(Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy)
Two-volume Roberts Brothers printing, from the early 1870s
|Author||Louisa May Alcott|
Coming of Age
|Publication date||1868 (1st part)
1869 (2nd part)
|Followed by||Little Men, Jo's Boys|
Little Women (or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy) is a novel by American author Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888). Written and set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts. It was published in two parts in 1868 and 1869. The novel follows the lives of four sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March—and is loosely based on the author's childhood experiences with her three sisters. The first part of the book was an immediate commercial and critical success, prompting the composition of the book's second part titled Good Wives, also a huge success. Both parts were first published as a single volume in 1880. Alcott followed Little Women with two sequels reprising the March sisters, Little Men (1871) and Jo's Boys (1886). Little Women has been adapted to play, musical, opera, film, and animated feature.
Alcott's original work explores the overcoming of character flaws. Many of the chapter titles in this first part are allusions to the allegorical concepts and places in Pilgrim's Progress. When young, the girls played Pilgrim's Progress by taking an imaginary journey through their home. As young women, they agree to continue the figurative journey, using the "guidebooks" — copies of the New Testament, described as "that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived" (chapter 1, see also chapter 19) — they receive on Christmas morning. Each of the March girls must struggle to overcome a major character flaw: Meg, vanity; Jo, a hot temper; Beth, shyness; and Amy, selfishness. The girls must work out these flaws in order to live up to their mother and father's high expectations as mothers, wives, sisters, and citizens.
In the course of the novel, the girls become friends with their next-door neighbor, the teenage boy Laurie (whose given name is "Theodore"), who becomes a particular friend of Jo. In addition to the more serious themes outlined above, the book describes the light hearted, often humorous activities of the sisters and their friend, such as creating a newspaper and picnicking, and the various scrapes that Jo and Laurie get into. The story represents family relationships and explores family life thoroughly. It also reflects issues of feminism, as Jo consistently struggles with the boundaries 19th century society placed on females, including not being able to fight in a war, not being able to attend college, and being pressured by her Aunt March to find a suitable husband to take care of her.
Josephine "Jo" March: The chief protagonist of the novel, purportedly based on Louisa May Alcott herself. Jo is a tomboy and the second eldest sister at fifteen. She is very outspoken and has a passion for writing. Her bold, impetuous nature often gets her into trouble, while her generous heart often pushes her into acts of great kindness. She is especially close to her younger sister, Beth, who is quiet and compassionate, and tries to help her become a gentler person. At the beginning of the book, she is employed by her Aunt March as a companion, a task to which seems to be ill suited to her impulsive, passionate nature, but when Beth becomes ill, Amy is sent in Jo's place. Later, in a fit of generosity and self abnegation, Jo cuts off her long, chestnut brown hair — "her one beauty", as Amy calls it — and sells it to a wig shop to earn travel money for her mother to visit their father, a Civil War chaplain who has fallen dangerously ill. She eventually receives a marriage proposal from her girlhood friend Laurie, but she refuses him (despite many letters sent by readers to Miss Alcott entreating her to have them married). Later, Jo moves to New York, where she meets and marries Professor Friedrich "Fritz" Bhaer. In other books, Alcott follows Jo and Professor Bhaer and their two sons, Robin, named after Jo's father, and Teddy, named after Laurie.
Regarding Jo's marriage, Alcott later wrote, "Jo should have remained a literary spinster, but so many enthusiastic young ladies wrote to me clamorously demanding that she should marry Laurie, or somebody, that I didn't dare refuse and out of perversity went and made a funny match for her". In the 1994 film, Jo was portrayed by Winona Ryder.
Margaret "Meg" March: At sixteen, she is the oldest sister. She is very pretty, considered the beauty of the March household, proper, and somewhat old fashioned. She is very responsible and helps run the household in her mother's absence. Meg also guards Amy from Jo when the two quarrel, just as Jo protects Beth. Due to the family's poverty she must work as a governess for the Kings, a wealthy local family. Because of the genteel social standing of her family, she is invited to social events attended by the local gentry. There she is able to meet young wealthy people. However, after a few disappointing experiences with some of them (first, the Kings' eldest son is disinherited for bad behavior, and later she visits her friend Annie Moffat and discovers that her family believes Mrs. March is plotting to match her with Laurie only to gain his family's wealth), Meg learns that true worth does not lie with money. She falls in love with Mr. John Brooke, Laurie's poor, but worthy, tutor. She eventually marries Mr. Brooke, thanks partly to the intervention of the frightful Aunt March who counsels her in the strongest possible way against marrying a penniless young man, pushing Meg to a rare display of will. Meg bears twin children, Margaret "Daisy" and John Laurence "Demi" (short for Demi-John). A third child, Josephine (called "Josie"), is born by the time Little Men begins and all three children are major characters in Jo's Boys. In the 1994 film, Meg was portrayed by Trini Alvarado.
Elizabeth "Beth" March: At about thirteen, Beth is a quiet, kind young woman and an exceptional pianist. She enjoys looking after her dolls and cats. Docile and shy to a fault, she prefers to be homeschooled and avoids most public situations. At the start of the book, Alcott describes her as a sweet girl with a round young face and brown hair, making her appear younger than her years. She is especially close to Jo, despite their very different personalities. Beth loves charity work and helps her mother nurture local impoverished families. While her mother is nursing their father in Washington, she contracts scarlet fever from the youngest child of the Hummels, a poor German family she had been taking care of. Although Jo and Meg do their best to nurse her, Beth becomes so ill that they actually send for their mother so Mrs. March can have time to say goodbye. However, just before Mrs. March arrives, the fever breaks. Beth recovers but her body is left permanently weakened by the illness. In the second part of the book, as her sisters begin to leave the nest, Beth wonders what will become of her, as all she wants is to remain at home with her parents. She contracts tuberculosis and goes into a rapid decline, causing Jo to rush back home to nurse her, though it is already too late to bring Beth back to life. As Beth dies, she transcends her shyness by opening up to Jo about the spiritual significance of her death. Some critics have suggested that Beth's death signals Alcott's denial of the ability of the traditional, sentimental heroine to survive in an increasingly industrial world. In the 1994 film, Beth was portrayed by Claire Danes.
Amy Curtis March: The youngest sister—age twelve when the story begins—and a talented artist, Amy is described as a pretty girl with curly golden hair and blue eyes. Her nose is rather flat, apparently after Jo dropped her when she was a baby. Amy obsesses over this minor flaw and, in early chapters, seeks to "cure" the flaw by wearing a clothespin on her nose while she sleeps. She cares about her family but is also "cool, reserved and worldly" which sometimes gets her into trouble. Often "petted" because she is the youngest, she can be vain and spoiled and inclined to throw tantrums when things do not go her way. Her relationship with Jo in particular is often strained due to teasing, particularly when Amy tries to use big words, mispronouncing them or using them incorrectly. Their biggest argument occurs when Jo tells her that she cannot come with her and Laurie to the theater. In revenge, Amy finds Jo's unfinished novel and throws it all in the grate, burning years of work. When Jo discovers this, she boxes Amy's ears and tells her, "I'll never forgive you! Never!" Amy tries to apologize to Jo but Jo will not even acknowledge her presence. The next day, Laurie and Jo go skating and Amy tags along after them, still trying to make up. She does not arrive at the lake in time to hear Laurie's warning about the ice in the middle of the lake and falls through into the icy water. The shock causes Jo to regret her actions and the two make up and become closer as a result. When Beth is sick with scarlet fever, she is sent to stay with Aunt March as she has never contracted the disease. Aunt March grows fond of her, as Amy's natural grace and docility are more to her taste. She is chosen as Uncle and Aunt Carrol and cousin Flo's companion on her travels to Europe. At first, Amy does not object to this plan; having grown up in poverty, she is determined to marry a rich man. Although she enjoys travelling, after seeing the works of artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael, Amy decides to give up art, because she can never be as good as they. During her travels, she meets up with Laurie, and shortly after Beth dies, they marry. Later, Amy gives birth to daughter Elizabeth (Beth) who inherits her parents' classic beauty. In the 1994 film, Amy was portrayed by Kirsten Dunst as a young girl and Samantha Mathis as an adult.
Margaret "Marmee" March: The girls' mother and head of household while her husband is away. She engages in charitable works and attempts to guide her girls' morals and shape their characters, usually through experiments. She confesses to Jo after her big fight with Amy that she has a temper as bad and volatile as Jo's own, but has learned to control it to avoid hurting herself and her loved ones. In the 1994 film, Marmee was portrayed by Susan Sarandon.
Robin "Father" March: Formerly wealthy, it is implied that he helped friends who could not repay a debt, resulting in the family's poverty. A scholar and a minister, he serves as a chaplain for the Union Army.
Hannah Mullet: The maid of the March family, an older woman, who is described as kind and loyal.
Aunt Josephine March: Mr. March's aunt, a rich widow. She lives alone in her mansion and Jo is employed to keep her company each day. She disapproves of the family's loss of wealth through their charitable work while hoarding her own (except in a few select instances). Amy is sent to stay with Aunt March while Beth is ill. They get along very well, and Aunt March keeps Amy on as her companion. She is cantankerous but she is not without compassion.
