Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. One of these March sisters is not like the others. While we all want to believe we’re Jo (because she’s the greatest), some of us admit to ourselves that we’re actually more of a Beth or a Meg. Nobody wants to confess that deep down they’re an Amy. Because Amy is the worst.
One of my only beefs with the beautiful newly released film adaptation of Little Women is that none of the scenes from the book highlighting Amy’s growth are included in the series. She turns out looking even more terrible than her book character. Amy will always be the worst March sister, but I have a vested interested in her not seeming even more selfish and immature than she has to.
When re-reading the novel as an adult, I realized that I had been kidding myself all my life that I was a Jo. Dear reader, I am not a Jo. I might be a writer and I might have a temper, but I do not measure up to Jo March. I’m not painfully shy and selfless like Beth. And I’m not sweet domestic Meg, happy to sit on the knee of John Brooke as he lectures her about financial responsibility (I mean, gag me).
Nobody wants to be the selfish, silly, littlest sister, but despite how much I try to convince myself otherwise, I am Amy March.
I am decidedly selfish. I care too much about what other people think of me. I know how to read people and charm them if I so desire. I have no talent for the visual arts, but I doubt not that I would have tried to weasel my way into my sister’s trip to Europe and the heart of Theodore Lawrence given the chance. Like Amy, “me first” is my natural bent.
I also sympathize with Emma Woodhouse–the most hated of all Austen heroines. And when I read Mansfield Park, I know that I’m no virtuous Fanny Price, I’m probably more like horrible, manipulative Mary Crawford.
But in the end, Amy and Emma turn out very different from Mary Crawford. There’s hope for them. And it isn’t just because they try harder not to be despicable human beings.
As the brilliant Jane Austen reveals time and time again in her novels, the people we surround ourselves with can make or break who we become. In Sense and Sensibility Austen notes that the Dashwood girls’ half-brother, John, who fails to carry out his promise to his dying father to care for the women left behind, might have turned out alright had he married “a more amiable woman.” Instead he marries someone more selfish than himself who exacerbates his worst tendencies.
Amy March and Emma Woodhouse are saved by emulating people who are better than they. And that’s probably why I didn’t turn out to be a complete monster: I married a Mr. Knightley, a Prof. Bhaer, someone who does the right thing even when it costs him, someone who treats people with kindness and service without a thought as to whether they can benefit him, someone who doesn’t have a manipulative or selfish bone in his body. My husband is just a decent human being and I’m still trying to figure out what he saw in me when we started dating as teenagers. But I thank my lucky stars he saw something worth loving because otherwise I could have been an Amy March forever.
You can’t be around a Mr. Knightley or a Prof. Bhaer day after day and not lose some of your Amy Marchishness and Mary Crawfordishness. And thank goodness, we’re not doomed to act according to our natural bents! We can rise above them and conquer them. I will always struggle with being selfish and trying to impress other people because that’s how I’m wired. But I don’t have to let those tendencies define me. And day by day I can be re-wired to love other people first, to do what’s right because it’s right, and to serve when it costs me. There’s a little more Jo in me after 12 years of marriage and a little less Amy. And that’s a happy thought.
If there’s hope for me, maybe there’s hope for Amy March, afterall.
Which March sister do you most identify with? Let’s chat in the comments!
You can listen to our Fountains of Carrots podcast all about the romantic relationships and personalities in the original novel: Should Jo Have Married Laurie? and Other Thoughts on Little Women