One hundred fifty years ago, Louisa May Alcott published a charming, heartfelt story about four sisters growing up in the mid-1800s.
Alcott was one of dozens, maybe even hundreds, of women who put pen to paper in an attempt to earn a living. In 1855, Nathaniel Hawthorne referred to them as a “damned mob of scribbling women.” He worried about the competition from popular female novelists like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Fanny Fern, Catharine Sedgwick, and E.D.E.N. Southworth.
Yet, with the possible exception of Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, none of the works of these authors remains as relevant or as well known as Little Women.
Literary scholar Anne Boyd Rioux’s new book explains, in clear and accessible prose, exactly why.
Published earlier this month by W.W. Norton in advance of the anniversary, it has been widely reviewed and highly praised, and deservedly so. Rioux begins with the history of Little Women, explaining how Alcott came to write it and how readers reacted to it in 1868. (Spoiler alert: it was extremely popular.) In the second part of the book, Rioux discusses the various stage and screen (both large and small) adaptations. It was also dramatized several times on radio. The third part covers Little Women‘s continuing importance today. Two of my favorite chapters in the book come from this section, where Rioux examines girlhood and character types, then compares the novel to contemporary stories aimed at girls, like Gilmore Girls.
So treat yourself. Reread (or experience for the first time) Alcott’s classic. But don’t forget to pair it with Anne Boyd Rioux’s thoughtful and entertaining analysis of 150 years of Little Women.