Friday, 22 July 2011

'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott (1868-69)

Synopsis: Little Women is a coming-of-age novel and is set in New England during the American Civil War. It tells the story of the four March sisters and their mother whom they call "Marmee". Their father is away from home, is a chaplain in the Union Army, and doesn't really come into the story all that much. The sisters have to make do with several privations because of the war and their genteel poverty but they strive to be happy by doing charitable things for their neighbours, staging plays, going to parties, and just getting on with their day-to-day lives. Theodore "Laurie" Laurence, the grandson of their wealthy next-door neighbour, also becomes a close family friend. He is especially close to Jo. All of the four sisters are very different and they each have their flaws - throughout the novel the sisters learn to recognise and correct these flaws. The sequel Good Wives is usually published with Little Women and is set three years after the events of that book. Mr March has returned home from the war, Meg is getting married, Laurie is about to graduate from Harvard, Beth is struggling with illness, Amy is going away to Europe, and Jo is about to head off to New York to try to make something of herself.

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is a beautiful coming-of-age story. It's beautifully written and it flows very easily with the chapters being written almost as standalone short stories. I first read Little Women when I was about 11 and I still love it now I'm older. In fact it's one of my favourite books. I know it sometimes gets criticised for being sentimental and moralising but you know what? Sometimes it's just really nice to read something where characters actually grow and develop as people and learn from their mistakes, where virtue is rewarded, and where family members and friends fall out but forgive each other. Little Women is a classic and I'm hugely fond of it. It's charming, romantic, funny, moving, sad and lovely. The obvious love amongst the March family is really touching to read. What's also really interesting about the book is the fact that it's a semi-autobiographical story, with the four March sisters being based on Alcott and her real-life sisters. That's probably why all four of them - Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy - are such engaging, endearing and believable characters. They all have their own flaws and strengths. OK, maybe Beth isn't as believably flawed as the others but she still shows that even the quietest and shyest of people can make a deep impact on the people and world around them. And that's not down to her short life, it's down to her being so kind and gentle. Meg, Beth and Amy are all likeable in their own different ways but Jo is by far my favourite of the sisters. She's a fantastic heroine and is extremely likeable despite her faults. She's brave, passionate, clever, independent and strong. I can also relate to her more than the other sisters: I'm not as tomboyish as she is and I don't have her temper but I can definitely identify with her love of reading and hatred of housework. Aside from the sisters I also really love their next-door neighbour - the charming, funny, intelligent and passionate Laurie. 

If I was just reviewing Little Women by itself it would definitely give it a 5/5 rating from me but I have to take Good Wives into account as well. I enjoy it less than its prequel, mainly because of my deep disappointment and frustration that Jo and Laurie don't end up marrying which I'd always hoped would happen. Oh, why couldn't Jo and Laurie have got married?! Laurie is a perfect match for Jo! They're alike in so many ways and they're best friends! Surely marrying your best friend is a good thing?! The fact that Jo and Laurie don't end up marrying has never felt just or right to me. Also no matter how many times I read Little Women I still can't warm to Professor Bhaer, no matter how hard I try. Usually I'd love a dark-haired, intellectual type with a deep love of books but Bhaer is just so... bland. And he's so much older than Jo. Laurie is a far more interesting and attractive character than Bhaer. And then there's the fact that Laurie ends up marrying Amy instead! No this is just so, so wrong! It feels as though Laurie is only settling for Amy because he can't have Jo and he sees Amy as being the next best thing - even though Jo and Amy have very different personalities : S

Having said that - apart from my issue with the Jo/Laurie plot - I love everything else about Little Women and it really is one of my favourite books! I think I know how those Erik/Christine shippers feel: they feel that Christine shouldn't have chosen Raoul but they love everything else about The Phantom of the Opera.

Rating: 4.5/5


Geneva said...

The Laurie/Jo thing used to bother me a lot more. I understand now why she would like Bhaer. I think she would always see Laurie as a boy and she needs a man. I also see why Jo/Bhaer and Laurie/Amy work- because they balance each other out. Bhaer and Amy help Jo and Laurie become a better writer, better people, etc.

