Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Book 56 of 2013: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was one of the books studied in my Children's Literature course looking at different books aimed at boys and girls. It's a book that I'd looked at as a child, having had a copy of it in the Children's Classics set of books my grandparents gave me for birthday and Christmas one year.

This edition of the book is actually two books in one; the original Little Women book which introduced the March sisters to the world, and the sequel Good Wives which sees the girls paired off and begin their adult lives in earnest.

The first half of the book is heavily inspired by Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and basically follows the lives of the girls for one year while their father is away at war. The sequel's tone is slightly different and flits between the March sisters as they embark on their own lives, have children and deal with love and tragedies. It's semi-autobiographical at times as the sisters are all based on Alcott's own family, with Jo based on herself.

The fact that I started reading this on the 17th of October last year and didn't finish it until the 10th of November should tell you something about what I made of this book. I did really enjoy the first half, despite all the allegory and moral messages that were thrown at you every chapter. The second half on the other hand, well, it wasn't really my cup of tea. After setting up Laurie and Jo that gets thrown away, there are long stretches where nothing seems to happen and it just generally annoyed me.

Having studied it I have a better understanding of why it has so many religious and moral messages and why it was written that way, but that didn't stop me from finding them a bit tiresome. Basically if any of the girls do anything slightly bad, such as putting off their chores, something disproportionally bad will happen as a result, such as their sister contracting an illness and nearly dying. It was done to kind of hammer home the message about being a 'good little woman' but when it's happening virtually every chapter you can kind of stop appreciating it.

The course materials kind of explained that this was done because of the serial nature of publication at the time. I found actually studying the book more enjoyable than actually reading it. It was really interesting to hear about how this influenced future books aimed at a similar audience; though I have to admit that I didn't hugely enjoy writing the essay on it (but I still got an okay mark).

I've read a few books by Louisa May Alcott and I do have to admit that I like her writing style. There's something quite tongue in cheek at a lot of times in the story, it's aimed at younger readers but you get the impression that she quite enjoyed writing parts of it, even if she did feel beholden to the characters because of the fan reactions and enjoyed writing them less as time progressed.

I think in future if I was rereading it I'd just read Little Women and stop before I got to Good Wives, although curiosity does make me wonder about the other books featuring these characters so who knows, maybe I'll investigate those at some point.

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