A history of Little Women coinciding with the 150th anniversary of its original publication.
When it was published in 1868, Louisa May Alcott’s novel became an immediate bestseller. Encouraged by her publishers to write a “novel for girls,” Alcott set her coming-of-age-story of four sisters during the Civil War and loosely based their struggles and aspirations on her own experiences with her three sisters. For countless generations of young readers, it has remained a beloved favorite as well as an influential touchstone to scores of aspiring writers. Yet this quietly groundbreaking novel has had more than its share of lukewarm responses from literary scholars, and it appears less frequently on high school reading lists compared to classics by noted male authors. Rioux (English/Univ. of New Orleans; Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist, 2006, etc.) writes, “in spite of Little Women’s elevation to canonical status, scholars still do not sufficiently acknowledge how key Little Women has been to the development of women’s literary traditions in the United States and abroad. It has been a foundational text not only in the history of women’s literature but also in individual writers’ very conception of themselves as writers and artists.” The author devotes the first few chapters to Alcott’s family history and early writing career, touching on the similarities—as well as the striking differences—between Alcott’s family and the characters in Little Women. Alcott endured considerably more challenging hardships than those depicted in the novel, which continued to fascinate in its many forms. Rioux provides an overview of the various film, stage, and TV incarnations, from the 1933 classic with Katharine Hepburn as Jo to the 1994 version by Australian director Gillian Armstrong (Rioux’s favorite). From the 1970s onward, the novel continued to draw closer ties to the evolving women’s movement, and its themes of ambition and empowerment have influenced such contemporary TV series as The Gilmore Girls and HBO’s Girls.
An enlightening, well-documented argument for why this novel is essential—will inspire readers to become acquainted or reacquainted with this influential classic.