Little Women: An Annotated Edition

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Little Women has delighted and instructed readers for generations. For many, it is a favorite book first encountered in childhood or adolescence. Championed by Gertrude Stein, Simone de Beauvoir, Theodore Roosevelt, and J. K. Rowling, it is however much more than the “girls’ book” intended by Alcott’s first publisher. In this richly annotated, illustrated edition, Daniel Shealy illuminates the novel’s deep engagement with issues such as social equality, reform movements, the Civil War, friendship, love, loss, and...

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Little Women has delighted and instructed readers for generations. For many, it is a favorite book first encountered in childhood or adolescence. Championed by Gertrude Stein, Simone de Beauvoir, Theodore Roosevelt, and J. K. Rowling, it is however much more than the “girls’ book” intended by Alcott’s first publisher. In this richly annotated, illustrated edition, Daniel Shealy illuminates the novel’s deep engagement with issues such as social equality, reform movements, the Civil War, friendship, love, loss, and of course the passage into adulthood.

The editor provides running commentary on biographical contexts (Did Alcott, like Jo, have a “mood pillow”?), social and historical contexts (When may a lady properly decline a gentleman’s invitation to dance?), literary allusions (Who is Mrs. Malaprop?), and words likely to cause difficulty to modern readers (What is a velvet snood? A pickled lime?). With Shealy as a guide, we appreciate anew the confusions and difficulties that beset the March sisters as they overcome their burdens and journey toward maturity and adulthood: beautiful, domestic-minded Meg, doomed and forever childlike Beth, selfish Amy, and irrepressible Jo. This edition examines the novel’s central question: How does one grow up well?

Little Women: An Annotated Edition offers something for everyone. It will delight both new and returning readers, young and old, male and female alike, who will want to own and treasure this beautiful edition full of color illustrations and photographs.

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Editorial Reviews

Brenda Wineapple
An exciting boon to the countless readers and scholars of Alcott's beloved novel, Daniel Shealy's excellent Little Women: An Annotated Edition provides the biographical, cultural and even linguistic context of that novel's making while it refreshes and enriches our experience of its enduring power.
The Times - Kate Mosse
[Shealy has] set out to contextualize and illustrate the social, political, historical and literary realities that underpin this wonderful and radical novel...What makes the book so glorious are the illustrations. From the earliest frontispieces to the green playbill for the Concord Players, the balance of text to image is well judged...For those of us who have an abiding affection [for Little Women], it's an utter treat.
PopMatters - Diane Leach
A Little Women fanatic's dream...Shealy's annotations offer much help with allusions to now-forgotten books and arcane language...Many readers will find Shealy's biographical details helpful in understanding this most favorite of books...[A] lovingly assembled edition.
Times Literary Supplement - Samantha Ellis
Elegant...the pictures are so gorgeous and the copious notes so interesting...Even for Alcott diehards who know the backstory, there is plenty to savor.
Choice - J. J. Benardete
[A] handsomely produced and exhaustively annotated edition…Richly presented, this Harvard Belknap edition offers a multifaceted picture of American life…It also makes a fine gift book for fans of Louisa May Alcott’s classic.
Children’s Literature - Gregory Eiselein
This annotated edition of Little Women is practically perfect. The book is beautiful, the scholarship impressive and consistently interesting, and the novel itself one of the most amazing products of American literary history. Although I loved Alcott’s novel before I picked up this new edition, which might bias my evaluation, Shealy’s Little Women: An Annotated Edition is an easy book to love, read, and get lost in.
Library Journal
Shealy (English, Univ. of North Carolina; ed., Alcott in Her Own Time) uses Little Women's first edition (1868–69) for this heavily illustrated and annotated volume rather than the more prevalent amended version from the 1880s. His annotations are a means to further engage the lay reader as he grounds the text historically, biographically, and philosophically, providing a solid framework for a deeper, more enjoyable understanding of the novel. Readers can engage in the novel and his annotations simultaneously as the oversize format places notes in the wide margins of the text. VERDICT Although annotated editions of Little Women already exist (e.g., the 2004 Norton Critical Edition that Shealy cites several times), this one, in presentation and explication is not geared simply to scholars but is equally inviting to the general reader, breathing new life and relevance into an enduring American classic.—Audrey Snowden, Orrington P.L., ME
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674059719
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/30/2013
  • Edition description: Annotated
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 640
  • Sales rank: 224,183
  • Age range: 10 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.50 (w) x 9.70 (h) x 2.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Shealy has edited or co-edited eleven books about Louisa May Alcott, including The Journals of Louisa May Alcott. He is Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
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Read an Excerpt

