Monday, June 13, 2011

OK, who's read Little Women?

Time to wake up everybody!! Let the words "summer reading" fill your hearts with joy, and don't worry about reading responsibly. It would be nice to hear your voices, though. . .

Question for the day: have you read Little Women, and what did you think?

I read it for the first time when I was in about 6th grade. I hated it. But -- that was because (1) my mother told me how much she'd disliked it (the power of suggestion is strong!) and (2) the character who dies [not giving anything away, almost everyone knows this] is Beth, and that is what I was called at that time. I went on to read all of Louisa May Alcott's books, and I loved all the others. Take a look at An Old-Fashioned Girl, Eight Cousins, and Jack and Jill.

Little Women (1868) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) were published not too far apart. When I was a graduate student, teaching freshmen, I taught the two books back-to-back to illustrate how we think about what boys do versus what girls do. My late-20th-century students were fascinated and dismayed. And very uneducated -- one young woman scoffed when we discussed the scene where Jo sells her hair, and asked, in tones of disdain, "Why didn't she just go out and get a job?"


  1. Ooooh - "Little Women" was my FAVORITE book when I was growing up. As the oldest of three girls, the story really resonated with me. I still vividly remember reading when Beth died, and going down to the basement, sobbing, to find my mom who was doing laundry and was understandably alarmed at my appearance. I just could not believe that she died. Later, as I read the rest of LMA's books, I saw that she kills off a beloved character in each one. Good life lesson, though tough for that 11-yr-old girl I was.

    I must admit that I tried to re-read Little Women a few years ago, and found it almost unbearably sanctimonious. I must have gotten pretty cynical in the intervening 35 years!!! Still if I had a daughter I would insist that she read it.

  2. I've read Little Women a number of times over the years and would consider it an old favorite—I think mostly because her writing is just so enjoyable, despite all the moralizing! Beyond that particular book, I find Alcott to be very interesting in both her life and her views on feminism. So much of what she writes is about work and duty and such, but there are hints of radicalism and you get the feeling that she could almost go all Charlotte Perkins Gilman and advocate for man-free utopias. I’m actually currently reading a book of some of Alcott’s other writings that are really fascinating. I would recommend “Hospital Sketches”, an account of her brief stint as a nurse during the civil war. It is absolutely hilarious if you enjoy snideness and sarcasm. Also “Behind a Mask: or a Woman’s Power”, really fantastic. It's one of her “sensation” stories—no moralizing there, and you will be completely on the side of the bad girl! Both are available online: