Lousia M Alcott (was Re: HP review)

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Sat Jul 5 15:56:46 EDT 2003

>Can someone please define "prosy" in this context.

In the context of the argument, no idea; in the context of a book: someone
who is  being used by the Author to convey a Message, and does so by
prosing on about the defects of others' characters, generally in a pained,
forgiving or pitying manner designed to indicate how Noble and Above All
This Nastiness the proser is.  This may or may not be underlined by the
Author remarking "poor X, (who meant well and was an upright chap), felt
quite sad/shocked to see his wife so lose control of her feelings" or other
such mealy-mouthed phrase.

Jenne wrote in reply to:

"Well, in a general, theoretical way, I guess. On the other hand, Meg's
husband was a boorish, prosy prig, and I can quite sympathise with her
preference for the babies at that point in their relationship."

>Interesting. I remember _Meg_ as a prosy prig and John as a kind if
>somewhat overtolerant and a little uptight young man.

As far as I am concerned *everybody* in those books is a prosy prig!  Even
the most  originallly promising characters (like Jo herself, or the
terrible Dan) who kick against the pricks or even over the traces turn into
dreary Good Examples by the time they escape at the end of *Jo's Boys*

I thought as a child that they were mostly there to provide a series of
Object Lessons.  Like the unfortunate Amy, who liked pretty things (tut,
tut, naughty), and tried to do things like (Oh, wicked girl!) *gasp* hold a
party!  Shock, horror: it was going to end in tears from the moment she
first had the idea of returning the hospitality of her friends from
school....  ("Mrs March knew that experience was an excellent teacher", so
she let the poor child humiliate herself for her long-term moral good.  I
*speeeet* upon such a good Xtian maternity!)  Amy's life seems to have been
one long round of Being An Example Of The Folly Of Not Being A Prig And A

For some obscure reason, I always felt Preached At when I read those books:
I found the Conscious Virtue in them oppressive.  Maybe it was something to
do with the really virtuous ability to die very slowly whilst being a
Shining Example, and never once cough blood even into a lace-edged hanky,
let alone into a handily-placed spittoon.  Nor get bedsores.

I'm being horribly unfair to what are undoubtedly classics of their kind,
but honestly, I prefered Mrs. Ewing's *Lob-Lie-By-The-Fire* or Charlotte M.
Yonge's  *The Little Duke*, if I was going to be preached at, because they
were straight with me about what they were up to; and *What Katy Did* -- at
least in Katy the grownups are sometimes mistaken in their judgement, and
shown to be so, rather than being so all-fired *right* every single time!
And *Castle Blair*, of course, where the grownups are, and are shown to be,
utterly unreasonable and arbitrary a lot of the time, even if they are
proved sort-of-right in the end.  Good Lord, one of the even *apologises*,
*to a child*, for the way he's behaved: can you imagine!

Maybe there is a difference between "books for children" and what I can
only call "books *aimed at* children", and one of the reasons I get so
peevish about the whole labeling books as "children's" thing is because I
noticed that when I was young enough to get very cross about it.  Hmmmmm.

Minnow (whose week it seems to be for reverting to childhood feeling about
various books)

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