Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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1933, starring Katherine Hepburn

Louisa May Alcott (1832 – 1888) is an American writer, who is perhaps best known for Little Women. Little Women is the first part in a trilogy based on the herself, her life and her three sisters.

Technically it is a quadrilogy, but the first two parts Little Women and Good Wives were eventually combined to become just Little Women.

She brings together the perfect combination of family relationships, loyalty, love, jealousy, sibling rivalry, tragedy and friendship. An old fashioned soap opera that would probably be made into a sit-com in our day and age.

It was so successful commercially when it was first published 1868 that Alcott wrote a sequel called Good Wives, which was equally successful. The two books were published in one volume in 1880. Readers were eager to find out more about the characters in Little Women. Very much like readers awaiting the next George R. R. Martin to be published. Alcott followed Little Women up with Jo’s Boys and Little Men.

There have been many film adaptations, probably more than you think there are,

Little-Women4

1949, starring Elizabeth Taylor

definitely more than I knew there were. Two silent films, four films with sound: in 1933 (starring Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Jean Parker), in 1949 (starring June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Leigh and Peter Lawford), the 1978 film made for television (starring Susan Dey, Meredith Baxter Birney, Greer Garson and William Shatner) and in 1994 (starring Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Christian Bale, Kirsten Dunst and Claire Danes).

Quite a few memorable names in those lists. Hollywood legends and thespians, who have gone on to become household names and favourites.

In 1981 Wakakusa no Yon Shimai/Little Women’s Four Sisters and in 1987 Ai no Wakakusa Monogatari/Tales of Little Women were made.Two 1980’s Japanese anime series, which also turned out be quite popular, despite small changes in the plot and story So far four television series have been made including one in 1950 and another in 1958. In 2005 Little Women the Broadway musical opened and in 1998 an American opera version was commissioned and broadcast in 2001.

Needless to say it Alcott’s story offers a multitude of possibilities when it comes to exploring and performing her material. A classic in every sense of the word.

It is often considered the first portrayal of an ‘All American Girl’ in a novel. Personally I think it is one the first portrayals of strong women crossing the boundaries of gender roles, and it show-cases the importance of women having their own jobs, careers and goals in life. Jo is a perfect example of an intelligent, ambitious and talented woman, who follows her dreams regardless of the obstacles in her way.

1978, starring William Shatner and Greer Garson

Jo is the tomboy, she is the exact opposite of her sisters. She has a sense of adventure and wants to venture outside of the rigid confines of the boundaries society sets for young girls and women.

It’s bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like boy’s games and work and manners! I can’t get over my disappointment in not being a boy. And it’s worse than ever now, for I’m dying to go and fight with Papa. And I can only stay home and knit, like a poky old woman!”

The youngest daughter Amy is enamoured by her own self, a typical spoilt little girl. Her actions and choices cause a lot of heartbreak and disruption in the family, especially when it comes to Jo.

Amy, though the youngest, was a most important person, in her own opinion at least. A regular snow maiden, with blue eyes, and yellow hair curling on her shoulders, pale and slender, and always carrying herself like a young lady mindful of her manners.

Perhaps the sweetest of the siblings and the one with the least airtime or book-space, is also the one who drives the story and the lives of her family members or rather her fate does. It is sad and yet poignant, an event which teaches humility, but also drives the sisters apart during their time of grief.

Elizabeth, or Beth, as everyone called her, was a rosy, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy manner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression which was seldom disturbed. Her father called her ‘Little Miss Tranquility’, and the name suited her excellently, for she seemed to live in a happy world of her own,

1994, starring Susan Sarandon

The eldest of the girls is the interim mother, the responsible and mature soul. She is also the person, who seeks to mediate when the more fiery of the bunch are at odds with each other. She is very much the unmovable mountain of support, regardless of their situation.

All of that and her position of responsibility doesn’t make her any less of a young girl with the same kind of problems, needs and wants as the others,

‘Margaret or Meg, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain.’

I think the many adaptations speak for the popularity of this set of books and the author. They are stories suitable for both younger and older readers, a timeless classic with themes everyone can relate to on one level or another.

Download and read Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys at the Internet Archive or read Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins, Flower Fables or An Old-Fashioned Girl at Feedbooks. Alternatively you can listen to Eight Cousins, Good Wives, Jo’s Boys, Little Men or Little Women at Librivox.

You can also read Flower Fables, What Katy Did, An Untimely Predicament, The Skull, Sound of Horror, Eight Stories of Dragons, Wilde About Oscar, Beat The Devil, The Fiend, Curse of Bigfoot, You and Your Robots. The Book of Wonder, House of Mystery or The Scarlet Plague right here on the blog.

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