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Little Women (1868)

by Louisa May Alcott

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Little Women (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
24,583394112 (4.01)1786
Chronicles the joys and sorrows of the four March sisters as they grow into young ladies in nineteenth-century New England.
1860s (1)
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English (364)  Spanish (14)  French (4)  Italian (4)  Catalan (3)  German (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Finnish (1)  Dutch (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (394)
Showing 1-5 of 364 (next | show all)
I found the characters too cutesy-old-fashioned when I tried it as a kid (I was a realistic fiction and sci-fi reader exclusively), so I'd somehow never read the whole thing! Greta Gerwig's movie inspired me to finish it, finally.

As brilliant as that adaptation is, there are still some enjoyable bits that are never filmed, especially in the second half when they're adults -- like the hilarious sequence where Amy makes Jo go visiting with her and Jo keeps fucking it up. I still find Marmee insufferable: turns out the reason every film Marmee is a holy spouter of platitudes is because she's actually written that way, in every single scene. I also really needed some acknowledgement that these are allegedly poor people *with a servant*, so what does Hannah's life look like when she isn't making everyone a meal at odd hours? But overall, ok, I get it now! This book is great, and deservedly groundbreaking! ( )
  SamMusher | Aug 13, 2022 |
Alcott's classic brings me an inner happiness of which I never seem to tire. This is one of my "comfort zone" books. It makes me revisit myself as a child and as a young woman and is one of those books that come to us young and pleases us into old age. I wonder how many girls of my generation developed their love of reading by finding this book.

On its surface, this may seem like a rather simple tale of four sisters, but there is a much deeper thread, especially in the character of Jo. She is an independent thinker in a time when women were expected to marry and keep house. Alcott finds value in traditional roles. Meg is a very sympathetic character and her choice to be the typical wife and mother is not diminished by Jo's desire to be something very different in the world at large, but it is Jo to whom every reader relates.

Beyond that, it is a tale of family, of unconditional love, of struggle, fear and sacrifice. It is a story of the forms love can take and the way childish love and infatuation can give way to something deeper and more meaningful.

This book belongs on the reading list of everyone who wishes to read the classics. It can hold its own with Austen, Dickens and Hardy. It is still one of the best ways to introduce a young reader to deeper literature. ( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Third time's the charm! I tried reading this book in 5th grade and in my early teens and did not get all the way through. Based on the sense of deja vu I had while reading, I think I made it through Part I.

I became determined to try Little Women again when I visited Louisa May Alcott's house and learned just what a cool person she was. And then when I realized while reading some of the Remixed Classics that I have quite a few retellings on my shelves, well, what a great excuse to go read the originals first!

I won't bother with a plot summary this time because I'm sure they're easily available on lots of websites and because, especially in Part I, the chapters are mostly standalone stories from a single year in the girls' lives that feature one girl and don't necessarily move the whole book along. Part II covers several years and sees them truly become grown-up young women, so it has a bit more forward momentum. I think this structure is a big part of why I enjoyed Little Women as much as I did, since it kept the pace clipping along (yes, for all I'm an English major, I like my action) while also giving us plenty of character establishment and development.

As I read, I was at first a little disappointed that Aloctt's little women aren't more obviously proto-feminist: Jo might hang with the boys, but she still grows to be more ladylike; and the chapterly "morals" that reinforce lady-hood was, well, more than I expected and might have been part of why I never finished before. But after thinking about it a bit, I realized Alcott touched on a lot of things that still aren't obvious:

> that a good marriage should be founded on mutual respect and have a bit of logic along with love;
> that both parents should be involved in parenting;
> that you don't need to have genius to enjoy and share your talents;
> that working and caring for others can be more fulfilling than laziness (though I felt extreme discomfort with the subtle implication that Beth was okay with death in part because she was no longer useful as marriage or helper material) (*p. 382);
> that many people enjoy the dignity of honest work even when it's not necessary for survival;
> that honesty and discussion of mistakes are opportunities for growth;
> that learning, earning, helping, and loving can take many different forms and still be real and genuine;
> that even women who don't fit traditional modes of womanhood can find a place in the world that they love (even if I am a bit disappointed that Alcott did, ultimately, marry Jo off);
> that even positive change can hurt, and that we can be both sad and happy for it at the same time;
> that we can change as we grow up, and become different and/or better people;
> that sometimes learning does involve a little emotional pain, but we can come out stronger for it on the other side;
> that boys and girls can be good friends without romance being required;
> that a woman's "no" is a thing to be respected and not the end of the world;
> that we can live find peace with grief and loss;
> that forgiveness and grace in triumph have their own power;
> and others that I'm not remembering off the top of my head.

