Woman Crush Wednesday: Jo March

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For many girls, Josephine “Jo” March from Little Women is our first hero. Louisa May Alcott creates a character in this 19th-century novel who manages to speak directly to women in the 21st century. Jo is a bookworm, a writer, and a tomboy, driven to be her own person, even if she’s not exactly sure who that is or how to achieve this goal. Alcott’s first description of Jo is so awkwardly adorably relatable, making Jo the star of the book for girls in the nearly 150 years since it was first published:

Fifteen-year-old Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of a colt, for she never seemed to know what to do with her long limbs, which were very much in her way. She had a decided mouth, a comical nose, and sharp, gray eyes, which appeared to see everything, and were by turns fierce, funny, or thoughtful. Her long, thick hair was her one beauty, but it was usually bundled into a net, to be out of her way. Round shoulders had Jo, big hands and feet, a flyaway look to her clothes, and the uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was rapidly shooting up into a woman and didn’t like it.

Jo’s first words are a big rant at her motherly older sister, Meg:

“I hate to think I’ve got to grow up, and be Miss March, and wear long gowns, and look as prim as a China Aster! It’s bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like boy’s games and work and manners! I can’t get over my disappointment in not being a boy. And it’s worse than ever now, for I’m dying to go and fight with Papa. And I can only stay home and knit, like a poky old woman!”

Even if you were a girly-girl, how could you not love Jo’s spirit? She wants to be part of the action at a time when women’s lives were severely constrained. Alcott shows how Jo tries, sometimes failing, but always with purpose. We may not agree with Jo’s choices (we’re still arguing about Laurie vs. Professor Bhaer!), but we have to respect how she goes out of her way to make a life for herself, not simply doing what her family, community, or society would have her do. Even in the 1860s, Jo March is trying to be her own woman.

So, of course, movie and TV versions of Little Women are some of our favorite frock flicks, and these onscreen Jo March versions are our woman crushes.

 

 

Katharine Hepburn, Little Women (1933)

Katharine Hepburn, Little Women (1933)

The first big-screen adaption and a winner due to perfect casting with feisty Hepburn as Jo. Apparently she asked costume designer Walter Plunkett to copy a dress for the film from a tintype photograph of her maternal grandmother.

 

June Allyson, Little Women (1949)

June Allyson, Little Women (1949)

The first color film version, with an all-star cast including a young, much-hyped Elizabeth Taylor as Amy, but Allyson and Margaret O’Brian playing Beth’s death scene is still one of film’s top tear-jerkers.

 

Angela Down, Little Women (1970)

Angela Down, Little Women (1970)

There were a lot of TV adaptions of Little Woman (and Little Men, for that matter) through the 1950s and ’60s, but, photos are hard to come by. This is the first BBC version I can find evidence of, perhaps because it also starred Patrick Troughton (the second Doctor Who) as Mr. March.

 

Susan Dey, Little Women (1978)

Susan Dey, Little Women (1978)

Yep, that’s Laurie from The Partridge Family (or Grace van Owen from L.A. Law, depending on your age and TV viewing habits) as Jo March. This American TV movie was an attempt at a series pilot, but it worked better as a standalone piece.

 

Winona Ryder, Little Women (1994)

Winona Ryder, Little Women (1994)

The most recent theatrical release, which we’ve podcasted our opinions about. Relatively faithful to the book, with lovely 1860s costumes by Colleen Atwood, it’s hard to go wrong with this film.

 

 

Who’s your favorite Jo March in movies or TV?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. When she’s not dressing up in costumes, she can be found traveling the world with her sweetie and, occasionally, Kendra and Sarah. Her costuming and travel adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also maintains a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

10 Responses

  1. Susan Pola

    Gotta be the Winona Ryder version with those amazing Colleen Atwood costumes.
    It was the most faithful adaptation and the casting was perfect. I also liked the Kate Hepburn version.

    Really don’t remember seeing any of the others, except a vague memory of June Allyson being not quite right, having read the book in a version suitable for the young. And wondering if all women in 1860s wore makeup. I was very young.

    Reply
  2. Pina

    I think Little Women really needs to be made into a miniseries. I like the 1994 version except for the casting of Winona Ryder (she’s a fine actress but too petite and dainty to be Jo), but everything happens so quickly and they have to cut out so many important (and fun!) details.

    Reply
  3. Charity

    LOVE the most recent version. Winona is probably too pretty for Jo, but she delights my soul in the role. I always cry through several scenes though; when Beth dies, yes, but also when Jo finds the trunk with all their old things in it.

    Aw, crap. I’m tearing up right now just thinking about it! :P

    Reply
  4. Loren Dearborn

    I loved the costumes of the most recent version but of all the film versions I think Katherine Hepburn captures my impression of Jo better than any of the others. Winona just didn’t do it for me.

    Reply
  5. Saraquill

    Reading this makes me sad that Alcott’s “Hospital Sketches” and “Transcendental Wild Oats” haven’t been made into movies or TV miniseries. (If I’m wrong, please direct me to the appropriate links!)

    The costuming for “Transcendental Wild Oats” would be fascinating, as it would have to be both period and feature nothing that can be construed at cotton, silk, wool or other animal based materials.

    Reply
  6. Madeleine

    Without a doubt, it’s the 1994 movie version.
    The music, casting, costumes, and I think ultimately the fact that I was 13 myself when it was released, make it my absolute favourite.
    My year group at secondary school actually had an excursion to go see it at the cinema as an end-of-year treat / break for the teachers. I still remember the collective “eww” that erupted from the audience after Jo and Laurie kissed when he proposed :P

    Reply
  7. M.E. Lawrence

    Hepburn is a pretty wonderful Jo; she captures the character’s quirkiness and sense of self. I loved the 1994 movie, though, especially when Susan Sarandon’s Marmee–god, what an awful maternal nickname–tells Meg and Jo that it’s all right to make mistakes, because that’s how we learn; a woman behind me in the theatre started crying, and then I did as well.

    (If only some production companies would finance a mini-series remake, with Gillian Armstrong directing again.)

    Reply
  8. Sonya Heaney

    I suppose that Jo March was a huge icon for a girl growing up in the United States. Not so much elsewhere; the reason I know about her is because I was twelve when the Winona Ryder version came out, and suddenly we all wanted to be a March sister. :)

    I did LOVE the 1994 movie version, however. All of the girls were wonderful, even though people hate some of them (or at least Amy) for no reason other than that they’re growing up and making mistakes… Like all of us…

    Katharine Hepburn was absurd in the role. She looked older than her mother, and had a voice that cemented her as far too mature for the part.

    Winona Ryder was wonderful. I’m not sure how “right” she was in comparison to the book (I’ve only read excerpts), but she managed to be modern at the same time as historical, and I’ve watched her portrayal so many times. The scene where Beth dies always makes me want to cry a bit.

    Didn’t she receive an Oscar nomination for it?

    Reply
  9. Jamie LaMoreaux

    if you want a version that is almost the book itself, watch the 1978 version with Meredith Baxter and Susan Dey. now THAT one is the closest to the book. the 1994 version is VERY good, but the feminist bits the director and Susan Sarandon put in are jarring and preachy. and NO woman back then would discuss her “unmentionables” to a strange male back then! and certainly NOT as a passing comment! Katharine Hepburns version is exceptional and June Allyson’s is
    a remake using the same script. I always thought June did a competent job, but was a tad “perky” for Jo.

    Reply
  10. Jamie LaMoreaux

    Only a monster doesn’t cry when Beth dies. and Yes, The March sisters are an American ideal.

    Reply

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