When Little Women first appeared, readers and reviewers were astonished by how new and original it was, Ms. Rioux writes. Most literature for children at the time was 'so stilted and pious that it failed to capture the attention of young readers.' Alcott’s...prose, with its informal dialogue, came as something of a revelation. From the vivid, fire-lit opening scene, with the teenage Marches bemoaning their poverty and the prospect of Christmas without their father, each girl has a distinct voice that hints, as Ms. Rioux says, 'at her unique personality.' ... the author observes, 'Alcott’s classic pointed the way not only toward girls’ future selves but also toward the future relationships they could have with men and with each other. She imagined her characters moving into a mature womanhood that achieves self-fulfillment as well as shared joys and responsibilities, a storyline today’s little women desperately need.' She’s right about that. The thoughtful pages of Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy amount to a plea: Let us not forget these girls! We still need them.
Now Anne Boyd Rioux’s lively and informative Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy makes it clear why having these fictive young women implanted in my consciousness has been a good thing, helpful for every girl facing the challenges of growing up to be a woman. Rioux’s book features a useful, highly compressed biography of Alcott and an account of how her most famous novel was written ... A chapter on the adaptations of the novel—for radio, stage and screen—is a compendium of fun facts, much of it about casting ... Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy does what—ideally—books about books can do: I’ve taken Little Women down from the shelf and put it on top of the books I plan to read. I’m curious to check in on the March sisters, and—inspired by Anne Boyd Rioux—find out how they seem to me now.
Rioux's claim here is substantiated. She has found dozens of allusions by a variety of authors (and not only women, by the way) to the ways in which Jo, the headstrong and ambitious sister in Little Women, has influenced them and allowed them to express their own desire to write and be recognized ... But Rioux goes beyond the personal experience of the book, that holy space between reader and book that is ultimately so individual. She points out that Little Women is remarkable for its look at how gender is not inherent but rather learned and performed, a fact recognized in gender studies scholarship to an extent ... Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy isn't a stuffy scholarly work — it's a love letter written not by a smitten youngster naïve to her beloved's drawbacks but by a mature adult who can recognize complexity and nuance.
You can be a wife and a mother and have a career. You don’t have to be a wife to be a mother. You can have your own wife! These are all reflections of what, in the 19th century, used to be called 'the woman question' ... No matter how we answer that question, one thing is clear, thanks to Anne Boyd Rioux’s highly entertaining and eminently sane Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters. Our answers have been informed by Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women ... [Rioux] paints a compelling portrait of Alcott, giving us fascinating insights into the creation of Little Women.
...if this story is a celebration of the joys of girlhood, Rioux asks, why does it focus on 'a girl who doesn’t want to be one at all?' ... It’s an excellent question, one Rioux considers with intelligence and insight ... With impeccable research and genuine affection, she charts the history of the beloved (and sometimes reviled) novel ... In Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy she covers an intriguing set of topics, from the book’s reception in 1868 to its current representations in pop culture ... Rioux persuasively argues that Alcott’s influence remains.
Rioux makes an excellent case for...re-reading, providing a cultural-historical tour of the classic book and its many reiterations in popular culture ... As Rioux points out, the bold adventures of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy all end in either happy, domesticated marriages or—in Beth’s case— in death. Those options are less than exciting for our feminists sisters of the 1970s. But things get exciting when one considers that these contradictions can be enlightening, and may even be the point. 'Multidimensionality' is a word Rioux uses often, and it’s a good one to describe the Little Women of the book, their choices, the pressures to conform and the pain of noncomformity, and the paths they take toward womanhood. In this way, Alcott—a writer who churned out, and enjoyed, sensational stories that dealt in melodrama and power struggles between the sexes—was after all a realist. Rioux could even more deeply explore and re-envision the place of the multifaceted Alcott and Jo March in the literary lineage connecting them with Henry James and his Daisy Miller, Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre, and with Jane Austen and the likes of Eliza Bennett ... So the strength of Alcott and her little women is also borne of a massively strong intelligence, grindingly hard work, and character, even when it’s confined to domesticity. It’s why their story still matters.
The subtitle of Anne Boyd Rioux’s engaging reassessment of Little Women may seem to protest too much ... Rioux has a point, however. As she ruefully acknowledges, 21st-century girls left to their own devices prefer fantasy or dystopian adventures ... these books and movies lack the textured evocation of day-to-day female experience that made Little Women a cherished touchstone for generations of readers—and not just female ones. Rioux names male devotees, including Teddy Roosevelt and James Carville, and argues persuasively that Louisa May Alcott’s nuanced examination of the losses and gains inherent in the process of growing up can strike a chord in readers of any gender ... Rioux’s astute analysis of how a 19th-century bestseller 'devoured by children and adults of both sexes' was gradually downgraded to just-for-girls status will surprise no one who read her excellent Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist a similar blend of biography and cultural history ... Rioux’s affectionate and perceptive tribute asserts, that we should still be reading a warm, entertaining novel that suggests ways we can get there.
...Award-winning Rioux marks the 150th anniversary of this...influential novel by telling its story whole. Noting the power of its authenticity, Rioux illuminates the parallels between the Alcotts and the fictional March family and marks just how intent war nurse and suffragette Louisa was on challenging gender roles ... Rioux’s...informed, multifaceted, ardently argued, and mind-expanding celebration of Little Women affirms its pleasures and significance as a tale ripe for reconsideration and recommendation to YA and adult readers across the gender spectrum.
One of the most famous opening lines in literature: 'Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.' belongs to one of the best-loved books ever written. Yet Little Women has wound up pegged as a children’s book for girls. However, it’s much, much more, and Anne Rioux has done an excellent analysis of the novel and its author, and of the plays, movies, and television versions of the book.
When it was published in 1868, Louisa May Alcott’s novel became an immediate bestseller. Encouraged by her publishers to write a 'novel for girls,' Alcott set her coming-of-age-story of four sisters during the Civil War and loosely based their struggles and aspirations on her own experiences with her three sisters. For countless generations of young readers, it has remained a beloved favorite as well as an influential touchstone to scores of aspiring writers ... Rioux provides an overview of the various film, stage, and TV incarnations, from the 1933 classic with Katharine Hepburn as Jo to the 1994 version by Australian director Gillian Armstrong (Rioux’s favorite). From the 1970s onward, the novel continued to draw closer ties to the evolving women’s movement, and its themes of ambition and empowerment have influenced such contemporary TV series as The Gilmore Girls and HBO’s Girls. A well-documented argument for why this novel is essential—will inspire readers to become acquainted or reacquainted with this influential classic.
To coincide with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Little Women, Rioux offers a...history of the novel’s publication, reception, and adaptations. Rioux lays out biographical background on author Louisa May Alcott and traces her unlikely move from gothic potboiler author to girls’ literature phenom as a result of the book’s wild popularity ... Throughout, Rioux offers enough detail to entertain and inform without overwhelming the reader. While she notes the novel’s readership has fallen off in recent years, one hopes her well-crafted work will help revive interest in a work she rightfully argues should be placed beside Tom Sawyer as an enduring American classic.