每隔几星期，她就把自己关在屋里，穿上她的涂抹工作服，像她自己说的，“掉进漩涡"，一门心思地写起小说来。小说一天没写完，她就一天不得安宁，她 的"涂抹服"是一条黑色的羊毛围裙，可以随意在上面擦拭钢笔。还有一顶同样质地的帽子，上面装饰着一个怡人的红蝴蝶结，一旦准备动手写作，她便把头发束进 蝴蝶结里。在家人好奇的眼里，这顶帽子是个信号，在乔写作的这段时间里，她们离她远远的，只是偶尔饶有兴趣地伸头探问：“乔，来灵感了吗？“即便这样，她 们也不敢贸然发问，只是观察帽子的动静，并由此作出判断。若是这个富有表现力的服饰低低地压在前额，那表明她正在苦苦思索；写到激动时，帽子便时髦地斜戴 着；文思枯竭时，帽子便给扯下来了。在这种时刻，谁闯进屋子都得默然而退，不到那天才的额头上竖起欢快的蝴蝶结，谁也不敢和乔说话。
她根本不把自己看作天才，然而一旦来了写作冲动，她便全部身心投入进去。她活得极快乐，一旦坐下来进入她的想象世界，便感到平安、幸福--在那里有 许多和现实生活中一样亲切的、活生生的朋友，令她意识不到贫困、忧虑，甚至糟糕的天气。她废寝忘食，因为享受这种快乐的时光太短了，而只有在这个时候，她 才感到幸福，感到活得有意义，尽管这段时间她没做出别的什么。这种天才的灵感通常要持续一两个星期，然后，她从她的"漩涡"里冒出头来，又饿又困，脾气暴 躁，要么便心灰意懒。
有一回，她刚从这样的一次发作中恢复过来，便被劝说陪伴克罗克小姐去听一个讲座。作为对她善行的回报，这次听课使她产生了个新想法。这是为教徒开的 课程，讲座是关于金字塔的。乔弄不清为什么对这样的听众选这样的主题。可她想当然地认定，这些满脑子想着煤炭、面粉价格的听众们，成日里要解开的谜比斯芬 克司提出的更难，对他们展示法老们的荣耀，能够大大减少社会的弊端，满足他们贪婪的欲求。
她们去早了。乘克罗克小姐调正长统袜跟的时候，乔打量着坐在她们周围的人们的面孔，以此消遣。她的左边坐着两个家庭主妇，硕大的额头配着宽大的帽 子。她们一边编着织物，一边讨论着妇女权利问题。再过去，坐着一对谦恭的情人，毫不掩饰地手拉着手；一个忧郁的老处女正从纸袋里拿薄荷糖吃；一个老先生盖 着黄头巾打盹，作好听课准备。乔的右边，她唯一的邻座是个看上去很好学的小伙子，正在专心地读着报纸。
那是张画报，乔观赏着靠近她一面的艺术画儿。画面上，一个身着全套战服的印第安人跌倒在悬岩边，一只狼正扑向她的咽喉。附近两位愤怒的年轻绅士正在 互相厮杀，他俩的脚小得出奇，眼睛却大得出奇。背景中一个披头散发的女人大张着嘴正奔跑着想逃开。乔悠闲地想着到底是怎样一种不幸的事件，需要如此夸张地 渲染。小伙子停下来翻画页时，见乔也在看，便递给她半张，直率地说：“想看看？那可是一流的故事。“乔微笑着接过来，她喜欢小伙子们，年龄增长也改变不 了。很快乔就埋头干这类故事常有的错综复杂的爱情情节、神秘事件和凶杀中去了。这个故事属于那种热情奔放的通俗文学。当作家智穷力竭时，便来一场大灾难， 去掉舞台上一半的剧中人物，让那另一半人物为这些人的覆灭幸灾乐祸。
“我想是的！她晓得人们爱看什么，写这些能赚好多钱。“这时，讲座开始了，乔几乎一个字都没听进去。当桑兹教授啰啰嗦嗦地讲贝尔佐尼、基奥普斯、圣 甲虫雕饰物和象形文字时，她偷偷摸摸地抄下了报纸的地址。报纸征集轰动一时的故事，并提供一百美元的奖金。乔决心大胆一试。等到讲座结束，听众醒来时，她 已为自己积聚了一笔可观的财富（这不是第一次从报纸上挣的）。她沉浸在故事的策划中，只是拿不定决斗场面放在私奔前还是放在谋杀后。
回到家，她只字没提她的计划。第二天立即开始工作，这使妈妈非常不安，因为，“天才冒火花"时，妈妈看上去总是有点焦虑。乔以前从未写过这种风格的 东西，为《展翼鹰》报写这种非常柔和的浪漫传奇，她洋洋自得。她的戏剧表演经验和广博的阅读现在派上了用场，这使她掌握了一些戏剧效果，并为她提供了情 节、语言及服装。她的故事里充满了绝望和沮丧，因为她有限的几个熟人中有着这种使人非常难受的情绪，她也就在故事里予以体现。故事的场景设在里斯本，以一 场地震结束，这样的结局出人意料，却又合情合理。她悄悄地寄走了手稿，并附上便条，谦虚地声称如果中不了奖，这故事值多少钱就给她多少钱，她会很高兴的。 她没敢想过中奖。
六个月的等待是很长的一段时间，一个女孩子要保密，六个月就显得更长了。但是，乔既等了，又守住了秘密。她开始放弃再见到手稿的希望了。这时，来了 一封信，使她人吃一惊。因为，一打开信封，一张一百元支票便落在了她的膝盖上。有那么一会儿，她盯着支票看，好像那是条蛇。然后，她读了信，哭了起来，假 如那位可爱的先生早知道他写的这样一封客套信会给他的同胞带来这样强烈的幸福，我想，他一有空闲时间，便会全用来写信了。乔把那封信看得比钱还重，因为信 给了他鼓励，而且在多年努力之后，终于发现自己学会了某些事情，真让她高兴，尽管只写了个有点耸人听闻的故事。
当乔平静下来后，一手拿着信，一手拿着支票，出现在家人面前，宣布她已获奖的时候，人们很难见到比乔更得意的年轻女人了。全家人一下子震惊不已，当 然更少不了狂欢庆祝。故事发出来后，每个人都读了，并大加赞赏。爸爸对她说，故事语言不错，爱情表现得生动、热烈，悲剧扣人心弦。然后他超然地摆着头说 --“你能写点更好的东西，乔。瞄准最高的目标，千万别去在乎钱。““我倒是觉得这件事最好的部分是钱。这么多钱你将怎么花呢？“艾美虔诚地看着这张具有 魔力的支票问道。
“哦，你得去，就这么定了。我写故事就为这个，因此才会成功。我只想着自己时，从来干不好事情，你看，为写作挣钱也成全了我自己，对吗？而且，妈咪 也需要换换空气，她不会丢开你，所以你一定得去。等你长胖了回来，面色红润，那该多好！乔医生万岁！她总能治好她的病人！“反复讨论后，她们终于去了海 边。回来时尽管贝思没有像希望的那样长胖，面色变红，但身体感觉好多了。而马奇太太声称她感到年轻了十岁。因此，乔对她的奖金投资很满意，情绪饱满地又开 始写作，一心要多挣些令人愉快的支票。
财富的确是人们非常渴望的，然而贫穷也有它光明的一面。逆境的好处之一是人们从自己艰苦卓绝的奋斗中感到真正的愉快。我们存在于世间的智慧、美丽与 能力，有一半得之于困境的激励。乔沉醉于这种愉快的感觉中，不再羡慕那些有钱的女孩。她知道她能不向别人要一分钱而为自己提供需要的一切，从中她获得巨大 的安慰。
“依我看，试一试比等待更有利，“马奇太太说道，“评论是这种事情最好的检验，能指出她未曾料到的价值和不足之处，促使她下次写得更好。我们的意见 过于偏袒她，可是外人对她的褒贬会有用的，即使她得不到什么钱。““是的。“乔皱起了眉头。“情况就是这样。这么长时间我一直忙着这个故事，我真的不知道 它是好是坏，还是没有多大意思。让人不带偏见地谈一谈，告诉我他们的意见，将对我大有帮助。““假如是我，一个字也不删，你要是删了就会毁了它。故事里面 人物的思想比行动更让人感兴趣。如果一直写下去不加解释，会让人摸不着头脑，“梅格说，她坚持这是个最最出色的小说。
“喔，“乔说着笑起来，“要是我的人物是'理性的、玄奥的'，那不是我的错，我对那些一窍不通，只是有时听爸爸谈起。要是我的传奇故事里能掺进些爸 爸的博学思想，对我来说更好。哎，贝思，你怎么看？““我就是希望故事快点印出来。“贝思笑着只说了这一句话，她无意中加重了"快点"这两个字的语气，眼 神里流露出渴望。她的眼睛里总有一股孩子般的率真。听了她的话，乔心里一阵发冷，一种不祥的预感使她打定主意"快点"小试一番。
爸爸喜欢那作品无意带上的玄奥特色，因此，尽管乔有疑虑，还是保留了这些。妈妈认为描述部分确实多了些，就这么着，连同许多必要的环节，全给删掉 了。梅格欣赏悲剧部分，所以乔大肆渲染痛苦以合她的心意。而艾美不赞成逗乐，乔便好心好意地扼杀了用来点缀故事中严肃人物的欢快场面。她还砍掉了故事的三 分之一，就这样完全把它毁了。这个可怜的小传奇故事就像一只拔了毛的知更鸟，乔深信不疑地将它交付给热闹的大千世界去碰碰运气。
“妈，你说过，评论能帮助我。可评论太矛盾了，搞得我不晓得到底是写了本挺不错的书，还是破了十诫，这样能帮我吗？“可怜的乔翻阅着一叠评论大声叫 着。她时而充满自信、快乐，时而愤怒、沮丧。“这个人说：'一本绝妙的书，充满真善美。一切都那么美好、纯净、健康。'"困惑的女作家接着读，“下一 个：'书的理论不好，满是令人毛骨悚然的幻想、精神主义至上的念头，以及怪异的人物。'你瞧我没有任何理论，我也不相信精神主义至上论，我的人物来自生 活，我认为这个评论家怎也不能说是对。另一个这么说：'这是美国近年来出版的最杰出的小说之一'（我知道得更清楚）；'再下一个断言：'这是本危险的书， 尽管它内容新颖，写得有气势，有激情。'可不是嘛！一些人嘲笑它，一些人吹捧它，几乎所有的人都坚信我想阐述一种深奥的理论，可是我写它只是为了玩儿，为 了钱。我真希望没删节全部印出来，不然不如不樱真讨厌被人误评。“家人和朋友们都极力劝慰她，可是对精神高尚、生性敏感的乔来说，这是件十分难受的事。她 显然是好心却干出了错事。然而，这件事对她还是有益的，那些有价值的批评意见使作者受到了最好的教益，最初的难受劲过去后，她就能自嘲那本可怜的小书了， 而且仍不乏自信。虽然遭受了打击，她感到自己更聪明、更有力了。
Fortune suddenly smiled upon Jo, and dropped a good luckpenny in her path. Not a golden penny, exactly, but I doubtif half a million would have given more real happiness then didthe little sum that came to her in this wise.
Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, puton her scribbling suit, and `fall into a vortex', as she expressedit, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for tillthat was finished she could find no peace. Her `scribbling suit'consisted of a black woolen pinafore on which she could wipe herpen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with acheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks werecleared for action. This cap was a beacon to the inquiring eyes ofher family, who during these periods kept their distance, merelypopping in their heads semi-occasionally to ask, with interest,"Does genius burn, Jo?" They did not always venture even to askthis question, but took an observation of the cap, and judgedaccordingly. If this expressive article of dress was drawn lowupon the forehead, it was a sign that hard work was going on, inexciting moments it was pushed rakishly askew, and when despairseized the author it was plucked wholly off, and cast upon thefloor, and cast upon the floor. At such times the intruder silentlywithdrew, and not until the red bow was seen gaily erect upon thegifted brow, did anyone dare address Jo.
