What It’s About
Looking for an intergenerational story about middle-class women living in Civil War America? Well then, you’re in luck.
Considered one of “the classics,” LITTLE WOMEN is an 1868 novel written by Louisa May Alcott that is set during the aftermath of the American Civil War.
As a prototypical coming-of-age story, it follows the March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—as they grow up in Massachusetts. Accompanied by their loving mother, their rich neighbor Mr. Laurence, and Mr. Laurence’s bad-boy grandson, Laurie, the girls mature from children to adults while learning about “womanly” virtues.
And that’s it. That’s the plot of the LITTLE WOMEN book. Slice-of-life but make it American.
Extremely long and somewhat slow, I first read this book when I was a teen, then again in 2020, when Metamashina covered LITTLE WOMEN for the podcast. It’s not one of my favorite classics, and I think a lot of that has to do with what I assume was heavy editorial interference faced by LITTLE WOMEN’s author, Louisa May Alcott. It’s fairly self-evident when you read the novel.
The first half of the book is didactic and peppered with little nuggets of wisdom that are passed down as examples of proper character for women to live by. Sexism and moralization are a given for this era, but in between the moralizing you can see Alcott dropping truths about how women were really treated, in and outside the domestic sphere. You can see echoes of how she really felt.
This contrast between the editor’s and Alcott’s vision makes the book flip-flop with rapid succession between the two frameworks. The flip-flopping can make for a frustrating read, and one that is very inconsistent at parts.
Despite the book being a flawed product, I actually didn’t dislike it. When I first read LITTLE WOMEN as a teenager, Laurie was my crush, and I still enjoy reading about his self-destructive passion as an adult. Amy remains my favorite character out of the sisters.
Would I Recommend This Book To Others?
Yes and no. I am very keen on people reading “the classics” if they’re looking for perspective on media from a particular era, or if they genuinely enjoy those books.
At the same time, I think that novels have changed so much from the 1800s that reading the classics does not make you a better reader, writer, or critic.
In Summary: Whether you pick up this book or not is entirely up to you.