December 17, 2013

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Review)

Title: Little Women; Or, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy
Author: Louisa May Alcott
First published: 1868
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★★

Thanks to my helpful friends, who advised me against Middlemarch and Ulysses this December, I ended up reading the sweetest book ever! Well, maybe it was too sweet at times, but I loved it anyway! I've found a gorgeous Gutenberg edition with a lot of beautiful pencil illustrations, which added to the cuteness. All in all, I had a very good time with this novel, and I'll probably re-read it sometime, as it's a perfect comfort read.

As the subtitle hints, the story revolves around four girls, who are very different in their characters and aspirations, in a difficult period of their lives - growing from girls into women. As Alcott made me care for them (well, most of them), I want in this review to discuss them one by one, and there will be tons of spoilers ahead!

Amy
I'm starting with my favourite character in the book. What, I hear you exclaim, not Jo?? No, not Jo. Jo is awesome, of course, but Amy is the one whom I really admire. She starts as a spoiled little girl and ends up a graceful lady with a house, enough money and a wonderful husband as a bonus - everything she wished for so hard. She hasn't become a painter, but when she realized she is no genius, she handled it beautifully and applied her artistic taste to things she WAS a genius at: her looks. I really admire her resourcefulness, optimism and patience: she never has all the beautiful things she wants, but she knows how to look best in what she has and does not despair. She has "the general air, the style, the self-possession, the - the - illusion", as Laurie says. Besides, she also has a very nice character, and her understanding of what it means to be a lady goes far beyond good looks. All in all, she has developed greatly as a character, and she was always interesting to read about. I think her match with Laurie is totally suitable, as  "she winds one round her finger as softly and prettily as a skein of silk, and makes you feel as if she was doing you a favor all the while", and Laurie IS the one who needs it.

Jo
Jo was my favourite through most of the book, but the ending was really disappointing. She had guts to really become something in the world, even the 19th century world. And I think she really had talent, unlike other sisters, who were just good at something. But she didn't pursue her writing career, even when she discovered she can write something serious. I know, staying an old maid seems rather horrible, but her match looks desperate. OK, the professor is good and... em.. unusual, but he is much older and is more of a father than lover to her. OK, I confess I'm just not a fan of such characters, but I was pitying her, because it seems that with her character she has a certain passion in her, which is quite wasted on an older man. It's strange everybody thought that a Laurie kind of husband wouldn't suit her. I think that relationships founded on scorn and joking can be even more rewarding than the ones based on holding hands and blushing. And yes, I do speak from experience :)

Meg
She was a pretty nothing from the beginning: some vanity, some good intentions... that's all. Her husband is an even bigger nothing and their match was ridiculous: she just was... eh, persuaded, although I don't believe she really loved him. But surprisingly enough, some good plot development came from this match of two nothings: I really enjoyed her struggles as a beginner housewife and mother. I know how difficult it is to manage a home by yourself and how much patience is needed to make it a happy place to be together with another person. Her difficulties after childbirth were also very moving, and I was happy for her when she learned how to be a good mother and housewife. She couldn't be anything else anyway.

Beth
Well, I didn't care for Beth at all, because she was so dull. But her death got me really angry. Now, pardon me if I hurt somebody's religious feelings, but I think her religiousness killed her! Well, fastened this process anyway. She is so meek, she "tries to be willing" to die, and OF COURSE she dies after this. If you try not to wish to live, how is your body to fight the illness? I think it would be better if she thought there was no afterlife or whatever. This may have given her some will to live. As nothing is said about her illness and a doctor never visits her to diagnose it, it seems as though she somehow just secretly decided to die and did. However little I cared for her, this waste makes me ANGRY!

Speaking about the book in general, of course it's outdated and preachy! I was expecting nothing less. But if you try to close your eyes on everything religious and too-good-not-to-cause-nausea, you can see a very engaging life story, with all the feelings and great characters. I stayed up until 4am two nights in a row because I couldn't put it down, and it's the end of the semester! :) I think it put me in a New Year mood more effectively that all the Christmas markets around, although I dig European Christmas markets!

In my book:
It's a must read and a certain classic. Suitable for all ages :)

19 comments:

  1. I love this book too! And you've reminded me, it's time for a re-read! Glad you enjoyed it so much!

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    1. It's so hard not to love it! And I think I'll also re-read it some time!

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  2. Now I want to re-read this even more! I love reading your perspective on the characters, and it's been so long since I read the book that maybe I would come to similar conclusions. Meg, I was sympathetic for - it's true she is conventional, but most women were, at the time. There was no widespread movement to change the woman's role, so she reacts like a Jane Austen character and focuses on marriage.

