I first read Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" the summer between 4th and 5th grades. I was absolutely riveted by the story and characters and clearly remember sitting on the porch steps, my nose in the book. I cried when I reached the conclusion, because I was afraid that I had just read the best book in the world, and that I would never find anything else as good. The local librarian convinced me otherwise. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough - for people of all ages. It will always have a special place in my heart.
Ms. Alcott writes about four young women, living in New England, during a period of much strife in America - the Civil War. They are self sufficient, creative and well educated, and each chooses a different life path, traditional and non. Considering the period when the book was written, the author's views on opportunities open to females, restricted though they were by society, is refreshing and liberating. Of course, this was not my focus as a nine year-old. The novel is long, but that never bothered me as a young girl, or much later when I reread it. I didn't want the story to end, actually.
Sisters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March and their beloved Marmee, (who offers her daughters guidance, comfort and unconditional love), learn to live in genteel poverty while their father, a doctor, is away treating wounded soldiers. This beautifully written classic, chronicles the girls' adolescence through womanhood, with all their trial, tribulations, and joys.
Much of the novel focuses on Jo, the second daughter, and a gifted writer. She is very much a tomboy, and an avid reader who writes plays which the girls act-out with delight and exuberance. When they meet their new next-door neighbor, the wealthy, lonely Theodore Laurence, (called Laurie), they befriend him and invite him to become the only male member of their exclusive theater ensemble. Laurie becomes an important person in all of their lives, and the March family in his. Margaret, (Meg), the oldest, is quite lovely - a young woman with traditional values and tastes. Sensitive Elizabeth, (Beth), is the most fragile sister -quiet, caring and timid. And Amy, the youngest, is a gifted artist, with a tremendous sense of self-importance.
Together they cope with their father's absence and their fear for his safety, severe illness in the family, a death, lack of money precluding many of life's small luxuries, romance, love, marriage and many glorious adventures. In the second part of the novel, Meg marries, Jo's writing becomes a priority, as does Amy's art. During a time of impoverishment, they learn how good it feels to give to those who are much needier than themselves. This aspect of the book is very moving. Ms Alcott brings her characters to life on the page. All of them, even minor personages, are extremely well developed.
"Little Women" was first published in two parts in 1868 and 1869. The author drew from her own childhood experiences to dramatize the lives of the March family. The character "Marmee" is based on her own mother, Abigail May, (Abba), Alcott, whom she described as having: "A great heart that was home for all." Like Marmee, Abba was loving and passionate about women's rights, temperance, and abolition. A truly compelling and wise novel!