Uncle and Aunt Carrol: Sister and brother-in-law of Mr. March. Amy travels to Europe with them and her cousin Flo on Aunt March's recommendation.
Theodore "Laurie" Laurence: A charming, playful, and rich young man who lives next door to the March family. He is often misunderstood by his loving but overprotective grandfather, who worries that Laurie will follow in his father's footsteps. His father was a free-spirited young man who eloped with an Italian pianist and was, consequently, disowned. Both died young, and as an orphan, Laurie was sent to live with Mr. Laurence. After Jo refuses to marry Laurie, she flees to New York and he to Europe. While there, he marries Amy, who later gives birth to their daughter Elizabeth (Beth).
Mr. James Laurence: A wealthy neighbor to the Marches and Laurie's grandfather. Lonely in his mansion, and often at odds with his high-spirited grandson, he finds comfort in becoming a benefactor to the Marches. He protects the March sisters while their parents are away just as if they were his own. He is an old friend of Mrs March's father, and admires their charitable works. He develops a special, tender friendship with Beth, who reminds him of his dead granddaughter, and eventually gives Beth his daughter's piano.
John Brooke: While a tutor to Laurie, he falls in love with Meg. When Laurie leaves for college, he works for Mr. Laurence as an assistant and accompanies Mrs. March to Washington when her husband becomes dangerously ill. Later in the book, Aunt March catches Meg rejecting John's declaration of love. She implies that Brooke was only interested in Meg's future inheritance and threatens Meg with disinheritance. When Meg sticks up for John, he overhears her and realizes she was in love all along, and together they defy Aunt March (who eventually blessed the marriage) and become engaged. He serves in the Union Army for a year and, after receiving a wound, is sent home. John marries Meg a few years later when the war has ended and she has turned twenty. He dies of an unnamed illness toward the end of Little Men.
The Hummels: A poverty-stricken German immigrant family consisting of a widowed mother and seven children. Marmee and the girls help them by taking food, firewood, blankets and other comforts they can spare. Three of the children die of scarlet fever and Beth contracts it while caring for them.
The Kings: The rich family that employs Meg as a governess.
The Gardiners: Wealthy friends of Meg's. Before the Marches lost their wealth, the two families were social equals. The Gardiners are portrayed as goodhearted but vapid, believing in marriage for money and position. Meg's friend Sallie Gardiner eventually marries her friend Ned Moffat, but is unable to have children and becomes unhappy in her shallow marriage.
Mrs. Kirke: A friend of Mrs March's who runs a boarding house in New York. She employs Jo as governess to her two girls.
Professor Friedrich "Fritz" Bhaer: A poor German immigrant who used to be a well-known professor in Berlin but now lives in Mrs. Kirke's boarding house and tutors her children. He and Jo become friends and he critiques Jo's work, encouraging her to become a serious writer instead of writing "sensation" stories for weekly tabloids. The two eventually marry, raise Fritz's two orphaned nephews, Franz and Emil, and their own sons, Robin and Teddy.
Franz and Emil: Mr. Bhaer's two nephews whom he looks after following the death of his sister.
Tina: The small daughter of Mrs. Kirke's French washerwoman: she is a favorite of Professor Bhaer's.
Miss Norton: A worldly tenant living in Mrs. Kirke's boarding house. She occasionally takes Jo under her wing and entertains her.
While many plot elements of Little Women run parallel to the story of Louisa May Alcott's own life, there are some major differences which include:
A Little Women play, adapted by Marian De Forest from the story by Louisa May Alcott, opened on Broadway at the Playhouse Theatre, on October 14, 1912. The production was directed by Jessie Bonstelle and Bertram Harrison. The cast included Marie Pavey, Alice Brady, Gladys Hulette and Beverly West. It ran for 184 performances and was later revived on December 18, 1916 at the Park Theatre for 24 performances; another revival opened on December 7, 1931 at the Playhouse Theatre in a production directed by William A. Brady, Jr. with Jessie Royce Landis as Jo, Lee Patrick as Meg, Marie Curtis, and Jane Corcoran running for 17 performances.
A three-act, one set adaptation was written by John David Ravold, and is frequently performed. It was originally copyrighted in 1934.
In 1995, an adaptation entitled "Louisa's Little Women" by Beth Lynch and Scott Lynch-Giddings premiered in a production by the Wisdom Bridge Theatre Company at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago. The play covers the events of Part One of Alcott's novel, interspersed with scenes depicting complementary aspects of her own life, including the influence of her father Bronson Alcott and her acquaintance with Henry David Thoreau, Julia Ward Howe, and Frank Leslie.