She did not think herself a genius by any means, but when thewriting fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon,and led a blissful life, unconscious of want, care, or bad weather,while she sat safe and happy in an imaginary world, full of friendsalmost as real and dear to her as any in the flesh. Sleep forsookher eyes, meals stood untasted, day and night were all too short toenjoy the happiness which blessed her only at such times, and madethese hours worth living, even if they bore no other fruit. Thedevine afflatus usually lasted a week or two, and then she emergedfrom her `vortex', hungry, sleepy, cross, or despondent.
She was just recovering from one of these attacks when she wasprevailed upon to escort Miss Crocker to a lecture, and in returnfor her virtue was rewarded with a new idea. It was a People'sCourse, the lecture on the Pyramids, and Jo rather wondered at thechoice of such a subject for such an audience, but took it forgranted that some great social evil would be remedied or some great wantsupplied by unfolding the glories of the Pharaohs to an audiencewhose thoughts were busy with the price of coal and flour, and whoselives were spent in trying to solve harder riddles than that of the Sphinx.
They were early, and while Miss Crocker set the heel of herstocking, Jo amused herself by examining the faces of the people whooccupied the seat with them. On her left were two matrons, withmassive foreheads and bonnets to match, discussing Women's Rights andmaking tatting. Beyond sat a pair of humble lovers, artlesslyholding each other by the hand, a somber spinster eating peppermints outof a paper bag, and an old gentleman taking his preparatory napbehind a yellow bandanna. On her right, her only neighbor was astudious looking lad absorbed in a newspaper.
It was a pictorial sheet, and Jo examined the work of art nearesther, idly wondering what fortuitous concatenation of circumstancesneeded the melodramatic illustration of an Indian in full war costume,tumbling over a precipice with a wolf at his throat, while twoinfuriated young gentlemen, with unnaturally small feet and big eyes,were stabbing each other close by, and a disheveled female was flying awayin the background with her mouth wide open. Pausing to turn a page,the lad saw her looking and, with boyish good nature offered half hispaper, saying bluntly, "want to read it? That's a first-rate story."
Jo accepted it with a smile, for she had never outgrown herliking for lads, and soon found herself involved in the usual labyrinthof love, mystery, and murder, for the story belonged to that class oflight literature in which the passions have a holiday, and when theauthor's invention fails, a grand catastrophe clears the stage of onehalf the dramatis personae, leaving the other half to exult overtheir downfall.
"Prime, isn't it?" asked the boy, as her eye went down the lastparagraph of her portion.
"I think you and I could do as well as that if we tried,"returned Jo, amused at his admiration of the trash.
"I should think I was a pretty lucky chap if I could. She makesa good living out of such stories, they say." And he pointed to thename of Mrs. S.L.A.N.G. Northbury, under the title of the tale.
"Do you know her?" asked Jo, with sudden interest.
"No, but I read all her pieces, and I know a fellow who works inthe office where this paper is printed.""Do you say she makes a good living out of stories like this?"And Jo looked more respectfully at the agitated group and thicklysprinkled exclamation points that adorned the page.
"Guess she does! She knows just what folks like, and gets paidwell for writing it."
Here the lecture began, but Jo heard very little of it, for whileProfessor Sands was prosing away about Belzoni, Cheops, scarabei, andhieroglyphics, she was covertly taking down the address of the paper,and boldly resolving to try for the hundred-dollar prize offered inits columns for a sensational story. By the time the lecture endedand the audience awoke, she had built up a splendid fortune for herself(not the first founded on paper), and was already deep in theconcoction of her story, being unable to decide whether the duelshould come before the elopement or after the murder.
she said nothing of her plan at home, but fell to work next day,much to the disquiet of her mother, who always looked a little anxiouswhen `genius took to burning'. Jo had never tried this style before,contenting herself with very mild romances for THE SPREAD EAGLE. Herexperience and miscellaneous reading were of service now, for theygave her some idea of dramatic effect, and supplied plot, language,and costumes. Her story was as full of desperation and despair as herlimited acquaintance with those uncomfortable emotions enabled her tomake it, and having located it in Lisbon, she wound up with an earthquake,as a striking and appropriate denouement. The manuscript wasprivately dispatched, accompanied by a note, modestly saying that ifthe tale didn't get the prize, which the writer hardly dared expect,she would be very glad to receive any sum it might be considered worth.
Six weeks is a long time to wait, and a still longer time fora girl to keep a secret, but Jo did both, and was just beginningto give up all hope of ever seeing her manuscript again,when a letter arrived which almost took her breath away, for onopening it, a check for a hundred dollars fell into her lap. Fora minute she stared at it as if it had been a snake, then she readher letter and began to cry. If the amiable gentleman who wrotethat kindly note could have known what intense happiness he wasgiving a fellow creature, I think he would devote his leisure hours,if he has any, to that amusement, for Jo valued the letter more thanthe money, because it was encouraging, and after years of effort itwas so pleasant to find that she had learned to do something, thoughit was only to write a sensation story.
A prouder young woman was seldom seen than she, when, havingcomposed herself, she electrified the family by appearing before themwith the letter in one hand, the check in the other, announcing thatshe had won the prize. Of course there was a great jubilee, and whenthe story came everyone read and praised it, though after her fatherhad told her that the language was good, the romance fresh and hearty,and the tragedy quite thrilling, he shook his head, and said in hisunworldly way...
"You can do better than this, Jo. Aim at the highest, and nevermind the money."
"I think the money is the best part of it. What will you do withsuch a fortune?" asked Amy, regarding the magic slip of paper with areverential eye.
"Send Beth and Mother to the seaside for a month or two," answeredJo promptly.
To the seaside they went, after much discussion, and though Bethdidn't come home as plump and rosy as could be desired, she was muchbetter, while Mrs. March declared she felt ten years younger. So Jowas satisfied with the investment of her prize money, and fell to workwith a cheery spirit, bent on earning more of those delightful checks.She did earn several that year, and began to feel herself a powerin the house, for by the magic of a pen, her `rubbish' turned intocomforts for them all. The Duke's Daughter paid the butcher's bill,A Phantom Hand put down a new carpet, and the Curse of the Coventrysproved the blessing of the Marches in the way of groceries and gowns.
Wealth is certainly a most desirable thing, but poverty has itssunny side, and one of the sweet uses of adversity is the genuinesatisfaction which comes from hearty work of head or hand, and to theinspiration of necessity, we owe half the wise, beautiful, and usefulblessings of the world. Jo enjoyed a taste of this satisfaction,and ceased to envy richer girls, taking great comfort in the knowledgethat she could supply her own wants, and need ask no one for a penny.
Little notice was taken of her stories, but they found a market,and encouraged by this fact, she resolved to make a bold stroke forfame and fortune. Having copied her novel for the fourth time, readit to all her confidential friends, and submitted it with fear andtrembling to three publishers, she at last disposed of it, on conditionthat she would cut it down one third, and omit all the partswhich she particularly admired.
"Now I must either bundle it back in to my tin kitchen to mold,pay for printing it myself, or chop it up to suit purchasers and getwhat I can for it. Fame is a very good thing to have in the house,but cash is more convenient, so I wish to take the sense of the meetingon this important subject," said Jo, calling a family council.
"Don't spoil your book, my girl, for there is more in it thanyou know, and the idea is well worked out. Let it wait and ripen,"was her father's advice, and he practiced what he preached, havingwaited patiently thirty years for fruit of his own to ripen, andbeing in no haste to gather it even now when it was sweet and mellow.
"It seems to me that Jo will profit more by taking the trialthan by waiting," said Mrs. March. "Criticism is the best test ofsuch work, for it will show her both unsuspected merits and faults,and help her to do better next time. We are too partial, but thepraise and blame of outsiders will prove useful, even if she getsbut little money."
