By Lorinda B. Cohoon
“The P. C. and P. O.” chapter recounts a deepening of the friendship between the March family and the Laurence family through Laurie’s admission to the secret society of the Pickwick Club. Both Meg and Amy have reservations about admitting a boy to the club–Mr. Winkle reminds the club members that “[t]his is a ladies’ club, and we wish to be private and proper” (90). Despite these objections, Laurie is voted in as “Sam Weller” once Jo, as Mr. Snodgrass, draws attention to all the ways the members of the Pickwick Club have benefited from the Laurences’ wealth and position: “We can do so little for him, and he does so much for us, I think the best we can do is to offer him a place here, and make him welcome, if he comes” (90). The martin house post office Laurie provides becomes the site of material exchanges and gifts that further cement the connection between the two families, and the chapter concludes with a list of some of the items and letters that are subsequently sent through the post office between the two houses.
Although I re-read Little Women regularly as a child, and as an adult, this chapter is not one that inspired me to pursue its literary references. While I avidly read The Castle of Otranto and The Wide, Wide World to find out more about what Jo was reading, I confess to never having completed reading The Pickwick Papers, despite having kept a copy beside my bed for many years. I meant to read it before making this contribution, but as Mr. Winkle acknowledges in his apologetic article in the Portfolio, I have had trouble taking “time by the fetlock” (88). I still mean to finish reading it, and I wonder how many Dickens scholars and readers as well as Alcott scholars and readers were inspired to read The Pickwick Papers after reading this chapter.
Alcott tells her readers that the sample paper she includes comes from a real version that she wrote with her sisters, and it seems to me that the model paper must have inspired other readers to try to make a newspaper for themselves. Have other readers of Little Women created their own portfolios or made Tracy Tupman’s recipe for baked squash? I am surprised on re-reading the Portfolio by how many of Beth’s activities and pursuits are acknowledged in the articles about “Public Bereavement,” the “Lament for S. B. Pat Paw,” and the advertisement for Mrs. Beth Bouncer’s Doll Millinery. I frequently skim quickly past the Portfolio when I re-read this text, but I have been surprised by the rich details it includes about the sisters’ lives and their endeavors and interests. The list of items delivered through the private post office also warrants further study. What became of the puppies? Were they as well-loved as Beth’s cats?
Lorinda B. Cohoon is an associate professor of English at the University of Memphis, where she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in children’s literature. She is a second daughter with three sisters (as well as four brothers), and she grew up with a father who was an impractical genius. She loves to read more than anything else and sometimes experiences (far-too infrequently) a Jo-like writing vortex.