A history of Little Women, coinciding with the 150th anniversary of its original publication, which examines why it remains a book with such power that people carry its characters and spirit throughout their lives.
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.