Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – A Review of and Personal Reflection on the Series

There are three books in the Little Women series written by Louisa May Alcott. However, Little Women was first published in two parts: 1. Little Women Volume 1, containing 23 chapters. 2. Little Women Volume 2, also titled Good Wives. These have been republished in one book, also titled Little Women, containing 47 chapters

  1. Little Women
  2. Little Men
  3. Jo’s Boys

Please note that this blog post contains spoilers about the entire Little Women series of books written by Louisa May Alcott.

Blurb from Goodreads

Generations of readers young and old, male and female, have fallen in love with the March sisters of Louisa May Alcott’s most popular and enduring novel, Little Women. Here are talented tomboy and author-to-be Jo, tragically frail Beth, beautiful Meg, and romantic, spoiled Amy, united in their devotion to each other and their struggles to survive in New England during the Civil War.

It is no secret that Alcott based Little Women on her own early life. While her father, the freethinking reformer and abolitionist Bronson Alcott, hobnobbed with such eminent male authors as Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne, Louisa supported herself and her sisters with “woman’s work,” including sewing, doing laundry, and acting as a domestic servant. But she soon discovered she could make more money writing. Little Women brought her lasting fame and fortune, and far from being the “girl’s book” her publisher requested, it explores such timeless themes as love and death, war and peace, the conflict between personal ambition and family responsibilities, and the clash of cultures between Europe and America.

My Review

Little Women was my favourite book when I was a child

It was the first hardback I ever read that had no pictures or any such things to tempt a child. I remember feeling quite grown up when I first read it as it was just a plain old red book that had lost its dust jacket many years previously. Nothing bright or colourful that would have tempted me in the years previous. I suppose I must have been about 8 years old when first I read it and fell head over heels in love with everything about Little Women.

Jo March

First up I wanted to be Jo March. Heck I sometimes still do!

Jo was the perfect fictional idol for a little girl who dreamed of reaching for the stars. She was feisty with a hugely independent streak, and was never one for the shadows. Jo was 100% born to be centre stage.

But with all this independence and ferocity of will she was still a giant softie at heart. Because more than anything she loved her sisters. Family was number one to Jo. Oh how I wanted to live in her house with all her wonderful sisters. The noise, the joy, the fun…

The Boy Next Door versus The Professor

And I also wanted a boy just like dear Laurie to live next door to me. #FirstEverBookBoyfriend … although quite controversially I am rather happy that Jo never ended up with Laurie. Once the character of Professor Bhaer showed up I was immediately intrigued by him, even as a child, and was fascinated by how Jo seemed to blossom in different ways.

Looking back on it all I think that Jo not choosing Laurie is probably one of the greatest ever plot devices used in fiction because so many people can get into really heated arguments about it all these years later.

I love the person that Jo let herself be with Professor Bhaer; the life they created together with the school was very much true to Jo’s identity. Ultimately I just don’t think that Laurie would truly ever have been suited to her; his core interests were too different to Jo and okay. It’s a bit funky that he kinda substituted Amy for Jo, but Amy and Laurie had so much more in common.

I think if more readers read the later books they would find that contentment at Jo and Bhaer, and Laurie and Amy, being together Laurie was the love of Jo’s childhood life, her soulmate and best friend forever but that Professor Bhaer was the one who was for her adult life. He was that person that encouraged her to reach for her goals and achieve them.

So that’s the way I think of Laurie and Jo! They were first loves and it is rare that it is our first loves that are the ones we are destined to make our homes with even though they feel like home to us.

Beth March

However, as much as I loved Jo and ached to be her when I was a little girl… Well I was really kidding myself. Because I’m a Beth.

That quietness, the love for home life and family, the love for sitting contentedly playing the piano, the less than glowing healthy glow(!!). So while Jo might be the star of the show with her forthright mind and joie de vivre quiet Beth always held a strong fascination for me.

When I was a child I was in and out of hospital a lot. And it wasn’t much fun. So when I read about Beth and her poor health… well I kinda saw a kindred spirit.

Beth was eminently more patient and kind than I could ever hope to be, and so in many ways Beth was quite the role model to me growing up. Beth was the type of character that could be construed as being too quiet or pious even but I always loved that about her. I loved that uncomplicated part of their personality as there is so much to be admired in keeping things simple and just treating everyone with kindness.

But then in the last few years I experienced a sort of crisis with regards to my love for Little Women and in particular my love for Beth.

I began to ask myself is Little Women ableist in its portrayal of Beth.

Beth is good and pure. She’s quiet. Never complains even though she’s very sick, suffers greatly, and can’t do the things her other sisters can do.

And then she dies.

And her death inspires Jo to be a kinder person or similar.

That’s ableist as heck. It’s glorifying suffering and illness as if they are something to be strangely thankful for because it’s godly! Beth was too good and pure for this earth so she dies!!! Beth never complained or had plans for her future because sick people should not have hopes and dreams?

And okay. This book is not exactly written recently (published originally in 1869) so we can somewhat forgive these antiquated ideas of suffering and illness… but how many times do I read modern novels that conveniently (and neatly) kill off sick characters for a spot of inspiration porn.

I’m chronically ill and experience a whole lot of ableism in my life. But none more so than my own internalised ableism. And I don’t know if I can exactly blame a book like Little Women, but, I have carried the idea of suffering in silence and choking down my feelings about my long term illness since childhood.

Little Women and Me

So maybe I actually don’t love Little Women anymore… and that deeply saddens me.

I can’t put an exact number on how many times I read it. I’m sure I read it at least five times a year if not more while I was still a child, and continued my rereads into adulthood.

But I haven’t been able to reread it in years now. I don’t want to watch any of the film adaptations either. It actually hurts me when I look back and think of the joy the books in this series gave me…

I can recall that soon after reading Little Women I discovered the sequel Good Wives in a second hand sale. I didn’t know it even existed prior to that; hello to the land of pre-internet that was circa early 1990s. And then I discovered even more sequels when I found copies of Little Men and Jo’s Boys in my local library…. oh you couldn’t even begin to imagine how much my happiness could not be contained!

But now that happiness is tainted. Soured.

I used to think that Little Women was the perfect book for young girls to read. Because I thought about how wonderful it was that there were many life lessons to be found within its pages e.g. lessons about strength of character and belief that were core to Jo’s character arc.

Yet now I sit here bereft. I look at my old, tattered red hardback copy of Little Women and feel a sense of loss. I feel betrayed. I feel that my childhood innocence was taken advantage of in some way, and I don’t know how to reconcile myself to these feelings.

Maybe someday I’ll sit down and reread the books but for now my copies are quietly gathering dust in the bottom corner of my bookshelves away from view.

My Socials

2 thoughts on “Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – A Review of and Personal Reflection on the Series

  1. I love all your posts related to disabled lit/representation. I’ve never read Little Women, but I saw the movie remake and totally see the ableism symbolized through Beth’s character. This makes me both want to, and not, revisit a book series that similarly shaped my childhood 😅

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s