Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott.

Little Women: my first of my 25 re-reads, on many '100 Greatest Novels' lists, and said to be one of the most widely read novels of all time. I know I read in in autumn 2011, but I have a feeling I may have read it before that when I was very young. And, there is no doubt, I do want to re-read it again. Like every truly wonderful book, a new read gives a new angle. 

Writing about this is really covering old ground: this book is so well-loved and familiar to so many, I don't think I could possibly add to all that is written about it. But I do love it, I have to say that, and I have to say why; it's a book I very much want to share my love for. 

It begins and ends with Christmas, with the four sisters, Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth, talking, sharing their thoughts, and "knitting away in the twilight, while the December snow fell quietly without, and the fire crackled cheerfully within". Although each sister suffers some kind of trial throughout their transition from childhood to adulthood - this 'in between' stage they're in, not women, not girls, but "little women", it brings out the best in them: it is a very comforting novel: adversity may be overcome somehow, with love and patience. This novel is, as most know, inspired by Transcendental philosophy, that perfection may be reached not through the "physical and empirical", the outside influences (which are, in fact, ultimately corrupting), but by self-examination, self-knowledge, and self-reliance (this definition is based on a few articles I read on the internet this afternoon, so you may wish to correct me if I haven't expressed it properly). 

Transcendentalism, being generally non-conformists, was sympathetic to women's rights (Alcott, in her later years, was involved in the suffragette movement). In Little Women, Alcott (gently) challenges some gender roles: Jo resents being female because of women's social status: the lack of education (her painful jealousy when Teddy goes to college), frustration at not being able to join her father in the Civil War, and her general 'tomboy' demeanour. And all the sisters, these "little women" are well-rounded; human, not idealised, very much flawed. All of them try to do their best and overcome the less desirable aspects of their characters (largely showed in these "trials" I mentioned) - Jo's temper, Meg's vanity and love of money and luxury, Amy's pride, and Beth - even Beth is flawed, sometimes grumpy, sometimes resentful. Though very quiet and lovely, this girl who loves to play with her dolls and her kittens is not an angel. 

And this is the realism element of Little Women. It is a realistic portrayal of a Transcendental family in Concord, Massachusetts, with real feelings and real experiences. What is remarkable about this novel, largely, is their own personal development. It is very gentle and it is a wonderful Christmas read, but of course it is much more than that. It is sweetly inspiring, for want of a better phrase. The "little women" do not achieve perfection in the novel, but they become increasingly aware of their faults without being dragged down and depressed by them. They constantly strive for better, and "better" is not judged by an increase in money or social status. They're positive, and they keep their humour and love for each other. It's a beautiful novel, so very warm, hopeful, and honest. I have much affection for this book. 

Comments

  1. I also have much affection for this book. :)

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    1. I remember your posts - you're the one who introduced me to the Transcendental club :)

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  2. It is definitely a familiar book but it still manages to reveal new things, as you say, with each re-read. I read that Alcott based it on her own family so that might have a lot to do with the realism of the book.Nothing ever really feels contrived, and you feel like you're a part of the cast when you read it, which is a really great feeling. Gah! I love it to bits. (I found this gorgeous annotated edition in the library with beautiful illustrations - and red hardcover*drool* - so I'm going to be delving into that as soon as I'm done with Frankenstein.)

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    1. That sounds like a lovely edition!

      And yes, Alcott really draws you in. A beautiful read.

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  3. "Sweetly inspiring" - you summed it up perfectly! This was a childhood favorite of mine; I wanted to be like Jo, of course, but there is something to relate to in each of the sisters. Great review.

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    1. Jo is my favourite as well! I do like all the sisters, of course, but Jo is the one I relate to (everyone loves Jo, I reckon!).

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  4. Oh yes, a favorite of mine as well. I've read this a couple times--most recently at the start of the year--but I'd never considered the Transcendental angle before. I suppose I didn't know about Transcendentalism in fourth grade!

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    1. I didn't know about it until very recently thanks to Mabel's post a few years ago. I think I was wrong in saying "as most know" :)

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  5. I also adore this book and have longed for an attic room like Jo my entire life. I've given this book as a gift too many times to count.

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    1. It is the perfect gift! I might hand a few copies out myself this Christmas :)

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  6. This book is one of my favorite novels - I first read it when I was nine, then again last year (I think. With the way this year flew by, I might very well have read it this year). It makes me happy and emotional every time.

    I was only vaguely aware of the novel's Trascendentalist background. Trascendentalism is a movement I have little to no knowledge of, so I didn't realize what a good exponent of it Little Women is. I'll look into it next month, and then read the novel again.

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    1. It's interesting to read from that perspective, and I'm quite interested in Transcendentalism now. I've read The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne, which was also supposed to be influenced by the movement, but sadly I wasn't aware of this fact at the time!

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