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Brewer Burns

Friday, September 01, 2006

On Little Women

A few months ago I picked up a copy of Little Women at Barnes & Noble. I thought that I would add it to my ever-expanding library of classics that I’ve read but like to reread periodically, as opposed to classics that I have read and will never read again but like to have on my bookshelf to impress people (and myself) with the fact that I have read them, once. Crime and Punishment falls into that category. And Middlemarch, apparently. And definitely, definitely, David Copperfield. Actually, I have David Copperfield on my bookshelf because the book was in such poor shape when I bought it from the college bookstore that I couldn’t sell it back and I can’t imagine actually throwing a book out.

Anyway, so I started reading Little Women about a month ago, got about 25 pages in and set it down in favor of something else (knitting like a madman.) I picked it up again last weekend after we had painted the extra room and installed all the bookshelves and the recliners. Have I mentioned that one half of the room, the one where my granny’s vanity sits, is fast becoming a pit that I can call my own? I swear that I mark my territory with clutter the way that male cats mark their territory with urine. Since then I’ve been pretty engrossed, to the point of knitting the sleeves for my Greek Pullover while simultaneously reading Little Women, with the book carefully balanced on my thighs, trying not to go cross eyed from trying to read the book while looking at my knitting at the same time. During this little fit of literary dalliance I have learned a few things. First, I don’t believe that I have actually read Little Women all the way through before. I know that I had an abridgment that I read several times when I was a little girl (in fact I still have it) and I know that I’ve seen the movie (the one with Winona Ryder) but I just don’t think that I’ve actually read the whole, unabridged novel, all the way through. I would even go so far as to say that I’ve definitely read through some part of the first portion of the book, but definitely not through the entire book. I just don’t remember it and if I had read it, I would remember it. I remember things that I read. That’s why I always did well in school. I didn’t study that hard I just remembered a large portion of what I had read.

Anyway, I’ve also learned that some of the things that I found really annoying when I read/saw the movie when I was younger don’t annoy me so much now. Case in point: Amy. I always found Amy to be a whining, sniveling, infuriating little brat, and I was really upset when Laurie marries her. Now, I find that she was a whining, sniveling little brat in the beginning of the book, but she much improves as she gets older. I still think that Jo’s refusal to marry Laurie is incomprehensible. In fact, I’m convinced that Ms. Alcott was simply being contrary in having Jo refuse Laurie. She knew that everyone expected Jo to marry Laurie, and she didn’t want Jo’s life to be so easy or simple or the resolution of her novel to be so predictable. Now that I’m older though, I can see her point in putting Laurie and Amy together. It’s unpredictable and yet makes sense since both characters have grown and changed so much over the course of the novel.

Lastly, I remember why I read and reread the (abridged version) of the novel. It’s comforting. Not because the story is easy and predictable, but because the sisters are always trying to do better, to be better people. Granted, they are a little too nice sometimes and a little too saintlike, but still. The ultimate goal is to better oneself. And if you fall down, to pick yourself back up again. Just like we all do in real life all the time. Also, Alcott included some very astute observations about human nature in the novel.

Did you know that Louisa May Alcott was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Massachusetts? In 1879, forty years before the passage of the nineteenth amendment?

4 Comments:

At 7:44 PM, Anonymous John Hanscom said...

Dear Jennifer

I am a friend of both your husband and your husband's parents, and the father of Kevin, fr-in-law of Emily, and grandfather to Noah. Jim Burns told me about your 'blog.

Is Brewer your birth name, or does it refer to the beermaking Steve likes to do?

I have found it important not to judge the actions of a previous era by the standards of our own. This was brought home to me when I watched both the movies "Pride and Prejudice" and "Bride and Prejudice," the latter being much more fun.

To a modern ear, the almost desperation about marrying well seems chauvanistic, but reflects the concerns of the time.

Though I have not read "Little Women" since High School - and that was a long time ago - my memory is it falls into the same category. The emphasis you mention, for example, of the women acting in a certain manner, which you describe as "saintly" - this was the expectation for the class at the time. Both Amy's sniviling and Jo's refusal of wedlock can be seen as an attempt to codify themselves in an otherwise restrictive universe.

Both Berta (my wife) and I were, in college, and have been since, very active in the several movements which remove gender and other barriers to a person. Those barriers were very real at the time of writing LW, and it is ammazing Ms. Alcott was able to do many of the things she did. It is to her credit, and the female characters she scribes reflect some of her own struggles.

"daddyjohn," now "agajohn"

 
At 7:48 PM, Anonymous John Hanscom said...

Rats! Inupiaq is very much a second language, and it should have been "apajohn" - "grandfather john."

Secondly, I do know how to spell "amazing."

My best wishes to you and Steve.

 
At 11:25 AM, Blogger Moni said...

I've actually never read little women! Crazy, I know! and I'm a Y.A. Librarian. My plan is to read through these classics of juvenile literature and Little Women is on my soon-to-read list.

 
At 10:04 PM, Blogger Glaistig said...

"I swear that I mark my territory with clutter the way that male cats mark their territory with urine." Ha! (Umm, yeah I can identify.)

Wow, your Granny's vanity is gorgeous! The mirror is a perfect circle.

Obsessive knitting while reading a Classic sounds like fun. But I don't know if I could finesse it myself. I can read and walk. Knit and drink beer. Maybe I should give reading and knitting a go.

"And if you fall down, to pick yourself back up again." I think I need to print and post this on my work desk. Seriously.

 

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