What hot-blooded male wouldn’t follow a pair of scarlet stockings to the ends of the earth? Obviously, Louisa May Alcott understood the power of such a lure because, as an author whose appeal is primarily to women, she had me, a man, rushing to the window alongside Harry Lennox to check out a pair of legs.
Here, then, is the first lesson for any budding author: the efficacy of a good title. Alcott’s simple but brilliant title, Scarlet Stockings, keeps faithful female fans but also pulls a multitude of shameless men into her readership. Furthermore, by adding a chapter heading in the form of an enticing statement such as, “How They Walked Into Lennox’s Life,” followed by another, “Where They Led Him,” is most certainly a seductive “come hither” sign to all male readers. Or do I give myself away? Am I to be embarrassed that my breath was also fogging the cold window next to Harry Lennox when a certain girl came walking by at 3 p.m.?
That’s how it happened with me. I’ve never read Little Women or Little Men, or Jo’s Boys. No, thank you. Not interested. No offense, Ms. Alcott.
So–forced to read this piece–I’m yawning on the couch, a listless blob. Dying of ennui.
Kate suddenly exclaims, “Scarlet stockings, Harry!”
Alcott, hiding behind the character Kate, is delighted to see that her authorial plan has worked. She has my attention.
“I thought that would succeed!”
“Not a bad maneuver,” I respond (with/through Harry).
“I’m glad anything does interest you,” says Alcott through Kate. Then, she teases Harry and me further by dangling a growing need or hunger for the name of the girl with the scarlet legs.
“…you perch yourself at the window every day to see that girl pass, you don’t care enough about it to ask her name.”
[Interestingly, HERE is where things are reversed briefly and the reader—speaking through the medium of Harry Lennox—teases the author.]
“I’ve been waiting to be told.”
With an effective use of humor, Alcott not only tells the name but drives it unforgettably into every reader’s brain so that, frankly, it rings like a bell. Belle Morgan, the Doctor’s daughter—not a blue-belle, a dumb-belle, or a Ma belle, though perhaps a Canterbury belle, but definitely a diving-bell “who knows how to go down into a sea of troubles, and bring up the pearls worth having.” Using Miss Morgan’s first name, Alcott provides a bouillon cube of character information that will disseminate into a soothing, romantic broth.
A beautiful catch by the author. My attention is completely captured at this point. But she doesn’t just go on and simply tell the story. Like a constrictor, she tightens around the reader, word by word, until there’s no possibility of escape. First-time readers have no idea what subject matter is coming but there are hints everywhere, connecting every part to the whole, so that no syllable is wasted. For example, the use of the word “infected” very purposefully connects the beginning, middle and end of the story. “It strikes me that Miss Morgan has slightly infected you…”
The doctor’s daughter. Harry Lennox. Infection. A scarlet thread that is both physical and emotional, starting with a tempting pair of hose. Scarlet—the pathological color of a deadly fever or the quickening color of love in the blush of girl’s face or in the depth of a man’s heart.
Louisa May Alcott was a friend of Nathaniel Hawthorne who was also well-known for the color scarlet as the stain of adultery. Scarlet is the color of passion and Alcott simply put legs on it. Follow those legs. But beware: this last sentence is a spoiler. Those legs stirred a male and led him into the poorest section of town, exposing the him to scarlet fever, challenging him to blood red patriotism, and rewarding him with a rose-colored happily ever after.
Andrew Dabar (a quick analysis of Louisa May Alcott’s, Scarlet Stockings)