This post includes spoilers for a book that came out in 1868. It’s also been made into a movie several times over. If you don’t want to spoil the book or the movies, stop yourself now.
I feel a special connection to Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women. I was named after Amy, who married rich, and Beth, who died young.
I did neither.
In reading the biography of Louisa May Alcott, I discovered that she was under a lot of pressure to have Jo, the main character, marry Laurie, who was the boy next door.
Miss Alcott adamantly refused. Even though to many people it was the obvious ‘Happily Ever After,’ she knew in her heart it just wasn’t right for her characters. Jo’s little sister Amy marries Laurie and lives happily ever after. Jo finds her ideal mate as well.
In Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinners series, fans cheer for ‘Team Wesley’ or ‘Team Søren’ as well as several others. (I’m totally ‘Team Wesley’.) Each book has a satisfying ending, but the main character isn’t trotting off down the aisle in a white wedding dress at the end of each book to get her Happily Ever After. I should ask Tiffany how much pressure she gets from people (Like me, wanting Wesley to win and…spoiler…he’s happy…) to have the Happily Ever After come out a certain way…
Right now, I’m post-outlining a book I put on the shelf a few years ago. As in, I’m going through it and outlining what I’ve already written so I can re-write it without leaving out anything important. One issue that’s getting in my way is the time frame. I want to say the main character loses her virginity when she’s just shy of 17 (in Earth years…it’s SciFi and takes place on a different planet with different years) but many editors will turn down a book based solely on the fact that in includes underage sex. I have a writer friend who lost a publishing contract (and later pub’d with a different publisher) because the book alluded to the fact that the main character had lived on the streets as a child, working as a prostitute. Horrible, yes, but important to the character’s tragic past.
In the scene I wrote (and will rewrite, probably as a flashback from both POVs) the young woman basically throws herself at the man. He’s her friend, and she’s been wanting this for a long time even though he has not encouraged her. He knows that he has several peers looking at her who are eager and willing to assist her in divesting herself of her virginity. He makes love to her because he wants her to be safe and happy. Even though she’s several years younger than he is, she is at an age where many young people lose their virginity. (Side note: I hate the term ‘lose your virginity’ because it seems negative, while it shouldn’t be.) Granted, most young people experiment and have relationships with their own peer group.
As a mother and as a decent human being, I don’t want young people to think that it is ‘normal’ for them to engage in underage sex. Many people wait until they’re in their twenties to have sex. (And if you’re someone who scoffs at that, you’re simply blind to the thousands of invisible kids who aren’t sexually active.) Then again, lots of human beings have their first sexual experience in their teens, and for many of them, that’s a good and healthy thing. For very few, it turns into a lifelong romance. For others, they learn young what it’s like to have a broken heart. For some, it’s a traumatic experience and a huge mistake.
I’d like to think that if someone read all my stories, they’d see a vast variety in archetypes, ideals, and experiences. Sometimes that means the character is a thirty year old virgin. And sometimes that means they had their first experience too young. (Personally, I’d probably never go below 15, and I’d rather keep it closer to 16 or 17) Now I have to decide whether I’ll worry about what a publisher may or may not think at some future point in time.
There are definitely those invisible editor voices around, and as writers, we shouldn’t have to bow to those voices. On the flipside, as a reader, I’m still upset that Jo didn’t marry Laurie some 15 or 20 years after reading Little Women. If Alcott insisted on having Jo marry the German dude, she should have made him more appealing. My memory of the novel is a little fuzzy after so many years, but I just remember feeling cheated while reading.
I can’t remember how I felt when first reading it, because I grew up knowing the story. I do think Alcott made a good case for Jo herself adamantly not wanting to marry Laurie…she wasn’t the poor, spurned woman.
I have to apologize too…I was editing the post when you commented because I finally remembered the issue with my current WIP that got me thinking about “Little Women” in the first place! So your comment came before I added all the stuff about underage sex.
I agree, I wanted Jo to marry Laurie. But I can see why she didn’t fit – if I remember right, she wasn’t the kind of “girly girl” that would fit into Laurie’s social sphere. Not that the March’s were out of it, in certain respects, but there was a huge financial disparity there.
I think the huge financial disparity was definitely an issue, however I think it was almost destined that Laurie would marry one of them. It simply wasn’t his best friend (Jo) it was her more wifely-suitable little sister Amy.
Have you ever toured Orchard House in Concord? The story practically pours from the walls, and Louisa herself just comes to life, and you begin to see through her eyes, how it couldn’t have ever been Laurie and Jo (though at the time of my reading, sometime in my pre-teens, I was devastated that she married Friedrich).
Yes I have! I need to find those pictures. I’m pretty sure it was pre-kids…
Her biography was so fascinating. You think of her father as being like the father in the book…a rather boring doctor coming home to his family from the war. But her real dad was a total hippie!
Fast forward to 2017 and my 9yo reads LITTLE WOMEN. Then she comes out of the bedroom late at night and says /My book just got sad.”
It’s a pivotal moment, finding out that Beth dies.