However, I still can't help but feel a little bitter about Amy and Laurie because ever since I was a little girl and saw the movie, I felt like Amy STOLE Laurie. I know that isn't the case, but it's just this odd prejudice I had against Amy. Part of it is probably because Amy is the pretty one and she starts out so self-involved.

I had a discussion with friends on Facebook a few weeks ago about which character in Little Women people thought they were most like. It was really interesting because people know these characters and their traits so well. They really do seem to resonate with all women, and I definitely think it is because they seem so real.

It's sort of like the Briggs-Myers traits that you mention in your "About Me" (I'm also INFJ btw!). One friend said she was a Jo who always wished to be an Amy. I have an aunt who is so Amy and another who is a definite Jo. I'm a Jo (I myself DO have a temper) hopefully with a bit of Beth. I think we all agreed we could all be more like Beth and that the world in general needs more Beth's.

It's just funny when you start to look at people as these characters because it's really quite easy to pick out who is which and why. I think that is a great tribute to Alcott's writing.

Hannah said...

That does make sense and I'm glad you feel differently now. I wish I felt the same. But I can't! Jo and Laurie together just feels so right and natural to me. I think I could have come around to the idea of Jo and Laurie not ending up together though if I liked Bhaer more than I do but I don't really feel that we ever get to know him properly and I've never been able to warm to him. Believe me I've tried!

I'm also a massive fan of the 1994 film - it's one of my favourite films actually - and the fact that Jo and Laurie don't end up together upsets me even more than it does in the book! Christian Bale is just sooo dashing and handsome and adorable in the role and he damn near breaks my heart in the proposal scene. *Goes away to cry in a corner, curls up in a ball, and rocks back and forth* :D

Did you know that they're making a new adaptation of LW? I'm not really happy about it because I love the 94 version so much but I am trying to be open-minded about it. I think Amanda Seyfried would make a terrific Amy actually and I'd love Michael Fassbender to play Bhaer. He's half-German and he speaks German! And if he played Bhaer I think I could finally come around to the character! :D

You're an INFJ?! YAY!!! :D Either there are more of us than people think or we just tend to spend a lot of time on the internet. I've got another blogger friend who's an INFJ and I have a friend who's a borderline INTJ/INFJ (she swings between the two a lot). Finding out I was an INFJ has easily been one of the best things that's ever happened to me. I love reading the personality profiles and finding out stuff about the type. It's been so validating: "What?! I'm not the only one who thinks and feels this way?!" I'm a pretty textbook INFJ and so much of the common traits apply to me it's not even funny. It really has made me feel so much more confident and happy with myself.

Geneva said...

Admittedly I did get INFP once, but usually I am INFJ. I think we do tend to gather in places like this.

Your reaction to the proposal is so funny. I was so devastated with it when I was little and I still do feel it, but I rationalize those emotions away as best I can.

Ugh. Another version when we already have a perfect one? Hollywood is so irritating with that! Beat a horse 'til it's dead, then beat it some more, I guess. How many versions of Batman/Superman/Spiderman does the world need?! And I say this as someone who loves both the old and newer Batman series, but they are already making another! We really need to expand Hollywood's reading list, I think.

Hannah said...

I sometimes come up as different types but I'm 100% sure I'm an INFJ. The personality profiles fit me so well.

It can be frustrating that some books get adapted over and over again whilst books that are crying out to be adapted don't get touched. I can't BELIEVE that no-one's tried to adapt A Tale of Two Cities since 1989! It's one of Dickens' shorter books, it's really famous, it's got romance, it's got lots of drama. And yet no-one touches it. Why?!

Marianne said...

One of my favorite novels! I love Bhaer, even though I know he was meant as a joke on all the girls who wrote to Alcott wanting Jo to marry Laurie. :)

Also, I too want another A Tale of Two Cities film!!

Hannah said...

I love this novel too but personally I never really felt like I got to know Bhaer properly so I have a hard time accepting the fact that Jo married him. "Hey, Jo! Why can't you marry your long-time best friend who loves you instead of this man who you've only just met!?" Hehe. But again I do love it! I'm hopefully going to re-read this one next year along with 'An Old Fashioned Girl'. For years I've been pretty ignorant about Alcott's other novels but I've heard some great things about that one. I'm excited!