Monday, September 17, 2018

Happy Birthday Little Women

Little Women is 150 years old this year. It's a much loved book, never out of print and filmed repeatedly,  but sometimes dismissed as "only" a children's book, a girls book, a family story. Among the gifted people who would disagree with that are Susan Sontag, Doris Lessing, JK Rowling , Gloria Steinem and at least two of the Ephron sisters. AND  Simone de Beauvoir.

It's been fun for a life-long fan like me to read the many thoughtful articles being published this summer.   (I’ll attach some links at the end)

Myself? I read Little Women for the first time when I was much too young and certainly didn’t understand a lot of it. Someone had brought it as a gift, so I picked it up and found I could read it. So I did. I was seven; it took me a month. And I was captivated forever.  For me, then,  the book was telling the story the way it happened, so I was never one of the legions of girls who were shocked that Jo did not marry Laurie.  I’m not entirely sure I understood there was even a person who was making it up. The sisters were real people to me, more real than anyone I knew. And I’m sure I thought I was the same age as Jo. The honest talk about how to live life, and grow as a person, was thrilling and inspiring.

   I read it again and again throughout my childhood, as well as all the other Alcott books. Of course I have known for a long time that the March family was – and was not- the Alcotts, and Jo was – and was not- Louisa. Their life in Concord was - and definitely was not  - the life of the Alcotts. It’s far more complicated and interesting than any child would understand. Ideas about why Little Women matters have changed over the decades, too, a fascinating window on changing times and changing ideas about girls.


Isn’t one of the definitions of a classic is that as you re-read it with more maturity, it too seems to deepen? That there is always more to find? I was lucky to grow up with the March girls.

 And a PS, for what it's worth, my favorite filmed Jo is Katherine Hepburn, but my favorite movie of Little Women overall is the 1994 version with Winona Ryder.  And I really do believe Alcott gave Jo the perfect life partner.

Some recent articles: