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February Books 7) Little Women

7) Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

Well, it's a step towards my reading resolutions. Good, wholesome stuff, so wholesome that I really really need to read some Lovecraft/Alcott crossover fiction. What eldritch lore was Mr Brooke so fascinated by? What did the girls really have in their picnic baskets? What did Amy discover when she fell through the ice? Enquiring minds want to know...

My only two close encounters with this book before I read it were, first, Edward Eager's classic The Time Garden, in which some children from the late 1950s go back almost a century and have an afternoon with the March girls; and second, the attempts of Sandi Toksvig on the BBC's Big Read to persuade us to vote for it. Since it is one of the widely recognised classics of English literature, I went out and bought a Penguin edition combining Little Women, Good Wives and an extensive critical apparatus of endnotes and editorial preface; and bounced pretty much straight off it.

Anne reminded me that we also had a copy of hers in the house, and indeed it turned out to be one she had been awarded as a school prize when she was ten; a battered old Puffin edition, with illustrations by Shirley Hughes. Somehow I found this much more approachable; it was much easier to keep the characters of the girls sorted out with the visual reminder that they were all different sizes.

So I read it - it's easy enough going - and I can see why people like a novel of well-drawn mainly female characters, of a family under stress. But I found it all really too wholesome for me - I almost cheered when Meg drank too much champagne and got hungover, but that is the closest we get to debauchery. I was complaining the other day about authors who stretch me too much; I'm afraid this didn't really stretch me enough.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 23rd, 2006 08:44 pm (UTC)
I don't know an HPL/Alcott cross, but have you read "Scream for Jeeves" by "Wodecraft"?
Feb. 23rd, 2006 09:04 pm (UTC)
Re: Well...
Of course! I think it's still on Neil Gaiman's site somewhere...
Feb. 23rd, 2006 08:46 pm (UTC)
You might find one of the recent interventions, March by Geraldine Brooks, more to your taste. It's largely Mr March's story (with an interlude from Marmee), and draws on Bronson Alcott's life too. Rather more debauchery and politics in that one.
Feb. 23rd, 2006 09:05 pm (UTC)
I think I'd need a stronger recommendation than that before I started experimenting!
Feb. 23rd, 2006 09:35 pm (UTC)
I am afraid I counted 'Little Women' as one of those books I had to read to finish my education. I had come across so many references to it in various books over the years. Most telling was Simone de Beauvoir's account of her obsession with it and her fury at how 'Good Wives' played out, fury made all the more potent by the fact that she had to WAIT for the second book to be published only to be crushed when it was. It is such an entrenched piece of literary history that it is odd to think of it as ever having been fresh and newly published.

And oh GOD! do I want to slap each and every one of them. It's not as insufferable as 'What Katy Did' but pretty much all of its views of femininity are repugnant.
Feb. 25th, 2006 07:24 am (UTC)
Why? My very limited and decontextualised memories of nineteenth century novels bring me two models for intelligent young heroines. One is the fairy tale ending (specifically, Cinderella) where you fall in love with a man who is conveniently very rich (eg Jane Austen's novels, also "Jane Eyre" after a freak accident removes the obstacle to her happiness). The other is the tragic ending (eg "The Mill on the Floss", and I can't remember what happens to Tess of the D'Urbervilles, but that's one I surely do want to slap). Alcott's Jo goes out and works for a living, turns down the chance to marry a rich young man, confronts the problem that the writing which is easy to sell is stuff she's ashamed of writing, and finally marries a poor and unconventional husband with whom she goes into business running an alternative school which challenges prevalent models of masculinity. (Special classes in hugging and crying). The writing is not abandoned, but she wants to write things she is proud of instead of churning things out to pay the bills. So, educate me, what other nineteenth century novel should I read where the young heroine gets to be happy through her own effort and initiative rather than through making a good marriage? I'm not being sarcastic, I'm not very well read, if there are any I'd like to know.

As an adult reader 140 years later, I want to know about the parts of the story Alcott left out, such as the difficult, impractical idealist father. But she wasn't writing for me, she was writing for the people who would buy the book in 1868.

The wholesome-ness is not to everyone's taste (me, I like the Precious Ramotswe books so what can you expect?) but I find Alcott not guilty of promoting repugnant femininity.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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