Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott
published 1868
completed June 2011

I think most everyone knows the basic premise of Little Women. It follows the March family and their four daughters--Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy--as they grow into adulthood. I'm embarrassed to say that at thirty years old, this is my first reading of Little Women. I've never even seen the movie.

Funny little story before I get to my review. I found a copy of Little Women at a charity shop. It had the movie tie-in cover (I hate those!), but it was 20 pence so I went ahead and picked it up. I finished the book, then was super confused. The back of the book says that Jo finds love and Amy goes abroad. What? My book ended with the scene with Meg and Mr. Brooke. I guess there are two parts and my copy only had part one. The copy I have gives no indication that it is only part of the book. It says complete and unabridged. Ugh! So annoying! Luckily my husband had bought himself a toy the previous week, a shiny new iPad 2, so I downloaded the free kindle version so I could read part two. It was my first time reading a book on the iPad. I didn't love the experience, but maybe I'll get used to it at some point.

So, back to the actual talk about the book. I'm glad that there was a part two, because I wasn't that enamored with it after part one. The second part was much better than the first, I thought. I loved seeing the girls grow up and struggle to figure out who they were and what they wanted in their lives. This is, yet again, one of those books that I wish I had read as a child. I'm a teeny bit cynical and their family's happiness and innocence appeared unrealistic to me. It was also sort of preachy at times. There was always some moral lesson that the girls were learning. It's not that I disagree with Alcott's morals, it's just that it was too overt for my taste. I hate not loving a book that everyone else seems to love, but I have to be honest--it was just okay for me.

I loved the characters in Little Women, though. I appreciated that each character had their weaknesses that they needed to work through. Flaws make more realistic characters, so I appreciate that they were all a tad flawed. I really loved the section with Meg and her husband. Having been through the married with a new baby stage, it was spot on. Children are absolutely wonderful, but there is a huge adjustment period when they arrive. Trying to find time for your relationship with your spouse and still being there for your children is a delicate balance. I loved seeing Meg and her husband work through that.

In all, I would recommend it with some hesitation. I don't think it's for everyone. Christian morals play heavily into the themes and plot. I think young girls would appreciate it more than adults. I'm glad that I read it, and I'm looking forward to passing it along to my daughter when she's old enough to read it.

Have you read Little Women? What did you think? I'd love to see a movie adaptation of it. Do you have an adaptation you would recommend?


  1. Little Women was one of my favorite books as a child. I still liked it when I read it as an adult, but it was a much different experience, so you are not alone on this one! :)

  2. There are so many books I wish I'd read when I was a child! Anne of Green Gables is probably at the top of my list. It is difficult to read many of these books for the first time once you're an adult. Your entire frame of reference in life is so different!

    I did read Little Women and I wanted to be Jo the writer. But I was so upset that she didn't love Laurie!!

    I'm not sure what the definitive adaptation is but I love the one with Katherine Hepburn - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0024264/

  3. Carey--I think being an adult definitely changes the perspective on this one. I'm glad I'm not the only one that felt that way.

  4. Peggy--The frame of reference is so different it does make it difficult to enjoy them as much.

    I was so sad about Laurie too! It totally reminding me of Stephen in I Capture the Castle because I had just read that one also. They were such great boys. So sad! I kind of felt short changed that he ended up with Amy.

    Thanks for sharing about the Katherine Hepburn version. I didn't realize she had been in an adaptation. I'll definitely check it out.

  5. The same thing happened to me when I was reading this out loud to my girls. It took us forever just to get through what I thought was the whole book, and then when I realized it was just the first part, we just stopped right there. I had read it previously, and the second part is the best!

  6. Shelley--So weird that some versions have the two parts in separate books. I hope your girls enjoyed it. My review would have been much less favorable if I'd stopped at the first half.

