Saturday, February 6, 2016

Classics Challenge: Little Women

Well, I have finished the first month in the 12 Months Classics Challenge, which for me, was reading Little Women. I finished on February the second, actually, and fully intended to start Wuthering Heights that day, and write this Little Women post on Friday or so. ..... Except on Tuesday I got the flu, meaning that, although I had quite a lot of reading time over the past few days, the only thing I had energy to read was light fluffy stuff, not a "classic I've always dreading reading". (I also spent quite a lot of time watching season two of Downton Abbey, which I've decided is fun and is perfect for when you literally don't have the energy to leave your bed all day or even have energy to read, but not worth my time when I'm not sick, as it is really a veiled soap opera.)
However, Wuthering Heights appears to be a little shorter than Pride and Prejudice, which I can read in a week or less, so there ought to be no troubles finishing it in the month of February, even if I don't get started until tomorrow. We will have a lot of time in the car tomorrow so I should be able to get a little ways into it.
Little Women was illustrated by May Alcott.

To get back to Little Women, I have decided not to do an official "review" for the books I chose for the Classics Challenge (unless I have a very contrary-to-normal opinion about it and feel I must review it for all the world to understand). If someone needs a summary, it's an easy thing to do to find a summary of a classic book online, and finding a list of objectional elements is also easy, so I don't feel the need to provide either of those.  I'm planning to do a post on each one (and I will mention at the end if I recommend this book or not), but not in a review form. What that form will be will depend on the book. For Little Women, I'm doing a comparison post. I love reading historical fiction and "true" stories, but I always wonder how true it really is. After reading a book/watching a movie of this type, I therefore usually do some internet scouring and try to sleuth out the actual story. As I thought the comparisons between the March's story and the Alcott's real lives to be really interesting, I'm sharing them here in this handy-dandy chart.

Basic Plot
Four daughters in a poor family living in the Civil War era; they do their best to be good while enduring many troubles, large and small, in their familiar, comfortable home.
There were four daughters, and the Alcott family was even poorer than the Marches. The girls growing up years were a little before the civil war. They moved frequently, even spending seven months in a transcendentalist commune started by Mr. Alcott.

Meg and Jo like to act plays together.
Anna and Louisa liked to write and act plays together also. Anna especially loved to act, and she fell in love with her husband after acting opposite him in a play.
Mrs. March is beloved by her girls, hardworking and patient.
Abigail May Alcott seems to be all that Marmee was to the March girls.
Mr. March has gone to be a chaplain in the war. He is admired by his “little women” and, while Marmee is the queen of the household, he is their anchor and foundation as he seeks raise all his children wisely and has a special relationship with each.
In some respects Mr. Amos Bronson Alcott’s principles did guide and shape the family (such as taking them all to the Fruitlands commune), but he wasn’t quite the admirable figure from Little Women. He was not a bad father, but he valued his principles above his well-being, which naturally hurt his family’s well-being. He did a poor job of caring for his family and may have tended to laziness. The rest of the family did not want to try the fruitlands experiment and Mrs. Alcott threatened to move herself and the girls away, at one point.
Meg March
Meg is the eldest, a little vain and bossy, but practical and loving. She earns money for the family by governessing.
Anna Bronson Alcott seems to be pretty much Meg.

(SPOILER ALERT) Meg marries John Brook, Laurie’s tutor. They have two twins (Daisy and Demi) and a little girl, Josie.
Anna married John Pratt and had two sons. Fun fact, the description of Meg’s wedding in the book is an actual description of Anna’s wedding at Orchard House. Unfortunately John died after only ten years of marriage, and Anna and her two boys moved in with Louisa, Lulu, and her father.
 Jo March
Jo is a writer. She used “sensation stories” to care for her family but grew ashamed of this and wrote better stuff.
Louisa was indeed a writer (big surprise there, major spoilers, I know). She used short stories and poetry, along with sensational novels (under a penname) to take care of her family also, until she wrote Little Women and its sequels. She also wrote quite a lot of other novels.

Jo earns money even in her early teenage years by reading to Aunt March, and then by teaching friends of her mother’s in New York.
Louisa earned money as a governess, seamstress (both she and Jo were the dressmakers of the family) and domestic helper. She was also a nurse for six weeks in the civil war (she would have stayed longer but contracted typhoid).

(SPOILER ALERT) Jo marries Friederick Bhaer and has tons of boys (some biological) and has a school of sorts.
Louisa never married. She died at age 55, at home, of a stroke.
Beth March
Beth is the peacemaker of the family, the quiet, contented sister.
Elizabeth Sewell “Lizzie” Alcott seems to be very similar to Beth, except she doesn’t seem to have been quite as scared of society.

