Little Women- “A book to lighten these more challenging days”

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It took me over a month, which is a pretty long time for me to read a book, but I finished Little Women last night. Speaking as an English teacher, a book lover, and simply a person let me say: it is worth it. 

Every single time I slipped my bookmark into the book and set it aside, the experience of reading it left me in a better mood and more positive mental space than I was when I started.

[A] reminder of all that’s truly important in life…improving yourself, focusing on family and love, and filling your days by making life better for those around you. ”

— Mrs. Collier

The novel, by Louisa May Alcott, was written in the late 1860s, and published in two volumes, then combined into the current 777 page novel in 1880. It chronicles the lives of four sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March, along with their parents, neighbors, relatives and romances. 

Throughout the novel, the sisters grow up, grow together, and experience the full range of human emotions and challenges present not only in the 1860s, but during any young adult’s life. 

The love of Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth March- Forge.com

Mrs. Collier, HS English teacher and Standards Leader, also read Little Women recently, and she described it as “so wholesome”, calling it “the perfect quarantine read.”

The characters are set on improving themselves morally, personally, and socially. Collier selected a favorite quote, in which Jo March, the protagonist reflects, “…I’ve learned to check the nasty words that rise to my lips; and when I feel that they mean to break out against my will, I go away a minute, and give myself a little shake for being so weak and wicked…” 

Moments like this, which are common in the novel, sometimes feel trite and childish in the light of modern conveniences and challenges, like Covid-19, but Collier addressed this as well calling the book a “reminder of all that’s truly important in life…improving yourself, focusing on family and love, and filling your days by making life better for those around you.”  

She summed it up saying, “this is a book (and a film) that will lighten these more challenging days.”

This echoes my experience with the novel. The lives of the characters are both simple and complex. Simple because they live in simpler times, and worry about things like what is right, how to care for family, and how they fit in society. Their lives are also complex though, as they struggle with love, duty, poverty, the unknowns of distance and war, and ultimately death.

Both Collier and I found that the novel, though long, was a quick read. Just this week I read around 100 pages a day, each afternoon sitting by my fireplace with my cat Floyd on my lap. Collier explained why the book can fly by: “there’s quite a bit a dialogue and before you know it you’ve read 100 pages.”

Initially, I chose the book for three reasons. One, I heard that the recent movie adaptation was worth watching, and felt obligated to read the novel first. Two, I had never read the book and feel a pull to read the classics. Finally, it has been floated as a possible High School musical multiple times, and I wanted familiarity with the source material.

This weekend, if my wife consents, I plan to watch the 2019 adaptation, written by Greta Gerwig, starring Emma Watson, Saoirise Ronan, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlon. What an impressive list of talented women! This is the 7th film adaptation, and like its predecessors it received positive reviews, netting 6 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. 

The March sisters on a picnic
Little Women (2019)- Empire.com

After reading the novel, I am left with the open question: Who is the ideal audience in 2020? The novel is definitely neither a children’s novel, nor an adult romance. It fits the bill of Young Adult, but it is far more challenging in vocabulary, length, and style than our modern YA novels. 

My thought is that it would be a strong choice for a parent and a teen to read at the same time. It is a novel of young adulthood, mixed with the innocence of childhood and the sometimes heavy realities of adulthood. 

Collier weighed in on the question; she believes it is for “someone who isn’t intimidated by the length, and someone who just wants a wholesome read.” 

She went on, and encapsulated the charm of the novel: “It’s inspiring in how pure and innocent the love is between the sisters, their parents, and their neighbors.  It makes readers wish we could return to these simpler times when people focused on making sure they were the best versions of themselves.”

As I turn to the movie, and to whatever novel I challenge myself with next, I know that Little Women, filled with my excited annotations, will rest on my shelf, waiting for the next reader to marvel at the March girls.