Sunday, November 14, 2010
from the BRG archives: ranting on Amy
In Little Women, there is a scene where Amy, after seeing the great works of Europe, decides to give up her ambitions as an artist. Why, Laurie asks, “with so much energy and talent?”
“… because talent isn't genius, and no amount of energy can make it so,” Amy responds, “ I want to be great, or nothing. I won't be a common-place dauber, so I don't intend to try any more.”
Alcott writes this in an approving tone; as if she is applauding Amy for having the maturity to give up on her dreams. Even as a child this bothered me. What was she trying to say? If you can’t achieve greatness, don’t even bother? That your efforts are merely wasted energy in the vortex of creative geniuses? That only the immature, vain and spoiled cling to their disparate talents?
I suppose this rankles a bit deeper in me now that I’ve become an author on the mid-list. Mid-list authors realize how elusive greatness is. Like the sky, no matter how high you climb, it is always above you.
Everyday I am humbled by the amazing works around me; and time and time again I’ve been forced to accept that there are achievements beyond my capabilities. But, still I refuse to accept that striving for it is childish hubris. Maybe it is true "that talent is not genius and no amount of energy will make it so"; but what is more noble than attempting to fulfill your potential? Is it better to waste the gifts you are given because you doubt what you can accomplish? Perhaps, greatness is not the power to awe others, but the satisfaction of excelling within your own limitations.
At one point, Amy thinks of Laurie, “If that's the way he's going to grow up, I wish he'd stay a boy.” I feel the same way about her.
Originally published Aug. 3, 2006