(SPOILER ALERT) Beth contracts scarlet fever helping a poor German family. She never recovers her strength and dies within a few years.
Lizzie also contracted scarlet fever in this way, and died within two years of her illness (age twenty-two).
Amy March
Amy March is an artist from an early age, but does not make a living from it.
Abigail May Alcott was also an artist. She taught art (including art therapy, interstingly enough) for a few years in the early 1860s.

Amy goes to Europe with an aunt to travel and study art.
May also went to Europe, three times (1870, ‘73 and ‘77) with the funding from Louisa’s book.

(SPOILER ALERT) Laurie falls in love with Amy in Europe (she’s always loved him) and they marry there. They come back and live in Laurie’s rich house. They have one frail daughter, Beth.
May met her husband Ernest Nieriker in London, 1877, and they married the next year, in London (she was 38, he 22!). Her husband was not rich, but supported her art and worked hard (tobacco merchant and violinist!). They moved to Paris, where May primarily lived after her marriage.
They had one daughter, Louisa May Nieriker (“Lulu”), who was raised by Louisa Alcott, as May died within two months of her daughter’s birth.
Theodore Laurence
Laurie is the adopted son and brother of the March family.
Laurie did not exist. :(

BUT, Louisa did base him on two different friends of hers:
Alf Whitman, whom she met in, and was friends with all her life (she wrote him letters and called him “Dolphus” because they’d acted together in a play where he played “Dolphus”). Also Ladislas “Laddie” Wisnieski, a Polish man she met in Europe and had a brief, but close relationship with as she stayed in Europe. He was a prankster and a piano player.
Both boys were younger than her, and she felt very motherly towards them, just like Jo does towards Laurie.

If this interests you to look further, I suggest looking up Louisa's writings on being a Civil War nurse, the family's time at Fruitlands, and Amos Alcott's educational methods as I found all three subjects fascinating.

I really liked Little Women. I definitely want to read it again, and, when I have time, to read Little Men and Jo's Boys. There were many great quotes from the book, several of which which unfortunately I read over and couldn't find again, either in my copy or on GoodReads. Here are a few I did find:


Now and then, in this workaday world, things do happen in the delightful storybook fashion, and what a comfort that is.


[spoken by Marmee, to her eldest girls] "I'd rather see you poor men's wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace."


[C]hildren should be children as long as they can.


[spoken by Marmee, to Meg, after Meg has married and had twin babies] "Go out more, keep cheerful as well as busy, for you are the sunshine-maker of the family, and if you get dismal there is no fair weather."
(I liked that one because it expresses very well how the mother is really the hub of every household. If she isn't happy, no one else is either.)


For with eyes made clear by many tears, and a heart softened by the tenderest sorrow, she recognized the beauty of her sister's life — uneventful, unambitious, yet full of the genuine virtues which 'smell sweet and blossom in the dust', the self-forgetfulness that makes the humblest on earth remembered soonest in heaven, the true success which is possible to all.

Do I recommend this book, and to whom? I definitely recommend Little Women to males and females of all ages. I think it would make a good read-aloud to children but would be more appreciated by age 10 and up.
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  1. Wow, I never knew Little Women was based so closely after Louisa May Alcott's life! I noticed that May's name (Ms. Alcott's real life sister who she based Amy off of) is an anagram of the name Amy she gave to the fictional character. I wonder if that was intentional? Great review and good luck with Wuthering Heights :)

    1. I noticed that too! I would assume it was intentional, but good question! ;)

    2. Thanks! I think you're probably right.
      Oh, I've brought you a tag! I just started a new book shelf tag so if you're interested, the details are on my site:

  2. I haven't read the book, but I watched the movie and wasn't a huge fan. I know the book is probably far better, and might be inclined to give it a shot. I do want to read Wuthering Heights.

    1. I did think the book was better than the movie (better than I expected overall, really). I'm really liking Wuthering Heights right now, too!

  3. Little Women is one of my favorite books!! I'm so glad you liked it! And yes, you should read Little Men and Jo's Boys sometime. They're excellent books, as well. :)

    I enjoyed your comparison of the March family to the Alcott family. You did a very good job of writing it up in a way that's easy to read. :)

    Good luck on the rest of the Classics Challenge!

  4. Having read the two sequels, I daren't speak much to you of this book until you have finished them, because I am very likely to blurt something out and then realize that it wasn't in the first book. And therefore, when next we meet, I may be oddly silent on the subject.

  5. Little Men is adorable. Made me laugh...


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