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Little Women

A book by Louisa May Alcott and Susan Straight

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"Little Women" Still Fascinates Readers After Nearly 150 Years

  • Jun 21, 2010

In the nearly a century and a half since it was first published, Little Women has continued to captivate its (mostly female) readers.  Rare is the young woman who first picks it up who doesn't want to be Jo March.  A contemporary tale when it was first published in 1868, Little  Women has become the ultimate historical, and feminist, novel. 

The story of four sisters growing up in genteel poverty during and just after the American Civil War, Little Women is based loosely on the early life of the author herself, who grew up in a Transcendentalist household in Massachusetts, among the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. 

The book tells the story of how, within the Victorian middle class values of the March family, the four March sisters each has develops her own personality.  Meg is the dutiful eldest, who does pretty much what is expected of her by her family and society. Jo is the rebellious second daughter, determined to be a writer and to live out her life according to her own wishes and beliefs.  Beth is the fragile, saintly third sister, and Amy is the vain, spoiled, but talented youngest. 

For any girl who has ever had a sister, or any girl who has ever wanted one, this is a classic story of sisterly interaction. Because the author, too, was one of four sisters, she gets it right. 

There have been those who have condemned the basic values of the March girls-- hard work, industriousness, charity, and essential propriety-- as saccharine, but the fierce independence they all exert in the course of the novel (especially Jo), makes the characters come to life.  For the view of a uniquely American family, and for the historical-but-not-dated insights, it makes wonderful reading. And without sex or violence or any of the modern come-ons, it remains a page turner. 

It is set in a small town in Massachusetts, where the March girls struggle to fit into the society in which they are raised. Two manage to leave, only to return changed yet happy to do so.  The story takes them from the middle of the Civil War, when their father (who is serving) is wounded and their mother goes to care for him, to several years after.  All the characters grow throughout the story, but it is Jo, the protagonist, who perhaps grows the most, learning to abandon romantic dreams for true (if unexpected) love.  .

The March sisters are, above all, honest with each other and-- at least to the extent that they can see themselves-- with themselves.  And they are open and loyal with and to each other.  The basic story discusses how they meet the challenges of their lives and grow to be adults, each in her own way. 

For a book published in 1868, the language-- perhaps because it is written in a truly American vernacular-- is surprisingly modern, and unlike many other 19th century novels, is not at all difficult for modern American readers to follow.  Jo-- as indeed are all of the March girls-- is a uniquely American character, independent and headstrong, who succeeds but dint of her own determination. 

The book has been adapted several times for movies and for television, with Jo being portrayed by, among others, Katharine Hepburn (1933), June Allyson (i949) and Winona Ryder (1994).  In a 1978 made-for-television movie, she was portrayed by Susan Dey and in a short-lived (1978-1979) television series by Jessica Harper.  Little Women has even been a musical on Broadway (2005) in which Kate Fisher sang the role of Jo.  

Adaptive variations include when and how Jo and her sisters meet their next-door neighbor Theodore (Laurie) Laurence, when and how Amy meets him again in Europe , and how far into the future the story goes.  A sequel to the book, Little Men, published three years later, tells more about the March family in the ensuing years.  A third book in the series, Jo's Boys, published fifteen years after that, rounds out the story. 

The author, Louisa May Alcott, was a woman ahead of her time. An abolitionist and feminist, she campaigned hard for women's suffrage and used her writing talent to earn her (and her family's) way out of the genteel poverty into which she was born. She was the author of many fiery novels as well as many wholesome ones, and a number of children's books as well.

That the book remains in print after 140+ years is a testimony to the enduring enjoyment readers take from it. 

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June 23, 2010
I absolutely love this movie with all of my heart and soul and I have no idea why I haven't picked up the book yet. Your review was more of a recap and I'm curious about more of your opinion on the book and it would be nice if you could maybe incorporate a sort of critique and comparison of the book and the movie. Thanks for inspiring me to read the actual book of one of my favorite movies!
June 23, 2010
There were, as I said, several screen adaptations of a very good book. Not knowing which movie version you loved, it would be a little hard to make comparisons-- and a little presumptuous, don't you think, to compare the original to the adaptations. Better to compare the adaptations to the original-- they're okay, but they fall short, as most movies do, since books can bring so much more depth and detail to characters and their development.
More Little Women (book) reviews
review by . June 21, 2010
What is it about this book that still captivates me?       I first read this book when I was just a girl and I remember being entranced by the relationship that grew between Laurie and Jo March. For years I wondered why Alcott chose to keep Jo and Laurie apart when they seemed like such a great couple. Now I know it was to keep me reading, which was very clever on Alcott's part, I guess :-)       Still, part of me never cared for Professor Baer …
review by . July 17, 2010
No young woman can read this book without relating to it in some way.  Alcott brings her readers through the highest points of joy, the lowest valleys of disappointment, fear, happiness, triumph, confusion, and sadness.  There is nothing perverse or questionable which make it appropriate for readers of all ages.  Though the focus remains on the four March sisters, Alcott provides lovable male leads as well: the boyish Laurie, firm yet tender John, and playfully sophisticated …
Quick Tip by . October 31, 2010
The characters in "Little Women" are not perfect, and therefore realistic- and their foibles are endearing. Amy is rather selfish and vain, Beth is painfully shy, Jo is precipitous ,and Meg is perhaps a bit bossy. Laurie and Jo are not suited because Laurie as a rich young man, needs, Jo explains to him, a wife who is a show-piece. He has done the right thing in marrying the beautiful Amy. Furthermore, Laurie isn't intellectual and Jo is. Jo gets her professor and all is well. "Little Women" is …
Quick Tip by . July 24, 2010
A must read to your pre-teens. At this young age values are being formed.
Quick Tip by . July 13, 2010
A book I could read over and over. The characters are so warm and comfortable they could be family.
Quick Tip by . July 09, 2010
It was alright. I read it as a youngster and was captivated.
Quick Tip by . July 06, 2010
A classic, but I liked it less in adulthood than I did when I was a teenager.
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
A relative bought me this book in the 8th grade when she discovered I hadn't read it yet. I loved it.
Quick Tip by . July 03, 2010
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
This book captivates regardless of gender. It's a story of friendship, love and family. It shows you how by staying close to each other you can get through anything together. It's a nice story, not much direct plot, episodic mostly, but it's the tale of a family during one year.
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About this book


In picturesque nineteenth-century New England, tomboyish Jo, beautiful Meg, fragile Beth, and romantic Amy come of age while their father is off to war.
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Books, Fiction, Classics, Louise May Alcott, Susan Straight


ISBN-10: 0451529308
ISBN-13: 978-0451529305
Author: Louisa May Alcott, Susan Straight
Genre: Literature & Fiction, Children's Books
Publisher: Signet Classics
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