Monday, January 25, 2010

Little Women


On my post for MLK day, Miss Yves (in France) commented that as a girl she had read and loved Uncle Tom's Cabin and something she referred to as "Little Ladies." I was puzzled and then it came to me -- Little Women.

Miss Yves replied to my query: "Yes , of course, "little women "; my favourite character was Jo !!!!!!!! The french translation was: "les quatre filles du docteur March."



It's amazing, the popularity of this book -- it still sells well on Amazon (though I suspect it may be bought mainly by grandmothers and aunts wishing to share a beloved book with the younger generation.)

I read it first back in the 1950's -- a good ninety years after the time it takes place -- but it always seemed fairly contemporary to me. Sure, there was talk of horse drawn carriages and the illustrations showed the little women in long dresses but it wasn't like reading a historical novel -- it was reading about four girls.

Like Miss Yves, I liked Jo the best. I admired Meg and her gentle beauty; I enjoyed Amy's artistic efforts, her silly pretentiousness, and her difficulties in school (what are pickled limes, anyway?) Sweet little Beth was a little cloying, for my taste.

But I felt I knew all of them -- I devoured Little Women and its sequels Good Wives and Little Men, and there are bits of the lives of the March family that are as real to me as my own past -- the sisters taking up staffs and pretending to be pilgrims, Jo's attic where she wrote, the blanc mange the sisters took to the invalid Laurie, Jo's eventual renunciation of Laurie, the lobster salad at Amy's school party, the lemonade at Meg's wedding, the white rose that Amy gave Laurie, the museum the boys had at Dr. Baer's school, the little cook stove that Daisy cooked a meal on -- I was there, I tell you!

I wore out the my first copy of Little Women/Good Wives. I still have this copy of Old- Fashioned Girl - wherein country mouse Polly comes to the city to stay with wealthy relatives.



This one was my mother's -- and it was already a period piece back in 1928.

I adored it. And Polly was as real and as relevant to me as Nancy Drew or the Bobbsey Twins or the Pevensey children -- they were all real people who just happened to live in books.



While looking for an illustration I came across this:
New York Times review from 2005




And this -- I hadn't known about May Alcott -- Louisa's sister and probable prototype for Amy -- who did the illustrations for the original Little Women.

I wonder how these books would strike someone today, encountering them for the first time?

Overly didactic? Saccharine? Sweetly sentimental?

I don't know. I read and loved them -- and still do.



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22 comments:

Star said...

Oh yes, I loved the book and the film of Little Women. Jo is the favourite and she reminded me of my mum as she would have been in her youth: full of principles and righteousness with the guts to back it up. I enjoyed looking at your collection of old books. I love to dip into the books that I enjoyed when I was young and I'm sure that young people today would also love the stories.
Blessings Star

Martin H. said...

Well Vicki, I have never read Little Women, but after reading this post, that is likely to change. Your warm enthusiasm and genuine affection for the Louisa May Alcott books had caused me to sit up and take note.

Fabulous photographs and just the right post to get the week off to a good start!

Ruşen Ergün said...

an effective book, especially while reading in teenages... we were 5 sisters and Jo was like me! a tomboy :)) I love "Little Women"...
The photos of other books also look great. Old books saves many many memories. You can write new stories on them...

Jon Lee said...

I loved Little Women. I have an old book somewhere by Louisa May Alcott, with word Rose in it. After work, that is my mission, to find that book. I love old books. You have some amazing copies. I can see where books were important to you. They were always to me too. I feel sorry for so many of the young people today who do not like to read.

KarenB said...

I, too, adored Little Women. Reading it for the first time around age 9 I read the account of Beth's demise while baby-sitting for my baby brother. Mom came home to find me in floods of tears and thought something dire had happened to the baby. I still remember how angry she was, mostly from relief which I understand much better having had children of my own.

BTW the Rose books, there are two, are Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom.

Carol@ Writers Porch/ Book House said...

WONERFUL BOOKS! :)

willow said...

Oh, this post is right up my little alley. Little Women and Eight Cousins were books I loved as a girl, as well. Your vintage copies are so lovely!

robin michelle said...

