The Annotated Little Women (The Annotated Books) Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2018-05-24 
Review Score: 5 out of 5 star From 0 user ratings

"My heart is melting a little as I close this book at long last, my mind contented. It is a sweet book, occasionally a bit too sweet, but there were many places where I felt quite moved. If I’d been 17 when I first read this, I would have been over the moon about it.

It is the story of the four March sisters and their family joys and woes. From the beginning we are meant to see how different they are. The dialogues were so evenly distributed between them it felt unnatural at times, or perhaps fairy-tale like, along these lines:

Meg says something sensible and mature

Jo responds with something outlandish or contradictory

Beth says something angelic

Amy says something immature or annoying

(And on occasion Mrs. March sweeps in with a matriarchal, loving word, saving the day).

And thus the girls go about in their domestic happiness, and one great sorrow, and are, as they grow up, taught various moral lessons, which are embedded into the story in a blatantly didactic manner.

Its redeeming trait to me, when it became a bit too sugary and self-righteous, was the gentle irony which I noticed more and more as I read on. Indeed, I felt I spotted the mocking tone of Jane Austen here and there (to the extent that I’m sure Louisa May Alcott has read her), though this novel is more truly romantic than Austen ever was. A few examples:

For a week the amount of virtue in the old house would have supplied the neighborhood. It was really amazing, for everyone seemed in a heavenly frame of mind, and self-denial was all the fashion.

(When Jo sees a writer who’s a bit too fond of his drink:) The great novelist vibrated between two decanters with the regularity of a pendulum.

Having given the rein to her lively fancy, it galloped away with her at a great pace, and common sense being rather weakened by a long course of romance writing, did not come to the rescue.

(…) her elbows were decidedly akimbo at this period of her life (…)

From this small selection of quotes, I see that I was most taken with Jo. One small niggle that I have about the novel, in relation to Jo, is that she is described as the girl who most needs to be domesticated, when in fact I felt her lively, tom-boyish personality to be by far the most interesting of the bunch.

Coincidentally, there was a reference to Little Women in the other novel I was reading at the same time, A God in Ruins. In that novel, one of the characters described Little Women as a novel about strong, resourceful, young women. All the Shorecroft sisters had loved Louisa May Alcott… Apart from it being a lovely, little tribute, I loved the imaginary literary threads of one novel reaching out to another.

I began the novel over Christmas because it has that old-world, cozy glow to it, which reminded me a little of the family idylls of The Little House on the Prarie, though with more deliberate (and delightful) quaintness. Jo’s first meeting with Laurie/Teddy, the boy next door, reminded me of The Secret Garden, another charming book about childhood and lost worlds. The March sisters eventually grow up to be young women, and everything is tied neatly with a pretty pink bow at the end, exactly as it should be in an edifying novel like this. I can see why it has become an enduring classic.
" said.

"I first read this as a young teen, maybe 12 or 13 years old. I loved it then, and, when I learned that Masterpiece Theater was filming this as a mini-series, I decided to assign it for our September meeting.

I was surprised at how sentimental this made me feel while reading. In our modern world, it is surprising to read of Meg and Jo, 16 and 15 years old at the beginning, who are still willing to indulge in make believe and silly games. The younger sisters, Beth and Amy, 13 and 12, are still young enough to play with dolls. The girls argue and tease and play pranks on one another, as sisters do, but they adored and revered their mother and actually asked her advice and tried to make her proud of them, and never talked back! Unrealistic in today's terms, but nice to return to another era, and escape what we seem to have become. I enjoyed this little trip down memory lane, and it will be great to see what Masterpiece Theater has to show us.
" said.

" A classic! The book and movie both did me in... Tears!! " said.

"I was given this more than 30 years ago, and it never appealed, but I gave it a go when it was selected by my book group.

As most people know, it's Louisa May Alcott's semi-autobiographical account of four teenage sisters growing up in slight poverty, while their father is away at war.

The opening words alerted me to the tone: "'Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without any presents'... 'I don't think it's fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls to have nothing at all.'" Despite this, they are virtuous and generous girls (albeit, each has a little quirk: Jo is a tomboy, Amy a bit prim etc). If that doesn't tug at the heart strings enough, it is peppered with sentimentality, such as "Very few letters were written in those hard times that were not touching, especially those which fathers sent home." and "Tell us another story, mother; one with a moral". Too much cheese/saccharine for my taste, so I gave up 1/3 of the way through.

The book is of its time (Victorian), but, perhaps because it was written for young adults, there is a simplicity of language and structure that exacerbates the self-conscious self-righteousness of it. It lacks the depth, breadth and moral grey areas of more adult writers of the time, such as Dickens. That may be an unfair comparison, as he was writing for a different audience, but it nevertheless reflects my reaction.

" said.

" my ship sank to Dead Sea levels and now im salty af

3.5 stars? 4 stars? who knows?

all I know is that im deleting chapter 46 and while we're at it I might as well also delete chapters 35, 40 and 41

so please do me all a favour and rip out those chapters from your copies thanks

mini-review to come maaaaaaaaaaaybe

we're just going to ignore the fact that I already have a classic on my 'currently reading' shelf and that it's been there for about 2 months

buddy read with the founder of the 'we love coffee' fanclub >:)
" said.

