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Cannonball Read IV: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

By Jelinas | Book Reviews | July 31, 2012 | Comments ()


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Some people might read Little Women and think to themselves that it's outdated, old-fashioned, and out of touch. I mean, the book is basically a morality play about how to be a good, little woman and support the men, and learn how to be a real lady with manners and tact.

I enjoyed every word of it.

Maybe that makes me old-fashioned and backwards and an enemy of feminism, but I don't care. Little Women is a sweet book about growing up and learning the ropes of life and dealing with tragedy and just loving the people around you.

Alcott used her own family as the inspiration for the characters in her books. You can see just how close she was to everyone in her family, but especially to her sisters and mother. Some people today might think that the way Alcott glorifies women in the roles of homemakers and wives and mothers is downright primeval, but I found it sweet. We've lost a little something in today's culture with our constant pursuit of MORE. Look, I'm thankful to have the right to vote and work in corporate America and crack jokes in the presence of men, but I'm also a little sad that there's so much pressure to do those things to the exclusion of making our homes pleasant and welcoming places and staying home with our kids and enjoying books like Little Women.

I'm not ashamed to say that I found the close relationship between the March sisters profoundly touching (esp. in light of the fact that my sister just got married, and although we both want to stay as close as ever, things are bound to change and will never be the same again). I'm not ashamed to say that I cried many tears through the course of the book (although I am a little embarrassed that most of those tears cropped up at the most inopportune times, like on the elliptical machine at the gym and whilst working the exit door at the Hurley Warehouse sale -- *sob* "Thanks for coming." *sniffle* "Bye, now." *watery smile* "Come back soon"). I'm not ashamed to say that the romantic bits thrilled my chaste, little heart.

I loved that the March sisters occasionally bicker, but learn to forgive each other quickly. I love the lack of teenage angst. One of the things I dislike most about YA books these days is the heavy cloud of angst that obscures everything. No wonder kids are so sullen these days. Everything they're reading (or watching on TV) is encouraging them to indulge in their angst, to become brooding and introspective and consumed with thoughts of themselves and their own problems. THOSE ARE ALL FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS, YOU BUNCH OF BABIES.

You think the March sisters didn't have problems? Their dad was risking his life in the Civil War, they were poor and nigh-on starving, and they lived in freezing-cold Massachusetts and had maybe TWO dresses each in their entire wardrobes. But instead of moping about and whining about how their troubles affect THEM, they try to make the best of it, and try to be cheerful for each others' sakes. And they also find satisfaction in helping others wherever they can. Now, I know that this isn't an antidote for everything, but it's still better than whining.

Maybe others think that Little Women is antiquated, but I love it. I love its simple depiction of friendship, love, and family, and of many of the values idealized in it.

For more of Jelinas's reviews, check out her blog, Book Bloggy Blog. This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.

Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.

(Header image: "Jo Seated on the Old Sofa" by Norman Rockwell.)



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  • Jelinas

    Aww, it makes me all smiley to see so much love for LW on the home of mock and droll.

    Bodhi, I've read all of Alcott's books, and March sounds pretty interesting. I enjoy retellings when they're retold well. Thanks for the rec!!

  • I talked to a professor at the Orchard House Summer Conversation series about the relevancy of Little Women and she had some wonderful insight. What stood out was her insight about how peer pressure is discussed in Little Women and how that theme is universal even if the examples are from the 19th century. Alcott had no idea how brilliant her book was when she wrote it, she just wrote from her heart (and fulfilled an assignment given to her by her publisher, and encouraged by her father). How could she have known she would write something that would still speak to girls today?

    I blog about Louisa May Alcott if you'd like to stop by for a visit - www.louisamayalcottismypassion.... Love Louisa!

  • Sixth grade me loved this one so much that I stole it from the School Library.

    Jo was a feminist before there was a word for it, anyone saying different is just not paying attention.

    Great Review!

  • meadowdancer

    I read this and Little Men, and Jo's Boys once a year and always feel sad about the curtain drawing down upon the family March.

  • PerpetualIntern

    I reread this book to the point of destruction when I was young. I loved it, and reading certain parts made me feel safe and at home no matter what was happening. I still have my paperback copy, with it's cover gone and its copyright page scotch-taped together. It's made it though every move and has been to Africa, Asia and Europe with me. Something about my copy still brings me comfort, even if I don't read it as much anymore.

  • Bodhi

    My mother is the oldest of 8 (6 girls & 2 boys) & has been an avid reader since she learned that words can be written & read. Little Women is one of her favorite books & she read it to me (an only) at least 4 times. Then we moved on to Jo's Boys & literally everything else Louisa May Alcott ever published. Can I get a shout out for Jack and Jill or Under the Lilacs? Or Eight Cousins? Or Old Fashioned Girl? (Which as a pierced tattooed woman I LOVE).

    My mom read every single one to me while I played on the floor with Barbies or crayons or paper dolls or what ever else I was into that day. Hell, she read me Edith Hamilton as I rearranged my closet when I was 16.

    All of that to say... thank you for reminding me how much I love Louisa May Alcott. I am super pissed that all of my Alcott books are somewhere in storage. Looks like I'll be paying my library fines in pennies. Again.

    Have you read "March"? Its LW from the father's POV. Growing up an Alcott junkie I was prepared to hate it, but I really liked it. Maybe it was the March family, but it made me feel very comfortable

  • This is my mom's favorite book, and I re-read it constantly. Sure, it can be old-fashioned and cheesy as hell sometimes, but I love the characters of the sisters and their relationship. Great review!

  • PaganGirl

    I never thought of this book as antiquated. I was always impressed with how feminist it actually was. Jo becoming a writer, actually writing under an assumed name and supporting herself and her family? It was unheard of at the time.

  • True_Blue

    When I read it (I was in 8th grade), I thought it was the greatest book ever. I also read the sequels--Little Men, Jo's Boys. As a clumsy bookworm, I identified with Jo. And yes, Amy is a spoiled b!itch who did not deserve Laurie, and Jo could have done better than the old German prof.

  • Captain Steve

    I probably read that book once a year - but I always stop when she says no to Laurie. I put up with her professor for years, but I hate that little bitch Amy. Always gets what she wants. I adore that book.

  • Anne Lucchesi

    I feel like this book has aged really well because it was about a family that people can still relate to. And I still always tear up when I read it.

  • sgw

    I took a class in Kiddie Lit in college, and while most of the books there didn't impress me much (I thought my prof was going to cry when I started telling why I didn't like "Heidi"), I was blown away by "Little Women". I'm very close to my sisters, and have rarely seen a better depiction of the love and friendship sisters (or mothers and teenage daughters) can have for each other, yet with each one having her own, very human and very finely drawn, idiosyncracies and ambitions. I just love the book - and the movies, too. (Jo might be Winona Ryder's best role; she's even better than Katherine Hepburn, I think.)

  • Irina

    Jo is trying to become a writer, a field reserved for men at the time, which is pretty empowering in my opinion. Do people really complain this is an outdated, old fashioned book? I mean, Jane Eyre was a mere governess and Lizzie Bennet didn't even have a job! (*sarcasm sign*) We can't judge by today's standards or we might aswell throw all the classics in the fire. Let anyone speak against Jane Austen and face my wrath.

  • Captain_Tuttle

    I read my mom's copy of this book when I was little. I still have that book, and it is still one of my favorites. Always will be.

  • Kafkaesque

    When I was a kid I honestly thought this book was about miniature women in the same vein of 'The Borrowers'... I was quite disappointed upon reading it.

  • BarbadoSlim

    You and me both.

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