Book Review: “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

Though the audiobook version of “Little Women” clocks in at a daunting 19 hours and 37 minutes, it didn’t feel long at all as I enjoyed living life through the March sisters’ eyes. I thoroughly enjoyed this classic novel, and am excited to finally be able watch the most recent movie adaptation! I wanted to wait to watch the movie until I had read the book, and I’m excited to see how they adapted such a classic (and long) novel. While there are certainly some themes and plot events that are a little outdated, I felt that overall it was largely ahead of its time and an important piece of work that paved the way for women in literature (both authors and the possibilities for female characters).

Spoiler-Free Review: “Little Women” is a classic novel about family, growing up, and friendship. Though originally intended as a children’s novel, the formal language and somewhat overwhelming length (as well as slower pacing) make this a better fit for young adults and older adults alike these days. Regardless, it’s a timeless story for all ages and genders. The March sisters are compassionate, hardworking, but also flawed, making them realistic and relatable and impossible not to fall in love with. I laughed and cried with the girls as they grew up, and was rooting for them at all stages of their lives. “Little Women” was a revolutionary book for its time considering how it portrayed women as complex human beings who could exist beyond their roles as wives and mothers. It’s a heartwarming story that I recommend to people from all walks of life.

Below you will find a more thorough review containing my thoughts about the book. There are some spoilers ahead, so if you’d prefer to avoid those go ahead and jump to the TL;DR summary at the bottom of the page for a spoiler-free summary of my thoughts.

“Little Women” by Louise May Alcott
Little Women (Puffin in Bloom): Alcott, Louisa May: 8601416366470:  Amazon.com: Books
  • Year of Publication: 1868
  • Genre: Classic
  • Summary:

“Generations of readers young and old, male and female, have fallen in love with the March sisters of Louisa May Alcott’s most popular and enduring novel, Little Women. Here are talented tomboy and author-to-be Jo, tragically frail Beth, beautiful Meg, and romantic, spoiled Amy, united in their devotion to each other and their struggles to survive in New England during the Civil War.

It is no secret that Alcott based Little Women on her own early life. While her father, the freethinking reformer and abolitionist Bronson Alcott, hobnobbed with such eminent male authors as Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne, Louisa supported herself and her sisters with “woman’s work,” including sewing, doing laundry, and acting as a domestic servant. But she soon discovered she could make more money writing. Little Women brought her lasting fame and fortune, and far from being the “girl’s book” her publisher requested, it explores such timeless themes as love and death, war and peace, the conflict between personal ambition and family responsibilities, and the clash of cultures between Europe and America.”


Trigger Warnings: Death of a daughter/sibling.

Format: Audiobook (Narrated by Barbara Caruso)

Themes: Follow your passions. Family is everything. Marriage is a partnership. Women are complex and independent. It’s more important to be rich in love than in money. Those we love never truly leave us.

Character Development: At first, I was a little overwhelmed by how many characters there were. I had to re-listen to an early description of the four sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy) several times before I felt confident I knew which one was which. However, Alcott does a wonderful job developing each girl: her dreams, passions, strengths, and shortcomings. They each grow and become strong little women without losing sight of the things that make them who they are. Jo is definitely the focus of the story (she’s considered to be, essentially, a depiction of Alcott herself), and I’m so glad she is. She’s feisty, independent, and refuses to conform to society’s expectations for her. She loves her family and friends fiercely and never gives up on what she believes in.

I love how each of the girls adapts to societal expectations in different ways. Meg is well-educated and ladylike, but also has a tendency to mask rash decisions in vain. She ends up embracing her roles as a wife and mother, and makes that the focus of her life. Jo pursues her writing in a time when this wasn’t a common path for women, and wholeheartedly rejects the concept of romance and marriage during the entirety of her childhood (and much of her young adulthood). She even intentionally acts in a way which she knows isn’t “ladylike” for the sole purpose of stubbornly refusing to be who others want her to be. Beth doesn’t get to explore her identity as a woman as much as the others due to her untimely and tragic death, but we do see that she is considered odd due to her shyness and quiet disposition. Seeing her build relationships in her own way and time was something I really connected with, and something that would still be seen as odd today. Amy fully embraced the expectations set for a “high society,” rich woman and worked hard to move up in the social hierarchy. Although selfish at times, I appreciated how she knew what she wanted and worked hard to become the person she wanted to be (even if I personally wouldn’t have made the same choice). Overall, I just really liked how each of the little women accepted and rejected various aspects of what was expected of them at the time (Jo and Amy being extremes and polar opposites). It showed how women can be many different ways, and there is not right or wrong way to be a woman.

Plot/Pacing:  While this is definitely a long book and slow at times, I wasn’t bothered by the leisurely pacing. I so enjoyed the time I spent with the March sisters, and didn’t wish it to be any shorter. Like many older books and movies alike, stories were just told at a slower pace, so I don’t fault “Little Women” for this. The book is split up into two sections (essentially childhood and then womanhood), and while I did prefer the first section, it was nice to see how wonderfully different each of their lives turned out and the different ways in which the little women found happiness. There were a couple things at the end that I was a little unsure about, but I’ll get to that a little later.

