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Generations of readers young and old, male and female, have fallen in love with the March sisters of Louisa May Alcott’s most popular and enduring novel, Little Women. Here are talented tomboy and author-to-be Jo, tragically frail Beth, beautiful Meg, and romantic, spoiled Amy, united in their devotion to each other and their struggles to survive in New England during the Civil War.
It is no secret that Alcott based Little Women on her own early life. While her father, the freethinking reformer and abolitionist Bronson Alcott, hobnobbed with such eminent male authors as Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne, Louisa supported herself and her sisters with “woman’s work,” including sewing, doing laundry, and acting as a domestic servant. But she soon discovered she could make more money writing. Little Women brought her lasting fame and fortune, and far from being the “girl’s book” her publisher requested, it explores such timeless themes as love and death, war and peace, the conflict between personal ambition and family responsibilities, and the clash of cultures between Europe and America.
Camille Cauti, Ph.D., is an editor and literary critic who lives in New York City. She is a specialist in the Catholic conversion trend among members of the avant-garde in London in the 1890s.
All these numbers, statistics, and editions clearly indicate that Little Women has universal appeal. One strong reason is the story's essentially domestic, apolitical nature. After determining that her inclusion of too many controversial ideas about marriage had hurt sales of Moods, Alcott decided to make her girls' book idea-free: "My next book shall have no ideas in it, only facts, and the people shall be as ordinary as possible." Most readers would agree that Alcott doesn't necessarily hold to such a strict scheme—she repeatedly reinforces her moral ideas about self-sacrifice and altruism—but overall the novel does place plot considerations above politics, cultural or otherwise. For example, Little Women is set during the Civil War, but Alcott declines to comment on this potentially polarizing topic, even though she had disturbing firsthand experience of its effects as a nurse in Washington, D.C. (she had previously published her wartime observations and opinions in Hospital Sketches, written for adults and published in 1863). Her grueling, gruesome nursing duties left Alcott sickened and exhausted, and she was forced to return home after spending only six weeks tending the injured and dying soldiers. Although Mr. March in Little Women ministers to Union troops, the novel includes very little commentary on his experiences in doing so, or even on the causes or goals of the war. Alcott instead substitutes general praise for the soldiers and demonstrates the supportive sewing and knitting work that women like the Marches performed on the domestic front. Similarly, contemporary controversial reform issues such as the abolition of slavery, which was very close to the Alcott family heart, are also left untouched in the novel. We know that Jo is a great believer in social reform—she allows a mixed-race child to attend her school, and she is vocal about women's rights—but Alcott doesn't give us many details. Jo makes several feminist declarations, but her own family and friends constitute her main audience, and she ultimately ends up living much more conventionally than she previously had forecast. A practical-minded author, Alcott specifically chose not to proselytize for her beliefs lest she risk alienating potential book buyers from different regions of the United States—consumers who, given her royalties arrangement, could provide her living.
The author's strategy of ordinariness worked. An early anonymous review in the Nation (October 22, 1868) quietly praises Little Women as "an agreeable little story, which is not only very well adapted to the readers for whom it is especially intended, but may also be read with pleasure by older people." The reviewer labels the March girls "healthy types, . . . drawn with a certain cleverness" yet complains of the text's lack of "what painters call atmosphere," its over-reliance upon local color, and, strangely, "things and people [in the novel] . . . remaining, under all circumstances, somewhat too persistently themselves." As has often been the case with extremely popular books, this early review did not anticipate its subject's wild success. Another anonymous review, from the December 1868 issue of Arthur's Home Magazine, gives advice that has been followed for generations: "Parents desiring a Christmas book for a girl from ten to sixteen years cannot do better than to purchase this."
Alcott hinted at the end of the first part of Little Women that a sequel might be forthcoming, "depend[ing] upon the reception given to the first act of the domestic drama". She included this teaser even though she would later claim, upon learning that a second installment was in fact demanded of her, that she disliked the very idea of sequels. Part two of Little Women, originally titled Good Wives to portend the girls' development as married women, begins with the eldest sister Meg's marriage. Upon its release, Little Women, part two, was hailed as extending the March story by "loading the palate without sickishness" (by an anonymous reviewer in Commonwealth, April 24, 1869), although some might have cause to argue such an assessment. A review in the National Anti-Slavery Standard (May 1, 1869) praises the ideal families the book portrays and predicts that life will imitate art: "Thousands of young people will read [Alcott's] story of these healthy, happy homes, and their standard of home and happiness must in many cases be raised." The first part of this prediction has certainly come true; the second, although something to hope for in general, seems a bit much to ask even of this wholesome novel.
The sequel was written to appease Alcott's many fans, who had been begging the author for more information about the March sisters' future experiences—namely whom, and how well, they married. Although as a feminist Alcott personally resented the implication that her March girls' future happiness depended upon marriage as an end in itself, she did succeed in pairing off most of her characters, although not in the neat ways her romantic readers had desired or even anticipated. Alcott's unusual choices in this regard mystified and disappointed not only many of her contemporary nineteenth-century admirers but generations of girls to follow, who wanted the outspokenly independent, ambitious second sister, Jo, married off according to their own fancy—not to mention future generations of feminist literary critics who bemoaned Alcott's decision to marry her off at all.
Posted May 22, 2009
The March family is forced to be with out their father during the war. The four sisters: Meg, the beautiful eldest, Jo, the tomboy author, Beth, the tender-hearted, and Amy, the romantic artist, face many timeless struggles that girls of all ages face. Their story only brings them closer and captures you in the process.
In my opinion, the book Little Women is a classic book for many ages. I thought the book was interesting and I personally have read the book at least twice. The book has a timeless theme. It also has characters that relates to most.
In conclusion, I would suggest you read it at least once. The March family reminds you that even in rough times you can get through it. Louisa May Alcott has created in my opinion a timeless book. This book will probably remain popular for many years.
The book was interesting and great for girls especially, but don't let that stop you boys from reading it, too. I liked it so much I watched the movie.
69 out of 85 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 6, 2003
This is a wonderful classic and the format is fantastic. However it is a little known fact that Little Women was published in two separtate volumes, the first in 1868. This version is only part one of what has been traditionally recognized as Little Women since 1880. At the end of this story Beth is still alive! This is ridiculous. It is such a shame because my daughter loved reading this book but now needs to continue reading from another complete copy of Little Women. The publisher did the same thing with Heidi. In their version Clara never makes it up to Grandpa's and that should have tipped me off about Little Women.
45 out of 62 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 13, 2009
I absolutley loved this book. It gave you everything you could ask for in a novel. Drama, thrill, compasion, love. The ups and downs in this book really kept me interested. I laughed and I cried. I know that sounds cheesy; but its true. This is definitely one of my favorite books and one to keep on my shelf in my collection!
30 out of 37 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 2, 2011
It's not costing you anything!!!! If you dont want it archive and delete it!! STOP UR COMPLAINING! How many times in life do you get something for free!!
20 out of 52 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 27, 2008
I was quite young when i first read this book, and till today no other book fascinates me like this one. When ever i'm frustrated or feeling low, this book helps me to regain my lost spirit..because it is the story of a family which faces the challenges of life, without letting go of faith in God, and their love for each other to come out triumphant.
17 out of 23 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 27, 2007
Little Women is one if English Literature¿s most treasured classics. Louisa May Alcott was an 18th century author who wrote about the lives of people two hundred years ago. This novel is a touching story about four sisters who fight poverty together during the 1860s where you watch the girls develop and mature from teenagers into womanhood. The four daughters remain caring and close to one another under the watchful eye of their dear mother, Marmee. Meg, Beth, Jo, and Amy learn through life¿s hardships, supporting each other and growing into delightful little women. The story commences with the March family¿s father fighting in the Civil War, while the four daughters and their mother living in poverty on Christmas day in the USA. They befriend their wealthy neighbors, the Laurences, and form a lifelong alliance with Teddy and his grandfather who help them immensely through hard times. Once Mr. March returns, the girls are overjoyed to see him, having been gone for nearly a year. The plot continues as three of the girls are captured in romances, while Beth is terribly ill. There is also travel abroad as well as other adventures at home. What exactly becomes of each of them? Well, read the book and find out. As for the other young adults today, would I recommend this book? The truth is no. This novel contains beautiful language and impressive writing, but most teenagers in the present would not appreciate this and would probably think ¿Oh no! Not another one of these boring things!¿ The majority would much rather read stories by Meg Cabot or novels such as The Devil Wears Prada. Essentially, this book is too old fashioned and verbose for the likes of most today. The time has passed and readers look for more action or romance. Most children of the 20th century would probably be better off watching the film or reading one of the shorter, modified versions ofAlcott¿s work. If you do choose to read the novel, however, you would find that the storyline is touching and enjoyable. If you happen to like this book, there is a sequel named Little Men you may want to read. A warning to all readers: this book contains several dry, wordy, and overly detailed passages.
17 out of 38 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 2, 2010
Years ago, my aunt gave me this book as a gift. Of course then I didn't have my love for reading as I do now. Finally, I read it and loved it! I love everything about it, the story line, lessons, the characters, the way it was written. Granted I read this book years ago, I still remember the story line vividly. There is no question in my mind why this book is a classic. I will even go so far as to say the movie does it justice. this book is great for school, book clubs, rainy days, well actually any time. The story will suck you in and you wouldn't be able to put it down!
10 out of 12 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 8, 2011
Little Women is a classic of American literature, and worth reading, even 150 years after its publication. However, readers do need to accept the fact that the pacing is a bit uneven and there are frequent narrative asides pointing out exactly "what we should learn from this anecdote," usually occurring just as the pace starts to pick up. Still, it's a good look at another time and place. The Barnes & Noble Classics ebook edition of Little Women is, for the most part, quite good. It comes with quite a bit of supplementary material in the form of a biography of the author; historical background of both when the book was written and the time period in which it was set; and approximately twenty pages of endnotes and footnotes, all hyper-linked within the book itself. I would have preferred to see the information about the author and her history placed at the end of the text rather than the beginning. Ditto with the introduction, which, like most such introductions, assumes the reader is already familiar with the text. The proofreading of the ebook text is...spotty. As far as I can tell it was typeset by scanning an existing print copy of the book, using OCR technology to render the text. On the whole, this works quite well, but there are a number of places where words are split oddly (e.g. "beg inning" instead of "beginning"), or specific letters were not translated correctly, leading to spelling errors (e.g. "tor" instead of "for").
9 out of 15 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 12, 2009
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This is one of those books that I finish and want to go back to page one and start reading all over again. Each of the March sisters is special and interesting in her own way, and even now my friends and I go back and forth about who is who among the sisters...Most of us want to be Jo, the headstrong, independent sister, who is the fictional version of the writer herself, Louisa May Alcott. Alcott wrote a couple sequels, and a serial about the Marches, but Little Women is the one that has endeared itself to so many...Although a work of fiction, Little Women has many biographical qualities...Louisa herself had three sisters: her elder sister, Anna is Meg in the book, Elizabeth is Elizabeth (Although I believe she was called Betty, not Beth), Abby May (usually just called May) is Amy...sadly, there was no real Laurie...But many of the situations that the sisters find them in were situations similar to those they really experienced--including the loss of Beth who never fully recovered from Scarlett Fever...
9 out of 12 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 13, 2011
I read this when I was a child but as an adult, this is one of the most boring books I have ever read. I know it is a classic but I could barely plow through it.
8 out of 27 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 1, 2011
I have loved this book for years! I actually own it in print, but it was pre-loaded on my nook when I bought it, so that's just a plus! Wonderful, wonderful book!!!
8 out of 12 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 5, 2011
This is a great read if 1,u like classic stories 2,fallowing the characters as they get older 3,the 1800s I highly recomend this book to women of all ages and i garenty that u will get something out of it (this book helped me have more pacience and control with my sister who has adhd)
7 out of 11 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 23, 2012
I have read this book four times and cried and laughed and gasped through the well done classic story i read every year since 3rd grade and adored it all times!!!!!!!!!!!!
6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 1, 2012
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Posted May 7, 2012
I love like women it one of the best novel i read i really rackmaned this to all age men and women a like most read little women
3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 21, 2012
Posted March 3, 2012
Little Women often includes the second book, Good Wives, as Part II of the same story. It's not, it's two different books in one. both are charming, sweet, sad, and quiet lessons in kindness. A true classic of literature. The characters are fit for any time period. Though the details may be in the 19th century, the attitudes are of women who are not simply subjective to society. Each character has their own traits, faults, and virtues.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.