Hello, dear readers, and welcome to another post in my Women as Writers series!
This novel is a classic piece that many of you have probably already read, and finally I can say that I’ve done the same thing. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Good Wives is a two-book series that delves into the lives and minds of the four March girls – Beth, Jo, Amy and Meg – as they grow up and become women and, eventually, wives. Alcott’s writing style makes her characters easy to relate to, and her real-world sense of the girls’ lives adds just enough colour to make what could have been a very bland and moralistically preachy story into something that women and men of all ages can enjoy and learn a thing or two from. Like Mrs. March, Alcott makes her lessons easy to learn and even easier to digest and in a Mary Poppins-esque manner, a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down.
As a reader, I found that in each of the characters I found something I could identify with. Especially Jo, whose hardworking, adventurous, and boyish spirit is quite kin to my own. Amy’s ladylike and refined tendencies provided a foil for Jo’s far more rough and ready ones, and Meg’s maternal instinct and the manner in which it sat around her like an old but favourite and comfortable shawl provided an exemplary model for any homely heart. Beth was the quiet one, the one who just minds her own business and goes about day-to-day with her work and is content. The characters themselves were mostly well-developed, and each and every one of them had something to teach the reader about common sense, following your heart, right and wrong, and knowing that although everyone is different none of us are less equal because of those differences. Although much of both novels centres around ideas of religious piety and goodness, these ideas can be translated out of that context and applied to whichever realm that pleases the reader.
For me, the things that stood out the most were the differences between modern-day and Victorian perceptions of womanhood, and the duties that a woman must perform in order to be seen as ‘good’, ‘wholesome’, ‘obedient’ and ‘worthy’. As I read, I often found myself wondering where all the small things had gone and why life isn’t so simply understood and realised as it once had been. In the 21st century we have a plethora of new problems and facets of life to deal with in comparison to the Victorian age. Noticing in myself that Little Women reminded me of what I was missing from my life and gave me that small burst of sunlight through the clouds, and inspiration to try harder to be true to myself, I wondered if perhaps it might do the same for other readers? Weigh in on this if you like, I’d be glad to hear your opinions.
I did feel that as a novel Little Women was more developed than Good Wives. The latter felt rushed and a little hasty, especially nearer the end, and the characters seemed a little out of their element in terms of how Alcott dealt with them for characterisation. Like a toddler who wears her mother’s clothes to feel grown up, but will never be able to fit into them.
Now, for me, Little Women and Good Wives has to it an element of sentimentality. When I was much younger, I wandered into the school library in search of something to read and my eyes alighted on the hardcover spine of this book. I remember standing there for a few moments, thinking about it, and walking away from it. I was nine years old at the time. It wasn’t until I turned 18 that I decided to buy the book, and I was 20 by the time I read it. Ever since turning my back on Alcott 12 or so years ago I had regretted the decision, not just because I hate deciding not to read a book, but also because I’d been told that it was one of those books that would change the way you looked at the world and how it exists and functions around you. Now that I have read it, I can see exactly why people would think it has the potential to change lives and that’s because it shows us what we’re missing in a plain, honest and simple manner, and asks us why we would give that up for the sake of living in the fast-paced, demanding, high-tech world we exist in. It asks us what we might be able to bring back and use again, what we miss and why we miss it, and it asks us who we really think we are.
And if you ask me, these are all questions we ought to be asking ourselves regularly. If we don’t keep in touch with who we really are, and remember that each and every one of us has something great to offer and we are no lesser people if we’re not as smart, or pretty, or popular, or refined as our friends, siblings or neighbours, then what exactly do we become?
Anyway, that’s my two cents on the topic. Either way, I’d highly recommend reading both Little Women and Good Wives as they’re novels that teach us something, and to top it all off they’re enjoyable reads.
Never stop reading!