"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Little Women...a retrospective

As a young girl I adored Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I must have been in 5th or 6th grade when I read it. I remember laying on my bed with book in hand dreaming of the life that the March sisters led, pining for a time I would never know. I loved Jo the most. I wanted to be Jo, so sure of herself and so talented, yet fun-loving, independent, and strong. If I was Jo then I thought of my older sister Kathy, as Meg. She was much better looking than me and more feminine, like Meg. My younger sister, Grace, had to be Amy, and in a way she is. Grace is very creative (we could call it artistic) and she does have blonde hair just like Amy. There was no Beth in our family, but that was fine with me since Beth dies and I didn't want anyone in my family to die. My brother, Tony, could be Lawrence (Teddy). He was always willing to play with his sisters if there were no male playmates around and he and I always had good romps when we played in the swimming pool or outdoors. We weren't a perfect match for the March family but if we scrunched we could sort of fit into the slots provided by these literary characters.

With these happy memories to look back on I was thrilled when Little Women was selected as my Classics Club Spin book. Surely a book I loved so much as child should warm my heart as an adult. In fact, I couldn't remember if I had read the unabridged or abridged version of the book first time around so I looked forward to reading the whole unabridged book this time around, all 500+ pages of it. I checked out the library copy of the book and I also cued up the audiobook on my computer. Last summer I got a free download from SYNC and I hadn't listened to any of it yet. First glitch, I couldn't figure out how to transfer the file from my computer to my iPod. Bummer, that meant if I wanted to listen to it I was tethered to my computer. Reading the print version was an option but I already had three (or was it four) books I needed to finish for book club and other projects. All of this I tell you just to make the point that I got off to a rough and a late start.

Right from the epigraph I knew that my childhood memory of the book wasn't going to hold up.
Go then, my little Book, and show to all/That entertain and bid thee welcome shall, /What thou dost keep close shut up in thy breast; /And wish what thou dost show them may be blest/To them for good, may make them choose to be/ Pilgrims better, by far, than thee or me./ Tell them of Mercy; she is one/Who early hath her pilgrimage begun./ Yea, let young damsels learn of her to prize/The world which is to come, and so be wise;/ For little tripping maids may follow God/ Along the ways which saintly feet have trod. 
Apparently Louisa May Alcott was making a point right from the start that all the work-a-day stories in the book about the sisters were not nearly as important as the religious messages she would be delivering therein (Shmoop). And to say there is a preaching tone to the book is stating it mildly. As a child I missed all the literary allusions to Pilgrims Progress and knew nothing about the Transcendentalists ideals. As an adult I felt clobbered over the head by them.

With these thoughts in mind I wonder what is it that makes Little Women so special? Why is it even considered a classic? After consulting Shmoop I found a few answers to my query. It is consider the classic book for girls. Why? Probably because every girl whoever reads it does exactly what I did as a child---fit, or tries to fit, her family into the pages of the book. We all know people exact like Jo, and Meg, and Amy.  We may even know a few sweet Beths. We all wish we had mothers like Marmee and families who lived up to their ideals even if it means they forgo earthly riches. We want friends like Laurie and opportunities for creative pursuits.

The first 23 chapters of Little Women were published in 1868 and it is largely accepted that these chapters were based on Louisa May Alcott's life. These chapters seem so real because they probably were quite true. The second half of the book, chapters 24-47, were originally published a year later in 1869 in a book called Good Wives. The reading public demanded that Alcott continue the story of the four sisters into adulthood. Everyone wanted to know if Jo and Laurie would end up together. "Without her own life experiences, the second part of the novel may feel less realistic. However, no amount of fan-mail could force Alcott to marry off the two main characters in the way her readers expected" (Shmoop).

In addition to being the quintessential girl book, it holds up well to the scrutiny of English teachers over the ages with all kinds of themes, literary allusions, and literary spin-offs. I pity the poor boy who ever had to study this book in class, though I dare say it is unlikely to happen in this generation. High School English teachers no longer have the luxury to teach long books and students, with a few rare exceptions, are unlikely to select them for their own enjoyment.

In a funny coincidence, the day I finished Little Women this week I opened up Google to find this picture as their Google Doodle of the day, since it was Louisa May Alcott's 184th birthday.

Google Doodle from Nov. 29, 2016

Am I glad I read Little Women again even though it didn't 'wow' me the way it did when I was a kid? YES. Will I read it again? UNLIKELY. Will I recommend it to readers of the future? YOU BET. It holds a special place in American Literature and always will. "Aside from moral lessons, historical significance, and the sheer enjoyment of reading, Alcott's novel includes a well-drawn cast of characters that are still familiar to us (Shmoop). Hopefully these characters will be our friends for life.



Source:
Shmoop Editorial Team. "Little Women." Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 1   Dec. 2016.







12 comments:

  1. Great post! I loved Little Women as a child, but have never reread it as an adult... mostly out of a fear that it might not withstand the test of time. I certainly missed the preach overtones quite a few decades ago. Would be curious to see how it strikes me today.

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  2. Interesting to see how differently your adult self reacted. I also loved this book as a child and have it on my Classics Club list for a re-read, though I've been a bit apprehensive that it might destroy my childhood memories. I read her Hospital Sketches a couple of months ago and can't say I really enjoyed her style - she does seem to like to preach at people. But I'm encouraged by the fact that you thought Little Women was worth re-reading even if it isn't exactly how you remembered it...

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  3. I read this often as a kid, but never as an adult. I remember finding all the Pilgrim's Progress bits at the beginning to be preachy. But then, a lot of classic children's lit was like that, you had to wade through the moralizing to get at the good story lurking within. I just kind of accepted it as the price of admission.

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  4. Fascinating. I loved the book as a child too and wonder what I would think about it now. I was much more a fan of the Anne of Green Gables series.

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    1. I've only read the first book in the Anne of Green Gables series, but love it. Little Women isn't bad, it just isn't what I remembered.

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  5. When I was a kid I didn't love this book, but I liked it enough that I asked for all the Little Women Madam Alexander Dolls! I think having those dolls gave me a better connection to the book. I was shocked decades later when my daughter read the book and Beth didn't die! The version she got must have wanted to "soften" the story. It just felt wrong.

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    1. That is disgusting that they took out Beth's death. That is the definition of bowdlerize: bowd·ler·izeˈbōdləˌrīz,ˈboud-/Submit
      verb---remove material that is considered improper or offensive from (a text or account), especially with the result that it becomes weaker or less effective.

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  6. thanks for sharing. I have to admit, I so hated that book when I was young, I could not stand those girls, lol. Emma

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  7. I had a similar problem with my ccspin choice - The Secret Garden. Clobbered is a very apt discription!
    http://bronasbooks.blogspot.com.au/2016/10/the-secret-garden-by-frances-hodgson.html?m=1

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    1. Eek. Maybe I will take that one off my Classics Club list. I do't want to read another moralistic book any time soon.

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  8. Very interesting - I've re-read my E. Nesbits and Noel Streatfeilds and The Secret Garden held up as did all the others, but I've never re-read Little Women, even though I love to re-read and I have all FOUR volumes!

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  9. Nice review. I wouldn't mind reading this classic. I think it passed me by as a kid. But I did enjoy the 1994 movie of it with Winona Ryder as Jo. Ha! and Christian Bale too.

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