I must confess that I had never read the unabridged version of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott before last month. Shocking, I know. And let me tell you - the full novel is massive! 40 something chapters and about 450 pages. Of course, it was technically two novels. Little Women was published in 1868 and the second half, Good Wives, was published in 1869. Put them together and you've got one big, but incredibly enjoyable, book!
I had an abridged version when I was young and I used to read it all the time. I saw the movie adaptation (the one with Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, and Christian Bale) several times as well. I remember reading Little Men and I watched the TV show too. I'm also fairly certain I read Jo's Boys at some point too. Since a copy of Little Women came free on my Kobo I had no excuse not to read it - and I'm so happy I finally did.
For those of you who live under a rock and don't know what book I'm talking about I'll give you a little insight into what it's all about. Little Women follows four sisters - Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy - as they grow up in 19th century America. Their father is off at war and while they're quite poor in the monetary sense they have each other and they learn that sometimes that's all you need.
I remember now that Jo was a very influential character for me as a kid. She was passionate about reading and was always scribbling away at some "masterpiece." She had spirit and I found that my more grown up self still loves her and will count her as one of my favourite literary characters.
While I knew the general story and what would happen in the end, I still loved reading the full novel. Some of the holes I had in the story were filled - most importantly about little Amy. I always thought she was stuck up and dreadfully annoying. Not so. She does have her moments, of course, but she really is a sweet character. You can see that come through in the novel, especially after she goes abroad and realizes her feelings for Laurie.
Speaking of Laurie - even though I know, like Marmee did, that he and Jo weren't suited for each other, I always wish they would end up together. This got me thinking about how that situation would play out in modern times. I'm sure it would end up as a friends with benefits type situation and their strong friendship would never be the same. So, let's be thankful that they were "proper" in those times and Jo and Laurie could remain friends forever.
Since I read the book in May and that was International Chick Lit Month, I started thinking about how this book could be classified as chick lit or women's fiction. The story focuses on four female characters. We have humour sprinkled throughout, several love stories, fashion focused scenes, death and mourning, and even some career issues. The story concludes after all the girls are married and have children (apart from poor, sweet Beth of course) but getting to that point of being married was not really the main focus of the novel. Instead, it was the bond between the sisters and how they live their life together and apart that the reader focused on. Does anyone else see the connection to chick lit or am I completely off my rocker? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Fair warning - the next bit is a bit of a spoiler but since most people will already know this I'm going to talk about it anyway.
Even though I knew Beth died, it was still incredibly sad to read. I was actually expecting it a lot sooner but I suspect that is because I only read shorter versions and watched a compressed film. I hate that Amy wasn't able to say a final goodbye to her sister. Laurie didn't either and he was like a brother to her. Beth was so strong mentally and spiritually and didn't really fear death. She did her best to make things comfortable for her family as they tried to do the same for her. It was so sad and touching and I admit I teared up near the end of the novel during a scene between Mr. Laurence and Jo:
The old gentleman took Jo, with a whispered, "You must be my girl now," and a glance at the empty corner by the fire, that made Jo whisper back, "I'll try to fill her place, sir."*sniff sniff* So sweet. And it really showed the impact Beth had on the lives around her, even if she didn't think she made much of a difference.
Reading Little Women reminded me that I do like reading classics every once and awhile and I plan on making a point of doing so a little more frequently. If you've never read this book I definitely suggest it. It's just such a wonderful and enjoyable read.
Happy reading :)