Writing Style:  Eloquent, sentimental, emotional. I loved how this book was written, and how it was from a third person omniscient point of view so that we were able to see the world of the March sisters from each of their eyes and follow them on all of their journeys.

“Bingeability”: Moderate. The extensive length of the book would make it difficult to binge, and it’s not so action-packed that it’s impossible to put down. It is, however, so enjoyable that it was easy to want to keep picking it back up whenever I had the chance to read.

Emotional Investment: High. I fell in love with the March family and was sad when the story was over. I laughed out loud and cried several times while reading this, and Beth’s death (though I had heard this spoiler a long time ago) still broke my heart.

Windows and Mirrors: New England during the Civil War era. Roles and societal expectations of women in the 1860s. Scarlet fever. Father away at war. Poverty.

Overall Thoughts: I absolutely adored this book. It made me smile and I loved listening to it as I got ready each morning; it was a really nice way to start my day. After I finish reading a book, I like to look at reviews on Goodreads to see what other people think and see how many people’s reviews echo my own thoughts about the book. There were a couple complaints that came up that I had initially kind of agreed with, but came around to in the end.

The first complaint was about Laurie’s eventual marriage to Amy. It seemed strange that after a lifetime of friendship with Jo (and claiming to have fallen in love with her), he would all of a sudden fall head over heels for the youngest sister. It was especially cringeworthy when Laurie initially considered her a replacement for Jo (he does literally think this to himself). That rubbed me the wrong way, but in the end he confesses this to Jo and explains that he realized how wrong he was (both to expect her love and to see Amy as a replacement) and that he truly did love Amy. In the end, I think it made sense. Laurie was wealthy, charming, and well-educated which suits Amy well, and Amy desired his lifestyle and wanted to boost him up and make him feel adored (which suited Laurie). Jo and Laurie wouldn’t have been a good match, and I really believe Laurie realized that and made a good choice.

Another criticism was that, while the other three girls seemed flawed, Beth was portrayed as too perfect. I disagree, though. While Jo had to overcome her quick temper and impulsivity, Beth’s shyness and quiet nature was seen as something she needed to overcome as well. Oftentimes when people have a quiet demeanor, others assume that that’s all there is to them. I believe that if Beth had lived longer and spent more of her childhood being healthy, we would have had the opportunity to see more of her personality and flaws. I didn’t mind her being portrayed as sweet and innocent, though. The story is primarily from Jo’s perspective, and the bond she shared with Beth was clearly special and had a huge influence on how she saw her sister.

Another complaint was how Jo, in the end, did end up getting married even though she had stated many times that she never wanted this. However, even when she did accept Mr. Bhaer’s proposal, she made it very clear that she was to be independent and given her own space within their marriage, and her husband-to-be respected this about her. I read that Alcott’s original ending had Jo becoming an “old maid” and never marrying, but that her publisher at the time wouldn’t allow it and insisted that she marry Jo off at the end. For me, it’s enough to know that this was the ending that the author had intended. If she hadn’t compromised, we likely wouldn’t have the book at all, and that would be truly sad. What she did manage to publish was still groundbreaking for its time, and I appreciate that Alcott was able to make this compromise while still mostly preserving the themes and character development she had created throughout the rest of the novel.

Recommendation: Yes, I absolutely recommend this book. It got added to my “All-Time Favorites” list immediately after I finished reading it. It’s just such a heartwarming story, and one that I’m sure I’ll be thinking about for a long time after I’ve read it.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
 

TL;DR:
Year of Publication: 1868
Genre: Classic
Summary: Little Women follows four young girls (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy) as they navigate growing up, finding their passions, and balancing their desires with family life. Set during the Civil War, it’s a tumultuous time with many obstacles for the March family, but the girls never give up on life and love and seeing the best in the people and world around them.
Themes: Follow your passions. Family. Marriage. Womanhood. Love.
Character Development: Strong.
Plot/Pacing:
Long, but worth it.
Writing Style:
Formal and a little preachy but with a good message.
“Bingeability”:
Moderate.
Emotional Investment:
High.
Windows and Mirrors:
New England during the Civil War era. Roles and societal expectations of women in the 1860s. Scarlet fever. Father away at war. Poverty.
Overall Thoughts:
Heartwarming and charming. Questionable marriage choices at the end, but justified considering the time of publication. Beth is sweet and innocent but a more complex character than she appears to be.
Recommendation: Yes, I absolutely recommend this book.
Rating: 5/5

Thank you for reading my review! Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve read this one or have any other thoughts about it, and keep an eye out for next week’s* review! (*Hopefully, my posting schedule has been thrown off by my recent return to my virtual classroom. It’s been an incredibly busy time, but I’m going to try my best to keep up with my blogging!)

The One Where Monica And Richard Are Just Friends | Friends scenes, Friends  moments, Friends funny
To be completely honest, this episode of Friends is where I learned *that* spoiler. You can’t really be too upset about spoilers when the book was published more than 150 years ago though, so it didn’t really impact my enjoyment of the novel (or sadness during that moment in the story).

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