Full House Reading Challenge – Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

Genre: Childrens, Classics

Narrative Style: Third person

Rating: 5/5

Published: 1868

Format: Hardback

Synopsis: Little Women follows the lives of Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth as they grow from children to women. They are poor and their father is away fighting in the Civil War. They face many difficulties due to their lack of money, their gender or their character. 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: Book from childhood

I was a little nervous to read this as an adult. As a child, I read it many times and I loved it. Jo was my role model, I felt I was so much like her. I was concerned that it might not live up to my memories of it.

The one thing I didn’t really remember was how moralistic the narrative voice was – and the story itself is a series of moral lessons. This obviously didn’t bother me too much when I was younger (maybe because children often see things in straightforward black and white) but I found it a little heavy handed in places.

I’d also forgotten exactly how much I identified with Jo. She was clumsy, tomboyish, wants to be a writer and she even shared my birth month of November. She was definitely a huge influence on me, growing up. Little Women is often criticised for the way the girls are taught to be ‘little women’ but I found (still find) Jo’s difficulty with her role relatable. In fact, none of the girls find becoming a women easy or straightforward. All the girls are allowed the dream of different identities. This is what marks the novel out as a feminist classic.

I am tempted to read the rest of the series again, that’s how enjoyable I found it. I rescued the books from my mother’s when she died a few years ago. The edition I read was originally my mother’s and dated from 1939. It is not a joint edition with Good Wives. It ends with Meg’s proposal from Mr Brooke. And so now I am trying to remember how it works out for the girls. I think I will treat myself to a week of reading them when I am on half term.

DAY 20. – Favourite childhood book.

This is a little difficult as it seems a long time since I was a child. And also I wasn’t sure whether to try and think of one book to cover the whole of my childhood or to think of different ones to cover different parts of childhood. In the end, I have chosen three different books, simply because if I had to, I’d be happy to read them now.

The first is Charlie and the Chocolate factory by Roald Dahl. Neither of the film adaptations for me really live up to the sheer inventiveness of this book. The ridiculousness of some of Wonka’s inventions is just amazing.

At the start of the book, you have the tension of whether Charlie will actually manage to get a ticket and the reader routes for him from the start. He has to rely on luck and kindness to get his ticket while the other winners can employ more underhand methods.

For me though, the best thing about this book is the sly morality that dispatches each of the other kids. Everyone can appreciate that they got what they deserved until only the deserving Charlie was left. Having since taught this book to pupils of different ages, it is good to know that it is still appreciated.

My second choice is Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. Anne was another of those boisterous tomboyish girls who just wouldn’t fit in. She was determined and independent and always in trouble in one way or another. I thought she was fantastic. Not only that but she was intelligent and ambitious.

Of course, it was obvious that eventually she would forgive Gilbert for pulling her pigtails but the ups and downs of their relationship are well told and never predictable. I went on to read the whole series of books.

Finally, and in a similar vein, is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I loved Jo for similar reasons to Anne (see a theme developing here, by any chance. I was a tomboy and I would rather climb trees than play with dolls.) She was independent and easily my favourite of the four girls.

The story of Beth’s illness is incredibly touching and was probably the first time that a book made me cry. I felt bereft, as if she really was my friend. I read this book over and over as a child and I never got bored of it. Again, I read all the books in the series but Little Women was undoubtedly my favourite.

Day 15 – A character who you can relate to the most – Little Women and The Robber Bride

This gave me food for thought as a lot of the books I read include narrators / characters that are not the sort of people that you would want to identify yourself with – Patrick Bateman, for example or Vernon God Little, any of McEwan or Amis’ impossibly difficult narrators. Also, I felt that didn’t identify with any narrators who are mentally ill in The Bell Jar, Surfacing, Catcher in the Rye or One Flew Over the Cuckoos nest, for example.

The first character that I can remember really appealing to me was Jo in Little Women. In fact, I went on to read the rest of that series of books many times because I liked her character so much. One of the first things that Jo does in Little Women is cut off her beautiful long hair and she is frequently found to be doing things that were considered slightly unsuitable for her sex. This appealed to me at age 12 when I first read it as I was a tomboy and really didn’t see the point in make-up, dolls, jewellery or any of the other things that nearly teenage girls seem to be obsessed with. It was good to find a kindred spirit.

It is surprising that I have managed to get this far in this challenge without mentioning Margaret Atwood who is one of my favourite authors and one of the few writers where I have enjoyed all that I have read by her. Her female characters often seem to find life difficult in similar ways to me. The character I have chosen is Tony from The Robber Bride. I related to her straight away as she is left handed (as am I) and as a result of this learns how to write backwards. (This is a logical conclusion. If you have ever watched anyone left handed write, you will see how awkward it is. It would make much more sense to write backwards.) Furthermore, she is constantly reversing words in her head and sometimes out loud in conversation. It often feels as if the world is entirely the wrong way round when you are left handed. It seems that this has even effected Tony’s thought patterns and language use. Often the backwards words were exotic looking, forming a new language that only Tony could understand. It made me wish for the ability myself.