"Little Women" was one of the most frequently read books of my childhood. I loved reading about the March sisters and their trials and triumphs. It was a real treat to read this beloved story with adult eyes, enjoying both what was familiar, as well as coming to see some things in totally new ways. I believe it had been at least ten years since my last reading, and what a difference a decade has made in this reader and her views on many things!
This well-known tale centers around four sisters. Meg, the eldest, is gentle and pretty and longs for the luxuries which she sees other young ladies and their more affluent families possess. Second-born Jo has quite an independent streak, and her quick temper and tongue often get her into trouble. Beth is the picture of a servant's heart, always looking for ways to help others and make their lives better, often at the expense of herself. Amy, the youngest, is artistic and ambitious, determined to make her mark on the world and marry her way into material happiness. The girls may occasionally fuss and fight with each other, but their deep bond of sisterly love sees them through many tough times.
Guiding the young ladies is their wise mother, whom they call Marmee, and their father, who opens the story away from home, serving as a chaplain in the Civil War. Their kind neighbor Mr. Laurence keeps a generous eye out for them, while his grandson Laurie provides a rambunctious companion for many of their adventures.
The book follows the girls from the foibles of youth, through the struggles of making their own way, through courtships and falling in love, through heartbreak and loss, and on into the realm of marriage, with homes and children of their own. Along the way they draw inspiration from "Pilgrim's Progress," wear out their New Testaments from frequent use, and learn timeless lessons which we can still relate to almost 150 years later.
What I enjoyed most on this reread was a greater appreciation for the second half of the story. As a youngster I didn't understand the choices of life partner some of the girls made, but more maturity on my part made me value Alcott's direction and the nuances of her storytelling. Having moved beyond girlhood myself, of course it would be those struggles and joys which tugged at my heart this time, more than the youthful squabbles of the first half. This really is a literary treasure, and a classic which will never grow old. If it's not one you've read yet, make some time and welcome the March sisters into your life. You'll be glad you did!