Blog 07.14.2020

Little Women: The Longevity Of Louisa May Alcott’s Masterwork

“You must cherish your illusions if they make you happy.”

–Jo March

Little Women (1868) Revisited
Since it was first published (in two parts—one in 1868, the other in 1869), Louise May Alcott’s novel has been a favorite of fans the world over. Urged by her publisher to write the book, it has resonated with readers old and young…and continues to do so. Now, in 2020, the latest film version directed by Greta Gerwig (2019) has proven to pique the interest of young readers.

(Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet in Greta Gerwig’s 2019 film version)

Lasting Themes

  • Little Women is a coming-of-age story set in the 19th century, just around the time of the American Civil War. Four sisters are at the heart of the novel: Josephine (or “Jo”), Meg, Amy, and Beth. All of the sisters or “little women” are creative and unique in their own right, but it is mainly Jo, the writer, who goes against the grain, refuses to conform to society’s expectation of what a young woman should be and who, ultimately, travels to New York and then tells her family’s story in her novel.
  • Some of the lasting themes that still resonate today include: creativity in spite of hardships, loss of a loved one, poverty, war, unrequited love, and existential indecision.
  • Parental love and devotion: while their father is away fighting in the American Civil War, the four daughters are incredibly close to their mother, whom they affectionately call “Marmee.”
  • Friendships and romances: the neighbor, Theodore Laurence, marvels at the four sisters and their loving bond and wishes that he, too, had such a family. They all become wonderful friends while he falls in love with Jo, but she does not reciprocate his romantic feelings.
  • Of course, Little Women is now hailed as a hallmark of feminist prose.

(Little Women, 1933)

In Film

  • George Cukor’s 1933 classic starring Katharine Hepburn as the fearless Jo March and Joan Bennett as Amy.
  • Little Women (1949): this time in color, we get to see June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Lawford bring the beloved characters to life.
  • Little Women (1994) starring Winona Ryder as Jo and Susan Sarandon as “Marmee.”
  • Little Women (2019): this time from a woman’s perspective (director Greta Gerwig). The New York Times hailed it as “Little Women for a new era” and called the cast “dazzling.” With Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Saoirse Ronan, and Timothée Chalamet, the ensemble of incredible actors breathed fresh air into well-known, beloved characters.

For more information about Little Women (the novel and numerous film adaptations), consult the websites mentioned in this blog:
https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/09/little-women-louisa-may-alcott/565754/
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Little-Women-film-by-Cukor
https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/lists/critics-picks-best-worst-major-little-women-adaptations-1263303
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/02/books/little-women-feminism-2019-movie.html

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