Wednesday 10 February 2016

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

How to review a much loved classic that you have read more times than you care to remember?

Little Women was such a big part of my childhood.
My mum introduced me to her copies of the books at a very early age. They spoke to me. They moved me. I couldn't get enough of them.

I was one of four sisters. I desperately wanted to be spunky and adventurous like Jo, but I suspected I was really more like responsible, reserved Meg.
My Folio Society edition of Little Women
Looking back I see that I often acted like Meg but felt like Jo.

Like Meg, I was the eldest daughter.

All of you other eldest children in a large family know straight away what I mean by that. There was a responsibility and an expectation and a division that kept you slightly separate from the rest of the family. You were never old enough to be on the 'adults' table and you felt too mature to be always stuck on the 'kids' table. The eldest of a large family sits in a weird nowhere man's zone throughout their entire childhood.

The eldest always goes first at everything. They have no role model or guidance; they have no idea how they will make it through. It's one new, uncharted territory after another.

I know the youngest complain about the bossy older child and that they never get to go first. Very valid points.
Dodie Masterson's illustrations
They get to follow in the eldest's footsteps, ignore the experience of the eldest or go off in a completely different direction. But they do so knowing they will come out the other side eventually, just like the eldest did. The eldest child never gets to experience that comforting feeling of surety.

This constant lack of comfort and safety can make the eldest fearful and bossy. The want to share what they've learnt so you don't have to go through the hard stuff they experienced. They want to make it easier for you. But not too easy! Whatever you do, don't try to gain a privilege before the age at which the eldest attained it!

In all of these ways, I am like Meg. I understand her worries, her love of traditions and her conservative approach to life. I feel for her insecurities and doubts.

But I take many of my beliefs and ideas from Jo.

Like Jo, I resented the confines of feminine attire.

"It's bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like boys' games, and work, and manners. I can't get over my disappointment in not being a boy, and it's worse than ever now, for I'm dying to go and fight with Papa, and I can only stay at home and knit like a poky old woman."

The only dress I wore from age 5 - 15 was my school uniform. I also believed that I could do any physical activity that a boy could. I climbed trees, rode bikes, wrestled, trampolined, played cricket and ran fast.
I was a reader and hopeful writer, like Jo. I had no intention of ever getting married or having kids. I wanted to explore the world, stay single and be totally independent.

Yet, I was painfully shy like Beth in my younger years and played the piano. And like Amy, I was a bit vain and desirous of pretty things. And I had a thing about the size of my nose!

My old abridged edition of Little Women

This rather long trip down memory lane, simply highlights the enduring appeal of Little Women.
We can all see a little bit of ourselves in the characters of these four girls. The times may have changed, but the feelings haven't.

However, as a child I found the goodness of the girls a little trying.
Looking back I can see that I was actually envious of the closeness and loving kindness that prevailed in the March family. They seemed impossibly good, but oh how I wished I could be a little more like them.

Every time I reread Little Women I come away determined to do better, be better, act better.

This reread also showed me how much of my work/life balance ideal has come from Mrs March:

"Don't you feel that it is pleasanter to help one another, to have daily duties which make leisure sweet when it comes."
"Work is wholesome, and there is plenty for everyone; it keeps us from ennui and mischief, is good for health and spirits, and gives us a sense of power and independence better than money or fashion."
"Only, don't go to the other extreme and delve like slaves. Have regular hours for work and play, make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well."

A big thank you to Suey, Jenni and Kami for hosting the #LittleWomenRAL.

It has been a wonderful nostalgic journey back through my childhood dreams and desires.

And my motto for the rest of the day is to be as good and as charitable and as kind as the March girls!

My Good Wives review
My Little Men review
My Jo's Boys review

This post is part of my Women's Classic Literature Challenge.


  1. Oh, what you say about eldest children resonates with me! I've actually never thought about that in terms of Little Women though.

    I remember a review from someone who reread LW for the first time in years, after loving it as a child. And she hated it this time. She could hardly get through it, she thought it was so boring and long winded. I felt sad for her!

    1. I wonder if she read an abridged version as a child? I certainly noticed all the extra detail in this, my first unabridged reading of Little Women. But I loved all the extra detail :-)

  2. I chanced upon these books in my father's stash. I read them when I was a teenager and was instantly captivated. I must have read them hundreds of time. I cannot read them without crying. I so wanted Jo to marry Laurie, and never liked Friedrich Bhaer as much. When I read it now, I like him. I recognize that Laurie and Jo would have been too wild together.

    1. Curiously I never had a problem with Jo and Laurie not getting together. Like Jo, I was relieved when she didn't get caught up in all that ridiculous marriage stuff!

  3. You wrote,

    "Every time I reread Little Women I come away determined to do better, be better, act better."

    I think that it is common as well as really good thing that we find literature that can inspire us to be better people. I myself can relate to this in many ways.

  4. Anonymous11/2/16

    This is actually my first time reading the book, and I love it. I can relate to all four sisters, and I can't wait until my kids are a little older to see if they can relate as well. And Marmee has certainly inspired me to be more patient in my daily life. I am reading a giant annotated edition, and it's simply awesome. I'm so glad I saw your post about the readalong and decided to participate.

    1. Ohhh I can't wait to read about your impressions of the annotated version. I wonder what this current generation of children will think of the gentle world of the March family?

      And I'm delighted that you have been able to join us :-)

  5. I've enjoyed reading your recollections. My sister was definitely Meg and I've always been a weird mix between Jo and Beth. And we both also thought the March girls were too good to be true. We tried our Mom's patience more than once.

    "Only, don't go to the other extreme and delve like slaves. Have regular hours for work and play, make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well."
    That's one of my favorite quotes too.

  6. I'm the oldest of nine kids, so I definitely have the oldest kid problem! Lovely recap of your impressions of this book so far!

    1. Nine!!!!
      Now that's a story in itself :-)

  7. Love your post, Brona. I love it when books spark a trip down memory lane and really resonate with people; those tend to be the books that become favorites. Little Women definitely fits that bill! And I loooove your Folio Society edition. It's so pretty!

  8. I like your thoughts on being the eldest. I'm the eldest of 3 girls and your insights rang true with me :)

  9. Fun post! I like your insight on being the eldest daughter. I love how so many people joining our read along can relate to the March family. It is really fun.

  10. I agree that we all can see a bit of ourselves in each of the girls. I think that is one of the reasons this book has become such a classic. I know for myself that I can see bits of my personality in each of the girls, especially Meg, Jo, and Beth.

  11. It really interesting to read your thoughts about being the oldest because I felt that was as the youngest. I think I felt like that more than anything, though, because I was SO MUCH younger than everyone else. I never fit it. I was viewed as the spoiled youngest sister who got everything she wanted because I grew up alone. And, I was viewed as the aunt to all my nieces and nephews who where closer to me in age, but not my siblings. So, I was always too young to interact with my siblings, but too old/not a grandchild to fit in with my nieces and nephews. I wonder if we all feel that way at times no matter where we are in the family?


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