I am listening to Little Women on CD with the children in the car. I probably haven’t read it since I was twelve. I first encountered it when I was 8 and read it several times over the next few years, sobbing over Beth’s death, furious with Amy.
The reader of this CD, by Brilliance Audio isn’t particularly good, and makes Mrs. March come across as preachy and tiresome, and yet, Little Women remains fresh.
What makes it so? Its ability to engage our emotions, to make us love Jo and Beth and Marmee, and feel for Meg, and want to shake Amy and Aunt March. Their characters are realistic, based on Alcott’s sisters and mother, and sharply delineated to highlight their virtues and foibles.
And yet, it is a Christian novel. The book Pilgrim’s Progress, runs like grace-notes through the book, echoes in the plot. It is a story of growing up, of maturation, of moral development.
What Katy Did which I am reading to Irene is also unabashedly Christian. Today there are few Christian novels which are also mainstream. One of them is Leif Enger’s wonderful Peace Like a River, and one is Robinson’s Gilead.
Little Women is such an iconic book in American literature, that generations of novels have been based on it. I have just finished reading Irene the rather tedious Five Little Peppers and How they Grew by Margaret Sidney, which is a shameless rip off of Little Women in its plot, and characters, down to phrases like Meg/Polly couldn’t deny Amy/Phronsie anything. And, of course, the orphaned rich boy, and the fatherless poor girls…