For a book that’s essentially about four painfully pious girls trying to be good, Little Women is having a hell of a run. It’s a book I must have read upward of twenty times, but I enjoy it every time. When you look at it objectively, it should be a terrible, terrible book, but the characterisation is just incredible. The four main characters – the March girls – are so intricately drawn that I can’t help myself, I get pulled in every time and I laugh and cry along with them.
The thing is, it seems obvious to me that Jo is by far the best character, and the one you’re meant to identify with (and allegedly the one that Alcott based on herself), but if you ask someone else they’re just as likely to name Amy, or Meg, or Beth as their favourites.
This is one of several children/young adult novels in the top 100, which also includes Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, I Capture the Castle and The Secret Garden. There’s just something about the best of the books I read when I was eleven and twelve that carries me along, and whilst I’m engrossed in the story in a very similar way to when I was younger, I enjoy it in such a different way. I was brought up in a religious environment, and exposed to quite conservative values, and back then reading about girls who were essentially confined to marriage and babies didn’t really seem odd. Now, as a twenty five year old feminist, I can absolutely pine for Jo as she struggles to be more than society wants her to be, and cheer for her when she rejects rich, handsome Laurie’s proposal because she doesn’t love him.
If you like Little Women, and you ever get ten minutes free, read Louisa May Alcott’s Wikipedia entry, and challenge yourself not to immediately buy all her biographies on Amazon. She sounds like a pretty awesome woman…