Artistic Attempts
Reading Comprehension Activity

Author: Louisa May Alcott

Chapter XXVI passage: In “Little Women,” Amy is the youngest and the artist in the family. As this passage shows, Amy certainly suffered for her art. Students will read the passage and answer questions on the language, character traits, and the details.

Topic(s): Realistic Fiction. Skill(s): Summary, Character Traits, Context Clues. Genre(s): Prose

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The four March sisters in Little Women are growing up during the Civil War. Meg is the oldest, followed by Jo, Beth, and then Amy. Amy is the sister who loves art in all forms. In this passage, Amy tries different types of art in order to find the best one for her.


Charcoal portraits came next; and the entire family hung in a row, looking as wild and crocky as if just evoked from a coal-bin. Softened into crayon sketches, they did better; for the likenesses were good, and Amy’s hair, Jo’s nose, Meg’s mouth, and Laurie’s eyes were pronounced “wonderfully fine.” A return to clay and plaster followed, and ghostly casts of her acquaintances haunted corners of the house, or tumbled off closet-shelves on to people’s heads. Children were enticed in as models, till their incoherent accounts of her mysterious doings caused Miss Amy to be regarded in the light of a young ogress. Her efforts in this line, however, were brought to an abrupt close by an untoward accident, which quenched her ardor. Other models failing her for a time, she undertook to cast her own pretty foot, and the family were one day alarmed by an unearthly bumping and screaming, and running to the rescue, found the young enthusiast hopping wildly about the shed, with her foot held fast in a pan-full of plaster, which had hardened with unexpected rapidity. With much difficulty and some danger she was dug out; for Jo was so overcome with laughter while she excavated, that her knife went too far, cut the poor foot, and left a lasting memorial of one artistic attempt, at least.

After this Amy subsided, till a mania for sketching from nature set her to haunting river, field, and wood, for picturesque studies, and sighing for ruins to copy. She caught endless colds sitting on damp grass to book “a delicious bit,” composed of a stone, a stump, one mushroom, and a broken mullein-stalk, or “a heavenly mass of clouds,” that looked like a choice display of feather-beds when done. She sacrificed her complexion floating on the river in the midsummer sun, to study light and shade, and got a wrinkle over her nose, trying after “points of sight,” or whatever the squint-and-string performance is called.

If “genius is eternal patience,” as Michael Angelo affirms, Amy certainly had some claim to the divine attribute, for she persevered in spite of all obstacles, failures, and discouragements, firmly believing that in time she should do something worthy to be called “high art.”

Comprehension Questions

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