How to review a much loved classic that you have read more times than you care to remember?
Little Women was such a big part of my childhood.
My mum introduced me to her copies of the books at a very early age. They spoke to me. They moved me. I couldn’t get enough of them.
I was one of four sisters. I desperately wanted to be spunky and adventurous like Jo, but I suspected I was really more like responsible, reserved Meg.
|My Folio Society edition of Little Women|
Looking back I see that I often acted like Meg but felt like Jo.
Like Meg, I was the eldest daughter.
All of you other eldest children in a large family know straight away what I mean by that. There was a responsibility and an expectation and a division that kept you slightly separate from the rest of the family. You were never old enough to be on the ‘adults’ table and you felt too mature to be always stuck on the ‘kids’ table. The eldest of a large family sits in a weird nowhere man’s zone throughout their entire childhood.
The eldest always goes first at everything. They have no role model or guidance; they have no idea how they will make it through. It’s one new, uncharted territory after another.
I know the youngest complain about the bossy older child and that they never get to go first. Very valid points.
|Dodie Masterson’s illustrations|
They get to follow in the eldest’s footsteps, ignore the experience of the eldest or go off in a completely different direction. But they do so knowing they will come out the other side eventually, just like the eldest did. The eldest child never gets to experience that comforting feeling of surety.
This constant lack of comfort and safety can make the eldest fearful and bossy. The want to share what they’ve learnt so you don’t have to go through the hard stuff they experienced. They want to make it easier for you. But not too easy! Whatever you do, don’t try to gain a privilege before the age at which the eldest attained it!
In all of these ways, I am like Meg. I understand her worries, her love of traditions and her conservative approach to life. I feel for her insecurities and doubts.
But I take many of my beliefs and ideas from Jo.
Like Jo, I resented the confines of feminine attire.
“It’s bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like boys’ games, and work, and manners. I can’t get over my disappointment in not being a boy, and it’s worse than ever now, for I’m dying to go and fight with Papa, and I can only stay at home and knit like a poky old woman.”
The only dress I wore from age 5 – 15 was my school uniform. I also believed that I could do any physical activity that a boy could. I climbed trees, rode bikes, wrestled, trampolined, played cricket and ran fast.
I was a reader and hopeful writer, like Jo. I had no intention of ever getting married or having kids. I wanted to explore the world, stay single and be totally independent.
Yet, I was painfully shy like Beth in my younger years and played the piano. And like Amy, I was a bit vain and desirous of pretty things. And I had a thing about the size of my nose!
|My old abridged edition of Little Women|
This rather long trip down memory lane, simply highlights the enduring appeal of Little Women.
We can all see a little bit of ourselves in the characters of these four girls. The times may have changed, but the feelings haven’t.
However, as a child I found the goodness of the girls a little trying.
Looking back I can see that I was actually envious of the closeness and loving kindness that prevailed in the March family. They seemed impossibly good, but oh how I wished I could be a little more like them.
Every time I reread Little Women I come away determined to do better, be better, act better.
This reread also showed me how much of my work/life balance ideal has come from Mrs March:
“Don’t you feel that it is pleasanter to help one another, to have daily duties which make leisure sweet when it comes.”
“Work is wholesome, and there is plenty for everyone; it keeps us from ennui and mischief, is good for health and spirits, and gives us a sense of power and independence better than money or fashion.”
“Only, don’t go to the other extreme and delve like slaves. Have regular hours for work and play, make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well.“
A big thank you to Suey, Jenni and Kami for hosting the #LittleWomenRAL.
It has been a wonderful nostalgic journey back through my childhood dreams and desires.
And my motto for the rest of the day is to be as good and as charitable and as kind as the March girls!
This post is part of my Women’s Classic Literature Challenge.