This is a fantastic book. Perfect to read if you’ve been to see the recent film and want to find out more about the author and her famous work. The full title (a bit cumbersome for a blog post title!) is Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and why it still matters. Anne Boyd Rioux, a professor in English at the University of New Orleans, is a great writer, informative and entertaining and with an enjoyably light touch. The book is packed with fascinating details about Louisa May Alcott and her famous book.
Here are some to amuse you:
- Readers as varied as Hillary Rodham Clinton, Patti Smith, Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem, JK Rowling and Caitlin Moran have all been inspired by it.
- In My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, Lila and Lenú meet every day for months to read chapters of Little Women together.
- Ironically given the readership of her book, Alcott wrote in her diary that she, “never liked girls or knew many except my sisters.”
- Her first title for the book was My Pathetic Family, a name she used for her own family!
- Her father, Bronson, was, depending on your point of view – a philosopher with his head in the air, a religious fanatic or a manic depressive. He seems to have felt under no obligation to financially support his wife and four children. He was friends with Thoreau, Hawthorne and Emerson. On the plus side he was a transcendentalist who thought that genius was innate in each child, male or female. On her 14th birthday he gave Louisa a journal into which he had copied her own original poetry, showing he took her writing seriously. He built her a desk. He told her: “You have the genius to write a book that would reach the wider circle of readers.”
- Bronson did not go away and fight in the American Civil War. Louisa was the one who went away to nurse wounded soldiers in Washington. It was she who came down with typhoid fever, which was treated with mercury, which badly affected her health and contributed towards her death.
- Marriage? She did not marry and she did not want Jo to marry but was pressurized by her publisher: “They insist on having people married off in a wholesale way which much afflicts me.”
- She wrote the book when she was 35. It was published in 1868 and sold 2000 copies in 2 weeks.
- By the mid 1870s the book had been translated into Russian, Swedish, Danish, Greek and Japanese. The Dutch title was Under Mother’s Wings, the French title, The Four Daughters of Dr Marsch [sic]. The father was turned into a doctor for the French version because being a catholic country it was thought that his profession as a pseudo-minister would not go down well. The Japanese title was A Story of Young Grass – young grass representing adolescence.
- She did not like being famous: “This sight seeing fiend is a new torment to us.”
- She died in 1888 of a stroke, two days after her father. They both shared the same birthday, November 29th.
- The first sound film to be made of the book was directed by George Cukor in 1933 and had Katherine Hepburn playing Jo. When the film opened it broke box office records. 3000 people turned up at the theatre with 1000 gathered outside. 30 mounted policemen were called to manage the crowd. It was nominated for three Academy Awards and won for Best Adapted Screenplay.
- The book has been turned into a play, radio plays, films, TV series, a musical and opera [1998 Mark Adamo] and it’s been translated into a huge number of different languages.
Finally, a question to entice you to the book:
1.What connects actors William Shatner [of Star Trek fame] and Gabriel Byrne [The Usual Suspects/ In Treatment] in the context of Little Women.
Read the book to find out!
Here are the links: