Chapter 10 The P.C. and P.O.
In the spring, the girls tend to their garden plots and form a secret society named the Pickwick Club, after Dickens, with each dressing and acting like a particular character. They create a weekly newspaper, which the narrator assures the readers is a copy of a genuine newspaper composed by four real girls. Jo proposes adding Laurie to the club, and Meg and Amy at first oppose, wanting to be private, but Beth speaks on Laurie’s behalf and wins the day. Jo then shocks the club by revealing that Laurie was hiding in the closet all along. Laurie apologizes for the trick, and makes amends with the presentation of a post office, a converted birdhouse to sit in the hedge between the two houses. Delighted with the gift, the club enjoys a lively discussion and benefits from Laurie’s presence. The post office, the narrator tells us, flourishes as well, passing trinkets and tickets as well as even a few love letters in the future.
Chapter 11 Experiments
In the summer, Meg and Jo celebrate that their employers are off for three months elsewhere, so they have vacation. The girls decide that after their hard work, they want to spend their days in idle enjoyment. Amy and Beth wish to have a rest as well, and Marmee grants permission for a one-week experiment, warning that they will miss the balance of some work and some play. The girls indulge in their activities, Meg buying and fixing up clothes new clothes, Jo reading to her heart’s delight, Beth arranging her closet and learning music, and Amy drawing. They find the days growing longer and more tiring and pervaded with ennui. Marmee and Hannah make up for their housework, until the weekend, when Marmee gives Hannah a vacation and spends the day resting and going out.
The girls are relieved to have some work to do, but are surprised by how challenging the housework is. Meg spoils breakfast and Jo says she will make dinner and invites Laurie. Jo attempts to manage the kitchen, but ends up with burnt bread, salty strawberries, sour cream, meager lobster, and lumpy blancmange. In addition to Laurie, Miss Crocker, an elderly neighborhood gossip, calls for dinner and experiences the entire mess. Despite Jo’s disappointment, they all enjoy a laugh over the meal, followed by a somber funeral for Pip, Beth's bird who was not fed all week. The girls continue to work into the evening, cleaning up and managing tea, and feel exhausted when Marmee returns.
Marmee asks if the girls enjoyed their experiment, and explains that she deliberately went away so they could see the effects of everyone deciding to be idle, rather than each doing her own duty. Work, she explains, helps everyone feel independent and useful, and it is important to balance work with time for pleasure. The girls each pledge to spend their summers learning a useful skill or accomplishment.
Chapter 12 Camp Laurence
Beth’s delivery of the post one summer day brings several things. Meg receives one glove and a poem translated from German by Mr. Brooke, which makes Mrs. March wonder about Mr. Brooke's intentions for Meg. Jo receives a note from her Mother admiring how she is working to master her temper, for which she is grateful. Finally, Laurie has sent an invitation for all the girls to spend the day boating and camping with some visiting friends from England, along with a large-brimmed hat. Beth promises to come, despite her shyness, and the girls prepare for the day, Jo wearing her floppy hat against Meg’s wishes.
The Vaughns, Kate, Fred, Frank, and Grace, are friendly though distinctly British. Kate is standoffish, Fred is a prankster, Frank is lame, and Grace gets on with Amy quite well. Ned Moffat also comes, wanting to see Meg, as does Mr. Brooke, Laurie’s tutor, and Sallie Gardiner. Laurie’s servants and housemen set up a great tent with food and games, and the party boats up the river and plays croquet. Both teams play well, teasing each other about Yankees and 1776, and Jo wins, despite Fred Vaughn cheating. Jo sees him and works very hard to control her temper, for which Meg and Laurie commend her. They help prepare lunch, then sit and play games. They begin with Rig-marole, a storytelling game, with Mr. Brooke starting a story about a young knight hoping for the hand of a poor princess, then the next person in line taking the story in a different direction, and so on. The next game is Truth, whereby Laurie and Jo make Fred confess that he cheated at croquet and that he thinks the English nation is perfect. While the others play Authors, Kate, Meg, and Mr. Brooke speak. Kate looks down on Meg for being a governess, but Mr. Brooke defends the independence of working men and women in America, and helps Meg read a German poem. It appears that Mr. Brooke is quite fond of Meg, but she has no idea. Ned Moffat makes his intentions more clear, but Meg avoids flirting, having learned from the gossip at the Moffats' party.
Chapter 13 Castles in the Air
After a frustrating day, Laurie spies the March girls going on a picnic and decides to follow them. He finds them in a clearing, and is given permission to join as long as he is not idle. The girls explain that as part of their Pilgrim’s Progress game, they have been working on their goals over the vacation. In order to be outdoors, they come to this clearing, which they call Delectable Mountain, carrying poles and bags, and continue their work while looking out over the landscape. They discuss Heaven, and then each describes her or his favorite Castle in the Air, or dream for the future. Laurie wishes to be a famous musician in Germany. Meg wishes a nice home full of luxurious things and kind people. Jo wishes to write books, be famous, and have a stable of Arabian steeds. Amy wishes to go to Rome and be the most famous artist in the world, and Beth wishes just to stay at home with her family.
