19 December 2013

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

As is normally the case, I’m a late to the party. Carrie’s Reading to Know Book Club read Little Women for their November selection. I’m not sure why it took me so long locating the book, but I did, a few days ago, and read the majority of it in two days. I love Little Women. I think it can be a little preachy, but overall a sweet story that I hope my daughters will love, if I ever have daughters, but reading it in two days, is just too much of a good thing. Aside from reading too much Little Women at a time this was a really fun reread.
     Little Women is made up of two books really: Little Women and Good Wives. Most of the time Good Wives isn’t treated as a separate work and it really shouldn’t be anyway. I believe the second part was written after the overwhelming reception of the first, but Louisa May Alcott combined the two not too long after both were on the market. Little Women is a story of the four little March girls: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. It’s another one of those books that just takes a normal flawed little family and follows them into adulthood. So boring right? Well, wrong, in my opinion, but I have seen people decry this book as saccharine and boring and a tough sell to today’s kids. It is a little dated and it is a little preachy, but the last time I looked, kids today deal with envy, vanity, death, and discontent just like they have for generations. I firmly believe in books gently easing children into tough subjects by dealing with said subjects in a quiet manner and I think Alcott pulled it off. None of the girls are perfect (Ok, Beth kind of comes a little close), but they are all trying. There is an element of Christianity in the book, but I’m just going to skim over that because it seemed to be more of a moralistic type Christianity. It made sense because it’s kind of a little book of morals wrapped around a story about four girls, but I don’t think there is much to wrestle with there.
     Little Women is interesting to me because I found parts of myself in all four of the girls (Ok, maybe not Beth), and I think that is the beauty of the book. Most women and girls can find parts of themselves in the characters or at least fully relate to one of them. I am not the eldest sister but I’ve always played the role of the eldest sister and some of the way Meg interacted with her younger sisters was like me. I connected with Jo’s independence and love of reading and writing. And Amy struggled with being selfish. That’s all I’m gonna say about that.
     When I was younger and read Little Women I remembered finding Beth so annoying because she was SO dreadfully perfect, but I didn’t feel like that this time around. It could be that I now noticed the small struggles she had, but I think it had more to do with being older and recognizing Beth’s good qualities. As I age (she says from the lofty age of 27) I find those literary and biblical paragons of perfection to be much less annoying than I used to find them. I guess we all have to strive to look like someone right? I mean, Christ was perfect and we want to look like him.
      There are plenty of little lessons that are sprinkled throughout the book, but two I particularly liked were Beth’s resigning herself to dying and Mrs. March’s little lesson about how she has “plans” for her girls.
     I always think it’s fascinating when books for children take on death and still convey peace and hope. We have contemporary examples like The Fault in Our Stars which do a terrible job making death real to children while leaving them hope and this is lauded as “real life” but I actually think Alcott’s picture of Beth struggling with the concept of dying and finally coming to terms with God and the shortness of her life, to be more inspiring and more real. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about people who go through hard times and still continue in faith and what a testimony that is to God, rather than the people who go through good times and have no trouble being faithful, or the people who let tough times get the better of them and crumble beneath them. There will be times of sorrow, but God has His plan, and trusting him throughout pain is such a wonderful testimony to His power and His goodness.
     The other thing that I found interesting was when Mrs. March told her daughters she had plans for them; how she wanted them to marry but more than that she wanted them to be good, admired, and respected. There are quite a few people who scorn Little Women for telling girls to be little homebodies and just to get married and have no say in your life, but I think that’s not at all the plans Mrs. March has for her daughters, “Better be happy old maids than unhappy wives, or unmaidenly girls, running about to find husbands…One thing remember, my girls. Mother is always ready to be your confidante, Father to be your friend, and both of hope and trust that our daughters, whether married or single, will be the pride and comfort of out lives.” I thought those were some wise words which sounded awfully similar to my own mother’s thoughts on marriage.
     I was glad to have re-read this one. I wish I had taken a little more time and spaced it out, but it was a fun one to visit again. I like it even more as an adult than I did as a child.
     I refrained from using the RTK book club image because this really is too late to be counted as part of the discussion, but as always I thank Carrie for putting this on and reminding me of all those titles I love so much!

Fun Goodreads Review: 
Pro: "I believe Alcott was ahead of her time, way ahead of it. She was even ahead of the feminist revolution that occured during the century after her time. In her novel, she illustrates what a lot of women are coming to realize, that domestic, family life is very rewarding, fulfilling and escalates the female race to a stature of importance beyond any occupation society offers outside of the home (and is in many ways more challenging than any other occupation). I believe that feminism is reshaping itself as more and more women come to realize that there are some opportunities related to the traditional female role that can never be reclaimed once passed over."

Anti: "I hate Jo, and her supposed tomboyishness, and the fact that she is the most flat, and dull, and stupid character I've ever come across. I hate Amy, because she's a vapid idiot who contributes nothing to the story. I hate Meg, even though I don't remember anything about her. I HATE Beth more than them all combined because she is so holy-holy, and meek, and perfect, and then she goes and dies"

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