Friday, July 22, 2011

The Most Precious Earthly Treasure

The Most Precious Earthly Treasure   

Far away there in sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them and try to follow where they lead.
                                                                                                     Louisa May Alcott

A British television series aired earlier this year. It is a period drama with episodes about an aristocratic family trying to hold onto their ancestral estate. The opening scene brings news of the sinking of the Titanic and the drowning of a daughter’s suitor. With no male heir in the family the daughters must marry advantageously.

The house and scenery are luxurious; so are the Edwardian gowns and hairstyles of the females. The father, the “Lord of the Manor,” is kind, generous, affectionate, fair, patient, stands firm in his decisions and yet is not lacking in sensitivity. I like him. I can use none of these adjectives to describe his coming-of-age daughters. Their self-absorption, lack of restraint and failure to feel even a little remorse for the injuries they cause to themselves and to the family leaves me speechless. All the while they stand with poise and decorum, beautifully arrayed - miserable perhaps - yet without the slightest nudge of conscious or a change-of-heart.

Seeking to immerse myself in a kinder world I opened our copy of Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. The girls in this story are refreshingly conscientious. They struggle with their natures. The first lines of the story begin with exclamations of complaint among the March sisters: Jo, Meg, Amy, Beth. Their new poorer circumstances, since their father went away to serve in the Civil War, require them to work longer hours and in ways they hadn’t before. I can’t help but chuckle over their ever-so-emphatic girlish grumbling because I know what’s coming. On the next few pages a nudge of conviction sets the girls upon nobler ideas. With the little Christmas money they have saved, each turns from thinking of the special (and well deserved) present they wish to buy for themselves, to a gift for their mother. “Glad to find you so merry, my girls,” said a cheery voice at the door. Marmee is home. 

“Character Building” is a chapter of instruction in my revised edition of Beautiful Girlhood. It shines a light upon what had disturbed me in the television series and also what refreshes me about Little Women. I share highlights from Beautiful Girlhood (in lavender) following it with excerpts from Little Women (in blue). The ideas are such a close match that it leads me to believe that they were once prevalent in the minds of the Christian readers of our great-grandmothers' day.  

The most precious earthy treasure a girl can have is good character.

 Character is not given to us; we build it ourselves. Others may furnish the material, may set before us the right standards and ideals, may give us reproof or correction, may guide our actions and mold our thoughts. But we build our own character. It is we who absorb good influence about us, adopt ideals, reach for standards, and make ourselves what we are.

 Youth is building time.

 Sometimes I have wondered why youth should be given the responsibility of laying the foundation of life’s character just when the heart is the most merry and the thoughts the least settled; but if the responsibility came later it would be at a time when the help of parents and teachers is not be had.

 A pattern is needed.

  . . No character is built right and true if the builder has not in her mind a picture of the woman she wants to be. And the pattern for good character must be chose carefully.

 She who has an ideal character is first of all pure and true, then earnest and sincere, patient and gentle, and more ready to serve than to be served.

 Many things that are fun end in wrong . . . we dare not allow ourselves to be continually guided by what others do. Christ is our Perfect Pattern, and only those who form their lives after Him are building the best character.

In chapter eight of Little Women Amy falls through the ice. This dangerous incident is alarming. Jo trembles. Then she realizes how sorry she is for her bad temper toward her younger sister Amy. Feeling terribly unsettled in her soul she asks her patient mother, “Tell me how you do it . . .” Marmee starts by confessing her own struggles with learning patience. While a young mother Jo’s father had been a help to her. She says,

 “. . . [He] showed me that I must try to practice all the virtues I would have my little girls possess, for I was their example. It was easier to try for your sakes than for my own; a startled or surprised look for one of you, when I spoke sharply, rebuked me more than words could have done; and the love, respect, and confidence of my children was the sweetest reward I could receive for my efforts to be the woman I would have them copy.”

 “O mother, if I’m ever half as good as you, I shall be satisfied,” cried Jo, much touched.

 “I hope you will be a great deal better, dear; but you must keep watch over your bosom enemy as you father calls it, or it may sadden, if not spoil your life.”

