Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” and the meaning of being a woman

Little WomenIt’s ironic how I ended up as a relatively free-spirited writer when, as a little girl, I really hated Jo. There is some sort of prejudice that girls were like Meg but said they wanted to be like Jo, but for me, it’s the opposite. Meg embodies everything that I saw as positive: beautiful yet practical, and it was always more believable in the way she wished away the genteel poverty in which they lived. I was always less capricious than Amy (I am, after all, the eldest child in my family), but I could relate to her too, and I find her grown-up version quite an inspiration. Beth was always too perfect for me to relate to, but I was deeply affected when she died. Jo was always annoying and immature in my eyes, not at all what I’d see as a role model for myself. I will also die still hung up over her refusal of Laurie’s proposal because it didn’t fit her self-reliant view of the world. Over the years, I have come to appreciate how a mature Jo would be Marmee, who is a great role model, but I’m still not her biggest fan (at all). 

In hindsight, it’s entirely possible that my dislike of Jo is due to seeing so many things I don’t like about myself in her, and I hope that I have succeeded in taming the beast enough to be more like Marmee. The biggest criticism of Saoirse Ronan’s portrayal as missing the mark and moderating Jo too much was a positive with me when it comes to the new film. I came to it with a bit of fear I’d hate the fact it’s like Gerwig’s love letter to the novel, since the last adaptation of a beloved classic had me scream to the screen for missing the whole point of Emma (that’s a rant for another day). To my surprise, I found that the approach worked. Unlike the novel and the 1994 film (which is basically the visual version of the novel), it’s less of a general coming of age story and more of an exploration of the birth of the artist. The film switches between present-day and flashback with a transition so smooth that it truly only rested on the shade of colour of the picture, and I guess that’s kind of how our mind works, especially for us writers. 

The original Little Women already sat with the tension between a woman’s heart and the demands of real life, which is something that, I think, is often missed about Meg, in the rush to paint her as too compliant and already the perfect “little woman” in contrast with Jo, who is painted as ahead of her time and therefore more acceptable for us modern readers. It is also believed by scholars of Alcott’s work that she wrote a lot of herself in Jo, so it’s often assumed that she was painting a positive picture just of her, and implying criticism of everyone else (except, perhaps, Marmee). If one pays attention, though, one can see that Meg is not picture perfect at all, and Gerwig has captured that in a few scenes. I liked the way she handled the tension between Meg’s awareness that her dreams were as valid as her sister’s even if they were not dreams that she would consider exciting, but also how the reality of pursuing that dream was not easy.

There was none of the love conquers all nonsense that is often found when painting a positive picture of domesticity: Meg’s happy ending was realistic, she had a man she loved by her side but she still struggled through tough decisions about her life. Finding that love did not make everything rosy like a film on the Hallmark Channel. Don’t get me wrong, I love to watch the sickness-inducing saccharine Christmas films they put on, but I love them precisely because they are sickness-inducing and saccharine and unrealistic, not in spite of it. I don’t watch them to be given food for thought or the chance to explore the meaning of life, but this version of Little Women has been such a chance for me. As an adult, I can now see how Marmee embodies the principle of countering your worst tendencies by going the opposite way, like St Ignatius of Loyola growing his hair and nails to fight vanity. Her radical generosity and patience aren’t there because she has always been that good, but because she wasn’t and she learnt to exercise virtue against her innate inclinations. 

It’d be easy to be tempted to see Marmee as an embodiment of what it means to be a Christian woman, especially after what I just said, but one thing that the film does (by accident rather than design, I think) is remaining faithful to the idea that there is no such thing as the ideal little woman. All of them can and do grow into the better version of themselves that they were meant to be. Looking back on my life, this is a lesson I needed but somewhat missed, and too often I have tried to fit into a mould that couldn’t contain me. I guess better late than never. 

