When Life Imitates Art.


It’s official: I’m a fictional character.

It is true, friends. I have somehow succeeded in modeling my life off of a fictional character. I first realized this in college, but the situation has grown steadily worse. I blame my mother for taking me to see the film when I was a child. It’s been one of my favorites ever since.

Ladies and Gentlemen: I’m Jo March.

Jumpin’ Jehosaphat.

And yes, I said “film.” To be exact, it was the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, and Christian “The Dark Knight” Bale. I read the book as a child and hated it, but I kept reading Louisa May Alcott’s writing because I was pretentious. I did enjoy Little Men, and I have reread Little Women since my childhood, and I can admit that it’s not as bad as I once thought.

But yes—this is one of the rare times where I preferred the film to the book. Blasphemy, I know. You can stone me later.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

The Commonalities of Jo March and Emily:

1. We’re writers.
2. We’re from close-knit families.
3. We have a love for theatre and have written our own plays and performed them.
4. It’s not that we’re anti-feminine—we just don’t like anyone telling us how to behave.
5. We can’t dance. (At least not the lady’s part.)
6. We’re in danger of becoming spinsters.
7. We’ve both been pretty shaken up at the loss of someone who was far too young to die.
8. Europe! My Europe!
9. We keep odd hours for writing.

Late at night my mind would come alive with voices and stories and friends as dear to me as any in the real world. I gave myself up to it, longing for transformation.

10. Ink permanently stains our fingers.
11. We’re bossy to our siblings, even though our siblings have a better grasp on life than we do.
12. We have pastors for fathers.
13. We feel like misfits, even though we probably really aren’t.
14. We’re talented, and we know it, but some days we need our mothers to remind us of this.
15. We do really stupid things when boys like us. Like turn them down when they’re obviously perfect for us.
16. We’ve spent a lot of our time around our elderly relatives.
17. We’re teachers.
18. We martyr our vanities for our loved ones.
19. People are constantly telling us to write what we know, but we seem determined to write melodramatic murder mysteries and romances.
20. We can be insecure. Terribly insecure. And we deal with this by making drastic decisions.
21. We’re dreamers.
22. We’re hard workers.
23. We love to learn.
24. We should have been lawyers. We should have been a great many things.
25. We run away to exotic cities like New York.

I felt bold on leaving Concord, but I confess I find New York rough and strange, and myself strange in it.

Sitting in the Byrd Theatre in Richmond, VA, in 1994, I remember watching this story play out and being completely spellbound. Jo was my hero.

(I was also in love with Laurie, but come on, what girl wasn’t?)

I didn’t intentionally set out to become Jo March. In fact, even though I’ve watched the film so many times I have it memorized, it took me awhile to realize what I had done to myself. There’s a scene just after Jo has rejected Laurie’s proposal, and Amy’s going to Europe with Aunt March, and Jo goes to Marmee and vents all her anger and frustration. I watched that scene and thought, Christopher Columbus! I look and sound just like that every single time I call my mother and have a meltdown.

It took me several days before I realized that I was okay with being Jo March. I mean, it could have been worse—I could have become boring Meg. Amy was more interesting than Meg—heck, Beth was more interesting than Meg.

This morning, as I sat in Starbucks and tried to write, I was once again struck by the similarities in my life and Jo’s. It’s rather comforting. Jo turned out all right. She was happy, loved, and published. She had a purpose in the world.

I can have all that, too, right?

(Yes, I know she’s fictional. I’m not crazy. I’m just a writer.)

Wouldn’t it be fun if all the castles in the air which we make could come true, and we could live in them?” said Jo, after a little pause…

“You’d have nothing but horses, inkstands, and novels in yours,” answered Meg petulantly.

“Wouldn’t I though? I’d have a stable full of Arabian steeds, rooms piled high with books, and I’d write out of a magic inkstand, so that my works should be as famous as Laurie’s music. I want to do something splendid before I go into my castle, something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you all some day. I think I shall write books, and get rich and famous, that would suit me, so that is my favorite dream.”