All of those lessons, while sometimes laid on a bit thick for my tastes, are ones that we still struggle with today.

I was also surprised that something that struck me when I was younger was just as noticeable now: that the Civil War gets so little mention. I'm sure that's because Alcott and/or her editor was trying not to limit her audience; but it's so strange that Mr. March and Mr. Brooke go to war, the latter to "do his duty", and both come home ill and injured, but aside from a fundraiser that, by the way, happens to be for a freedman's fund (p. 305)...that's it. Even when little, the March girls would have picked up some politics--I absorbed a lot about the 2000 election when I was younger than Amy--so the lack of any politics or notice of the toll of war just...strains credulity. Jo and Frederick's acceptance of a "quadroon" ( p. 496) to their school for neglected boys was probably the most political statement in the book.

On that note, I'm sure race in Little Women has been dissected more than I can do it justice to here. It did seem to be a sign of humanity in the Marches that when Hannah got old, instead of just firing her, gave her less work in the kitchen and more with the children so she could be off her feet. But on the flip side, Alcott tells us more about Aunt March's French maid, who appears in only one chapter, than about Hannah, a fixture in the March household throughout the book.

One thing that I had totally forgotten, and I'm amazed that I did considering how pervasive it is, was how much the March girls complain about being poor. I mean, they had a servant; they had dresses for different occasions; they knew how to read and write and had time to do so; they had a house with multiple rooms and stories. Contrast that to the Hummels, the German immigrant family who gets their table scraps--and yes, admittedly, their Christmas dinner and some babysitting help, but when Amy botches a meal she sends it to them because "Germans like messes" (p. 271), and Meg's failures to cook are "concealed in the[ir] convenient stomachs" (p. 281). When Beth gets sick after caring for a baby in that family who dies of scarlet fever, Mrs. Hummel comes to the March house to "beg pardon for her thoughtlessness" that her dead baby got Beth sick! (p. 188) The woman just lost her baby! And then there's Amy, feeling all pitiful as she throws her pickled limes out the schoolhouse window and, oh, by the way, there are Irish immigrant kids eating them off the ground! The girls do have my sympathy for being on the bottom rung when mingling with the hoity-toity class (are they invited because their father's a minister? because the wealthy Laurences like them? why?), but to constantly refer to yourself as oh-so-poor when you have pocket money to spend on things other than, you know, food, shelter, and health care just seemed ridiculous.

That said, I did admire the way that Alcott handled class distinctions. The girls are not saints, they are envious even when adults tell them they should feel dignified and equal despite not having the latest fashions. Meg and Jo are proud of the income-earning work they do as governesses and, in Jo's case, as a writer and companion to Aunt March, while also being keenly aware that their peers do not have to contribute to the household income. It's a class divide that is still keenly felt today between students who must work and those who can devote all their time to study and leisure, and between families whose needs are met with a single job's income and those who need multiple jobs to live paycheck to paycheck. We are often so much more aware of where our privilege is lacking than where it exists, and Alcott doesn't shy away from this.

I think it's the humanity we see in Meg, Jo, and Amy (I won't say Beth--she's so saintly and her faults never get the scrutiny that the other girls' do), and in Mrs. March and even Laurie, that keep people coming back to Little Women even as it shows its age. These aren't the "I'm so special", "I can do anything if I just try hard enough" teenagers that we see in YA today, and it's refreshing in contrast. For all that our characters do end up tidily married and happy, there are still imperfections: Meg's jealousy of her wealthier friends, and Amy and Laurie's sickly daughter.

Somehow, Little Women manages to be both unrealistically uplifting and realistic in how people can grow, love, change, do the best they can, and be very happy, all without an absolutely perfect life. It's a kind of nuance that young people don't see much of in contemporary literature and "discourse"; and while I would never call a book published in the 1800s a model of modern womanhood, I do think there are still significant positives to a story that shows how happiness can coexist with sadness, how goals can change and still be fulfilling, how love can be rational and still be real. Our world seems to allow less ambiguity even though most of life is made up of it. Not a message I expected to get when reading Part I's moralizing about God, but isn't my prejudice going into Part II just a symptom of the world I'm disparaging?

