Book Title: Little Women
Author: Louisa May Alcott
Original Publication Date: 1867
Edition Read: 2003, W. W. Norton & Co.
Total Pages: 665
Genre: Classic Young Adult/Kid-Lit
Reason Read: Re-read inspired by a modern re-telling of one of the book’s characters
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
“I’d have a stable full of Arabian steeds, rooms piled with books, and I’d write out of a magic inkstand, so that my works should be as famous as Laurie’s music. I want to do something splendid before I go into my castle—something heroic, or wonderful—that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you all, some day. I think I shall write books, and get rich and famous; that would suit me, so that is my favorite dream.”– So says Jo, Chapter 13
Having fond, but vague, memories of an abridged version of this book as a young girl I decided to re-read it after reading March which is a literary interpretation of the father in Little Women’s time away at the Civil War. I realized that I did not remember the details of Little Women and decided I wanted to rediscover the girls.
Part I is a simple, but detailed, story about 4 sisters coming into their own at home in Concord, MA while their beloved minister father is away at war. The plot is fairly uneventful, but I found it interesting because I could relate to memories from my own childhood of putting on plays with my younger brother for my family, suffering through embarrasing moments in school, pining for a future full of things better than we had and wanting desparately to become a writer. These are the things Alcott tells tales about in a way that seems homey and at times makes you wish you had their lives.
I think this is why Little Women is so popular to this day with the pre-teen set, nearing 150 years later. It is written about young girls and their universal struggles, concerns, joys and desires. We all still carry the same emotions while growing up. The tug between family obligations and independence, the difference between friendship and love, heartbreak, grief, pride, jealousy and tenacity. There are lots of moral teachings throughout, but the biggest of them is to honor your family more than even yourself. And that’s a pretty important message to convey to teenagers wanting to have nothing to do with their parents.
Part II was written after Part I was published because the public cried out for more and wanted to know what became of these sisters as adults. It is filled with far more grown-up matters such as romance, parenting, finances and travel. It is a delightful dessert to follow-up the proper and responsible main course. It has sadness woven into it but in the end the Marches live happily ever after – though not necessarily via the paths Alcott’s readers may have wanted.
Alcott did not want to write a book for girls about girls. That was her publisher’s idea. She preferred thrillers and “rubbish” to moral stories. But Little Women was the first of its kind – feeding a young female audience hungry to read about people they could relate to. It also had massive appeal because it was uncharacteristically set in New England rather than foreign lands or big cities at home. But in the end, a story about an unwealthy family of 4 sisters living in the countryside of New England was successful because the author wrote what she knew – her family.
The book is very much autobiographical and therefore the honesty and directness gives it its charm. Pretty Meg following the path of marriage and motherhood, fiery Jo choosing writing and adventure with the boys over high society, angelic Beth taking care of the homestead, and prissy Amy dreaming of balls and riches as well as creating art. Simple stories about simple girls in a challenging time at the turning point of their development into women. An American classic for young girls – and a nice re-read for this adult.
**You can read about my visit to the Alcott home, Orchard House, where Little Women was written HERE.**