Laurie is afraid his grandfather will force him to go into business, despite Laurie’s wishes, and says he would run away if there were anyone else to stay with grandfather. Jo encourages him for a moment, but Meg reminds him to be dutiful toward his grandfather and trust that he will be just and kind, as he has been with Mr. Brooke. Meg then describes what she heard from Mr. Laurence about Mr. Brooke, that he had given up better paying jobs to take care of his mother and now takes care of another elderly woman. That evening, listening to Beth play for Mr. Laurence, Laurie decides to stay with his grandfather and give up his ‘castle’ of being a musician.
Chapter 14 Secrets
Jo finishes a manuscript and then goes into town on a mysterious errand. Laurie sees her from a gymnasium, which Jo mistakes for a billiard saloon and chastises him. Laurie says he only goes to saloons occasionally, but Jo warns him to be careful not to get too wild, or Mother will prevent him visiting, as she does other fashionable gentlemen like Ned Moffat. After the lecture, Laurie and Jo agree to exchange secrets. Jo has left two stories with a newspaperman, and is waiting to see if he will print them, and Laurie encourages her.
Laurie’s secret is that John Brooke has one of Meg’s gloves, which is why only one was returned in Chapter 12. Laurie thinks the budding romance is quite lovely, but Jo feels upset and confused. To make her feel better, Laurie convinces her to run down the hill with him, like a boy. Jo gives in, and feels better, but Meg comes along and chastises her for romping. Jo defends herself, never wishing to grow old, feeling already that Meg is growing away from her. Meg is coming from hearing about a lovely wedding and confesses to being envious, which Jo says she is glad for so that Meg will never marry someone poor (as Mr. Brooke is). For the next two weeks, Jo acts very strangely, is rude to Mr. Brooke, attached to Meg, and always laughing with Laurie. Jo comes in one day with a newspaper story and reads it aloud to the girls, who quite like it, and are shocked to learn that Jo is the author. Jo is delighted that someday she may be able to write to support herself and help the family.
This section of the book is very literary. Alcott employs Dickens's "Pickwick Society" to demonstrate a shared knowledge among her characters that brings them closer with one another and with any familiar readers. Laurie's exchange of "v" for "w" in "dewote" signifies all of the characters' familiarity with Dickens. Alcott includes a newspaper she produced as a child, and references her own works and poetry. As with Pilgrim's Progress, the girls' employment of a grand story of adventure to discuss their domestic dramas gives their experiences greater meaning and importance. The characters embrace this consciously when they climb up the hill to "Delectable Mountain" and look out over Boston, imagining it is their "Celestial City."
Alcott includes and alludes to several of her own works, which enhance the realism of the book, a clearly intentional tactic, as Alcott stresses the bona fide nature of the newspaper. Her contemporary allusions also invite her readers to identify with the girls as similar to themselves, who have likely also cried over Wide, Wide, World or read about Flora McFlimsey in Harper's Weekly. The section concludes with Jo's first successful publications. However, there is a distinction drawn between the March family's and Laurie's references to characters and stories to enhance their conversation and Fred Vaughn's plagiarism from The Sea Lion while playing Rig-marole.
Work is another major theme in this section. The girls' experiment helps them find solace in balancing work and pleasure, even during their vacation. Kate Vaughn is surprised that Meg is a governess and is rude to the tutor Mr. Brooke. John defends work as a form of independence, and tells Meg "there is no place like America for us workers." Laurie finds work a cure for his irritability when he comes across the girls discussing their Castles in the Air. The castles they envision, though, are filled with genius and luxury, rather than housework.
The visit of the Vaughns provides one of the first opportunities for Alcott to portray the distinctly American traits of her characters, being "free and easy" rather than standoffish, fighting with the spirit of '76, and saying, "We don't cheat in America." As both Americans and Northerners, her characters embrace the term "Yankee" proudly. When Fred accuses Yanks of being tricky, Jo responds, "Yanks have a trick of being generous to their enemies." Kate Vaughn concludes that American girls are "demonstrative" but likeable.
In this section, several characters and the reader are informed of Mr. Brooke's affection for Meg, but Meg is still unaware. Thus, Alcott employs dramatic irony, whereby the reader interprets Mr. Brooke's and Jo's actions differently than Meg does. Jo is deeply upset about the changes she foresees, viewing Meg's marriage as a threat to the sanctity of the family. Becoming more womanly is Jo's particular burden, but the idea that womanhood threatens the family causes Jo to revert to childlike ways, running down the hill with Laurie.