Quote Roundup

p. 62) Marmee's response to Meg's calling Jo silly for not noticing Laurie's compliment: "Children should be children for as long as they can."
Don't sexualize children, folks! It's gross.

p. 159) Jo: "Don't try to make me grow up before my time, Meg: it's hard enough to have you change all of a sudden; let me be a little girl as long as I can." As she spoke, Jo bent over to hide the trembling of her lips, for lately she had felt that Margaret was fast getting to be a woman, and Laurie's secret [about Mr. Brooke's romantic interest in Meg] made her dread the separation which must surely come some time and now seemed very near.
I love Jo's love for her cozy family.

p. 208) Okay, look, Jo's love for her sisters, family, and home was just so charming that I flagged quite a few quotes like this. It seems like everyone thinks non-romantic love is "creepy" these days, but I found .
"She'll go and fall in love, and there's an end of peace and fun, and cozy times together. They'll go lovering around the house and we shall have to dodge; Meg will be absorbed, and no good to me any more; Brooke will scratch up a fortune somehow, carry her off, and make a hole in the family; and it shall break my heart, and everything will be abominably uncomfortable. Oh, dear me! Why weren't we all boys, then there wouldn't be any bother."
[Never mind that boys would have been sent off to school before marriage even came up.]
Marmee: "It is natural and right you should all go to homes of your own in time, but I do want to keep my girls as long as I can."
Yeah, the first part isn't necessarily true--there are plenty of cultural, financial, and personal reasons why families might continue to live together--but loved when Marmee is a human being with emotions of her own, not far removed from being a little woman herself.

p. 233) [John Brooke's] eyes were properly beseeching, but stealing a shy look at him, Meg saw that his eyes were merry as well as tender, and that he wore the satisfied smile of one who had no doubt of his success. This nettled her.
Yeah, Meg. You don't owe any guy love just because he loves you. Granted, the rest of the paragraph, about women enjoying lording power over men with "naughty satisfaction" (p. 234), felt icky, but John needed a lesson in not assuming he'd just get his way, just as Laurie does later. There are lessons for everyone in here.

p. 236) Aunt March was very angry [to hear Meg speak highly of Brooke]...and something in the girl's happy young face made the lonely old woman feel both sad and sour.
There really is so much emotional honesty in this book, from everyone. Aunt March's sad and sour feeling might help readers feel more sad than sour for her, who's not quite a straight-up antagonist...especially she later finds indirect ways to help her niece.

p. 243, first paragraph of Part II) And here let me premise that if any of the elders think there is too much "lovering" in the story, as I fear they may (I'm not afraid the young folks will make that objection), I can only say with Mrs. March, "What can you expect when I have four gay girls in the house, and a dashing young neighbor over the way?"
Ahem. I think that might be why I stopped at Part I when I was younger, but I found it very amusing now that I'm older.

p. 286) I won't type it all out, but Marmee's little speech to Meg about learning how to deal with her new husband's faults was both realistic--we might forget in the early days of love that things won't always be perfect, and we have to learn to work with each others' faults--and a bit disturbing, in how much of calming the husband and maintaining household peace is on Meg.
"He has a temper, not like ours--one flash and then all over--but the white, still anger that is seldom stirred, but once kindled is hard to quench. Be careful, very careful, not to wake his anger against yourself, for peace and happiness depend on keeping his respect. Watch yourself, be the first to ask pardon if you both err, and guard against the little piques, misunderstandings, and hasty words that often pave the way for bitter sorrow and regret."
That last (from "guard" to the end) is good advice in general, though.

p. 289) Meg's heart sank, and for the first time in her married life, she was afraid of her husband.
Call me crazy, but I don't think you should ever be afraid of your spouse. Maybe it's that uncomfortable realism. And the next sentence does clarify that she's afraid to see a stern expression, not that he'll hurt her. Still. Discomfort.

p. 346) He stood in his dressing gown, with a big blue sock in one hand and a darning needle in the other; he didn't seem ashamed of it at all ... it was a little pathetic to think of the poor man having to mend his own clothes.
This one annoyed me. Is it so terrible that a man should do some minor chores to care for his own things? I was surprised that Alcott didn't approve.

