One of the books I brought back from my parents’ house in April was my copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
Not having read it since my freshman year of high school, I decided I’d read it again, but I wanted to do a bit of research first. Mainly because I’d always felt a bit of a disconnect between the book’s two parts, and I thought I’d be able to better understand and appreciate it this time around if I had more context. I don’t know why I never bothered to seek out such information before, given how many times I’d read the book and come across that disconnect. But I finally did, and I found out that there’s a very obvious reason for it all.
Many modern editions of Little Women compile both the novel of the same name, originally published in 1868, and its sequel, Good Wives, published the following year. My copy is one of these editions. The two parts are clearly marked, but there’s no indication that they were originally separate novels.
So now it all made sense. Which brought up an interesting question: what does the Little Women on the BBC’s top 100 list refer to? Does it refer to just the original novel? Or does it refer to the compiled edition of both Little Women and Good Wives?
I don’t really have a good answer to that question. The BBC list is kind of inconsistent when it comes to book vs. series nominations: the first four Harry Potter books each get an individual nomination, while His Dark Materials gets one entry for an entire series. So the way I’ve decided to go about it is, I’m going to assume that entries on the list refer to individual novels (e.g. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) unless the title clearly belongs to an entire series (e.g. The Lord of the Rings). Well, if you really want to be technical about it, I guess The Lord of the Rings is one novel in three volumes and not an actual trilogy, but I’ll save that discussion for another entry.
Anyway, this means that on my recent re-read, I decided to stop where the original Little Women volume ends, rather than continuing through Good Wives. And going about it that way definitely gave me a different perspective of the work. (For the better, even, as I don’t really like Good Wives anyway.)
Not that I needed much help gaining a new perspective. I’ve commented before that just a couple of years between re-reads makes a difference; just imagine how much difference ten years makes!
One big difference: I’m much more aware of the moralizing and Christian elements of this novel now. I’d noticed them before, of course – it’s kind of hard not to – but I don’t think I realized just how central they are. And I think I’d be even more aware of that theme if I’d read John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, which Little Women frequently mentions and probably even more frequently alludes to. It doesn’t really detract from my enjoyment of Little Women, but it does considerably change my perspective on it.
And I do still enjoy it. Admittedly it’s partly due to the nostalgic element – I’ve owned my copy since I was six or seven, and I read it quite a bit when I was younger. But putting that aside, it’s an easy and fairly light work, even with the didactic element. I like several of the characters, and the sisters’ dynamic strikes a familiar chord.