LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott | Review

20893528-2The enduring popularity and praise of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has intrigued me for some time. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this classic American novel stand out among its neighbors, particularly since it initially seemed to be a simple story about four sisters living during the Civil War. What is it about the March family that has captivated and enchanted readers, especially girls, since its publication in 1868? What was so special about Beth, Amy, Jo, and Meg that catapulted these fictional sisters into over a century of literary fame? These and numerous other questions swam in my mind as I purchased my own copy of Little Women and ultimately fueled my desire to read this beloved classic.

Needless to say, I now understand all of the praise that these sisters’ story has received over the years. What first appears to be a simple story about a poor family’s optimistic way of life actually offers the reader so much more: lessons of morality, right and wrong, friendship, love, loss, materialism, growing up, and countless other meaningful messages that anyone and everyone can benefit from reading. If I had to describe Little Women in only a single word, I would resolutely exclaim: “QUAINT!” This is perhaps the most quaint book I have ever read. A warm, fuzzy feeling blossomed within me from the very first page and continued to bloom until I had closed the cover for the last time. If you’re looking for a book to make you sigh with contentment and joy, then do yourself a favor and look no further than this classic.

I think a great deal of the charm and fun of this novel stems from the reader’s ability to see him or herself reflected in many of the characters. It’s tempting to label myself purely as a headstrong, adventurous, curious Jo or solely an obedient, responsible, kindhearted Meg. However, over time the reader surely realizes, as did I, that she is a blend of all of the sisters combined. Each sister has personality traits that we wish we could both embody and cast aside. They are undeniably human, complete with faults and flaws that make us point at the page and exclaim, “So I’m not the only one who does this!” or “Other people feel this way, too!”

Apart from the sisters, my favorite characters were by far Laurie and Mr. Laurence. I loved watching the friendship between Laurie and Jo grow and develop as they aged as well as the adorable friendship between Beth and Mr. Laurence. I longed to visit their house and spend hours in their impressive library, listening to the notes of the grand piano floating down the hall. Laurie’s funny, witty personality made me laugh and grin more times than I could count and he consequently played a main role in many of my favorite scenes. (Camp Laurie, anyone?)

Is this story unrealistically ideal? Yes. Though it does address a handful of unpleasant topics (death, poverty, etc.), on the whole it almost resembles a fairy tale in the way that everything wraps up neatly at the end. Part of me wishes that Alcott had allowed a few of the girls– especially Jo– to be more independent and, essentially, not get married. Because this story is set during the Civil War, it is understandable that it wouldn’t align with the values of modern feminism and the idea that women need not marry in order to live a happy and fulfilling life. Still, while reading I couldn’t help but hope that at least one of the girls would find the courage and independence to go off on their own and set sail for a life of unexpected adventures. I did cringe inwardly at times, particularly when Meg’s mother emphasized the vital importance of pleasing her new husband and ensuring that he was happy no matter the circumstances. Again, a little more female independence would have been lovely, but my expectations weren’t too high given the time of the book’s publication.

Another small qualm I have about Little Women is that I was hoping for more historical context or direct interaction with the time period. Of course, the war was obviously mentioned in regard to the girls’ father being away fighting in it; however, no specific information was discussed concerning sides of the war or race relations in general. I’m assuming that they were fighting on the side of the Union since none of the people surrounding them seemed to own slaves or live on plantations, but no questions are answered concerning their views towards what is going on in their country at this tumultuous time in American history. I find it a little hard to believe that race relations and the war more specifically would not have come up in conversation at some point over the course of these years in their household.

Overall, it’s clear that Louisa May Alcott deserves all of the praise given to her charming, enduring novel Little Women. Despite its predictability and slow pace at times, I couldn’t help being captivated by this adorable, heart-warming story of sisterhood, family, love, and life.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely, especially to someone who enjoys reading character-driven stories that focus on family and relationships.

