Marshmallow occasionally picks up classic children’s books. This time she wanted to talk about Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, first published in 1868. Sprinkles is asking questions and taking notes. There are some spoilers in the discussion so reader beware!
Sprinkles: A lot of people have read Little Women before you. It is a classic from 1868, and now it will be the oldest book you have reviewed. We had not gone into the nineteenth century before this. The oldest book you reviewed before this was from 1902.
Marshmallow: Pippi Longstocking was also kind of old. But you are right, this book is old.
S: Does its age show?
M: Yeah. All sisters get married and even the tomboy of the family, Jo, ends up wanting to get married. It seems like they cannot just have a girl who doesn’t want to marry.
S: It does seem a little constraining, that is true. But of course at the time this book was written, women did not really have too many options.
M: I understand but I still wish the author could have offered other alternatives, at least to one of them (Jo).
S: That is true. The author seems to have modeled Jo after herself to an extent, and she, the author that is, was never married.
M: Yes, I did wish Jo had not gotten married. And it seemed that they all got married so early!
S: Ok, maybe it will make sense for us to try and piece together a timeline of sorts for what happens when. So at the beginning …
M: There are four sisters, Meg March, Jo March, Beth March, and Amy March.
S: At the start of the book their ages are 16, 15, 13, and 12. And they all have very distinct personalities, right? Can you tell us a bit about them?
M: Let me read to you the synopsis from the book jacket:
There’s Meg, at 16 the oldest, who longs for a rich life full of beautiful things and free from material want. Next comes Jo, the willful and headstrong tomboy, who plans to become a writer and who retires to the attic when “genius burns.” Gentle, music-loving Beth, “the pet of the family,” is delicate and sweet. And fashionable Amy, the youngest of the four, is artistic, beautiful, spoiled, and in a hurry to grow up.
S: And the first part of the book (the first twenty-three chapters), which was published as a stand-alone book on itself in 1868, ends a year later, when the girls are 17, 16, 14, and 13. So they are still pretty young, but they are looking towards great things.
M: And the next part of the book is actually three years later. In Chapter 24 the author writes: “The three years that have passed have brought but few changes to the quiet family.”
S: According to Wikipedia, this second part was initially published separately under the title “Good Wives”, a title picked by the publisher. Then starting in 1880, the two books were published as one, under the title Little Women. But in any case, now how old are the sisters at the beginning of this part?
M: Meg is 20, Jo is 19, Beth is 17, and Amy is 16. It is sad though. Beth dies in this book! And she is so young!
S: Yes, a lot of the main events in this story are related to the author’s own life. Louisa May Alcott apparently had a sister Elizabeth, who died around the age that Beth in the book dies. And Jo seems to be modeled after the author herself.
M: Yes, Jo is the writer of the family after all! But it is still so sad that Beth dies. And it is even sadder that there was a real Beth who died so young too.
S: That is true. Life can be cruel sometimes. But there are happy parts of the book, too, no?
M: Yes. The book is not all about sad things. Meg has twins and she loves them and enjoys her time with them. And they are really funny kids.
S: So maybe this is a good place to stop the review, on a note of joy and hope. Do you have some last words for our readers?
M: This book is interesting and its plot is detailed and complex. Even though it is an old book, I can see why it is still a classic. I would definitely recommend other bunnies to check it out!