Little Women: A Family Romance

Overview

It is no secret that Louisa May Alcott “rewrote” not only herself but also her mother, father, and sisters in Little Women. Yet how well do we grasp the significance of her impulse? Little Women: A Family Romance focuses on Alcott’s personal and creative motivations in fashioning an idealized family in her novel and gives us new ways to view both the fictional Marches and the real-world Alcotts.

Drawing on Freud’s essay “Family Romances” and his related work on children’s ...

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Overview

It is no secret that Louisa May Alcott “rewrote” not only herself but also her mother, father, and sisters in Little Women. Yet how well do we grasp the significance of her impulse? Little Women: A Family Romance focuses on Alcott’s personal and creative motivations in fashioning an idealized family in her novel and gives us new ways to view both the fictional Marches and the real-world Alcotts.

Drawing on Freud’s essay “Family Romances” and his related work on children’s daydreams and fantasies, Elizabeth Lennox Keyser reads Little Women in terms of the burgeoning hostility and longing, eroticism and ambition each March child experiences as she matures and begins to look beyond her parents for a new primary love. Keyser also reads Little Women in the context of the torrid, sensational stories aimed at lower-class readers (which Alcott also wrote) that we commonly equate with the term “romance,” as well as the sophisticated psychological romantic ideals associated with the novels of Nathaniel Hawthorne (whom Alcott knew and read).

Readers have long regarded Little Women as Jo March’s story. The insights offered here nudge us toward viewing the novel as the story of the entire March family, a more satisfyingly inclusive view for, as Keyser writes, “the relationships among the March sisters and their mother are more compelling than the development of any one character, not excluding Jo.”

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Gisela Jernigan
Part of the "Twayne's Masterwork Studies," this fascinating volume of literary history and criticism is divided into two main parts. The first part puts Little Women and Louisa May Alcott into their literary and historical context, by presenting a brief history of the Alcott family and biography of Louisa, and then offering an evaluation of the importance of the work, and a sampling of how it was received at the time. In the longer, more detailed second section, the author first explains why she considers Little Women to be a "family romance," and then reflects on the four sections of the novel, chapter by chapter. Besides offering her own insights revolving around family dynamics, gender roles, and coming of age concerns, she does a very good job of interweaving relevant views, from Freud to current feminist interpretations and criticisms with her own analysis. One of the most intriguing aspects of this work is the many ways that a single scene or character can be viewed--from giving into patriarchal ideals of the time, to being "consistently subversive of the 19th century domestic ideology." The sequels, Little Men and Jo's Boys, are also discussed. A chronology of Alcott's life and works, an index, notes section, and selected, annotated bibliography are included. An appendix with suggested approaches to teaching Little Women to various age groups is especially useful.
Booknews
Considers Louisa May Alcott's classic as a romance, looking at the dynamics of the March family and the sisters' relationships among themselves and with their mother, and at what Freud calls the "liberation of the individual from the authority of his parents." Includes a detailed chronology of Alcott's life, an annotated bibliography of scholarship on , and a chapter on teaching the novel to various age groups. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknew.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805738971
  • Publisher: Cengage Gale
  • Publication date: 2/28/1999
  • Series: Twayne's Masterwork Studies Series
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Lennox Keyser is an associate professor of American and children’s literature at Hollins University.

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Table of Contents

Note on the References and Acknowledgments
Chronology: Louisa May Alcott's Life and Works
1 Historical and Biographical Context 3
2 The Importance of the Work 13
3 Critical Reception 18
4 Little Women as Family Romance 29
5 "Father and Mother and Each Other" (Chapters 1-13) 37
6 "The First Romance of the Family" (Chapters 14-23) 54
7 "The Romance of Womanhood" (Chapters 24-36) 69
8 "Not a Very Romantic Story"? (Chapters 37-47) 86
9 Aunt Jo (The Sequels) 102
App Approaches to Teaching 113
Notes and References 118
Selected Bibliography 123
Index 131
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