I somehow managed to make it this far in life without ever having read Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I wonder how many other beloved stories from childhood that I have missed as well. (Maybe I need to find a list of must-read children's books...). Of course Little Women is the sort of story that everyone seems to know even without having read the book. Although there is a fair amount of moralizing, I still enjoyed the story greatly. I am curious about Alcott's other works--those that weren't written for children. She actually preferred her adult novels to those which were written for children, and I read that at her death she felt "her talent was much greater than the children's books for which she is so fondly remembered."
Little Women consists of two books--Little Women, which she wrote in 1868, and Good Wives, which she wrote a year later. She wrote Little Women simply to make money, but the response from readers was so great she wrote a sequel. According to eNotes (my lazy way to find a bit of criticism), the sequel was released April 14, and her publisher was shocked by the sales. By the end of May she had sold more than 13,000 copies, which at the time was a rather large number. Not only was the book written by a woman, but it was written for children. It has never been out of print.
I think that critics today are somewhat split. Although it is a beloved tale, it is seen by some as overly sentimental, and women are portrayed in a very domestic attitude. Usually the saving grace is Jo. Alison Lurie (New York Review of Books) said:
"From a mid-nineteenth century perspective, Little Women is both a conservative and a radical novel...In contemporary terms, (Jo) has it all: Not only a household and children but two careers and she doesn't have to do her own housework and cooking."
I suspect that for modern readers the very moralizing tone the story has at times, and the idea of the good little wife and housekeeper could be turn offs. On a couple of occasions I caught myself raising an eyebrow at something. I always try to keep what I am reading in perspective though. It was written in post-Civil War America. Women were in charge of running the household and caring for children. While the March sisters seem very perfect to a modern day reader, when this was written they were seen as very flawed characters at the time. I suppose they were redeemed by their desire to better themselves.
In any case I am glad to have finally read it! I thought she did a great job of showing the sisters as girls and then as young women. Am I shallow to still have wanted Jo to end up with Laurie? Though Amy grew on me as the story progressed and I can see how they would suit each other. Maybe I need to search out some of her other works. I read A Long Fatal Love Chase when it was rediscovered and published not so long ago. I know there are some other books out there by her (not just the young adult titles). And I am particularly interested in knowing more about her life. I think it is pretty amazing her family was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne. I am not overly familiar (to my great embarrassment) with this period and the literary movement that distinguished these authors, but I would like to read more (that's my problem--read one book and then ten other authors or books need to be read and studied as well...).