Little Women by Louisa May Alcott review

Having first read Little Women when I was around 12, I decided to reread the novel in preparation for the new film adaptation (which I saw last weekend and loved. A very clever adaptation which brings fresh ideas and perspectives to the story. If I could write a whole blog post on the movie alone, I would). Everyone knows the plot of Little Women which revolves around the four March sisters and the relationships they develop, with the Civil War serving as a backdrop.

Book One is probably the section most remember, and certainly the one I enjoyed the most. Here the sisterly dynamic is established and explored, the various tales of their adventures providing snapshots of their lives. Each character has her own personality, which not only makes them stand out as individuals but also makes it more interesting when they clash, as one can see both their reasonings.  It is obvious Alcott loved writing this book. Her love and enthusiasm seeps through, and as a reader I wanted to delve into their world. She captures this sense of family and belonging so well; it is hard not to get swept along.

Book Two is where issues begin to arise, which admittedly I didn’t notice when I was younger but are glaringly apparent now. The one in particular is the character of Professor Bhaer. He is much closer to a father figure than a lover to Jo, making their relationship awkward and uncomfortable to read about. He also comes across as quite sanctimonious and rude and it is hard to root for them to be together. Alcott had intended a very different ending for Jo – she was originally a spinster who writes children’s books – and it is evident that this romance was tacked on to either appease publishers or go against readers. Or perhaps both. It makes Bhaer an incredibly unsympathetic figure and the reader can’t help but wonder: why would Jo want to be with him? I felt similarly about Laurie and Amy; just how and why are they together? That’s not to say everything in Book Two didn’t work – I enjoyed reading about Meg’s marital problems as that subplot signifies a maturity in her character – but it is clear this isn’t the book Alcott wanted to write.

Little Women is quite literally a novel of two halves. The first section is a masterpiece in children’s literature; so cosy and joyous that you can’t stop yourself from smiling. There’s this longing to be that young again and playing/bickering with siblings. If the novel had stopped there, it would have been great. Alas, Book Two  feels like a disappointment in comparison, with these underdeveloped romances and sudden changes of character. Admittedly, I have never read any of the sequels so perhaps relationships develop more in them. Still, it is obvious how the novel has become a classic of children’s literature.

Little Women is published by Penguin and you can find more information here.  

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