Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Such a charming little tale, and quite a change from my last read: The Stand - terrifying, poignant, death and destruction, heroes and villains, epic world changing conflict. By contrast Little Womenis a tender tale, with only one “small” conflict – a mother’s labor to make something beautiful and useful of the lives of her four little women. (Not surprising, but worth noting – I loved both stories.)
Mother, or Marmee to her daughters, would probably object to my assertion that the book is about her, but she is the hero, though the narrative is dedicated mostly to the girls: Margaret (Meg) age 16 at the beginning, Josephine (Jo) 15, Elizabeth (Beth) 13, and Amy 12.
The March family, once a prominent mid 19th Century Massachusetts family, keep a humble but idyllic home. Mr. March is away serving as a chaplain in the Union Army during the War Between the States. The girls, usually sweet and sincere, are not yet the beautiful women they will become. I’ll offer a glimpse of the girls with the author’s words.
Poor Meg seldom complained, but a sense of injustice made her feel bitter toward everyone sometimes, for she had not yet learned to know how rich she was in the blessings which alone can make life happy
Jo never, never would learn to be proper…
Beth: Spoiler Alert – an excerpt from a poem that Jo wrote about her sister Beth.O my sister, passing from me,
Out of human care and strife,
Leave me, as a gift, those virtues
Which have beautified your life
So Amy sailed away to find the Old World, which is always new and beautiful to young eyes, while her father and friend watched her from the shore, fervently hoping that none but gentle fortunes would befall the happy-hearted girl, who waved her hand to them till they could see nothing but the summer sunshine dazzling on the sea.
The girls gave their hearts into their mother’s keeping, their souls into their father’s, who lived and labored so faithfully for them, they gave a love that grew with their growth and bound them tenderly together by the sweetest tie which blesses life and outlives death.
And the wisdom of Marmee:
Mothers have need of sharp eyes and discreet tongues when they have girls to manage. …the great charm of all power is modesty.
Of course, a story about teen girls becoming women includes embarrassing balls, awkward suitors, broken hearts, unlooked for love, and the obligatory wealthy busybody aunt.
Alcott gives nods to two classic authors. Marmee cites frequently from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progressas a guiding light for her daughters. There is even a chapter titled: Meg Goes To Vanity Fair (Vanity Fair being an allegorical city in The Pilgrim’s Progress). And then the girls were apparently avid readers of Charles Dickens as they make numerous references to his characters, and play act the Pickwick Club. There is also a reference to “the cricket on the hearth” but I believe it was more a reference to the tradition that a cricket on the hearth brought good fortune, rather than a reference to Dicken’s short story.
My Rating: 4 ½ of 5 stars
This novel satisfies – a classic by a woman author in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018.
This is my first time reading Louisa May Alcott or Little Women. The novel is a third-person narrative with definite transcendentalist theme. I toured Alcott’s childhood home, Orchard House, many years ago, and the guide stated that young Louisa would sit on the stairs at night while her father philosophized with the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne – can you imagine? Have you read Little Women? What did you think?
Beth ceased to fear him from that moment, and sat there talking to him as cozily as if she had known him all her life, for love casts out fear, and gratitude can conquer pride.
Jo’s only answer was to hold her mother close, and in the silence which followed the sincerest prayer she had ever prayed left her heart without words.
As she lifted the curtain to look out into the dreary night, the moon broke suddenly from behind the clouds and shone upon her like a bright, benignant face, which seemed to whisper in the silence, “Be comforted, dear soul! There is always light behind the clouds.”
Then it was that Margaret, sitting alone with tears dropping often on her work, felt how rich she had been in things more precious than any luxuries money could buy – in love, protection, peace, and health, the real blessings of life.
She could not speak, but she did ‘hold on’, and the warm grasp of the friendly human hand comforted her sore heart, and seemed to lead her nearer to the Divine arm which alone could uphold her in her trouble.
…love is a great beautifier
She began to see that character is a better possession than money, rank, intellect, or beauty, and to feel that if greatness is what a wise man has defined it to be, ‘truth, reverence, and good will’, then her friend Friedrich Bhaer was not only good, but great.
The fresh winds blew away desponding doubts, delusive fancies, and moody mists. The warm spring sunshine brought out all sorts of aspiring ideas, tender hopes, and happy thoughts.
For poverty enriches those who live above it, and is a sure passport to truly hospitable spirits.
…Beth still seemed among them, a peaceful presence, invisible, but dearer than ever, since death could not break the household league that love made dissoluble.
Little they cared what anybody thought, for they were enjoying the happy hour that seldom comes but once in any life, the magical moment which bestows youth on the old, beauty on the plain, wealth on the poor, and gives human hearts a foretaste of heaven.
Film Rendition: The 1994 version with Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, Christian Bale, is an excellent rendition. Well cast, true to the book, and a GORGEOUS film score.