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The other day, a lady told my friend that she should read Little Women for its moral lessons. “It’s better than the Bible,” the woman said. Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. But Little Women does include timeless truths about loyalty, patience, hope, love, treating others as you want to be treated, virtue over wealth, and so forth. Ever since its publication nearly 150 years ago, multiple generations of readers have fallen in love with this wholesome tale of four sisters. If you didn’t get around to reading it when you were younger, you will enjoy the novel just as much in your late teens and beyond.
Little Women was written by Louisa May Alcott in 1867, and it was published in 1868. She wrote it “in record time for money” after a publisher suggested that she should try writing a book about girls. The story takes place in New England during the Civil War, following the hilarious and heartwarming adventures of the March sisters as they struggle to pursue their dreams. The four girls are growing up under the guidance of their mother, facing Christmas without their father, as he is serving as a chaplain in the Union Army. But the war is not a main topic of the book. It’s all about the relationships between the sisters, their mother, their neighbor, and their budding romances.
Little Women is actually a fictionalized autobiography of Alcott and her sisters, loosely based on Alcott’s own childhood experiences, so that’s what makes it so true-to-life. The story is set in a home modeled after her residence in Concord, Massachusetts. Louisa’s father was the character of Mr. March. Louisa’s mother, Abigail May, was the beloved “Marmee.” Louisa herself was the tomboy “Jo,” who has success earning money with her writing. Her real-life sisters (May, Elizabeth, and Anna) were the other March sisters (Meg, Beth, and Amy). Louisa’s experiences as a traveling companion to a rich young lady inspired the character of Laurie.
Raised by transcendentalist parents, Louisa was schooled at home by her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, a self-educated progressive teacher whose main objective was teaching children how to learn on their own. Louisa and her sisters were fortunate to grow up in an intellectual environment in the company of great writers and thinkers. Their days were enlightened by visits to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s library, nature lessons with Henry David Thoreau, and theatricals in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s barn.
Home education is mentioned in Little Women, and it is not looked upon as anything unusual but just another way of learning. Some of the girls go to school but one of the girls, Beth, is quiet and shy, doesn’t care for social situations, and simply prefers to do her lessons at home. In chapter seven, Amy gets in trouble at school and the teacher humiliates her in front of the whole class, so her mother withdraws Amy from school to teach her at home too.
Little Women is a beloved literary classic, and one of the most popular books ever written for girls. The story was adapted for the stage, movies, and television. Two Little Women anime series were made in Japan in the 1980s. A Little Women musical opened on Broadway in 2005. An American opera version was performed internationally in 1998 and broadcast on US television in 2001. An audio dramatization was produced by Focus on the Family Radio Theatre in 2012. “The March Family Letters” is a 50-episode retelling of Little Women on YouTube.
Louisa May Alcott’s rich and realistic portrayal of the “All-American girl” has stirred the emotions of countless young ladies. Her novel represents the coming-of-age period in life when the teenage years overlap with early womanhood. Many of the trials of the characters in the book are relevant and timeless, as evidenced by its continued following and widespread appeal. The valuable life lessons and strong female characters of Little Women still resonate in today’s modern world.
Francesca Rossi, a graduate of the International School of Comics in Florence, Italy, illustrated a beautiful new edition of Little Women for a contemporary audience,
to be released on November 15, 2016 (see cover image at right). If you want, you can read Little Women online for free. Also, learn more about the Alcott family at FamousHomeschoolers.net.
P.S. A good read-aloud book for this time of year is Louisa May Alcott’s An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving.
Have you read Little Women? Which sister are you most like? Leave a comment!