw. Shopping in Regent street is perfectly splendid. Things seem so cheap, nice ribbons only sixpence a yard. I laid in a stock, but shall buy my gloves in Paris. Doesn’t that sound sort of elegant and rich ?”

1866. ball gown and day dress france

In my opinion, pastel colours would enhance the beauty of Amy’s porcelain skin the most. I love the part when Laurie visits Amy in Nice. Nice was equally beautiful seaside town in the nineteenth century as it is now, but the best part of Nice was fashion. French elegance combined with seaside fashion – the best thing imaginable !

I can already picture Amy taking a walk with Laurie on Promenade des Anglais on a beautiful sunny day. In my head she’s wearing elegant rose-coloured seaside dress with little white dots; french simplicity with evocation of the Regency spirit from the beginning of the century.

1867. france  Cendrillon

Amy’s evening dresses were superb; she wore a lot of tulle and decorated her gowns with roses which grew in every garden in Nice. I think her evening gown could look something like the pink one above. I feel like Amy would look the best in pink. Just look at beautiful that dress above; look at that gorgeous colour, nice smooth cut, beautiful white lace and tulle details and crown at the end – lots and lots of pink roses; almost like a fairytale.

1866.

The last two dresses are perfect for Amy’s long walks in the gardens and painting sessions. Simple dresses with youthful and elegant designs are best for sweet little Amy. True beauty and grace will shine trough any kind of clothing, and that’s the case here – Amy could look young, sweet and effortlessly beautiful in any dress, whether fashionable or old and warn out.