Have you read this book before? What are your thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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27 thoughts on “LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott | Review

  1. What a lovely review for an equally marvellous book! If you really enjoyed this then you might enjoy its sequel, ‘Good Wives’, and the two sequels after that, ‘Little Men’ and ‘Jo’s Boys’. I thoroughly enjoyed all four, although none as much as the first, of course.

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    1. Thanks so much!! I didn’t realize that so many sequels were written, so I’ll definitely have to check them out. I feel like these are such great books for when you need something uplifting and sweet to cozy up with. πŸ™‚

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      1. Good Wives is a sequel in England. If you read the American version, Holly, then there is no sequel Good Wives. In America, they take the first two novels and put them into one, and call it all Little Women. I am assuming you’ve read what England calls Good Wives because you reference Meg’s wedding in your review. In England, the book Little Women ends halfway through our version, when everyone is still a child.

        I’ve read Little Men and Jo’s Boys. Little Men is really cute and made me laugh. I liked it a lot. Jo’s Boys was written not long before Alcott died. It feels a lot sadder to me, but she manages to get in A LOT of speeches about female rights, and clearly wants to see women educated on equal par with men. So for that reason I approve. πŸ™‚

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  2. Love your review! I started this book many years ago when I picked it from my school library’s shelf. I don’t think I went past first few pages. I still remember the cosy feel it gave me. Sadly I didn’t finish it then but it’s on my list now more than ever after reading your review.

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    1. Thank you!! That cozy feeling it gives is one of my favorite aspects of this book. It’s certainly one of those novels that takes its time, meandering through the lives of these girls without a sense of urgency or hurry. But once you become really invested in the characters and their stories, there’s no turning back! πŸ™‚

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  3. I loved this book as a girl, and read it several times, always crying when Beth died. I read the continuing books Little Men and Jo’s Boys in addition to An Old Fashioned Girl. Great classics, with old school morals and manners.

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  5. DEAR HOLLY. YOU MUST READ MARCH BY GERALDINE BROOKS. IT IS THIS SAME STORY TOLD THROUGH THE EYES OF MR. MARCH WHILE HE IS AT WAR. PARDON THE ALL CAPS.

    πŸ˜‰

    That’ll give you some of that historical context. There’s a scene where Mr. March is in a church, and outside he can actually hear a slave auction. It’s so loud everyone in the church can hear it, and no one does anything. That scene hasn’t left me. Highly recommended.

    Louisa May Alcott’s family home was a shelter along the Underground Railroad. She was an ardent abolitionist who fully supported John Brown. (Martyr for the Union who died trying to start a slave revolt with something like twenty people. I think I recall that he was arrested by Robert E. Lee.) Her family was close with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Her father invented recess: as in, he actually invented that. Before him, kids had to sit in lines and be stoic. He came up with the idea of recess because he said children need to run and play. They need a break, and if they get that, they’ll be far more open to learning. THANK YOU FOR THAT SIR. I ENJOY RECESS AND FEEL THAT ADULTS SHOULD GET ONE TOO. He was extremely successful as an innovator in education, but he was scorned in Massachusetts because he admitted an African-American girl to his school, and when parents complained, he refused to turn her away. He was financially and professionally ruined.

    That’s why Alcott doesn’t mention slavery in Little Women: she had to sell books (her family was left devastated, and she became, as a writer, their bread-winner), and abolitionism was considered highly radical in the North as well as the South. On par with communism. As in, people thought freeing the slaves would mean a collapse of class status and everyone owning everything equally and no one being rich. They did not like to think about anything changing, therefore let’s not talk about it. Was their philosophy. A lot of Northerners wanted slavery to end, but there was a lot of “but let’s not be hasty and ruin society, just so long as we can end it gently” sort of talk. Abolitionists were the exception, not the rule. But all of the Alcotts most definitely had opinions, and believed in abolition. Also, like Jo, Louisa (Lu) wanted to be in the war, so she volunteered as a nurse in Washington DC. Which I find pretty courageous. She had to help both Northern and Southern soldiers and caught typhoid and lost her hair (like Jo) and saw gruesome things, and her health was never the same.

