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  • Writer's pictureJenna Miller

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Hello fellow book readers!

I first read this book when I was in middle school over twenty years ago. Our family was stationed at Ramstein AFB in Germany, and I have clear memories of reading the unabridged addition aloud to my mom while she was cooking or doing dishes. Dishwashers were not common off base in the late 1990s, so we spent a lot of time in the kitchen after dinner. My mom was a stickler for clear enunciation and reading with emotion. If I was reading in a monotone, I would have to reread the passage. Thanks, mom!

The present book club I am a member of here in Germany chose to read Alcott's most famous book, and I was interested to see how I felt about it as an adult.

To be honest, I had a hard time motivating myself to keep reading the first half of the book. I felt it was overly moralistic, lacking subtlety with its life lessons. I do realize that this was published in 1868, and the style of writing was different during and after the Civil War. However, I also attribute this to the transcendentalist philosophy to which her family ascribed. Transcendentalists believe that people are inherently good, that this goodness shows itself best when one is self-reliant, and perfection is the ultimate life achievement. They also focus a great deal of attention on nature. Once I understood this philosophy, I could see how Alcott wove it through every chapter of her book, especially in the first half. You can see this in chapter 13 entitled "Castles in the Air". I ascribe to a Biblical worldview, so it is no wonder that this transcendentalist, works-based salvation began to grate on my nerves.

I read through the second half of the book much faster. I know that Little Women was written as a semi-autobiography of Alcott's life and family, so I am interested to read a nonfiction book about her now. I am also interested in reading something else she has written to see if I like other works by her better. I have Little Men on my bookshelf, and I will give it a try. My heart still broke for Laurie after declaring his feelings for Jo and being turned down. The romance between Laurie and Amy always struck me as contrived when watching the movies, and I unfortunately still feel the same way after this rereading. Our book club had a great discussion on the advantages/disadvantages between a Jo-Laurie match and a Jo-Mr. Bhaer match.

Even though I did not enjoy reading Little Women as much as I had thought I would, I am increasingly intrigued by the Alcott family. They were an anomaly for their time: abolitionists, feminists, and progressive thinkers regarding educating children. Their home acted as a part of the Underground Railroad. Louisa's father, Bronson, believed that children had something to offer, something to be cultivated within themselves, and was against corporal punishment in the classroom. He was also one of the very first schoolteachers to admit a black child into his school. The Alcott family was friends with some of the most famous writers of their time: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I am glad that I reread Alcott's book, even if it did not engage me as much as I had hoped. I enjoyed matching the literary passages with its corresponding film snippets. I loved both the 1994 and 2019 film adaptations. I suppose this is one of those rare occurrences where I enjoyed the movies more than the book.

I would love to hear other's thoughts on Little Women as well!

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