Overall Impression: A heartwarming tale about childhood and sisterhood, and the perils of growing up.
It was a cold and hopeless winter morning, with frost thick on the ground that I decided to pick up Little Women. I was in the most unpleasant depths of a cold, and my brain felt as though it was stuffed with cotton wool. I will confess that I was feeling pretty low and fed up as I sat moaning under a blanket on my sofa. Bored with back to back TV, I picked up Little Women (which I had recently gotten free from the radio times due to a new adaptation) and began reading with much trepidation, feeling that if it was anything like Jane Austen’s work (which I don’t have the greatest affection for) it would be a bit of a slog. So, it was much to my surprise that a few chapters in, I found myself rather enchanted, and subsequently made my way through the second book Good Wives as well within a space of a week.
Rich or poor, we will keep together and be happy in one another.
Christmas won’t be the same this year for Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, as their father is away fighting in the Civil War and the family has fallen on hard times. But though they may be poor, life for the four March sisters is rich with color, as they play games, put on wild theatricals, make new friends, argue, grapple with their vices, learn from their mistakes, nurse each other through sickness and disappointments, and get into all sorts of trouble.
Little Women tell’s the story of a close-knit family, focusing on 4 sisters living during the American Civil War. There is Meg, the eldest, who loves her family dearly but dreams of silk splendor, enchanting parties, and charming houses. There is Beth, who is sweet, gentle and introverted, and loves to play the piano. There is artistic Amy, the youngest who is innately petulant and selfish, but at the same time is aware of this and fights against it, and then there is rebellious and outspoken Jo, whose greatest disappointment in life is not being born a boy. Jo dreams of being a successful writer and resents the restrained duties of a woman.
The four March girls are all dreamers striving for success, but they have a lot to learn, and the book follows their successes and many failures, some academic, but mostly moral, as they learn to grow up with good womanly values. That last part of the sentence may make you retch a bit – it does me too. Alas, this is a 19th-century classic and feminism has come a long way since then, and yet, this book is also unusual in its portrayal of outspoken headstrong Jo, who was certainly ahead of the times.
Jo March definitely makes this book. Although I liked all the characters there was something particularly fascinating about Jo’s inability to hold in her temper, to cull her wild ways and flyaway hair. In a world full of manners and propriety she sticks out, and she is very self-aware of this knowing everything girly goes against her core being, and that this is not really socially acceptable in polite society. Her relationship with Laurie, the rich boy next door was also extremely endearing and entertaining, putting many a goofy smile on my face. Their relationship took me back to the innocence of childhood. Jo’s encounter’s with Laurie’s initially grumpy and scary guardian was a real highlight of the novel too.
The thing about Little Women is that it is quite preachy, puts an emphasis on religion and is very heavy handed with its moral commentary. The novel’s structure could be summed up as: the sisters get into various situations/troubles, and mamma March gives a lecture about the way the girls should have acted in order to be proper little women (to pardon the pun). I can completely understand how this would rub many modern readers up the wrong way – normally it would have this effect on me to, and yet, there was something so honest and truthful about Little Women, and the advice was coming from a place of such love hoping to prepare the girls for their future, that I found it endearing. For a classic, Little Women reads on the younger side of the spectrum, and I can imagine many parents reading this to their children, in the way that people used to read fairytales.
Little Women is probably one of the sweetest classics I have ever read, and I think the reason I enjoyed it most is that it really placed emphasis on being grateful for what you have, which is a theme that means a lot to me at the moment due to things going on in my life currently. This theme is touched on several times throughout the novel. The March family may be reasonably poor, but they are rich in love.
Book 2 Good Wives, follows very much along the same theme as Little Women, except now the sisters are a little older, a little wiser, but still have much to learn. Good Wives did lose a little of the charm for me, as the girls lose the pure innocence of their childhood, and instead of putting on plays and running around their garden playing pranks, they must try to be prim and proper and look to find suitable marriage matches. Jo’s relationship with Laurie also has to naturally develop, as awareness comes with age, and this causes a great amount of strife.
I felt that the theme of Good Wives shifted slightly. While book 1 seemed to be mostly about being grateful and thankful, I felt book 2’s theme was more about bettering yourself. It is said that Louisa May Alcott’s story of her little women is partially autobiographical, and I felt this really came into play in book 2. Alcott’s family were part of the transcendentalist movement, which theorizes that people are naturally good but are corrupted by society and it’s vices. This in part explains why the stories were so moral heavy. Transcendentalist’s also believed in self-reliance and independence, which may explain why in book two, we see the girls working to better themselves – Jo at her writing, Beth helping her family, Meg working on important house skills, while Amy works consistently on her painting. I must admit, this wasn’t as satisfying as book 1, but was still enjoyable to read about.
I wasn’t totally happy with how all the sister’s stories tied up in Good Wives, but it was lovely to see them each find happiness in their own way. I actually even felt a little proud of how far they had come by the end *wipes tear dramatically*. The little women weren’t so little anymore!
Ultimately, Little Women and Good Wives tell a sweet story about sisterhood, friendship, identity, and the perils of growing up. The stories are moral heavy and the writing isn’t particularly outstanding or quote worthy for a classic, but it will warm your soul and comfort your heart as if it had been placed by a crackling fire. I am so glad I read these, and I will remember them fondly; I may even pick up the next book Jo’s Boys. I would definitely recommend this book to classic newbies, as it’s easy to get into, but also for those who like a bit of cheesy gooey goodness.
This book was also read as part of the Rory Gilmore Challenge.
Overall Impression of Little Women and Good Wives:
Writing Style: 3/5
Character Development: 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes.