As before, this will be less of a book review and more a way to share my experience of re-reading childhood favourites with my own children. For reference, my kids are ages 7 and 4.
Little Women is such a classic story and one I’ve read and watched so many times that I have trouble distinguishing specific memories of it. Growing up, I read it in two volumes – Little Women (pictured above on the left) and Good Wives. The edition that we got for the girls (pictured above on the right) had both of these books in one volume, divided as Part I and Part II and so for ease I’ll refer to them as such. The two parts were published separately and we took a break between reading them but when people refer to Little Women they’re generally referring to both sections.
My little girls love books with sisters in them so I felt pretty sure they would enjoy this classic tale of four sisters. I remember reading about the March sisters and wishing I had something other than just a stinky older brother. (It’s fine, he doesn’t read my blog!) Pearl and Rose embraced the sister dynamic and had no problem understanding the way they fought and loved each other and imagined together. We’ve read a few old-fashioned novels aloud with them so they had no trouble with the setting or with the vague mentions of war. (It took me years before I realized it was the American Civil War going on here.)
Things like putting on plays and going to the beach were easy for Pearl and Rose to identify with. I paused after Part I because I wasn’t sure if the second section’s focus on marriage and motherhood and career would be as engaging for them. (Not to mention the tragedy of Part II.) However, they insisted and so onward we went. In the end, I’m not sure that they did enjoy or understand it as much but they were happy enough to keep reading.
The old-fashioned language was probably the biggest barrier in our reading together as there were a lot of words, phrases, and references that they were unfamiliar with. As well, reading it aloud to my own daughters made me realize how gendered the whole story is. There are a lot of stereotypes about what a woman should be and I found myself skipping over or editing, especially in the chapters that focused on Meg in Part II. They didn’t ask, but I couldn’t even begin to know how to explain to my daughters why Meg is fearfully presenting her cheque book to her husband and has so little ownership over their family’s finances.
At the same time, there were parts I’d never fully appreciated before. When Marmee confesses to Jo, “I feel angry nearly every day of my life”, I felt that to be one of the more honest portrayals of adult life that I’ve ever seen. Overall, it’s not hard to see the lasting appeal of the March family, for readers of all ages.