"Updated 8/26/2016 - Update at end

So, this is going to be my most confusing review to date and I am going to need some help from people who read this, so please reply if you know! (see below)

I read this for my Completest Book Club. I am glad I did because it is a classic I hear about all the time. If you take the Never-ending Book Quiz on Goodreads, it seems like every other question is about Little Women. While for me this book was just okay, I can see why it is a classic and enjoyed by many.

My confusion is this. I am only about 50% of the way through my audio copy of Little Women. As I was posting my status update last night I was noticing some comments that led me to believe I am now in what is considered the second book "Good Wives". My audiobook does not say anything, other than that I am in Part 2. In doing some research, I found that frequently audiobooks combine the first two books. My goal was only to read Little Women, so if I am truly in book 2, I am ready to stop.

See spoiler for details about where I am: (view spoiler)" said.

" Knjiga moje mladosti :) Ah, kako smo je svi gutali :) " said.

"There will be spoilers.

Now, if she had been the heroine of a moral story-book, she ought at this period of her life to have become quite saintly, renounced the world, and gone about doing good in a mortified bonnet, with tracts in her pocket. But, you see, Jo wasn't a heroine; she was only a struggling human girl, like hundreds of others, and she just acted out her nature, being sad, cross, listless, or energetic, as the mood suggested.

I first read this book as a tween, and had a real love-hate reaction to it, love of the first half, and I pretty much hated the last half. Beth's death made me cry, and I loathed sad books passionately, but most of all I loathed Professor Bhaer, for two reasons. The minor one was that he was ugly and forty, which was utterly disgusting to me, as my grandparents then were in their forties. Euw! But the real reason I felt utterly betrayed by Alcott was because my own limited experience laid a palimpsest over the story, distorting Alcott's meaning. Well, but even if I hadn't been twitted by the well-meaning adults in my life to stop writing silly fairy tales and concentrate on Real Life if I must scribble stories, I could not have taken her meaning, as my lack of life experience was exactly what she was talking about in those scenes.

I read the book again at another period of my life when I probably shouldn't have, as the sorrowful parts overshadowed the rest.

Then I recently reread it, and hey, it was a completely different book from the one I'd read as a kid. Funny, that, how much a text changes over the decades. To me, that is the sign of a great book.

The first thing I noticed was the humorous skill of the narrator, who sometimes, in true nineteenth century fashion, comes right out and talks to the reader, then vanishes again, and lets the characters talk and think for themselves.

I saw this time how skillfully Alcott set up Amy's and Laurie's romance. How splendidly Alcott painted Laurie's and Jo's friendship, and her courage in maintaining that hey, a man and a woman really can be good buddies. Yeah, Laurie goes through some heart-pangs, but he gets over it, and finally gets some emotional growth while being thwarted for the first time in a life of getting pretty much what he wanted all the time. There were occasional falters that showed the author's hand. Like I found it hard to believe that Laurie, as a teenage boy, would moralize quite so much over Meg prinking at her first party. I could totally see him being uncomfortable, but that's a small thing.

As a kid I'd been bored stiff by Amy's and Laurie's courtship, but this time, I loved the images of Europe, and appreciated how skillfully Alcott had brought the two through the years to their shared delights. I found their courtship one of the strengths of the book.

And then there was Professor Bhaer. The scene where he rejoices in Jo's giving up her writing after her humiliation over his opinion of trashy stories that I took as such a betrayal as a teen read utterly differently to me now. What he resented was Jo pandering to the modern taste for sex, violence, and melodrama, especially when she knew so little about sex and violence. Jo was perpetrating cliches, empty calories, because it was easy money, and he thought she could do better.

I had to laugh when I recollected that not so long ago I critiqued a teenage-written manuscript, suggesting that that writing about forty-year-old married people might wait until more was known about what marriage actually meant. What I had taken as a tween (because sex went right over my head) was that Professor Bhaer was anti-fantasy. Wrongo, but I didn't have the life experience to see where he was going about lack of life experience.

As for his being forty, that seems to have been a nineteenth century tic. Hello Mr. Knightley! And not just in fiction--just a couple days ago I was reading Horatio Nelson's dispatches. In winter of 1800 he is smirking about Sir John Acton, well into his sixties, marrying his thirteen year old niece. Smirking, not exclaiming in horror and disgust, the way we would now.

In short, Jo and the Professor's romance took on all the charm that had completely passed me by.

Meanwhile there were all the old scenes I'd remembered so well, still funny, and poignant, and beautiful. Alcott does get preachy, but she's aware of it; at one point, after encouraging young people not to make fun of spinsters, she gets on with the story after wondering if her audience has fallen asleep during her little homily.

These homilies all point toward love as well as acceptance, faith as well as resignation. Caring for one's fellow-being, whether it be a poor person, as the dying Beth made little gifts for poverty-stricken children and dropped them out of the window just to see smiling faces. There is so much beauty in this book, and so much appreciation of beauty, as well as illustration of many shades of love.

It was also interesting to get visual overlays, for last autumn I'd visited Orchard House, where May (Amy) had drawn all over the walls in her room and a couple of other rooms, carefully preserved, where Jo's room was full of books, overlooking the garden; between two tall windows was the writing desk her father had made for her. Beth's piano. You could feel wisps of the love the family had for one another, which Alcott had put into the book, along with her personal struggles to be a better person; she gave her alter ego, Jo, a happier ending than she actually managed to get. (And though she didn't know it at the time, a happier ending for her artist sister May, as well.)

I won't wait so long for my next reread.
" said.

August 2018 New Book:

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