The first time I read Little Women I was unaware that regularly in Britain (Or at least that’s where it started) Little Women and Good Wives are published as two separate editions. It seems that in America these two separate novels are labelled as part one and two in the same volume. So, having already been aware of a major plot event, I was pretty surprised upon turning the last page to find that it did not happen in my copy! At first I thought I had come across some mysterious, previously unread, alternative version of the classic story. Obviously that wasn’t the case! Anyway the point is that I have only recently read Little Women in its entirety having previously not been aware of Good Wives.
The novel, first and foremost, is about Jo, Amy, Beth and Meg and their journey to becoming good little women (little women in training if you will). Of course the book is completely outdated now in its view of a woman’s role at home (and made me a little angry in places!). However, in the nineteenth century it both fit exactly the expectations of women and at the same time, fought against these stereotypes.
The book is set up as a series of lessons for the girls, lessons in morality, charity, growing up. They are taught to be submissive, to please others, to subdue any bad qualities. Sounds pretty boring right? You’d think so but the saving grace of this story is its characters. Like many classics the settings and sometimes plots are quite mundane, it is the characters that really bring them to life and cement them in their classic status.
My favourite character in the novel (and I expect many others favourite too!) is Jo. Jo is so headstrong and determined that she breaks the mold of a little woman spectacularly! One of the most poignant moments that demonstrates this is when Jo has her hair cut, visually setting herself apart from her sisters. Jo struggles the most with the lessons she is supposed to be learning, she more than the others (apart from maybe Amy) has more difficult personality traits to combat. Of course we are talking nineteenth century views here not my own! Because Jo would make one kick ass YA heroine had she been written today.
But one of my biggest grievances with this book is that after the tragic death of Beth, Jo completely and utterly surrenders to being the perfect little woman. A character who was a pillar of feminism (Maybe Alcott’s own attempt to rebel) in the end conforms just like her sisters.
My second grievance is to do with Jo and my second favourite character, Laurie. Because why in the world would Jo say no to him! What was she thinking! I mean come on they would be perfect for each other, yes they were both stubborn and headstrong but that is what would have made them interesting. Of course then Jo wouldn’t have become the little woman she was destined to be but I like to think that if the novel had been written now they would have ended up together!
‘Let us be elegant or die!’
– Louisa May Alcott