Jo agrees to try. She understands that it is she who must build her character. On the next page the conversation ends similarly to the chapter in Beautiful Girlhood in that it points to a girl’s highest pattern.
“My child, the troubles and temptations of your life are beginning, and may be many; but you can overcome and outlive them all if you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your Heavenly Father as you do that of your earthy one. The more you love and trust Him, the nearer you will feel to Him, and the less you will depend on human power and wisdom. His love and care never tire or change, can never be taken away from you, but may become the source of life-long peace, happiness, and strength. Believe this heartily and go to God with all your cares, and hopes, and sins, and sorrows, as freely and confidingly as you come to your mother.”

 Jo’s only answer was to hold her mother close, and, in the silence which followed, the sincerest prayer she had ever prayed left her heart without words; for in that sad, yet happy hour, she had learned not only the bitterness of remorse and despair, but the sweetness of self-denial and self-control; and led by her mother’s hand she had drawn nearer to the Friend who welcomes every child with a love stronger than that of a father, tenderer than that of any mother. 

May the excerpts and ideas from these books encourage you kindly to keep growing into the woman you aspire to be whatever your age.

Post Script

The photographs of the flowers are our roadside Queen Anne’s lace; a wildflower that I’ve always assumed is one being collected by the girl in the picture at the start of the post. I embroidered it years ago. It stood on a dresser in our daughters’ bedroom. I still remember how I enjoyed making all those French knots in wool. 

The painting is of a young woman pressing flowers in a book.

Permission was granted for the liberal use of quotations from chapter four of Beautiful Girlhood.

I am making steady progress with my reproduction sampler.  

Thank you for visiting,

Karen Andreola

Thank you, Nigel, for all the times you enter the computer language behind a post to place the colored boxes up at the request of the Lady-of-the-House. 


  1. Thank-you for the thought-provoking post. I saw the Beautiful Girlhood book in a catalog, and the description made me think that it was perhaps for older girls. Would it also be helpful with younger girls?

    Your sampler is beautiful! It reminds me of some of the needlework that my Mom used to do.

  2. Little Woman is one of my childhood favorites. I have four sons and daughters by birth but I would love to read your book for me even though I am not a young girl any more. Virtues are good to strive for no matter what the age is.

    I love seeing the progression of your cross-stitch and makes me more motivated to get mine done. [o= You do beautiful work.

    Blessings in Him<><

  3. This is a beautiful post. I love your sampler work. You are an inspiration to me.

  4. Hello Karen! I did not have the pleasure of reading Little Women until I was a married woman with my first child at my breast.

    It was a wonderful book. One that taught me the differences between personalities and made me appreciate the hard and good times.

    Thank you for sharing your Queen Anne's lace. Mine are just blooming in my cottage garden.



    PS: your cross-stitch is just beautiful! :)

  5. Hi Karen,
    I so agree that there is much to be learned from the character of Marmee in Little Women. Practicing the virtues we would have our children possess requires reflection on our part, always depending on our heavenly Father's strength and wisdom. Thank you for a beautiful post (your writing, handwork and pictures!)

  6. Dear Karen:
    I wish I could tell you how very much I enjoy your posts. When they come up on my Google Reader, I am so happy and I savor them and save them for when I can read them slowly and absorb their meaning and beauty.

    This post resonates with me strongly, because I feel so very much the importance of the "pattern" as you refer to it in a young person's life. The books I was blessed to read as a young girl were the single most important influences on me as a pattern or ideal of how to be. Exposing a child to purity, sweetness, holiness, and strength of character are vital, especially when or if they do not have living examples of these traits in their ordinary life. I was blessed to have both but so many children are not.
    My prayer is that more mothers will see blogs like yours - learn about your work - and help their own children to know these things.
    With appreciation -

  7. Hello Ladies,
    Little Women is the kind of book that having read it once "we have only breakfasted" to borrow a phrase of Miss Charlotte Mason.

    Beautiful Girlhood can be read aloud to a girl as young as 10 - the early chapters, that is. As the chapters progress they discuss more mature topics. Therefore, I recommend taking your time with it. I read it to my daughters when they were age 12 and 14.

    Yes, an adult will glean bright gems from it, also.
    Beautiful Girlhood contributes to Mother Culture because as I "beseech" on my CD talk - we are most happy when we keep growing into the person God is making us to be.

    Back in Maine we hosted a Beautiful Girlhood Get-Together in our home, periodically. I gave a brief lesson from one of the chapters. Lots of giggles could be heard during tea-time. Many of the girls are married with children now. How swiftly the years fly.