  7. Wonderful review, Kristi! 'Little Women' was one of my favourite books when I was in school - I borrowed it from the library and read it and the edition that I borrowed was a hardback edition with a red coloured thick cover with golden letters and colour plates at the beginning of the book before the title page. I don't know whether they publish such editions these days. I was also surprised when I read the latter part of your review, because I don't remember Meg getting married. So I checked Wikipedia and discovered that the second part of the book (where Meg gets married) was originally published as a separate book (called 'Good Wives') which was later combined with the first part and published under the original title. So, it looks like I haven't read the second part of 'Little Women' yet :) I liked very much your thoughts on discovering a classic after we have grown, and wondering how we might have liked it when we were children. I don't know whether I would enjoy reading 'Little Women' if I read it again now - I need to try it sometime. I enjoyed reading about your iPad experience! One of my friends who came visiting showed me his iPad and I found it awesome, but at heart I am not really an e-reader-person as I still love regular books. So I am sitting on the fence with respect to e-readers. I loved your last line - "I'm glad that I read it, and I'm looking forward to passing it along to my daughter when she's old enough to read it." :)

  8. Vishy--That edition that you read sounds incredible. That's really interesting that it was originally published as two books. That makes sense now why it didn't indicate that it was only part one. If you do decide to re-read it, I'd love to hear what you thought. I'm guessing you'll still enjoy it. I'll definitely make sure that my daughter reads it when she's young so she will be more likely to appreciate it. :)

  9. Perhaps this is a book that you have to read at a certain stage in life. I remember reading it when I was a "tween" and just loving it. I believe I just glossed over all the morality stuff (though I remember being so intrigued by the Pilgrim's Progress parts). It just hit me in the perfect place ... so much so that I would hesitate to read it again in case I had a reaction like yours!

  10. I honestly can NOT believe that your copy only had half the book. That's awful. I read this for the first time when I was about 10 and I adored it. Jo was everything I wanted to be when I grew up. I think that eading it for the first time as an adult would have been a completely different experience.

  11. Hi Kristi! I think that in England, Little Women is still sold as two separate books -- Little Women and Good Wives. It's not necessarily known as the complete Little Women Americans now believe was the original form of publication. Little Women originally ended when the March girls were still children.

    Alcott wrote it not sure it would sell, which is why, at the end of it, she basically says it's up to the readers whether or not they get to find out what happens next to Jo and the sisters (ie: "whether the curtain rises again depends on the book's reception".)

    That's where the book originally ended. Meg's wedding starts the next book: Good Wives.

    As for all the Christian morals, the male publisher insisted that Alcott write that way (because she was a woman.) Alcott's father, Bronson Alcott, heartily agreed. Both (the publisher, in particular) wanted a tale that would teach little girls how to be proper wives and mothers.

    Alcott was very annoyed by the idea of writing so morally, which is why Laurie and Jo don't get the ending everyone wants and expects. Alcott did this purposely because she was appalled by all the letters from little girls hoping that Laurie would marry Jo, as if (said Alcott) a girl had nothing to look forward to in life, but marriage.

    So she denied the girls' requests and had Jo go for independence.

    Alcott was very much like Jo March, in that she was rebellious. She wrote adventure stories and ghost stories under a pseudonym that has only recently been attributed to her.

    What makes Little Women one of my favorite novels isn't just the moral nature of it (which I confess I like), but the fact that, underneath all that, you can see Alcott's rebellion swelling in the character of Jo. She gave the publisher his moral story, and she did it beautifully -- basing it on her own sisters. (Her sister Elizabeth was Beth -- and suffered the same fate. Anne was Meg, and May was Amy -- see the way the letters can switch to spell out Amy? [The real Amy was an artist who died very young. Louisa raised her child as a single women.)

    But Louisa also gave us Jo a feisty woman writer who wanted to write her story in a world of men that demanded she be quiet and moral. (As if speaking her mind was somehow immoral.)

    Yeah, I could so read it again.

    Two sequels follow: Jo's Boy's and Little Men.

  12. Oh, I didn't see the comment above describing that the book was originally published in two (actually four) parts. :-)

    By the way, I love reading children's classics, now that I'm an adult!! I never read them as a child. I only recently read Little Women, and I have yet to read the sequels -- which I now own. :-)

    Also an awesome one to visit: Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. (The series.)

  13. Jillian-Thanks for the great backstory. That makes sense now why the morality seemed so obvious if it was kind of forced in. How awful that they wouldn't allow her to write it in the manner she preferred. I can see now how Jo is a character created after her. It was interesting though that in her story, Jo was forced to take out the morality to make it more sensational.

