Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

1938Wow, I did not expect my relationship with this story to grow quite so complicated. I thought I’d open the book, get completely engrossed, berate myself for not reading as a child, and finish in nearly one or two sittings. Did. Not. Happen. As I write this, I still have not finished the beast.

I’m not sure I can pinpoint exactly why Little Women has become my bookish Everest. After chatting with the Litwits this Sunday, I think it might have something to do with not reading as a younger girl. Many said their love of the novel is born out of the nostalgia that comes with Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy’s story. Since time travel isn’t a thing yet, not much I can do in that department.

Let’s get into the nitty gritty. Alcott’s novel is really long – much longer than I had anticipated. Plus, I have the Norton Critical Edition with lots of tiny font which just naturally slows down the process. For me, the pacing was just all over the place. The first half was steady, but dull. The second a roller coaster – slow uphill battles followed by swishing dives as the plot took its twists and turns. The flow bothered me.

Marmee was ultimately another annoyance. Sadly. I felt like her entire role was preachy-ass tool. Never good. As for all the preaching, it’s hard to sit through as an adult woman living in the 21st Century. Many of the morals being taught to the young ladies are antiquated and outdated – all of which can be overlooked if done properly and not nearly so much. But to feel like the purpose of 50% of the novel is to teach girls to be good housewives starts to irritate fairly quickly.

Obviously, Little Women has some fantastic elements as well. The sisters immediately come to mind. They are fantastically drawn characters – able to resemble each other yet be their own individual person. Jo has always been a great favorite for all bookish ladies (I did love the movie as a child!). I imagine that Jo most closely resembles Alcott sense this is the character everyone identifies with the most. And each girl while trying to be so good and please her parents often falls into periods of terribly selfish behavior which was a breath of fresh air.

I also love that Alcott was not afraid to kill Beth or have Jo refuse Laurie’s proposal. Unexpected twists such as these irk many readers, but keep the story fresh and interesting. How boring if everything had happened all happily tied up with a neat little pink bow. Yuck. I’m glad Alcott had some guts.

In reading some of the criticism, I learned that Alcott herself was not a fan of this book calling it “dull”. Ha! I’m on her side. She didn’t even like girls or stories about girls. Bless her. From now on I think I’ll stick to more factual reads on Alcott herself and skip the fiction. She seems like quite a fascinating person and someone I might be able to relate to immensely!

P.S. I promise to finish the novel. I’ve only got 60 pages left, but didn’t feel that the book’s finale would ultimately change my opinion. After all, I already know how the damn thing ends. Feel free to tell me why you love or don’t love Little Women in the comments! I’d love to hear your personal stories.

P.P.S. I finished…bleh.

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19 thoughts on “Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

  1. I read this boook in middle school, and strangely I don’t remember it being preachy at a all. In fact, I remember liking it a lot and being quite broken up about Beth. Apparently 12 year old me wasn’t much of a feminist yet. I think if I went back to it now I’d have a similiar response to yours.

    • I think all the preachy comes off as cutesy when we’re younger so we just sort of glance over it. I really hate that the story didn’t withstand the test of time for me. And as an adult (don’t hate me!), I prayed for Beth’s death scene to just hurry up and happen already.

  2. I utterly adore this book and re-read it about Christmas time, and just gulped it down. It is a tiny bit preachy – but I wasn’t bothered by that really as there is so much about the novel I loved – and of course it is a product of its time.

  3. I had never read this before this month, and I agree with everything you have said, though at times, I felt that the girls were too whiny. I also didn’t understand why everyone had to get married! I mean, especially Jo! She was so much happier with her books and her papers, and I just wanted her to be happy, as she was the most real character to me. I thought Beth’s death scene was too drawn out, and because of that, I didn’t cry. I also liked that Jo didn’t marry Laurie, and that she chose someone else entirely. It was an amazing book, but it had the capacity to annoy me as well.

    • I was annoyed that Jo got married as well! I wanted her to be fierce and independent all her days – perhaps inheriting all of Aunt March’s money and getting to write for the rest of her life without the pressure of needing money. But Alcott, I’m sure, was pressured to marry all the girls off.

  4. Yeah, I feel your pain. I just couldn’t get into it for the #marmeeon, despite the fact that I remember really liking it as a child. I’ve heard Little Men is better (because of course the boys get to have more fun), so I may try that one sometime.

  5. I had to reread this last year for a course on children’s lit and loathed it for the same reasons you did. Joe was the character I most remembered from childhood reading and the strength of her characterisation was still evident when reading it as an adult. The little moral homilies got up my nose however so I couldn’t wait to finish the darn things. Don’t give up on Alcotts fiction though – find the short stories she wrote under a pen name just like Joe to earn some money. You’ll be surprised they came for the same author.

    • I definitely want to give Alcott another chance and her short stories interest me greatly. I think Alcott was a fascinating woman and don’t really judge her based on my reaction to Little Women.

  6. I read it for the first time 2 years ago and yet I’ve been reading about the author since I was a little girl. Go figure! Louisa’s own life is far more complex, I think you’d find her really interesting. Her sister Lizzie (Beth) did die in real life but it was a lot more gruesome. And she desperately wanted Jo to become a literary spinster like herself but public pressure made her marry Jo off. She had her way in sense by not making it Laurie! 🙂

    Yes Marmee was preachy but I actually found a lot of the morals to the story to be universal. Being gracious and thoughtful of others (like the adult Amy), self sacrificing (like Beth), a good wife and mother (like Meg) and large hearted and eventually self-controlled (like Jo) are all good things.

    If you want to find out more about Louisa May Alcott, I keep a blog on her – come on over for a visit at http://www.louisamayalcottismypassion.com.

    • I knew much of Little Women was loosely autobiographical. I do also think that some of the morals are worthy morals, but just wished there had been more showing and less telling. Just my opinion though! And I’ll definitely stop by your blog sometime. I’m thinking of doing some intense Alcott reading in the near future and would love to learn more about her.

  7. Oh sad! But I’m in total agreement with you. I loved the movies growing up–both the Katherine Hepburn and Winona Ryder versions, but when I tried to read the book about five years ago I felt that it was one big giant boring preaching tool. Plus I’ll be forever irritated by the match-up choices in the book–though I think this is mostly due to the Winona Ryder/Christian Bale match-up. Hope the next one is better for you…

    • I’m glad I’ve found some fellow Little Women naysayers. I felt so dirty not liking this pristine and moral tale. I loved the movies, as well!! I need to watch them again since it has been so long.

  8. Pingback: The Classics Club: Wherein I Cave and Join… | The Blog of Litwits

  9. First time I got in contact with Little women was when I was 10 years old and I love the book ever since and re-read it every time I feel down. I agree there is a lot of preaching but, as someone said already, you have to take a book as a product of its time. But it still is a warm story about one family going trough their ups and downs. On my blog, I’m doing a little bit different review of Little women and its characters, maybe you’ll like it.

    • I wanted to love Little Women since I adore the film adaptation, but even taking the book as a product of its time I still slogged through it very slowly and didn’t enjoy the process. Just not for me! I love many books written during that time that were far less annoying and even Alcott herself wasn’t a fan. My very best friend adores the book and we have big fights over this topic, lol. So…to each their own!!

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