    Good to hear from you,
    Karen A.

  8. How interesting that the links between Little Women and Beautiful Girlhood are so pronounced. Little Women is an old favorite, and I look forward to reading Beautiful Girlhood with my daughters in a few years.

    Your needlework is inspiring--I really like the old samplers.



  9. Did you know that Queen Anne's Lace is wild carrot? Lindsay taught me that!

    Nigel is gifted at computer work - I wondered how you got the color boxes on your page.

    I am thinking through lots of media choices and am wanting my girls to think and analyze and make choices based on whether or not it helps them to have a gentle spirit. I love Little Women for that reason - though Jo is feisty she learns to temper it. Good lessons throughout.

    I have your Beautiful Girlhood - I should start it with Rachel and Sarah.



  10. Dear Karen,

    I read Little Women as a young girl. I re-read it a couple of years ago. The first time through I was interested in Jo, mainly. My second time through, I found that Marmee captivated me. I tend to agree with Jo. If I could be half as good as Marmee...

    Queen Anne's Lace is one of my very favorites. We used it to decorate tables at my brother's wedding rehearsal dinner. Beautiful.


  11. Karen, your book "Beautiful Girlhood" is so precious! I am re-reading it at bedtime with my second daughter, and we are always stirred and inspired by your words. In a day and age with so few mentors for your girls becoming young ladies, your book speaks to so many. Thank you.

  12. Dear Karen,
    Little Women was one of my favorite books. I started reading it in Dutch when I was a schoolgirl (Onder Moeders Vleugels) and later saw the television series and got the English edition from my grandmother as well as the 2nd part: Good Wives (Op eigen wieken). I have read it to my girls, and I know it is on their list of favorite books. I have ordered your revised Beautiful Girlhood, and am looking forward to reading it!
    We are experiencing a very wet and cold Summer, but it gives me more time to read the blogs and work on my own (
    Thanks for your little sunbeams,

  13. Thank you for holding out the vision for us. I have three daughter's and want them all to have beautiful character more so than hair/skin/clothes. Bright eyes always and a cheerful smile is so fashionable! I'm working steadily on my cross-stitch as well!

  14. Dear Karen,

    Thank you for the reminding me of two of my favorite books! I first read "Little Women" when I was in labor with my third daughter. Its sweet lessons, combined with other influences that came into my life at that time, convinced me to become more the woman that I want my daughters to be.

    All of Miss Alcott's books are chock full of sweet ideas to make one want to live a better life, and they truly are in harmony with "Beautiful Girlhood."

    Blessings to you,


  15. Thank you for the kind encouragement that is still needed in this season of my life as an older woman, to "keep growing into the woman you aspire to be whatever your age".

  16. Dear Karen,

    You find the perfect words, the perfect quotes and pictures and dress your posts with your own handiwork!! You are an inspiration ~ thank you so very much!
    Could you perhaps help me ~ I live in Cape Town, South Africa and would love to get your latest CD - however I,m not sure what the postage would be ~ is it possible to find that out and possibly let me know. An further how could I go about paying for it, as we don't run a cheque system as it is very costly here. I have previously gotten all your books off one of our local internet bookstores, but the CD is not there yet.

    Kind & Sincere regards,
    ~ Nolene

  17. I was blessed by this post...thanks for sharing...Little of my favorite stories and movie....this is my first time here...won't be my last :)


  18. Dear Ladies,

    I have enjoyed hearing that your reading of Little Women (Onder Moeders Vleugels) has been a blessing in your life and that Beautiful Girlhood is being read, too, or is on a wish list.

    If you live outside the USA and are interested in the Mother Culture CD please email me. I am away from my computer sometimes for a day or two but after a time I will reply.

    My email is in the box with the handsome American robin that delivers your letters to me in its beak.

    Your blog friend,
    Karen A.

  19. Karen

    This is my first post. I have been reading your blog for a week and felt it was time I shared with you how you have changed my life. There is a peace and calmness that is flowing through my spirit that I have prayed about for years. My home which was cluttered is now in order and peaceful. My chldren are calmer and there s a sweentness that is present. Your books are such a treasure . I just ordered your CD. Thank you so much....

    Thank you Karen. What a blessing you are to the body of Christ,