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    1. Well, there is nothing wrong with focusing on marriage, she is really the type of person who is content with home and family. I was a bit frustrated with Jo ending up the same, though, because she is unconventional :)

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  3. Did you know that LMA planned for Jo to stay single and be an independent writer? Fans sent so many letters begging for Jo to get married (preferably to Laurie) made such an avalanche that she produced Dr. Bhaer, who really I quite like. I don't think Jo and Laurie would have been a good match. Anyway, LMA wasn't too interested in men herself, so she gave Jo a different kind of husband. In Little Men, they run a boys' school and Jo immerses herself in the world of boyhood.

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    1. I didn't know LMA was influenced by her readers, interesting! I think staying alone would suit Jo better. Dr. Bhaer is... well, good, but she already has one educated father :) Her and Laurie's household would be an Italian one, but who said everybody should be like Meg? :) Although I still think Laurie+Amy is a much better match.

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    2. I didn't know that either, Jean! I like Dr. Bhaer too, actually, even though he's not particularly exciting, I suppose. I can see what you mean about Jo being alone, but personally I don't think she's the kind of person who would actually enjoy it. She's adventurous, but she's also very focused on her family and is sad when her sisters leave home one by one. She would have had a lot of success on her own, I'm sure, but I don't think she would have been as happy as she would be in a committed relationship with someone who would never leave her.

      I'm glad you like Amy. She's my favorite, too, because she goes through a lot of change without ever sacrificing herself.

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    3. I think I read somewhere that LMA wrote that she "refused to marry Jo to Laurie to please people" (or something along those lines). I'm glad she didn't marry Laurie, though, I thought Prof. Bhaer was a better match :)

      Have you ever read The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir? There's an interesting chapter in there about Little Women. From what I remember, de Beauvoir thought Jo *should* have married Laurie.

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    4. 2 Emily: I agree that she is focused on family and deserves a happy one, it's just a pity nobody thought family could be of an adventurous type too at that time :)

      2 o: Ah, those were the times when authors were not ready to do ANYTHING to please readers... No, I haven't read The Second Sex yet, but I'm certainly planning to, thanks for your recommendation!

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  4. Read Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible now. It is a must read if you've read Little Women. I've pointed out the obvious parallels to so many people and never understand how or even why others who have read LW don't see them but it's definitely worth reading in conjunction with this book.

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    1. Wow, I read both books so long ago but I would never expect any parallels between the two. Do you have a post about it, Satia? I'd be very interested to read your views!

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    2. Cleopatra, I read PB a while ago as well, long before I had my book review blog. Even before goodreads existed, so I have no review. Ekaterina, ignore the following links:

      Kingsolver says something about LW in this interview in the reader's guide (which I didn't know was out there until today so go figure)

      http://www.harpercollins.com/author/microsite/readingguide.aspx?authorID=5311&displayType=essay&articleId=7458

      Also, if you read the summary of PB and have enough of a vague recollection of the plot of LW, you can see the parallels pretty quickly:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Poisonwood_Bible

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    3. Thanks for the recommendation, Satia, I haven't heard about Poisonwood Bible, but the premise sounds really similar to Little Women! Also 4 daughters, to begin with :) I think I'll put it on my TBR and come back to your links when I read it!

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  5. Yay! I'm still reading the book, but I love it too. It's great that Amy is your favourite character because everyone always says Jo. When I think about it, I'm not sure which character I like the most right now.

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    1. Well, Jo was my favourite in the beginning, but the second part changed everything! Although she is still pretty great! :)

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  6. Beth's death is the only thing I've ever read that still makes me cry, maybe because I'm a mother, but it had the same effect on me when I was a kid. The line about her drawing her last breath on the same breast on which she drew her first... oh, I just can't take it! See, I'm choked up now, and I haven't even read it in years!

    I never thought about her resigned attitude as contributing to her death, but then I've never found the you-can-conquer-this-disease-if-you-just-want-to-badly-enough mindset particularly convincing. It seems a bit like blaming the victim to me. I mean, she had scarlet fever and it damaged her heart, which shortened her life; there's no getting around that.

    I must say you've made me see Amy in a new light, though. She was always my least favorite, but she really did mature in a lovely way--I never thought about her that way before.

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    1. It also made me cry, although I saw all the author's devices that were intended to make me react so...

      Of course I don't think that cheering up can cure everything, but giving up and not even calling the doctor certainly doesn't help, right? Maybe I overestimate the medicine of that time, but at least SOMETHING could be done to make it better... And yes, I confess I just don't like people who don't put up a good fight, so I'm a bit biased here...

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  7. Chapters 1-33 did not appeal to me. It reminded met of Norman Rockwell pictures put into words, as you said "sweet and preachy". To be fair....Chapters 34 – 47 were sometimes breathtaking where Alcott develops the characters as adults. Her writing sweept me off my feet with it’s eloquence and warmth. After I read this book I wanted to know more about L.A. Alcott as a person. I reccommend Eden's Outcasts by J. Matteson...it was an excellent cross read after Little Women.

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    1. I've already heard so many interesting things about LMA, that I'd really like to read something about her! Eden's Outcasts sounds nice, thank you for a recommendation!

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