From the time I first read it (many, many years ago!), it's been my favorite book and still is. I've wondered too how popular it is today. I could never get my daughter, who is 33 now, to read it and none of my nieces have been interested. I hope somewhere there are kids reading it today. I think I know what I'm going to start re-reading tonight anyway!

Kaye Barley said...

o.k. - this was all I needed to have me searching through my shelves for my copy of Little Women. I love it and it is long past time for a re-read. Thanks, Vicki!!

Miss_Yves said...

Oh!What a great surprise !
I love your comments , your memories about these novels, these ancient covers and ilustrations that you show!
I remember very well"le blanc manger", the old Mister Laurence, the party where Meg felt so bad ..(La vieille Tarlatane )
(to be continued later)

Vicki Lane said...

Isn't it amazing, the spell that this book has cast over so many of us -- Miss Yves in France, Star in England, Rusen in Turkey, and all of us in the USA.

Martin, I'll be interested to know what you make of the book. I suspect it's very much a book for a young girl -- I think all of us got hooked by it before we were old enough to be turned off by the unabashed sentimentality.

I can see that several of us will be re-reading some of the oldies again, Jon Lee!

Too funny, Karen! I imagine many of us wept over Beth. And yes, I have Rose in Bloom -- I only got it much later so it's not as iconic a book to me. I did adore Eight Cousins.

Robin, That's what I was wondering -- if a younger generation brought up on TV would take to this book.

Kaye, fun to think of all those old copies of Little Women being dusted off and re-read.

Miss Yves -- oh, yes, the old tarlatan dress (not that I ever knew what tarlatan was -- I imagined it as something thin like organdy as it got torn so easily. And such fun as they dressed Meg all a la mode. Yes, I too have to read the whole book again!

Vicki Lane said...

And now, thanks to Mr. Google, I know that tarlatan was an open weave, heavily starched fabric originally used for ballet dresses. (Think Degas.) Aha!

Tipper said...

One of my all time favorites!! I think girls today would still enjoy it too if they'd just give it a try.

Love the musical notes below-I never would have thought of it-but they do look just like notes : )

jennyfreckles said...

Funny, I was only thinking the other day that I should go back and read some old favourites again. Little Women would be on my list - and Anne of Green Gables too.

Vagabonde said...

I also read Les quatre filles du Dr March when I was growing up but frankly I don’t remember it well. I should read it in the English language now – it is always better to read a book in its original language I think. I have read books sometimes in the original French then looked at my husband’s English version and I could see some nuances. I do like old books. I have so many old books at home and read them, books from the 1800s and early 1900s that I am used to the English that is written in them. My husband always edits my posts because he keeps saying “this is an old usage – this is not modern English – this is an archaic word, your blogging friends won’t know it.” The book I have at my bedside right now is “Due West” by M.M. Ballou published in 1884 – Round the World in ten Months. When I am not traveling I like to read books on travels and especially travels of long ago when you had to do it the hard – and long – way

Vicki Lane said...

Hey, Tipper -- I bet that your girls at 13 are too sophisticated for the book. I'd love it if I was wrong...

Jennyfreckles --I believe I have all the Anne of Green Gables books and really loved them. This was another 'timeless' book -- somehow it never registered with me how long ago it was written. I think that Anne of Avonlea was my favorite.

Vagabonde -- When I was young I absolutely ADORED the Richard Halliburton travel books and really intended to be a world traveler like him ... climbing the Great Pyramid at dawn ... storming Mt. Olympus... leaping into the sacred cenote at Chichen Itza. Alas, the world he traveled in the Twenties is much changed.

Miss_Yves said...

I read several times this novel , but I have never read the following book ("Good wifes" I only heard a broadcasting adaptation and I felt very sad to discover that most of their dreams were broken ...

Miss_Yves said...

If I find my old book, I'll exhibit it on my blog.

Vicki Lane said...

That would be wonderrful, Miss Yves!

As for Good Wives -- it's often printed as part of Little Women -- but yes, there are some disappointments. Jo comes out well, however.

Miss_Yves said...

www.louisamayalcott.org/

Miss_Yves said...

louisamayalcott.wifeo.com/

Vicki Lane said...

Interesting links! And fascinating to see the popularity of LMA in France!