Little Women: An Annotated Edition

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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674059719
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 05/13/2013
Edition description: Annotated
Pages: 640
Sales rank: 378,834
Product dimensions: 9.50(w) x 9.70(h) x 2.00(d)
Age Range: 10 - 17 Years

About 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.

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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