p. 364) I need to look up some of the "sensational" writing that everyone frowns on so much in this book. Jo's work is called "trash" and "rubbish" but, aside from lacking morals, I'm perplexed about why thrillers/adventures are considered actively harmful to readers. Alcott seems to assume that we know why, because she doesn't give any commentary. At least she does show that going too far in the other direction, to moralizing so much that the book is "less a story than an essay or a sermon" isn't ideal, either.

p. 370-372) Jo: "I'm so grateful to you, and so proud and fond of you, I don't see why I can't love you as you want me to. I've tried, but I can't change the feeling, and it would be a lie to say I do when I don't. ... I can't help it. You know it's impossible for people to make themselves love other people if they don't." ...
Laurie: "They do sometimes."
Jo: "I don't believe that's the right sort of love, and I'd rather not try it. ... Our quick tempers and strong wills would probably make us very miserable, if we were so foolish as to-"
Laurie: "-Marry--no, we shouldn't! If you loved me, Jo, I should be a perfect saint, for you could make me anything you like."
Jo: "No, I can't. I've tried it and failed, and I won't risk our happiness by such a serious experiment."
Yep. You don't owe anyone love and you can't marry someone hoping to change them. They won't.

* p. 382) Beth, on her resignation to death: "I'm not like the rest of you; I never made any plans about what I'd do when I grew up; I never thought of being married, as you all did. I couldn't seem to imagine myself anything but stupid little Beth, trotting about home, of no use anywhere but there."
This seems supremely unfair. Why should trotting about home be bad, especially since Jo for a while plans to be a spinster? If Beth's scarlet fever proved anything, it was how many people loved her anyway (p. 188). Why should her life be worth less just because stays at home?

p. 399) While I don't agree with their foundation--"you have forgotten your duty to your husband in your love for your children"--Marmee's points that new mothers should not live only for their children and should be able to depend on their husbands' help will probably always be relevant advice.

I had other quotes, but I need to call this review done and move on before I finish my next book...
( )
  books-n-pickles | Jul 29, 2022 |
This is the book that started me on my reading career. I picked it up on a whim in the 4th grade, sucked it down and have never looked back. ( )
  Luziadovalongo | Jul 14, 2022 |
Finished: 2015-01-24

This was not the first time I've read Little Women. While I don't reread it as frequently as other books, I do still reread it every several years. I always enjoy it. Unlike other books from that same period which have not aged as well, the way that Alcott managed to give the March sisters a blend of good and bad traits, like real people, helps keep the characters fresh.

Since I reread this periodically, instead of writing a standard review, each time I reread it, I'm going to add some thoughts I had about the book this time around. So, as you probably know Jo and Laurie do not get together. Jo ends up with Friedrich Bhaer and Laurie ends up with Amy. People have very strong opinions on these pairings.

First off, I'll say that for the most part, I suspect people's feeling are based on which characters they like better. Amy's a brat so Laurie deserves better. Fritz is too old for Jo. Etc.

However, the "Jo and Laurie" should have ended up together narrative bugs me for a number of reasons. Within the narrative, it is not fair to any of the characters to insist that Jo and Laurie should have married and insisting it buys into a number of problematic cultural narratives about love. At more length...

First off, Jo was never romantically interested in Laurie. Throughout the whole ~6 years from when the book starts to when she rejects his proposal, Alcott mentions over and over again how Jo sees Laurie as a friend and a brother, not a love interest. To say that Laurie and Jo should have got together is to deny Jo's character the agency to make the decision she made and have the feelings she consistently showed.

Second, when people say that there was romantic tension between Jo and Laurie, they are missing the ways in which their interactions are typical of good friends. This buys into the narrative that men and women can't be good friends without becoming romantically attached. There's nothing wrong if good friends do become romantically attached -- I did so myself. But cross gender deep friendships are also perfectly reasonable.

Another strain in the reasoning behind why Laurie and Jo should end up together is that Jo should have loved Laurie because he was young and handsome and fun and loved her so much. This buys into the cultural assumption that a woman should love a particular type of man and if such a man loves her she is, in some way, obliged to love him back. To instead have Jo freely choose plain, old, poor Friedrich Bhaer is considered an insult to the choice Jo should have made, the choice which would support the cult of youth and beauty.