Little Women, Part One: Chapter Thirteen “Castles in the Air”

Are there any fictional characters you’ve modeled yourselves after? Or am I just odd?

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11 thoughts on “When Life Imitates Art.

  1. I see a lot of Addie (from Levine’s Two Princesses of Bamarre) in myself, but she wasn’t much of a writer, and way too dependent upon her male counterpart to model myself after. I also see Hermione in my academic self, but again, not a writer. Now that you mention Jo, I definitely see how she has shaped me, but I think I more often identified with and modeled myself after authors than characters as a child and teen: Mary Shelley, Emily Bronte, Truman Capote, Kate Chopin, Harper Lee, Nabokov, Lemony Snicket.

  2. “Yes, I know she’s fictional. I’m not crazy. I’m just a writer.” They’re one and the same, are they not? If I had a dollar for every time I have wondered about my sanity… I’d have a lot of dollars.

    phhhh… what a question. I have my heroines, but when I have something in common with them it is usually only one small part of them matching one small part of me. I am not even mirrored in my own characters save that as a whole they might paint an interesting and terrifying picture of my psyche. If I have a literary doppelganger out there, I’ve yet to meet her.

    • As soon as I realize I’m putting too much of myself into a character, I get mean and hurt them. I wonder what that says about my self image? Hmmm…

      I’d have a lot of dollars, too.

      • Hmm indeed… I hope you are a bit nicer to yourself. I honestly don’t know that any of my characters are really like me, but maybe they are and I just don’t know it.

  3. I’ve always felt like a Jane Eyre myself. Not that I’m an abused orphan or anything, just smart and quiet – easily overlooked when all the bright, pretty girls are around. I’m always hoping for a sulky Mr. Rochester to be interested enough to find out what’s underneath the “smooth hair” and quaker-ish clothes. (Though, I’m really quit a bit more fashionable than Jane. And frizzy. Never can make my hair lie smooth.)

  4. I think of myself as a combination of Jo and Beth – Beth’s shyness and quiet nature and desire to be good; Jo’s temper and creative force. It’s interesting getting the two to live together in my head but then in real life Louisa and her sister Lizzie, like Jo and Beth, complemented each other.

  5. I think Jubilare’s got it, that writing and being crazy are often one and the same. +)

    You’re not too odd for finding so many parallels with a single character. It’s the kind of thing writer are prone to think about. As for me, now, I can’t say I’ve ever found a character who was that much like me. Bits and pieces here and there, perhaps, but I’m not generally the sort of fellow who populates novels — too bookish, Christian, and content with peace and quiet. Sort of similar to Simon in The Lord of the Flies, actually — even my high school AP English teacher pointed that out — but hopefully my life trajectory will be quite different from his! So I dunno. I’ve never connected with a character more deeply than with Aquila from Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Lantern Bearers, but I can hardly explain why, since he’s drastically different from me (but that we both tend to maintain calm outward facades no matter what is going on inside us).

    For the characters I write, I can definitely find parts of myself in many of them. Unsurprising, since I have to draw from my own experiences in writing them. But none of them are very accurate self-portraits. I have two characters who represented the kind of guy I wanted to be in various earlier parts of my life, but none who reflect my real self very fully. Not yet, at least. That I’m aware of.

    (Hm, now you’ve got me wondering if my wacky, inept comic relief stable boy isn’t an unconscious self-portrait! Yeesh, hope not…)

    • For your sake, I hope you have a better ending than Simon. 🙂 There are other characters that I’ve related to–as you said, in bits and pieces. (Off the top of my head, I’d say Anne Shirley, Eowyn, Scout Finch, and Briony Tallis, but I’m sure there’s more.) I’ve also connected with characters who are nothing like me, except perhaps in the tiniest way possible, and yet that one aspect is enough to endear them to me forever. Or scare me, depending on the character.

      A wacky, inept comic relief stable boy? Ha. I have one character in my book who is constantly eating desserts, and I know for a fact it’s because I won’t allow myself to indulge like that, so I’m letting her. 🙂

  6. Pingback: “Remember yesterday’s date, since it was a red-letter day for me.” « WanderLust

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