“In order that we may start afresh and go to Meg’s wedding with free minds, it will be well to begin with a little gossip about the Marches. And here let me premise, that if any of the elders think there is too much ‘lovering’ in the story, as I fear they may (I’m not afraid the young folks will make that objection), I can only say with Mrs. March, ‘What can you expect when I have four gay girls in the house, and a dashing young neighbor over the way?'”
Louisa May Alcott has a warm and charming narrative style, which makes the reader feel more like they are looking into a doll house and observing the family’s life and routines. Throughout Little Women Alcott does provide narrative interjections that allow her to speak more directly to the reader. For example, in part one Alcott sets aside a rather lengthy paragraph in describing the March daughter’s physical appearance. She says, “As young readers like to know ‘how people look,’ we will take this moment to give them a little sketch of the four sisters…”
Plot wise the March daughters have bloomed and Meg has married, which allows for Jo and Amy to appear more center stage. In part one, the March daughters had cheered and paraded into the heart’s of their neighbors: a crotchety old man Mr. Laurence and his grandson Laurie or Teddy. Part two focuses more on the growing independence (particularly Jo and her literary endeavors) of the March daughters and the romances that begin to enter their lives.
Most film adaptations seem to gloss over the latter half of the novel, which in retrospect very much skews the actuality of the story. Meg marries, has children, and Alcott allows her reader snippets into the domestic cares and worries of a young housewife. Jo publishes and gains some financial independence and eventually takes to New York to briefly work as a governess. Beth we are informed never recovered entirely from her illness and the reader watches her fade physically until she snuffs out completely. Amy is invited on a Grand Tour with a wealthy relative and spends almost all of part two traipsing around Europe. As a result of the character’s ramblings, Alcott does use epistolary style in a few of her chapters.
The “lovering” of part two unfolds in a romance that always disturbed me in the film, but is more assuring in the novel. Teddy falls in love with Jo and asks her to marry him, but she has assured him all along that she does not love him in that way. As a result Teddy turns to Europe where he meets up with Amy and after many months and much growth of character for both Teddy and Amy the two fall in love and marry. Jo is not left out of the enchanted world of love and her prickly hard finally gives in under the gentle persuasions of Professor Bhaer.
Love and companionate marriage were themes emphasized in part one but become more important in the second part. Briefly the reader watches Amy, tantalized by wealth, consider marriage to a wealthy Englishman who she does not love. In contrast, in part two Jo becomes more entrenched in the idea that she will never marry. Throughout the novel the March parents encouraged their daughters to marry for love and respect, and this would provide for happier matches than wealth and status.
The conclusion of part two was less smooth than part one. I think Alcott was rather sure that a second installment of Little Women would be accepted, but I wonder if she had any inkling that she would continue to write about the March family in Jo’s Boys and Little Men. The last chapter of the novel “Final Harvest” projects a few years into the family’s future displaying a happy scene where Jo and the Professor have opened a school for boys. Though Alcott does add an interesting smudge to what could be considered a too perfect landscape by referring to Amy and Teddy’s youngest child as being sickly in a similar way as Beth.
I really enjoyed Little Women or at least enough so that I am considering getting the Portable Louisa May Alcott reader to see what else the woman has written. Alcott, like Betty Smith, now resides in a place in my heart as a too oft looked over female writer. Alcott seems to have been situated firmly into children’s fiction, but I am increasingly curious of her other fiction and nonfiction writings.