The Classics Eight: Little Women

Little Women AND Good Wives – a reflection in words and images

I first read Little Women when I was ten. I was gifted a copy and took it with me to Europe in that same year, carting it everywhere and reading it over and over. I never read it again, but still have that same treasured copy. When the classic film adaptation starring Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon was released in 1994, I flocked to the cinema to watch it, purchased the VHS and later upgraded to the DVD. It’s not until now, at the age of 42, have I realised that at some point, I confused the film with the book. When I sat down this last weekend to read Little Women for book club, it’s not until I got to the last page that I realised my grave error:

I HAD ONLY EVER READ HALF OF THE BOOK!

At least, I had only read volume one. Volume two, Good Wives, which makes up half of the film, had escaped my notice. How utterly embarrassing for a literary lover who claims Little Women as one of her favourites. As a ten year old, I had no idea there was more to the story. Google didn’t exist and my edition didn’t elude to it. Several years later, the film came along and I suppose, in the absence of reading it again as an adult, over time, in my mind, it morphed into the book I had read, and loved, as a child.

We’ll pause now for the raucous laughter…

The situation has been amended and this last weekend gone I reread Little Women and read Good Wives for the first time. Read as a complete novel, it made for a beautiful and delightful experience. I also re-watched the 1994 film and then watched the television series starring Emily Watson which was released last year. This was utterly divine television. It far eclipsed the 1994 movie, largely owing to the fact that there is more room to move within a television series than there is in a movie.

The television series told the story of all four March sisters, as well as focusing some attention onto Marmee, providing a beautiful depth to the story and all of the characters. This is a TV series I will watch again. This article in Vanity Fair called it ‘the Most Ambitious, Faithful Adaptation of Little Women Yet’, and I wholeheartedly agree.

If you haven’t watched it, or even heard of it, here’s a little trailer:

Little Women (TV series 2017)

So, I watched two adaptations and read two of the books in the four book series. I’m going to stop at Good Wives for now, but the e-book I purchased contains all four books, so I will certainly read the other two at some stage. What did I achieve over the course of the weekend through this Little Women immersive experience? Heartache. I experienced Beth’s death three times, so heartache is right up there at the top of the list. A close second is admiration for Louisa May Alcott, who writes with such warmth, humour, and feeling. These two novels really are brilliant pieces of fiction. I also loved how she narrated them as herself, piercing the fourth wall well and truly – by no means an easy task to pull off! But she did it, and did it with a style that was absolutely delightful.

Instead of blathering on about how much I loved these two books, I thought I would instead show you, using this set of cards I made up with images from the television adaptation paired with memorable quotes. But before I do, I want to just say two things:

On Beth – it’s tragic how some people are just too fragile for this world. Louisa May Alcott captured many things within the character of Beth about mental health and physical wellbeing, which seems to me quite intuitive and ahead of her time.

On Jo – I know that there are millions of people who are team Teddy, and while I love Teddy and his deep friendship with Jo, I liked that they never ended up together. Jo needed someone who could challenge her and stimulate her high intelligence whilst also keeping her grounded. In the Professor, Louisa May Alcott gave us Jo’s perfect match. I don’t think I was ready to see that until this stage of adulthood. Back in my twenties, I was still team Teddy.

Now, on with the slideshow!

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About the Author:

Louisa May Alcott wrote her first novel, The Inheritance, at age seventeen, but it went unpublished for nearly 150 years until 1997, after two researchers (Joel Myerson and Daniel Shealy) stumbled across the handwritten manuscript in the Houghton Library at Harvard University. Of course, Ms. Alcott is best known for a different novel, Little Women, which she wrote in two parts. The first volume, alternately titled Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, was published in 1868, and the second volume, Good Wives, was published in 1869. Like Jo in Little Women, Louisa also wrote many “blood and thunder” tales, which were published in popular periodicals of the day. She did not openly claim authorship for many of these Gothic thriller stories, however: for some, she used the pseudonym, “A. M. Barnard”; for others, she chose to remain completely anonymous.

28 thoughts on “The Classics Eight: Little Women

  1. I share your passion for these wonderful stories, these books remain my faithful companions..part of my childhood, but also in my heart. I could never part with them, they are as much part of me as I am of them… I loved the slideshow, it gives just that little more to warm the day.
    Thank you for rekindling such fond memories.. those books are always nearby, ready to be read or browsed through for the umpteenth time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I still love the 1949 version with Elizabeth Taylor in the best. I’m looking forward to seeing the new movie. I’m sure I have three og the books, but am having trouble tracking down all but number 1, hmm they must be in the shed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Ttheresa,
    I’m enjoying your blog, and thoughts on the literature you enjoy. I hope you don’t mind me commenting on this post.
    I did the same thing as you when it comes to Little Women. I red the first volume as a little girl, but it took me till a couple of years ago to actually get around to reading Good Wives, mainly because I didn’t know it existed. I do have some reservations about it as an adult reader, but I am still very fond of it, as it brings back memories of childhood. I agree that the professor was better for Jo than Teddy, but I almost wish Alcott had gone with her original instinct, which was to allow Jo to remain unmarried. Somehow, I think the character would have survived, but I have a feeling Alcott was frightened of alienating readers by telling a story of a young woman who decided to remain single and independent, like Alcott herself.
    As for poor Beth, I think she often gets something of a bad press these days, as she seems like rather a passive figure, and not at all in keeping with what we think of as a Strong Female Character. I have always had something of a soft spot for her however, partly because she was inspired by Alcott’s own sister, Elizabeth who died young, and also, because childhood me had a lot in common with Beth. As an introvert who loved music, and always wanted to please people, I kind of see where she was coming from, and I believe that quiet women have every bit as much right to exist in literature as the Strong Female Character, as we exist in real life too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for commenting, this has added on from what I was thinking myself. I’m also glad to know I’m not the only one to have not read Good Wives and not known about it!
      In the introduction of the edition of Good Wives I have, it talked about Alcott wanting to keep Jo single but knowing that her readership would baulk at that. I always liked the way Jo referred to herself as a ‘literary spinster’. I like that title!
      And I completely agree with you: quiet women have every bit as much right to exist in literature as the Strong Female Character. This is so important. I feel personally that Beth was very strong in her own quiet way. She was a grounding force for her sisters and was loved universally – not everyone can lay claim to that.

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  4. Great post! I think not reading Good Wives was an easy error to make, as both volumes were published as Little Women originally. I wasn’t a fan of the books as a child but I’ve really grown to love them as an adult! I love the Winona movie too.
    Beth March is my ‘character of the month’ on my blog 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: The Week That Was… | Theresa Smith Writes

  6. Similar thing happened to me. I had watched the Winona Ryder film before reading the book. When I read to the end of Little Women I got really confused because half the story was missing, only realising then that I’d have to buy a whole other book :’-) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I always think of Little Women and Good Wives as a single book – so funny that you only read the first one, and the movie filled in the gaps for you!! I loved the Winona Ryder movie, I’ll *have* to get around to watching the new series at some stage (my to-watch list is infinitely longer than my to-read list, if you can believe it). And I’m totally with you on Jo’s romantic match – I’m Team Professor, all the way, all the time! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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