I was eight years old the first time I read Little Women. I fell in love with the Marches and identified with all four sisters in different ways. I was a writer and loved adventure and couldn’t manage to do what was expected of me like Jo. I was the oldest and could be too cautious and practical for my own good like Meg. I was quiet and withdrawn and loved music like Beth. I was artistic and used words people didn’t understand and was never taken as seriously as I took myself and totally had a thing for Laurie like Amy.
I’d go on to revisit Little Women and its sequels throughout the years. I learned more about the historical context of the book. The Alcott family’s involvement in Transcendentalist, bohemian circles. Louisa May Alcott’s first-wave feminism. All of this just made the book more fascinating to me. Age and distance have made some of the book’s imperfections more noticeable, but it’s one of those childhood loves that will always have a special place in my heart.
Despite all this, somehow the existence of The March Family Letters escaped my knowledge until this month. To be honest, I was more apprehensive about this one than any of the literary webseries I’ve watched. There are so many ways a modern Little Women could go horribly wrong. Would Jo be a straw feminist or a misogynist? Would Meg be an unsympathetic killjoy in the tradition of grouchy sitcom wives? Would Beth be a Purity Sue, canonized by virtue of disability? Would Amy exist to remind the audience that being a girly girl makes you a terrible person, or at least a really shallow one?
Don’t worry, my inner voice whispered as she wrapped me in a blanket and brought me some hot chocolate. It’s being distributed by Pemberley Digital. Click the playlist.
OMG I CAN’T EVEN TELL YOU HOW OBSESSED I AM WITH THIS SHOW.
I have watched the whole playlist twice. I have watched a couple of the videos several times on a loop. I have been driving my friends crazy sending them links to videos. Although Pemberley Digital is distributing The March Family Letters, not writing or producing, I think it’s a great addition to their channel because it does what they do best. It updates a familiar classic in creative, unexpected ways that celebrate the positive changes in society since the source material was first published. The March sisters in these videos are, imo, excellent modern counterparts to how the original March sisters would’ve been perceived by Louisa May Alcott’s contemporary audience.
Amy is a hipster. She wants to be popular and liked, but not so popular and so liked that she becomes a mainstream sellout. She uses big words that she doesn’t entirely understand herself. She is a tortured soul, a misunderstood artiste. Overall, she’s a very affectionate parody of the thousands of artistic girls her age (a senior in high school) on YouTube, Tumblr, and Instagram who turn to the Internet for the validation they aren’t getting from their philistine real-life peers. As a friend of mine put it after watching one of Amy’s videos, “I love this pretentious little snowflake.” Because I have been that snowflake.
Beth is a quiet, withdrawn peacemaker. She has to be coaxed in front of the camera by her more larger-than-life, theatrically-inclined sisters. She’s sweet, gentle, and musical, but she remains human. There’s no indication of frail health…so far.
Jo is ostensibly the director and producer of the channel, which she started to keep Marmee updated on her little women while she’s deployed overseas. (Yes, Marmee is away at war in this adaptation, not her husband, who died when their daughters were young.) Like Amy, Jo is loud, over-the-top, theatrical, and dreams of a career in arts and entertainment. She is unlike Amy in every other way imaginable. She wears flannel and cutoffs. She has tattoos. She swears in public. She has big plans for directing action/horror movies with kick-ass female leads. She’s also unlike her original counterpart in that, while she’s a tomboy and a feminist, she identifies proudly as female and consciously avoids femmephobia and misogyny.
Meg is happy to join in her sisters’ fun and games as long as everyone and everything has been taken care of. She’s grown up as the right-hand woman of a single military mom. Responsibility and practicality are second nature to her. She craves comfort and stability, so she’s chosen a field of study that will give her a stable, comfortable future – engineering. She never makes any kind of reference to being a woman in a male-dominated field, and she’s as conventionally feminine as in the books. Which makes the most awesome part of Meg’s update all the more awesomely unconventional.
In case you aren’t able to watch that video, here’s a recap. Meg’s Valentine advice vlog/craft tutorial is interrupted when Laurie‘s tutor comes in looking for him. Laurie’s tutor, whom Meg eventually marries in the book, disregarding the impracticality of the match and what it would mean to her future security and place in society. Laurie’s tutor, who falls in love with Meg at first sight. Laurie’s tutor, who, in this adaptation, is not John Brooke, but JOAN BROOKE. Yes. It’s true. This Meg March – Meg, not Jo, who would’ve been great in this role but a way more predictable choice – is in a same-sex love story!
For what it’s worth, this Jo hasn’t claimed to be straight. I kind of hope she is, though, because “I’m gay” just won’t have the same impact as “I love you, but we’d be a terrible couple” in the inevitable scene where she turns Laurie down. I have a feeling these writers are setting us up for maximum emotional discomfort there. Jo and Laurie’s scenes together have been just too cute. Jo adores Laurie as the brother she never had, and says as much to the camera. She seems oblivious to the fact that Laurie is clearly smitten with her, constantly showing off for her and engaging in over-the-top courtly behavior that’s absent when Jo isn’t around.
In fact, Laurie seems the most natural and least like he’s trying too hard in his first video with Amy.
This may be the riskiest thing I’ve ever said on my blog, and I’m a little concerned about alienating some of my readers and personal friends with this statement, but in the interest of honesty, here goes:
I have always been Team Amy.
I loved Amy and Laurie as a couple the first time I read the book in third grade. One of my favorite parts of the sequel, Little Men, was seeing Laurie married to Amy and being Jo’s brother for real. I love Jo and Laurie as BFFs, but no matter how many times I read Little Women, I just never get the sense that Jo’s in love with him. I know LMA put Laurie and Amy together and married Jo off to an old professor just to screw with the shippers, but the fact that Amy/Laurie is one of the greatest acts of trolling in literary history just makes me ship it harder. (Am I freaking out my Thalia/Apollo shippers yet? O:) )
So, anyway, I can’t wait to see how The March Family Letters handles this triangle. And whether Jo ends up with a male professor, or a female professor, or in a twist mirroring LMA’s real life, no one (for now). And I really, really, really can’t wait to see Meg follow her heart and go for the queer Latina liberal arts major with no “future.”
But, OMG, are they really going to kill Beth???