New Impressions
Reading Comprehension Activity

Author: Louisa May Alcott

Chapter XXXVII passage: Laurie has been rejected by Jo, but there is another March sister around who might be interesting. Students will read the passage and respond to questions on the language, the theme, and the details.

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

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The four March sisters have grown up, and now they are all young women. Jo March has rejected a marriage proposal from her long-time friend and neighbor, Laurie. Heartbroken, Laurie has traveled to Europe with his grandfather. Once there, he meets Amy in Nice, France. Amy is also touring Europe along with her aunt, uncle, and cousin. As this passage begins, Amy has invited Laurie to a Christmas ball at the hotel where she is staying. Once there, she doesn’t think Laurie is paying enough attention to her, so she dances with other partners, including a Polish count named Vladamir.

Femme peinte par elle-même is French for a female who paints herself, or a woman who wears cosmetics.


Amy and her Pole distinguished themselves by equal enthusiasm, but more graceful agility; and Laurie found himself involuntarily keeping time to the rhythmic rise and fall of the white slippers as they flew by as indefatigably as if winged. When little Vladimir finally relinquished her, with assurances that he was “desolated to leave so early,” she was ready to rest, and see how her recreant knight had borne his punishment.

It had been successful; for, at three-and-twenty, blighted affections find a balm in friendly society, and young nerves will thrill, young blood dance, and healthy young spirits rise, when subjected to the enchantment of beauty, light, music, and motion. Laurie had a waked-up look as he rose to give her his seat; and when he hurried away to bring her some supper, she said to herself, with a satisfied smile,-

“Ah, I thought that would do him good!”

“You look like Balzac’s ‘Femme peinte par elle-même,'” he said, as he fanned her with one hand, and held her coffee-cup in the other.

“My rouge won’t come off;” and Amy rubbed her brilliant cheek, and showed him her white glove with a sober simplicity that made him laugh outright.

“What do you call this stuff?” he asked, touching a fold of her dress that had blown over his knee.


“Good name for it; it’s very pretty-new thing, isn’t it?”

“It’s as old as the hills; you have seen it on dozens of girls, and you never found out that it was pretty till now-stupide!”

“I never saw it on you before, which accounts for the mistake, you see.”

“None of that, it is forbidden; I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now. No, don’t lounge, it makes me nervous.”

Laurie sat bolt upright, and meekly took her empty plate, feeling an odd sort of pleasure in having “little Amy” order him about; for she had lost her shyness now, and felt an irresistible desire to trample on him, as girls have a delightful way of doing when lords of creation show any signs of subjection.

“Where did you learn all this sort of thing?” he asked, with a quizzical look.

“As ‘this sort of thing’ is rather a vague expression, would you kindly explain?” returned Amy, knowing perfectly well what he meant, but wickedly leaving him to describe what is indescribable.

“Well-the general air, the style, the self-possession, the-the-illusion-you know,” laughed Laurie, breaking down, and helping himself out of his quandary with the new word.

Amy was gratified, but, of course, didn’t show it, and demurely answered, “Foreign life polishes one in spite of one’s self; I study as well as play; and as for this”-with a little gesture toward her dress-“why, tulle is cheap, posies to be had for nothing, and I am used to making the most of my poor little things.”

Amy rather regretted that last sentence, fearing it wasn’t in good taste; but Laurie liked her the better for it, and found himself both admiring and respecting the brave patience that made the most of opportunity, and the cheerful spirit that covered poverty with flowers. Amy did not know why he looked at her so kindly, nor why he filled up her book with his own name, and devoted himself to her for the rest of the evening, in the most delightful manner; but the impulse that wrought this agreeable change was the result of one of the new impressions which both of them were unconsciously giving and receiving.

Comprehension Questions

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