From the Introduction:

In May 1868, when beginning Little Women, Louisa May Alcott wrote in her journal a now-famous passage: “Never liked girls or knew many, except my sisters, but our queer plays and experiences may be prove interesting, though I doubt it.” By the time proofs of the novel arrived in August, she felt differently: “It reads better than I expected. Not a bit sensational, but simple and true, for we really lived most of it, and if it succeeds that will be the reason of it.” Written during the advent of the golden age of children’s literature, a period ushered in by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) in England and Mary Mapes Dodge’s Hans Brinker; or, The Silver Skates (1865) in America, Little Women almost instantly became cherished by its readers, who returned to its pages time and again, passing the novel on to their own children and grandchildren. What did Louisa May Alcott create that transformed this novel about an impoverished family into one of the classic imaginative works of children’s literature? What is its everlasting appeal? Why is it still relevant today—almost 150 years after it was first published?

Little Women was written as a girls’ book—Alcott and her editor, Thomas Niles, were clear about that, but its reading audience is not limited to young women. From its publication, boys were among Alcott’s devoted readers; even the Rough Rider, Theodore Roosevelt, who was ten when Little Women was published, declared he “worshipped” the novel. After all, Jo March much prefers the company of boys than girls. In its depiction of four very different sisters growing up in mid-19th-century New England, Little Women especially captured the imagination of its female readers around the world by depicting the universal topsy-turvy trials and struggles of adolescent girls learning to become young women. In 1868, children’s literature had yet to explore that age-period of fifteen to twenty, when teens learned how to prepare for adulthood. Alcott, who was thirty-five when the book was written, understood this struggle all too well: how to cope with little while others had more, how to learn to adjust to sleights of others, how to resist social snobbery, how to be satisfied with hand-me-downs. She successfully depicts this period when one’s emotions collide with societal expectations, when melodramas that adults might find trivial are all important to a teenager, when the body itself is changing rapidly, when childhood’s end is fast approaching. These can be frightening times, but reading about others going through these similar trials can prove comforting to the thousands of the novel’s admirers—then and now.

What makes Little Women a landmark book in children’s literature is that Alcott realistically captures all of that teenage pathos and sentiment. As she herself noted, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy were real. Meg yearns for nicer clothes and wealthy society; Amy desires popularity, good looks, and admiration; Beth wishes for a voice and self-confidence; and Jo burns for fame and literary success. These are the universal desires of most adolescents. The Marches do indeed often behave like real sisters—ones who quarrel, snip, and correct each other, and, at times, fight bitterly—but who, perhaps not always like real sisters, eventually love, support and confide in each other. They commit wrongs—knowingly even—but eventually see their own shortcomings. Their language rings lively and realistic, full of slang and ungrammatical sentences. Their mother, who allows them the opportunity for self-discovery and failure, remains their steadfast, loving guide. For many readers, the Marches are the family they never had or the family to whom they wished to belong.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 17, 2013

    Don't be fooled by the cover - it doesn't begin to tell the stor

    Don't be fooled by the cover - it doesn't begin to tell the story. This is a gorgeous oversized edition (measuring 9" x 10" x 2") with an elegant choice of typefaces, filled with color plates, letters written by Louisa and her publisher Thomas Niles and commentary on each page which enhances the reading experience. Shealy introduces the book with an interesting essay about the extensive revisions made to the text between its original publication in 1868 and the revised version in the 1880s. In many respects the revisions were a response to negative criticism about the slang Alcott used throughout the book being a poor example for children! Fortunately Shealy uses the original text which is more vibrant and real. A second essay includes photos of each of the main players from the Alcott family. Alcott drew from the deep well of her personal life to bring Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, Marmee and Laurie to life. Shealy includes analysis of the era, fascinating anecdotes and great trivia. If you love Little Women, you will want this edition as a keepsake to pass down to children and grandchildren.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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