January 13, 2013

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Reading Now:

I have never read Little Women before.

I've started it about a million times, and always ended when Amy goes to Paris. It wasn't the length that stumped me, nor the mood. It wasn't the story of the four sisters, although I have none, nor was it the setting of New England in the 1860's. In fact, I don't know what it was, exactly, that kept me from completing this beloved "children's" novel.

Except that it is not a children's novel.

Let me rephrase that. It is not a children's novel written as today's children's literature is written. There are no fantastical beasts, no magical journeys, no evil evident as a monster, wraith or snake.

Instead, the evils are real: poverty, death, heartache. And Alcott's story shows us how to face them all as we read of each girl's courage when facing her own demons.

While it is not necessarily a comforting story, I am comforted in the end. For I see that the time honored virtues of patience, faithfulness and love are worthy weapons in which poverty, death and heartache are defeated.

I left a comment in one of Tom's posts that Alcott seems to ask, "How then shall we live?" I find her answer to entail character and hope, steadfastness and faith. These traits, as she so cleverly shows us, help us overcome every adversity as they did for her little women.

I read this with Tom of Wuthering Expectations, yet it also fits with Simpler Pastimes' Classic Children's Literature Challenge. Thank you to both of you.

19 comments:

  1. This is one of my favorite books of all time. It's one of the few I reread from time to time.

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    1. I can see why it's such a favorite and why some of my friends read it every Christmas. The truths Alcott depicts are essential, in my opinion.

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  2. You're quite right, it isn't a children's story, even though I loved it when I first read it in fourth grade. There are some very adult themes and lessons, particularly when you know a little of Alcott's back story which was certainly not all sweetness and light.

    I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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    1. You read it in fourth grade?! I started it then, and many times subsequently, but I'm most impressed that you finished it in grammar school. I think I need to learn more about Alcott's back story. My husband was actually in her study in Concord, MA (I believe) but that was before we married. Now I want to visit many authors' homes.

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  3. My pleasure! I am so glad we were able to help get you over the finish line. For all of my skepticism about Second Part, the not quite real but not quite utopian community (family and school) depicted in the last chapter is worth seeing.

    Isn't a lot of children's literature written today essentially moralistic, except that the children have to contend with abusive parents and drug addiction and other edifying topics? I know these are not as popular as Harry Potter, but I think there are many shelves of them.

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    1. The last chapter, as picture perfect as it was, gives us a lovely way to wrap up the book.

      As to children's literature today being 'essentially moralistic'? For me, not so much. I read children's literature daily with my third grade students, for 28 years, and I find it adventurous. Humourous. Creative. But teaching morals? Not in my opinion. I have to go back to Aesop's fables for that, or even The Book of Virtues. It makes me sad, because so much of who I am today was formed by reading tales of the brave and strong, the honest and true.

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  4. Are you planing to read the next ones in the series. Nowadays I can no longer distinguish Little Women from Good Wives. Amy and Laurie continue to feature in my list of couples-that-wont-last-after-the-happy-ending, together with Catherine and Henry in Austen's Northanger Abbey.

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    1. The only other novels by Louisa May Alcott that I've read are Jo's Boys and something about Polly (the title of which I can't remember. I think you make a good point though, about continuing on in the series once Little Women is finished.

      As to couples that won't last, what a wonderful idea to think about! I can't say that I've made such a list for myself, but I see your point about Amy and Laurie. They seem ill-suited, unless Amy has done quite a bit of growing up. At least Laurie can provide for her in the manner to which she wants to be accustomed! I don't think he and Jo really could have worked out, even though it's odd to me that he left one sister for another.

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  5. I've only read this book once and I loved it. I watch the film version whenever its on the telly, but I have yet to read it again. Perhaps its time. I'm glad that you enjoyed it. And you are so right about the book not being a typical children's story. In fact, I don't think I ever thought of it in that way, even though I know it is considered to be children's literature. Hmm. I suppose the title doesn't help. Oh well, at the end of the day, its a great read, and I'm glad you that you finally read it all the way through ;)

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  6. Some of you might find this list of "best books for children" circa 1900 interesting, and the Little Professor's thoughts more interesting than the list.

    "in my thirteen-or-so years of teaching, no student has ever heard of The Pilgrim's Progress"

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  7. I must have read this first when I was about ten years old and found it wonderful. I have read it again and again and still find it wonderfully innocent and nostalgic.

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  8. It is gratifying to see that the market for children's books is still flourishing while books like this still manage to attract attention. Our two little grand-daughters are not quite ready for stories like this but no doubt we'll be supplying it to them once Spot the Dog has lost it's appeal!

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  9. I've never been able to get through this, either. I don't do very well with sentimental books, as I don't like my emotions being put through the wringer. A teeny step too far over the line and I feel emotionally manipulated. This is just me, you understand, a personal preference that has nothing to do with the quality of the books.

    Thinking about Tom's question about morality in children's literature, I always found the books by Jacqueline Wilson to be quietly moral. She is a very famous author in the UK, but may well not be so known in the States. But her children are often in care, or living in split families, or otherwise troubled at the start of the stories, and must learn through experience to find better, happier lives for themselves. The question is how children cope with the bad things that adults bring into their lives. And she writes with huge amounts of compassion and wry humour. The Tracy Beaker stories are perhaps the best known of her works. Anyway, I mention her in case you are interested!

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  10. Because of this post, I am mentally pushing Little Women back up on my to-be-reread pile. I read it many times, but starting as a youngster when I know a lot of that stuff was over my head.
    =) Thanks!

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  11. I've never read Little Women either, and I'm not sure why I don't feel pulled into it. Hopefully, someday I will pick it up.

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  12. I love this book and envy your reading it for the first time.

    How many times have I read this? God only knows. Elaine Showalter published a Library of America version of Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys a few years ago. Some were upset, thinking she should have included adult books, but frankly Alcott's children's books are the best.

    I've been reading Susan Cheever's biography of Alcott, and it's fascinating!

    Maybe I should go read Little Women again...

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  13. This is a favourite book of my wife, not my reading choice but I read it years ago as it was part of the classic collection my grandparents had.

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  14. I don't think I've ever read it all the way through either.
    Ann

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  15. I'm glad you finally finished Little Women! I've technically never finished myself, stopping short by about four chapters (Why? I was so close...) the first time, and I'm still working on my current read-through. But I've read the sequels!

    It really is a lovely book. I like the question you find Alcott asking, "how then shall we live?" I hadn't thought of it that way, but it really does apply.

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