"Yes," said Jo, knitting her brows, "that's just it. I've beenfussing over the thing so long, I really don't know whether it's good,bad, or indifferent. It will be a great help to have cool, impartialpersons take a look at it, and tell me what they think of it."
"I wouldn't leave a word out of it. You'll spoil it if you do,for the interest of the story is more in the minds than in the actionsof the people, and it will be all a muddle if you don't explain as yougo on," said Meg, who firmly believed that this book was the mostremarkable novel ever written.
"But Mr. Allen says, `Leave out the explanations, make it briefand dramatic, and let the characters tell the story'," interruptedJo, turning to the publisher's note.
"Do as he tells you. He knows what will sale, and we don't.Make a good, popular book, and get as much money as you can.By-and-by, when you've got a name, you can afford to digress,and have philosophical and metaphysical people in your novels,"said Amy, who took a strictly practical view of the subject.
"Well," said Jo, laughing, "if my people are `philosophical andmetaphysical', it isn't my fault, for I know nothing about suchthings, except what I hear father say;, sometimes. If I've got someof his wise ideas jumbled up with my romance, so much the better forme. Now, Beth, what do you say?"
"I should so like to see it printed soon," was all Beth said,and smiled in saying it. But there was an unconscious emphasis onthe last word, and a wistful look in the eyes that never lost theirchildlike candor, which chilled Jo's heart for a minute with aforboding fear, and decided her to make her little venture `soon'.
So, with Spartan firmness, the young authoress laid her first-bornon her table, and chopped it up as ruthlessly as any ogre. In the hopeof pleasing everyone, she took everyone's advice, and like the old manand his donkey in the fable suited nobody.
Her father liked the metaphysical streak which had unconsciouslygot into it, so that was allowed to remain though she had herdoubts about it. Her mother thought that there was a trifle too muchdescription. Out, therefore it came, and with it many necessarylinks in the story. Meg admired the tragedy, so Jo piled up theagony to suit her, while Amy objected to the fun, and, with thebest intentions in life, Jo quenched the spritly scenes whichrelieved the somber character of the story. Then, to complicatethe ruin, she cut it down one third, and confidingly sent thepoor little romance, like a picked robin, out into the big, busyworld to try its fate.
Well, it was printed, and she got three hundred dollars forit, likewise plenty of praise and blame, both so much greater thanshe expected that she was thrown into a state of bewilderment fromwhich it took her some time to recover.
"You said, Mother, that criticism would help me. But how canit, when it's so contradictory that I don't know whether I've writtena promising book or broken all the ten commandments?" cried poorJo, turning over a heap of notices, the perusal of which filled herwith pride and joy one minute, wrath and dismay the next. "Thisman says, `An exquisite book, full of truth, beauty, and earnestness.
All is sweet, pure, and healthy.'" continued the perplexedauthoress. "The next, `The theory of the book is bad, full ofmorbid fancies, spiritualistic ideas, and unnatural characters.'Now, as I had no theory of any kind, don't believe in Spiritualism,and copied my characters from life, I don't see how this critic canbe right. Another says, `It's one of the best American novels whichhas appeared for years.' (I know better than that), and the nextasserts that `Though it is original, and written with great forceand feeling, it is a dangerous book.' 'Tisn't! Some make fun of it,some overpraise, and nearly all insist that I had a deep theory toexpound, when I only wrote it for the pleasure and the money. Iwish I'd printed the whole or not at all, for I do hate to be somisjudged."
Her family and friends administered comfort and commendationliberally. Yet it was a hard time for sensitive, high-spirited Jo,who meant so well and had apparently done so ill. But it did hergood, for those whose opinion had real value gave her the critismwhich is an author's best education, and when the first sorenesswas over, she could laugh at her poor little book, yet believe init still, and feel herself the wiser and stronger for the buffetingshe had received.
"Not being a genius, like Keats, it won't kill me," she saidstoutly, "and I've got the joke on my side, after all, for the partsthat were taken straight out of real life are denounced as impossibleand absurd, and the scenes that I made up out of my own silly headare pronounced `charmingly natural, tender, and true'. So I'llcomfort myself with that, and when I'm ready, I'll up again and takeanother."