Then there's the objection that Laurie didn't really love Amy. This objection contains a little bit of the cultural myth that the first love is always the best love. I think this objection also stems from the fact that Laurie's switch seems too quick. The narrative moves so quickly that it's hard to tell how time passed, but it's actually not as instant as it seems. It was at least ~6 months between Laurie's spring graduation and proposal and his seeing Amy in Nice and a month more until her lecture to him. It was spring before he started corresponding with Amy and summer when they declared their love. This isn't the longest timeline ever, but I think it illustrates that Laurie didn't change his feelings instantaneously. He and Amy did have time to develop feelings for each other.

All that is to say that within the narrative, Jo, Laurie, Amy, and Fritz all made the choices that were consistent with their overall behavior.
( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 364 (next | show all)
Almost every single line is overflowing with passion, the choice of words, the portrayal of characters, and the eloquence of emotions, all of this just makes me wonder how is it even possible for someone to write so elegantly with a simple yet appealing tone. This is surely one of those books where you know it is going to be a classic masterpiece at first glance. It delivers so well that I feel as if I am there, in that house along with the characters.
added by danielx | editEden of XQ, XQ (Jan 1, 2020)

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Go then, my little Book, and show all that entertain, and bid thee welcome shall, what thou dost keep close shut up in thy breast; and wish that thou dost show them may be blest to them for good, may make them choose to be pilgrims better, by far, than thee or me.
Tell them of Mercy; she is one who early hath her pilgrimage begun. Yea, let young damsels learn of her to prize the world which is to come, and so be wise; for little tripping maids may follow God along the ways which saintly feet have trod. - adapted from John Bunyan
First words
“Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
I am not afraid of storms for I am learning to sail my ship.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
This is the original, Part One, of Little Women that does NOT include the subsequently published Part Two (sometimes published separately as Good Wives). Please do not combine editions of Little Women that contain Part Two, or abridgments, adaptations, movie versions, or the like.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Chronicles the joys and sorrows of the four March sisters as they grow into young ladies in nineteenth-century New England.

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Book description
Este delicioso y emotivo relato narra historia de la señora march y sus cuatro hijas: sus enamoramientos, sus aspiraciones intelectuales, sus complicaciones, su vida. con una fina descripción de caracteres, muestra el crecimiento de estas niñas poniendo gran énfasis en el espíritu de la libertad individual, inusual para una época en que la mentalidad estaba dominada por un ideal romántico puritano. les señoritas de louisa may alcoti demuestran sus aptitudes sociales tocando el piano, bordando o manteniendo una conversación fluida, amable y elegante. El ‘gran salón burgués” es la región del decoro y de las confesiones amorosas, al tiempo que actúa como soporte para interpretar y cuestionar diferentes aspectos de la guerra civil norteamericana.

Chronicles the joys and sorrows of the four March sisters as they grow into young ladies in 19th century New England
Οι σπουδαιότεροι συγγραφείς, οι πιο όμορφες ιστορίες της παγκόσμιας λογοτεχνίας. Ανακαλύψτε ξανά τα Αριστουργήματα της Παγκόσμιας Λογοτεχνίας. Ταυτόχρονα, γνωρίστε την Εποχή στην οποία γράφτηκαν, με τα σχόλια και την πλούσια εικονογράφηση που συνοδεύουν το πλήρες κείμενο του πρωτοτύπου. Η φαντασία ενός σπουδαίου εικονογράφου: Ο Τζέιμς Πρινιέ ζωντάνεψε με το πενάκι του την καθημερινή ζωή των ηρωίδων και της μητέρας τους στην περίοδο του Αμερικανικού Εμφυλίου. Μια σπουδαία καινοτομία: Το γνήσιο εικονογραφικό υλικό και οι συνοδευτικές λεζάντες προσδίδουν στις "Μικρές κυρίες" αξία ντοκουμέντου. Μια πρωτότυπη προσέγγιση, μια αξεπέραστη περιπέτεια.
Haiku summary
Four different sisters
learn to overcome their faults.
They learn about love.

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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0143105019, 0141321083, 0141331747

Tantor Media

3 editions of this book were published by Tantor Media.

Editions: 1400101255, 1400108608, 1400119227

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An edition of this book was published by Recorded Books.

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