Little Women is a novel that repeatedly shows up as a favourite for so many readers and writers. In fact, in my own interview series, Behind the Pen, many interviewees have cited Little Women as a childhood favourite. Likewise, in the Australian Women Writers historical fiction Sunday Spotlight interviews, a standard question I ask is whether or not the interviewee has a favourite book from childhood and whether or not that book has influenced them in any way as a writer.
The most popular answer is — no prizes for guessing — Little Women.
But I can totally relate because it’s one of my favourites from childhood and it most definitely influenced my own writing dreams.
Yet while the story is much loved, and the main character of Jo is almost always everyone’s favourite, many people seem to have an attachment to Little Women that goes deeper than simply enjoying the story. I am no exception to this.
I still own my battered copy of Little Women, gifted to me on my 10th birthday from my mother, which was significant in itself as up until this point I hadn’t realised she’d even noticed that I liked to read. It still remains a mystery to me to this day that she made such an articulate choice as she certainly hadn’t read it herself and lay claim after to not even knowing at all what the novel was about. I’d say it was a bargain bin pick that accidentally paid off.
Even so, five months later, my mother took my sister and me to Belgium – the country of her birth — where we were to live with our great aunt for four months while my mother toured Europe like the back-packing 20-something she so clearly wished she still was. I took Little Women with me. My great aunt’s living room seemed as good of a place as any to get lost in what fast became – and still remains – one of my favourite novels.
Consequently, Little Women has an experience attached to it for me that makes it all the more meaningful. A beyond the story component that was accidental, but makes the novel all the more treasured because if it. Reading under the watchful – and entirely creepy – gazes of the many taxidermied birds and rodents scattered around my aunt’s living room. Sunny afternoons riding with my sister on a borrowed bicycle to a flowered field where I would read chapters to her while she made chains with the many floral weeds that grew wild wherever there was grass. Stormy days up in the attic dressing up in my ancestor’s discarded finery, both of us pretending to be March sisters. The two of us were as much of a unit as the sisters in Little Women.
I have culled many books over the decades but I still have that same copy of Little Women. It flew part way across the globe with me, bounced along cobbled Belgian streets in a bicycle basket, crossed the English Channel, bumped along French country roads, and visited a Dutch fun park. It has moved many times with me and been read by several other little women. It is the one single thing I still have left over from my childhood and represents adventure and good times in what was quite often a whirlwind of turmoil and angst.
Stephen King has been quoted as saying:
“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
How very true that is.
“I want to do something splendid…something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.”
― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women