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Thu Aug 30, 2018, 11:49 PM

'Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy' Review: A Beloved, Troublesome Household - Book review

Anne Boyd Rioux writes in “Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters.”

“Little Women” is not a polarizing book, exactly, but it does elicit strong reactions. “Fresh, sparkling, natural, and full of soul,” wrote an early critic; a much later one deemed it “a kind of horror story.” When the first portion of what would be a two-part novel appeared in 1868, reviewers in the religious press thought it unsuitable for Sunday school libraries on account of its insufficient Christianity. Eight decades later Soviet censors banned the book, lest its scenes of loving domesticity dull the minds of the masses. A friend of mine says that reading it aloud to her daughter constitutes their happiest shared memory; a daughter of mine tossed the book down in exasperation after a favorite character “marries the wrong person!”

(snip)

The “one young woman” in the rebellious reading of the novel is, of course, Jo March, the aspiring writer and tomboy whose character was so closely aligned with Alcott’s own that fans wrote to the author as if there were no difference between the two. Alcott modeled Jo’s fictional siblings on her own sisters, Anna, Lizzie and May, and the character of Marmee on their long-suffering mother, Abigail. Often angry and unhappy, Mrs. Alcott had the unenviable responsibility of keeping her girls fed and sheltered while married to a dreamy utopian who brought in almost no money... The father’s fecklessness ensured the family’s poverty, though it also spurred his talented daughter to write for money.

(snip)

Ms. Rioux notes. “Jo shows us a different path out of the wilderness of female adolescence and into an adult womanhood that is modified to fit her own needs. Rather than conforming to ideals of femininity or succumbing to their destructiveness, as her sisters do, she figures out how to thrive in spite of them.” Innumerable women writers have seen themselves in Jo—“I, personally, am Jo March,” Barbara Kingsolver once wrote—and have applauded her refusal to marry the rich and handsome boy next door. (Laurie eventually marries Amy, the wrong person to countless disappointed romantics.)

Alcott’s cultural influence is such that Ms. Rioux, an English professor at the University of New Orleans, sees a direct line connecting “Little Women”—and the character of Jo in particular—with such pop-culture descendants as Hermione in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books; Katniss Everdeen, who takes on the role of provider and protector in Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” trilogy; the affectionate mother and daughter of the television show “Gilmore Girls”; and even the ensemble cast of Lena Dunham’s TV vehicle “Girls.” Each, in its way, reflects themes seen in what the author calls Alcott’s “fable of growing up female.”

(snip)

Today “Little Women” may be entering its fatal eclipse. Vanishingly few schools now teach the book, and though nostalgia continues to run strong with adults, among children the book is dwindling into obscurity. “I don’t like books that tell me who I should be and what I should do,” one young critic told a friend of the author. As Ms. Rioux remarks with regret: “Today’s girls are giving Marmee one big eye roll.” It is a shame, for, as the author observes, “Alcott’s classic pointed the way not only toward girls’ future selves but also toward the future relationships they could have with men and with each other. She imagined her characters moving into a mature womanhood that achieves self-fulfillment as well as shared joys and responsibilities, a storyline today’s little women desperately need.” She’s right about that. The thoughtful pages of “Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy” amount to a plea: Let us not forget these girls! We still need them.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/meg-jo-beth-amy-review-a-beloved-troublesome-household-1534467164 (Paid subscription)

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Reply 'Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy' Review: A Beloved, Troublesome Household - Book review (Original post)
question everything Aug 2018 OP
3catwoman3 Aug 2018 #1
MontanaMama Aug 2018 #2

Response to question everything (Original post)

Fri Aug 31, 2018, 01:32 AM

1. I have seen clips of a modernized remake of Little Women...

...that will be airing on TV soon. The idea seems a bit odd to me. I will probably watch at least a few episodes to see what they do with it.

I read and re-read this book when I was a kid that - it was my mom's copy, given to her in the early 1930s when she would have been about 10. She had also read and re-read it, so much that it was falling apart. My grandmother had it rebound for me, in 1963, when I would have been 12. I still have it.

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Response to question everything (Original post)

Fri Aug 31, 2018, 10:14 AM

2. I received my copy of LW

as a gift in the early seventies. I so loved that book. I read and re-read it over the years...I still have it. My only child is a boy and I won’t pass it on to him, clearly. It’s sad that girls today aren’t interested in it.

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