I think I’ve seen just about every film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s book that is known to man. No matter the version, I’ve always loved the March family and their relationships with each other and those they adopt into their circle. But, I’ve never been happy with the romantic relationships as portrayed on screen.
After watching the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder again recently, I decided it was high time I finally read the book for myself. Especially since my strategy for reading more classics is to tackle the novels of film adaptations I really enjoy. And that is how I finally found myself reading Little Women.
The story of the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy is so well-known that I hardly think I need to summarize it here. Suffice it to say, that at over 500 pages long, the book gives much more time to developing and detailing these beloved characters, their relationships, their personal growth, their trials and triumphs.
You are the gull, Jo, strong and wild, fond of the storm and the wind, flying far out to sea, and happy all alone. Meg is the turtledove, and Amy is like the lark she writes about, trying to get up among the clouds, but always dropping down into its nest again. Dear little girl! She’s so ambitious, but her heart is good and tender, and no matter how high she flies, she never will forget home.
In reading the novel, I found the story remains basically the same to what I’ve seen in the various films. But I really loved getting a deeper look at the girls and Laurie. There are of course many scenes in the book that are trimmed from the adaptations for time’s sake. But overall, I fell even more in love with each of the people inhabiting the pages as I learned to understand them better.
Being one of three sisters I really relate to how the little women interact with each other and to their differences in personalities and temperament. But in spite of all that, their love and acceptance for each other, their ability to forgive, also rings true. What surprised me most is how much I found of myself in each one of the sisters. That’s a first for me as I’ve always related more to Jo than any of the others. Especially when I read this phrase,”she fell into the moody, miserable state of mind which often comes when strong wills have to yield to the inevitable.” Oh, how well I understand that feeling.
I was a bit surprised by how both Laurie and Amy are written. Having now read the book, I feel that no one has yet truly captured their essences on screen. Both are more complex and more thoughtful than they have been portrayed. Because Jo tends to always be the center of any film, Amy and Laurie along with Meg get short shrift in their story lines. I appreciated getting a deeper glimpse into Meg’s relationship and eventual marriage with John Brooke as well. I now believe Brooke is a very underrated romantic hero.
But, you see, Jo wasn’t a heroine, she was only a struggling human girl like hundreds of others, and she just acted out her nature, being sad, cross, listless, or energetic, as the mood suggested.
Before reading Little Women I’ve always disagreed with the choice Jo makes in rejecting Laurie. I think the films plant subtle clues that they both feel romantic to each other. These do not exist in the book, at least not in regards to Jo’s feelings. I have also always been unhappy that Laurie ends up with Amy as there is very little basis to believing that their romantic attachment is sincere. So much of their interactions with each other while in Europe are left out of the films. This makes the foundation for love leading to marriage feel false.
The same can be said of Jo and Professor Bhaer. In the book much of Jo’s slow discovery of her feelings towards the Professor are internalized which is difficult to portray in a movie. Being able to see the gradual thought process and change of heart she experiences in the novel makes her choice to give up her independence much more credible.
My conflicted feelings about these two romances were my main motivation for reading Little Women. I can safely say that my questions and doubts were completely satisfied and for the first time ever I feel that the author’s choice to have Jo and Laurie marry other people is the right one.
One thing that has always stuck out to me and even more so after reading the book, is how much it reminds me of Anne of Green Gables. Both have heroines who long to write, love fiercely in their friendships and family, cherish their independence and reject the young man who has long loved them. I feel this even more strongly in the novel. In fact, there were certain lines that are almost word for word the same. It makes me wonder if one inspired the other even a little bit? Even if that isn’t the case, Alcott packed so much wisdom and common sense into Little Women that it is easy to appreciate the book for itself.
Having now finished Little Women, I love the story even more. I’m finding my strategy for reading more classic literature is working well for me. If you love the movies but have never read the book, I highly encourage you to make the time.