Little Women

I was (somewhat) looking forward to Masterpiece/BBC’s new Little Women, largely because it was going to coincide with me having to be less active and needing something to occupy my drug-addled brain, but also because, you know, Little Women. Yesterday, I started watching it, but…it isn’t Little Women; just a costumed doppelgänger.

But what else could it be?

My first contact with Little Women was when I was between second and third grades. I was a precocious reader already reading at an 11th grade level. An abridged version was for sale at the local supermarket and my mom bought it for me. It was the first real novel of my life, the first story in which I lost myself. I read it soon after we moved into our house in Nebraska — there was no carpet on the floor, just my parents’ Navajo rugs. I have a distinct memory of lying on one of them and thinking about the fact that I was lying there, reading a real book, and I would remember it.

Clearly, I do.

As time passed, I read all of Louisa May Alcott’s books. I developed a long-lived passion for American Victorian fiction that ultimately led to my Masters Thesis on Fiction and Poetry in Godey’s Lady’s Book from 1825 to 1849.”  Her novels led me to other things, too.

Louisa May Alcott’s stories wear the silver charm of Transcendentalism (no eight year old will know or care about that), and as I was growing up and reading for fun, I was unconsciously indoctrinating myself in a philosophy that would ultimately lead me to Goethe who had deeply influenced American Transcendentalist thought. But not only Transcendentalism. The chapters of Little Women are named for locations in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress such as the “Slough of Despond” and “Vanity Fair.” This Christian allegory from the 17th century is completely alive to Alcott’s characters and the sisters self-consciously regard themselves as pilgrims on the path to perfecting themselves in goodness. The novel also brings up questions of justice and fate.

It’s an incredibly complex social commentary of a time in which none of us has lived. Even at eight years old, as I closed the covers after turning the last page, I knew those girls were not me. I stood up from the floor. No hoops or crinolines, I was wearing shorts on that warm September day. “Mom, I finished it.”

But I never really finished it. The complexity of the story, the challenges of the girls, the hardships they faced because of the father’s choices, the goodness of their mother, the darkness of the Civil War, the compromises, the harshness of economic inequality, the shattered dreams, the equivocal love stories, life’s inevitable disappointment and heartbreak. Little Women was the first novel in my experience that contained real life which we all know is not happy endings, requited love, perfect health, answered questions. I’m glad the first real book of my life was that one.

Several years ago I printed pictures of all the people in history who have been my heroes and made a collage to put in my studio/shed. Louisa May Alcott’s was the first face in the first row.

Here’s a review I liked very much. I wouldn’t have written it, and don’t agree with it completely (I don’t think criticism through the backward telescope is fair) but I like it. It’s intelligent and thought-provoking, bringing up some good questions.


In other news, two forest fires already burning in my neck of the woods. Thank goodness we don’t have climate change or it would be worse. Grrrrr grrrrr grrrrrr grrrrr

22 thoughts on “Little Women

  1. If you are ever out this way, we will take you to Orchard House. It’s not far away, in Concord and it has always been one of my favorite places to visit. LMA has been badly neglected by modern women. They don’t realize how much more she was than a children’s book writer.

    • I put it on the same factors that misled historians into thinking lepers were incarcerated pariahs in the middle ages. They look at history, but not far enough back, or they don’t look at words written by people who were actually alive, instead they look through the broken bottle lenses of modern prejudice. 😦

  2. Hi Martha. Great post. I have to agree with you about the latest LW movie – pretty forgettable. As for the book, I had a similiar experience when I first read it. I loved it so much, I knew knew I’d always remember the experience. Similiar to Jane Eyre – sometimes I wish I’d never read it so I could read it again for the first time.

  3. haven’t seen the series. And at the movie theater yesterday, there was a preview for a contemporary version (this being an anniversary year–150!!). Looked more than a little strange.
    I read the book the summer between 3rd and 4th grades–like you, I was a precocious reader and hauled through the library stacks. I’ve reread it since, but not as an adult. Maybe.

  4. It’s a reality, and when I was a kid, I lived with too much reality, so for me, at the time I read it, I couldn’t finish it. Maybe one day I will.

  5. Lovely post on Little Women! You captured so much of the essence of the story I grew up cherishing.

    Would you be interested in joining the Louisa May Alcott reading challenge this June? (+ there’s a giveaway!) Details are on my blog… 🙂


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