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The Serpentine Perspective: A Tale of Two Dumbledores

I guess we haven’t been that faithful to the 1st Saturday of the month schedule, or the fact my Friday posts are meant to be faith-based, but do bear with us as we bring to you August’s installment of the Serpentine Perspective on a random date. In fact, it’s rather consistent with the last Friday of the month in July, which happened to be Harry Potter’s birthday. Last month, I have touched upon the idea that there is more to the Harry Potter world than J.K. Rowlings’s own words on paper. If you are waiting for my fanfiction to drop somewhere you can read it, I guess you’ll be disappointed: this month’s topic will be the film adaptations. And, you may have guessed from the title, the two Dumbledores. 

The late Sir Richard Harris (no relation), who sadly passed away after the first two films, will be the subject of Rory’s post. Read on for my musings on the legend that took over from him, Sir Michael Gambon. First of all, let me say that I don’t hate the films. I know it’s the done thing among book lovers to hate adaptations, but there are many great things about them (I’m listening to the soundtracks on Spotify as I write this). As a film lover, I tend to judge films on their own merits rather than how well they reflect the book. They’re different media and you need to make allowances. This long preamble to say, this is not a post hating on Gambon’s Dumbledore because he isn’t the Dumbledore I imagined or something like that. In fact, I’m not even going to pit the two of them against each other. I just liked the Dickensian reference for the title.

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8 Comedy Anime Favourites on CrunchyRoll

Anime adverts

I subscribed to Crunchyroll mid-July because a) Fumination wasn’t very consistent with Fruits Basket season 2 and b) the Mr Love anime was released at that point. In the month and a half since, I have made more than my money’s worth in use, having watched about twice as many series as the numbers I will post as my recommendations. I collected these 8 titles under comedy because they are funny, but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t crossover with other genres (there’s romance in most of them, and all the shojo tropes for your anime bingo cards), or that when I look at other genres they will not contain stories that are funny. It’s my value judgement of whether romance is the key driver of the plot or a ploy. I had one option that I think is right in-between comedy and romance, but for the sake of my still unbeaten perfectionism, I left it for another list. 

Nobunaga Teacher’s Young Bride 
Be warned that it can be a bit racy at times (it’s based on a seinen manga), but it’s hilarious. The story revolves around a man who is a descendant of the Nobunaga Oda who loves playing dating sims and would love nothing better than a harem situation in real life…until he gets what he wished for. The circumstances around said harem provide the comic aspect so I won’t spoil them, but the title is a bit of a giveaway if you know the basics of your Sengoku history (or Early Modern customs in Europe, the marriageable age was not that different…).

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6 things about me that I learnt podcasting for 100 days

Podcast Recording

During the lockdown, I undertook a small personal project: reading through the Divine Comedy one chapter a day, and voicing my thoughts on a podcast, Alessia’s Divine Comedy. It has been a veritable labour of love, with migraines and whatnot, but it has reminded me just how much I love to go down a research rabbit hole and learn new things. I also felt like I made a friend across time, since I never realised how much I would sympathise with Dante when I first studied the poem at school. 

Like the best of fiction, the poem has been a window into my soul, and it has helped me to see things about myself and my faith that were not as apparent without it. The project of podcasting itself also provided some insights into my personality and how I work. Here’s my end of 3-months reflection. 

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The Soul Care Series: Self-Knowledge

Woman journaling

 At the beginning of this series, I talked about how I was frustrated to see a mainstream publication talk promote tarots as a beneficial way to know more about oneself, so I think the time has come that this series addresses the subject of self-knowledge, which in a way is linked to the previous topic of planning around our heart’s desires. Over my years as a Christian, the question of self-knowledge has been usually dismissed as easily answered: just pray about it. As if people always know how to truly pray and most importantly they know how to discern the response from God. Last Sunday, the Mass readings for the day contained the passage in 1 Kings 19 about the prophet Elijah finding God in the whispering voice after the powerful ways in which God has spoken before did not make him manifest. Bishop Barron in his homily had a great point about how God doesn’t use one way to communicate, and unless you have dramatic experiences that you can’t deny it’s God’s speaking, it’s not as simple as “just pray”. 

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