Sunday, July 5, 2009

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

I was presented with the gift of Little Women when I was in the 4th or 5th grade; I can't remember. It sat on my bookshelf for years and years, never read, but very worn, because I'd pick it up now and then and flip through the pages to see what all the fuss was about. I knew it was a classic, and I had picked up its two sequels over the years, but never, ever read it.

Until now.

And I regret that I didn't read it sooner.

Little Women is one of those books that just--and forgive me for sounding corny here--warms your heart and leaves you contented and happy. It's a really lovely book, and you can really feel the warmth, love, and support that the March sisters all share with each other. Like all siblings, they have their own scrapes, arguments, and disagreements, but they recognize how important family bonds are, and this is a family bond that is very difficult to break.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part chronicles the childhood of the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Meg is the oldest, who only wants the very best, refined things and experiences that life has to offer. She is polite, well-mannered, and feminine. Jo, the second oldest, is a tomboy with a quick temper and a sharp tongue, who couldn't care less about refinement or politesse. Beth, the third March sister, is quiet, polite, does what she is told, and is the moral compass of the quartet. Amy, the youngest, is spoiled, a little stuck-up, and will do anything to fit in with her classmates.

The novel opens at the start of the Civil War. The March family patriarch, a minister, is away at war. The mother, whom the girls call Marmee, does some volunteer work for the war effort. Marmee and her daughters are extremely close, and every one of the March sisters goes to her for counsel, comfort, and confidence. (Man, I really like how I wrote that last line!)

The first portion of the novel is presented as a series of vignettes, most with a little moral at the end, where one of the March sisters learns a lesson in vanity, want, or controlling temper. For example, in one chapter, Meg goes away on a trip with the wealthy Moffat clan. Meg has always envied the Moffats and their high society ways. However, she learns very quickly that wealth does not guarantee happiness or harmony. Sometimes the sisters learn their lessons from experience, but other times from the comforting words of gentle Marmee, whom I imagine many girls would love to have as their own mother.

The second portion of the novel chronicles the girls' adulthood. Meg gets married, and finds that married life cannot survive on love alone. Amy matures and becomes interested in art and languages, and eventually finds herself on a trip abroad with some relatives. Jo becomes a published author and works to support her family through her writing; she eventually moved to New York to become a governess. Beth's health declines, but remains very supportive of her sisters and all of their accomplishments.

There are other memorable characters in Little Women other than the March family. The Laurences, the Marches' neighbors and benefactors, add a special part to the story. Elderly Aunt March also plays a prominent role. It is wonderful to see how the relationships among all of the characters deepen and mature over the years, and you feel like you're an eyewitness to it all. Alcott makes the readers an integral part of the story; she often addresses them directly.

I won't spoil you with the details of the ending, kittens, other than I will tell you that it is one of the best endings to a book that I ever read, and I found myself on the verge of tears as I finished. I really didn't want this book to end. I am about to embark on its sequel, Little Men, and hope that the second part of the trilogy doesn't disappoint. It has a lot to live up to.

This is the latest entry in my 2009 100+ Reading Challenge, my 2009 1st in a Series Challenge, my 2009 Read Your Own Books Challenge, as well as my 2009 Chunkster Challenge. As always, click on the buttons in the right sidebar for archived lists of all my challenges!

1 comment:

Celia said...

I love that book so much. I re-read it every year. There is a great book put out by the New York Public Library with lots of her letters and stuff in it. It is worth tracking down.

I love all her books, except Long Fatal Love Chase( I think that's right) I am so excited for you.