Challenge Criteria: A book more than 100 years older than you.
Little Women, being published in 1868, is 122 years older than me, pushing it well over the mark for this particular challenge category.
Despite having read this book last week, and consulted with my sisters, I am still not entirely sure if I ever read Little Women in its entirety before. Published in two volumes, marketed in the UK as Little Women and Good Wives, but in the US as Little Women vol 1 & 2, this review is really only of Vol 1, because I’m still plodding through Good Wives.
Following the lives of four sisters on a journey out of adolescence, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women explores the difficulties associated with gender roles in a Post-Civil War America.
Surely everyone knows the story of Little Women – four sisters growing up during the Civil War, with their father away ministering to the soldiers and the story of their friendship with wealthy neighbour Theodore “Laurie” Laurence.
I’ve mentioned before that we had a VHS of Little Women which we watched regularly when we were small. It belonged to my older sister, specifically. I wasn’t half as enamoured with it as she was, although that doesn’t mean that I didn’t watch it enough times that I was well familiar with it.
A few years ago, my sisters, mother and I went to see a stage production of Little Women in the Gate theatre which was really wonderfully done, and on top of that, I’ve seen the film version with Gabriel Byrne, more than once, I think.
Little Women is out of copyright, so I downloaded a Gutenberg version of it, and started reading about a week ago.
Midway through Part 1, though, I realised something – I wasn’t at all sure whether or not I had read this book before. I was clearly very familiar with the story, the four girls, and certain specific scenes – Amy and the pickled limes comes to mind, and Beth and the piano – but lots of other bits were almost like new.
I pondered this for a while, certain that when we were small, we had had a copy of Little Women in book form (again, belonging to my older sister), but I couldn’t remember if it was the full thing or an abridged version. I kept reading, in any case, and finished Little Women Part I a few days ago.
I was home in Ireland that day, actually, and went looking for the edition of Little Women I was almost certain we had had, and found it in Aoife’s bookcase. Worn and well-loved, the orange hardback and cover illustration were like stepping back fifteen or twenty years to my childhood – but I still don’t actually know if I read it the whole way through. It may well be that I read partway through and then abandoned it, as most of the scenes I remember very well were in the first half of the book, and I could have simply imagined the later ones from other versions of the story I had experienced.
Incidentally, the Little Women we had in hardback was only the first volume, and doesn’t include Good Wives, which is why I’m counting Little Women as an entire book on my list this year, as the text I read on my Kindle, despite being half of the eBook, is the same as the actual hardback I found the next day. =)
As for Little Women itself? It’s a nice story, and I love the multiple different female characters in it. Four sisters, all so different, but all struggling to find their place in the world, all very different, but bound together by the inextricable ties of family, love, and loyalty, there was lots in this book that I really did enjoy. Little Women, for me, is tied up with nostalgia about my childhood, experiences with my sisters and my mum, and, interestingly enough, Chopin, and I find it very hard to extract all the good feelings I have about those experiences from the book itself.
It is, at times, annoyingly preachy, and has explicit religious overtones and undertones which I found moralising at times. But when you consider that this was a book written for children in the mid 19th Century, it is clearly a product of its time. And beyond the religious convictions which I find slightly annoying, the themes of love, of friendship, of sisterly bonds, of trying to find your place in the world, and overcoming your own weaknesses (I empathise greatly with Jo struggling with her hot temper) are timeless, classic, and do still evoke all kinds of good feelings within me. Little Women is far from the usual rip-roaring fantasy YA adventure I usually tear through, so I found it slow going at times, but it’s definitely a classic for a reason.