Suey at It's All About Books is hosting the first check-in of the Little Women Read-Along! A bunch of us are reading Little Women and Good Wives during February (you can still join and catch up for the second check-in, which will be on the 19th!).
It's not the first time I read Little Women. My first time was almost 20 years ago (please, no comments on that, ha!), but I remembered it as a shorter book. After searching around, it turns out my edition didn't include Good Wives, which is now considered #1.5 of the series and is a standard addition to modern editions of the classic.
I loved this book when I first read it. It was one of the first to make me very angry, too. I won't be spoilery for the sake of all you who haven't read it, but there were two events that made me literally throw the book against a wall (against a pillow, really - I can't bring myself to damage books).
I'm enjoying this re-read, but not as much as the first time. The book has many flaws - it has a slow start, can be overly preachy and sappy, and is definitely manipulative. Yet I'm enjoying myself immensely. I guess my opinion could be colored by my childhood memories. One thing hasn't changed, though: Jo is still my favorite - she was one of the first bookworms I encountered in a book, and I can't help identifying with her. Yes, even with her quick temper!
One thing has positively surprised me - this is a very bookish book! Bookish references abound, and not only concerning Jo. Everyone reads and acts, and all of them write with varying degrees of accomplishment! I love when books point me to other books.
Enough babbling! Suey has kindly thought of some questions to spark conversation.
1. What's your opinions so far about each of the girls? Do you identify more with one or the other of them? Do you like them, or do they get on your nerves in a way? Which one do you think would be your friend?
I think Meg is too vain and Amy is too spoiled, but I love Jo and Beth to pieces. As I don't have to behave as a lady any longer, they don't make me feel too bad - when I was a child I couldn't fathom how they all were so good. My temper was very much like Jo's, but it has taken me longer to conquer it. I think we would get on very well, and if Beth let me talk to her, we could be good friends too!
2. What do you think of Mrs. March aka. Marmee? What's one of your favorite pieces of advice or lessons she's taught the girls so far?
I really like her, and I'm appreciating her more in this re-read. Although she is too good to be true. Let's say Little Women is presenting an idealized version of family life. Even with her many trials she seems unfazed!
My favorite piece of advice:
"Money is a needful and precious thing, and when well used, a noble thing, but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for."It's unbelievable the number of people that don't grasp this concept at all.
3. Do you think that the characterization of these girls and this family is realistic? Explain.
I have just answered this question! Of course not. Louisa May Alcott was basing the Marches on her own family and I refuse to believe any family can be so saintly. Even when they're at their worst, they're still darlings! That simply doesn't happen.
4. What's your favorite scene or incident so far? And why?
This one's tough. I really liked the theatre piece, but as Laurence wasn't included it hardly seems fair. The P.C. and P.O. is very sweet, but I'm torn between that little club and Camp Laurence. Or maybe when Beth interacts with old Mr. Laurence? There are just too many!
5. If this is your second (or third etc.) time reading this story, what stands out to you this time?
The bookishness and the foreshadowing. The narrator is always giving clues of what's to come!
6. How do you feel about Jo cutting off her hair? Was this incident surprising to you? Do you think it's symbolic of anything?
The first time I read this it was shocking, but now I understand it. It's not only her wish to help, which is her main motivation, but also her wish to be herself. To display herself as the man of the house - not by having short hair, but by taking decisions to benefit her whole family.
7. What's your feeling about the inclusion of poems, letters, stories, plays and etc. into the story?
They are quite gimmicky, but I like them nonetheless. In fact, one of my favorite chapters is The P.C. and P.O.
8. Any thoughts in particular on the male characters in this story?
Except for the Laurences and Mr. Brooke, the rest seem to be kind of jerky. Specially the Moffats. Ugh.
9. Are you liking this reading experience?
And now, under a cut to stop all of you for wanting to kill me after all my chattering, here is my blow-by-blow review of this first part:
Chapters 1-2: Playing Pilgrims & A Merry Christmas
The book starts describing the sisters and establishing their personalities pretty well, so it's easy to see their virtues and flaws right from the start. I didn't remember that it was set during the US Civil War, but this doesn't have a prominent role except to give a purpose to the absence of Mr. March, who has a very tragic past I had also forgotten. Not being from the US and not having read John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, I was a bit lost regarding their particular journey, and I'm afraid I'll miss some references, too.
Chapter 3: The Laurence Boy
Wondering what a Redowa is?
These young ladies were all very fit! And I imagined dances as a very tame thing!
Chapters 4-6: Burdens, Being Neighborly & Beth Finds the Palace Beautiful
"It's so nice to have little suppers and bouquets, and go to parties, and drive home, and read and rest, and not work. [...] I shall have to toil and moil all my days, with only little bits of fun now and then, and get old and ugly and sour, because I'm poor and can't enjoy my life as other girls do."
I hear you, Meg.
But isn't it funny how poor can be a relative term? What Meg describes is what most of us do: we work five days a week and rest only on weekends. Coming from high society, as the Marches do, can give you another perspective on what is toil. Right now, we wouldn't consider poor a family who could have a maid or cook like Hannah.
And once more, Beth is the sweetest of the four sisters. In her interactions with Mr. Laurence she reminds me of The Secret Garden.
|Cabinet piano from 1843 [Source]|
Chapter 7: Amy's Valley of Humiliation
"Boys are trying enough to human patience, goodness knows, but girls are infinitely more so, especially to nervous gentlemen with tyrannical tempers and no more talent for teaching than Dr. Blimber. Mr. Davis knew any quantity of Greek, Latin, algebra, and oologies of all sorts so he was called a fine teacher, and manners, morals, feelings, and examples were not considered of any particular importance."
This is one of my favorite passages from the book. Dr. Blimber is a reference to a teacher who runs a school where one of the characters from Charles Dickens' Dombey and Son dies. Louisa May Alcott throws shadow like no other.
Apparently pickled limes were a very common snack in American schools during the 19th century, but they were regarded as a vice as vile as chewing gum, and they were considered to not held any nutritional value. They were extremely cheap compared to fruit, so I'm guessing many of these New England kids were saved from a cold or worse by their intake of vitamin C in this way.
Chapters 8-9: Jo Meets Apollyon & Meg Goes to Vanity Fair
These chapters bring out the worst of the sisters. While it's true that Jo does have quite a bad temper, her sister Amy is too spoiled. Burning the manuscript her sister had been writing for several years is going too far. And then Meg can be so vain! I understand her wish to look good, to enjoy dinner parties, and balls, but once she overhears how cruel and worldly the Moffat can be, I can't understand how she still looks up to them.
"Money is a needful and precious thing, and when well used, a noble thing, but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for."
Chapters 10-11: The P.C. and P.O. & Experiments
I loved reading the newspaper, with its little bits of daily life and the reflection of each of the writers. The same can be said about the gardens. I would prefer Beth's - simple, beautiful, fragrant, and purposeful.
And another reference to Dickens in Jo's toast: Sairy Gamp is a nurse from Martin Chuzzlewit who is known to be dissolute, slopy and generally drunk.
Chapter 12: Camp Laurence
"Have games till it's cooler. I brought Authors, and I dare say Miss Kate knows something new and nice."
Maybe Authors is a popular game in the States, but it's completely unkown in Spain. Wikipedia says that it's a card game consisting of eleven sets of four cards each representing the works of eleven famous authors, and the object of the game is to complete as many sets as possible. I bit like Families, but bookish. I'd love to play! Wikipedia also says that Louisa May Alcott was among the authors featured in the original deck, but this has to be a mistake of some sort, as Authors was invented in 1861 and mentioned here, in 1868, so the game was published before Little Women.
|Authors, with Louisa May Alcott herself. [Source]|
Chapter 13-14: Castles in the Air & Secrets
There is lot of foreshadowing in these two chapters. I won't comment on it just yet, but I can't understand how I couldn't see the development of the plot the first time I read this. Now it all seems pretty obvious, but maybe it's because I know the ending.
One thing I don't like is how Meg's beauty is constantly exalted - it seems a bit shallow. Better to be interesting like Jo, than beautiful like Meg!
Chapters 15-17: A Telegram, Letters & Little Faithful
We end the first part of the read-along almost on a cliffhanger, after several misfortunes have befallen the March family. I dread the second part!