Little Women by Louisa May Alcott Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott; Signet Classic, 2012 (originally published in 1828 and 1829). 507 pages; $5.95 (paperback); reading level: high school/adult.

I hadn’t read this book as a child and, with the 150th anniversary of its publication upon us and a new movie adaptation due out, I thought it might be time. It was not at all the sweet, preachy tale I had expected and, in fact, Alcott’s original readers appreciated it for that very reason. The most extraordinary thing about the book was its realistic portrayal of a sturdy, matriarchal circle of women: women doing and talking and dreaming and deciding while the male characters are relegated to the sidelines. Marmee and her four daughters negotiate Part I of the book alone and in straightened circumstances while Mr. March serves as a chaplain in the Civil War. They are fully human but have a finely-tuned sense of right and wrong that seems to live in their very bones. They make mistakes, some of them terrible (Amy burns aspiring-author Jo’s manuscript and Jo is responsible for Beth’s exposure to scarlet fever, which eventually leads to her death). But like their hero Christian (the protagonist of Paul Bunyan’s Dangerous Journey), they find their way back to the right path and grow wiser in the process. In Part II (which was originally published as a separate book), Alcott follows the sisters into adulthood and, capitulating to the demands of her adoring readers, marries them off (Jo, in my opinion, not quite believably). The movie coming out in December 2019 has an all-star cast: Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern. I’ll be curious to see if it can capture both the strength and the goodness of the original characters without falling into the very pit Alcott avoided: preaching to an audience of contemporaries.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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