Little Women has seen several cinematic adaptations. One of the first film adaptations was the 1918 Harley Knoles-directed version, starring Dorothy Bernard, Kate Lester and Conrad Nagel. The 1933 version starred Katharine Hepburn as Jo and Spring Byington as Marmee. The film was followed by a 1949 version featuring Elizabeth Taylor as Amy, June Allyson as Jo, Janet Leigh as Meg, Margaret O'Brien as Beth, Mary Astor as Marmee, Peter Lawford as Laurie, and C. Aubrey Smith as the elderly Mr. Lawrence. A 1978 version starred Meredith Baxter as Meg, Susan Dey as Jo, Eve Plumb as Beth, William Shatner as Friedrich Bhaer, Greer Garson as Aunt March, and Robert Young as Grandpa James Lawrence. A celebrated 1994 version starred Susan Sarandon as Marmee, Winona Ryder as Jo, Kirsten Dunst as the younger Amy, Samantha Mathis as the older Amy, Christian Bale as Laurie, Claire Danes as Beth and Trini Alvarado as Meg. Other film versions of the novel appeared in 1917, 1918, 1946, 1948, 1950, 1958, 1970, 1979, and 2001.
The novel has seen musical adaptation. In 1998 the book was adapted as an opera by composer Mark Adamo, and, on January 23, 2005, a Broadway musical adaptation of the same name opened at the Virginia Theatre in New York City with a book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. The musical starred Sutton Foster as Jo March and pop singer Maureen McGovern as Marmee. The mixed-reviewed production ran through May 2005, garnering a Tony nomination for Sutton. While it had a disappointingly short life in New York, it had a very successful first national tour; Again starring Maureen McGovern, the tour began August 30 of that year, touring to 30 cities over 49 weeks. A second national tour was planned for the 2007–2008 season. The musical's UK premiere was performed by "Imagine Productions" at the Lowther Pavilion in December 2006.
Owing to the strong popularity of Little Women in Japan, the story has been adapted into anime on at least four occasions and referenced in several others. The first anime adaptation of Little Women was as an episode of the TV series Manga Sekai Mukashi Banashi ("Manga World's Classic Tales"), aired in October 1977. In 1980, director Yugo Serikawa (Mazinger Z) adapted the novel into a Toei Animation TV special titled Wakakusa Monogatari (The Story of Young Grass). The success of Serikawa's TV special was parlayed into Wakakusa no Yon Shimai ("Four Sisters of Young Grass"), a 26-episode TV series directed by Kazuya Miyazaki for the Kokusai Eigasha studio which aired on Fuji TV in 1981.
The most well-known and highly regarded anime version of the story is Ai no Wakakusa Monogatari (The Story of Love's Young Grass), a 1987 TV series that was part of Nippon Animation and Fuji TV's World Masterpiece Theater, which featured character designs by the late Yoshifumi Kondo. This series also featured several episodes of original stories from screenwriter Akira Miyazaki as a way of acquainting the Japanese viewing audience with the characters and with the American Civil War. Nippon Animation also adapted the sequel Little Men into a World Masterpiece Theater TV series, Wakakusa Monogatari Nan to Jou Sensei ("The Story of Young Grass: Nan and Teacher Jo), in 1993.
The 1980 TV special and the 1981 and 1987 TV series were all released, at least in part, in the United States in English-dubbed form during the 1980s (with the Nippon Animation series broadcast by HBO in the late 1980s under the title Tales of Little Women), and both TV series were broadcast widely in Europe and Latin America as well.
A number of other anime and manga series include references to Little Women, including Graduation M where the main characters (who are male), are forced to play the lead roles in the play "Little Women," for their school ceremony; Glass no Kamen, in which a production of Little Women where protagonist, Maya plays the role of Beth is an important story arc; and Burst Angel, in which three of the main characters are named Jo, Meg (short for Megumi), and Amy.
A nod to the characters can be seen in the English release of the Nintendo 64 game, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. In the Forest Temple, the player must solve four puzzles hosted by ghosts by the names of Amy, Beth, Joelle and Meg to progress through the game. The ghosts appear again briefly in the game's sequel, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, but only in an optional mini game. In this game, the name "Joelle" was corrected to "Jo," since Jo's full name is Josephine and not Joelle.
In addition to the anime created, a Korean artist and writer, Kim Hee Eun, created a manhwa called Dear My Girls. The manhwa had the characters Amy, Beth, Jo, and Meg; many others as well. Though the story is a bit different, it was based on ideas from Little Women. The manhwa is serialized in a Korean magazine, mink.
Little Women and Louisa May Alcott, and the
Wikiquote page Little Women.
See also the Wikipedia entry |
Chapters 24-47 were first published several years later than the
original Little Women (in the UK under the title Good
Wives), but the two works are now usually published together
in one volume.
|This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.|