    She was also most definitely a feminist. So was her father. So was her mother. I find that mighty cool. If you read between the lines in Little Women, you might notice some places where she gives readers their “little women” while undercutting her acceptable presentation with feminism. Her publisher wanted her to create a book about good little girls who become good little women, a philosophy she loathed. But she needed the money. So she gave him flawed girls and suggested that women can have a bildungsroman like a male character (a rather new notion, though Charlotte Bronte did it first). I could go on and on on this! For example, she can’t lecture her readers on the right for the female vote, but she has Jo sit behind a group discussing the female vote, to get the topic in there. She lectures her readers on how important it is for Meg to marry and be good to her husband (completely expected topic of the day), but at Meg’s wedding, she has Meg kiss Marmee, not the groom. I LOVE THAT. She was giving the readers their happily ever after, but undercutting it by putting the female relationship higher than the romantic one. It’s slipped in so fast you might miss it, but she does that kind of thing throughout the novel. Women of the day simply couldn’t speak freely on points that make complete sense to us, if they hoped to sell books. They had to stick stuff in on the sly to undercut the resolution the reader and publishers demanded. I LOVE FINDING ALL THE WAYS THEY JANE AUSTEN THE SWEET OUT OF THEIR NOVELS. (That means they give you a wedding with a smirk.)

    Meanwhile, did you know Orchard House is still standing? As in, you can actually go visit it. I KNOW.

    I adore this book, to conclude. For everything it says, and everything it couldn’t say. It’s based on her sisters and her mother, whom they all called Marmee.

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      1. Okay, I have to tell you one more thing: her sister May was the inspiration for Amy. She became a famous artist in Europe, whose works are still respected today. SHE TRAINED THE GUY WHO SCULPTED THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL. I thought you’d find that cool. If you google May (Also called Abba and Abigail) Alcott, you can see some of her work. Louisa had made enough money from Little Women, she was able to help her sister succeed. SPOILER FOLLOWS: The book shows women having to give up on their art because they can’t have both love and a career. In real life, May married a man in Europe and had a child, and also was a famous painter. She died in childbirth, and her child was sent home to Concord and raised by Louisa, who never married. This child was also named Louisa May, and was interviewed for recent biographies on Alcott. I FIND THAT RIDICULOUSLY COOL.

        There’s a book about May which I quite want to read (but haven’t yet) called Little Woman in Blue. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thank you for all that wonderful information about Louisa May Alcott – you have inspired me to read more about her. I will also search out March by Geraldine Brooks (who wrote one of my favourite books, Year of Wonders).

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  6. It’s been on my to-read list for years! Hopefully I will get round to it soon haha. By the way I’ve nominated you for the Sunshine Blogger award so check out the post on my page if you’d like to take part πŸ™‚

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  7. One of my favorite books and movies! I loved it first for Jo, like most people do, but I’m planning to read it again soon because more and more it is Amy, the one most people find hardest to love, that pops into my mind. I want to learn more about her I suppose. Great review!

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  8. Brilliant review! Completely agree with you about Jo, I would have liked her to have been given more independence. She’s such a strong character! I love this book, I think because I’m one of four sisters myself. You should definitely check out some of the film adaptations, or see it on stage πŸ™‚ Also, that’s such a lovely edition!

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  9. I read this when I was a child and similar to you I found it charming and sweet but the pace also quite slow! I have a friend who loves it – she never had any sisters and thought that their lives seemed wonderful! πŸ™‚

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  10. Marmee and Louisa, a dual biography of LMA and her mother written by a descendant of the Alcott family, is brilliant – I think you might enjoy it immensely, and if you read Little Women again afterwards, suddenly a lot of social commentary seems to pop up – really deepens perception of what happens and is said in the novel. I admit though that I was even more agitated about the Jo-Laurie situation after reading this biography, it really made me long for a different ending for Jo/Louisa.

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