    I have downloaded the two sequels on my iPad. I'll probably wait a while to get to them, but I did love Jo so it would be interesting to read more of her story in Jo's Boys.

    I just found a great deal on a boxset of the Little House on the Prairie. I never read them as a child, but my husband said he enjoyed them when his mother read them to him as a boy. I think I'll enjoy them more if I can share my first experience reading them with my children. It seems to make it easier to see it less as a stuffy adult when I'm reading them for their enjoyment. :) Thanks for stopping by and sharing your knowledge! I really appreciate it.

  14. No problem! I'm glad to help. :-)

    Have a good time reading the Little House series when you do! I don't have any kids, but I definitely loved read it for the first time, as an adult. It made me remember the innocence of childhood. :-)

  15. Jenners--I think the age you read it does make a difference. My guess is that you might still enjoy it since you have fond memories of it from when you were younger.

    Melissa--I know! I was so sad to discover that it didn't have the full story. I think it's sold separately in the UK, but has both parts in the US. I really loved Jo too! It's nice to read about an independent minded women who aspired more than just finding a rich husband. Not that there's anything wrong with marrying, but it's nice for a girl to have aspirations of her own.

  16. +JMJ+

    I read Little Men before Little Women (which had already been combined with Good Wives in my copy) and the later school-set book is still the one I love best. (Hmmmm. I wonder why Little Men was never combined with its own sequel, Jo's Boys!)

    Kristi, I think you hit the nail on the head when you pointed out how unrealistic the family's happiness and innocence are. If I remember correctly, Alcott based the March family on her own--and thanks to her father's idealistic schemes, her own family certainly wasn't very happy. And I daresay that the March women's "idyllic poverty" depends very much on the fact that their father is away from home for most of the first book. Even then, that's not how it would play out in real life, aye?

    So much for the happiness. As for the innocence . . . I totally bought it as a young reader, but it's so much harder to swallow as an adult who knows more about Alcott's real life. I think it's what we'd call a "clean" read today, although it's not sanitised as much as idealised. The great-aunt of the wholesomely bland Sweet Valley Twins. (No comment on Sweet Valley High! LOL!)

  17. Enbrethiliel--That's interesting that Alcott patterned the March's after her family. I didn't realize that. It is very much idealized, which I agree, is much easier to stomach when you're younger.

    Funny that you mention the Sweet Valley Twins! I read a few of them, but I was more of a Babysitter's Club kind of girl. I never did graduate to the Sweet Valley High ones. I'm glad I didn't because I've heard they definitely weren't wholesome!

  18. You have got to see the Katharine Hepburn adaptation.

  19. +JMJ+

    Two years ago, I decided to start reading The Baby-sitters Club as an adult, just to see what I had been missing, and was pleasantly surprised to discover how well-written they were. I feel like I wasted my youth on Sweet Valley Twins, when I could have been reading about the BSC!

    And when it comes to realism, the BSC certainly has it over the Wakefield twins. All the baby-sitters come with baggage--a word that meant no more to Jessica and Elizabeth than the luggage they'd have to pack for those dream trips to Paris or London or New York. =P Louisa May Alcott must have wished she had the freedom that Ann M. Martin did.

  20. The story is simple and sweet, but I think it still carries a strong message about the strength in the bonds of women. Progressive for the time, Alcott presents in the March women different "types" - Meg, the pretty, domestic one; Jo, the tomboyish, independent rebel; Beth, the too-good-for-this-world moral angel; Amy, the flighty, spoiled, bratty princess - at least at first; and then Marmee, the redeemed wild child who is now their strength and moral compass. The men, while not maligned are almost incidental, serving as props to highlight the different personalities of the women.

    The characters are wonderfully developed, as we see them grow through the years. The setting is very well described - you can "see" the gardens and rooms. And again, having been written for young women, the writing is easy to read and follow, if a bit long-winded. Despite Jo's detailed character development, I feel her love story was rushed and not developed enough - as opposed to those of Meg and Amy. I imagine her relationship with Bhaer is delved into more in the sequel "Little Men", which I haven't read yet.