Little Women

When I was 24, on a flight from Paris to Atlanta, I read Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott for the first of what would become many times.

I bought it because it was cheap, I was broke, and I needed something long to read on the flight.

It turned out to be one of those books I've grown to really love.

I think, like a lot of women, I relate to Jo - strong, independent - a caretaker prone to fits of anger. Bright, but held back by convention and the rigid gender roles of that time. Not that I relate to all of that, but really - Meg? Meg is boring - she's pretty, has nice manners and is reasonably intelligent, and of course, she wises up early, snags a husband and gets the hell out of the house. She then proceeds to have twins (Demi and Daisy, how pwecious!) and at that point, the author more or less checks out on further character development of Meg, unless it involves making a dress or trimming a hat. Noble,

Amy is everything Jo can't be - pretty, sweet, agreeable. And she gets everything that Jo can't have - a trip to Europe, and of course, Teddy's hand in marriage. Both of which Jo could have had, were she not so stubborn. Alcott makes Amy just flawed enough that you don't totally hate her, but yeah, you pretty much do hate her.

Beth. For the first several chapters, Beth plays with kittens and dolls and is generally portrayed as skittish and passive. She befriends Mr. Laurence for the use of his piano, which begets her a smaller piano of her very own - and of course, she really does grow to love Mr. Laurence. She goes out to help some poor neighbors and comes down with a near fatal case of Scarlet Fever, which scares the living hell out of everyone and they all piss and moan about Beth being their conscience. Beth pulls through, but is greatly weakened by this disease. In her favor, she is the only sister who ever gets to booze it up - the Laurences often send her wine for medicinal purposes - she only gets a little - her father sends the rest to soldiers. But three years after the Scarlet Fever, she starts realizing she is dying. How she knows this, I couldn't tell you. But she starts acting weird, and the parents get Jo to try to figure it out, and Jo thinks Beth has a crush on Teddy. But she finally figures out that Beth is dying - how Jo knows this, again, I couldn't say. But the scene where it comes out is on a beach and it's very sad - but when Beth finally dies, you can't help but think - well, lucky her! In my opinion, she died of boredom. Don't worry Bethy, there are kittens aplenty in heaven.

And then there's Jo. It's Jo who sells her hair to pay for her father's medical expenses when he's injured in the Civil War. Jo befriends Teddy and Mr. Laurence and makes a whole boatload of things possible - Meg meeting her husband, Amy and Teddy falling in love, Beth and her fucking piano, etc. Jo gets shit done. And in return, people call on her to get more shit done. She essentially runs the March household - and because she gets dragged out on social calls with Amy and shows her ass a little, loses out on the aforementioned trip to Europe. She earns money with her writing, which pays for all kinds of shit, and nobody really seems to thank her.

Jo kind of gets kicked in the teeth a bit, then leaves for New York, where she works as a governess and writes. It's here that she improbably meets Frederich Bhaer, a German Love Interest Ex Machina that Alcott wrote wishing she had one of these herself. The book is highly autobiographical, except that Alcott ends up alone, and Jo and Bhaer have a "meeting cute" scene in which they profess their love for each other.

In the end, Jo does inherit her cranky Aunt's house, which she and Bhaer turn into a school, and it's all very lovely and ends happily ever after (until the sequel, Little Men, but we won't go there).

There are so many things I love about this book - being critical of the four sisters is only one of them!