Reading Resolution: “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
24. A book you’ve heard bad things about: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
List Progress: 12/30
My mother, my fiancee and my best friend all severely dislike Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 classic Little Women. When the three most important women in my life are so unanimous about this book about female family members, I was sure to feel the same way, right? Well…blame it on my love of crafting and cooking and the domestic arts, blame it on my love of the twee, blame it on the pandemic and the need for escapism, but I found this book very charming. I disagreed with almost all of it and feel like Alcott was fighting down a lot of her own feelings to make a commercially viable book about rebellious young girls growing up into respectable women, but damn if I didn’t have fun reading it.
Little Women was originally published in two parts, Part 1 following a year in the lives of sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, as their father is away fighting in the American Civil War. Part 2, originally published under the title Good Wives, follows the sisters into adulthood and their respective fates and marriages, so reading the two as one very much does feel like reading a book and its own sequel. And there is something very disheartening about seeing Jo, who is clearly a self-insert for Alcott herself, “see the light” and put away her silly authorial pursuits in order to marry and raise a family. Nothing about how Alcott depicts the duties of women and girls resonates with me, and I would hesitate to give this book to any of the younger girls and women in my life. But as a piece of history, something to read with adult eyes and my own fully formed opinions about how I choose to live my very-female life, I enjoyed it. Even when the teenage characters are being brats, they are written in a warm and friendly way that I could sink into.
And the aspect of the book that apparently drove many of the original fans mad ended up being one of my favorites. Jo turning down the romantic advances of her childhood friend Laurie, something which broke the heart of many an 1800’s shipper, was portrayed very realistically and with the gentleness that is needed when dealing with unrequited romantic love for someone you still care about deeply. I didn’t care much for Laurie as a character, but enjoyed reading how Jo handled the tricky situation.
If I hadn’t read this book during the biggest global crises of my lifetime, I would probably have a very different take on it, and I won’t pretend that parts didn’t frustrate me with how incredibly out-of-touch they were. But when the world’s on fire, it was nice to sit back and read about little women at work on their hems and domestic squabbles about jelly.
Would I Recommend It: Not really, but some charming brain-candy.