Little Women 2/5; Good Wives 3/5.
The version I downloaded from Project Gutenberg contained both Little Women and the sequel, Good Wives, so this is a combined review.
In 19th century Massachusetts, a family of four girls and their mother live in ‘poverty’. (I use the word in quotes because they can, apparently, afford a maid.)
The four girls each have a different personality (tomboy, shy, social climber, rebel), and in Little Women, that’s ALL the personality they have. The tomboy, for instance, never has an interest in anything else, is never shy or rebellious, for instance. All of the characters are walking stereotypes of what they’re supposed to be, and none of them evolve much through the book.
The problem with Little Women is that it’s the Seinfeld of the 19th century: it’s a book about nothing. Nothing much happens from one chapter to the next, and the chapters themselves are more loosely linked events rather than a narrative flow. Each one could be taken out of the book and used as a stand alone short story.
Even the most dramatic event of the book is over in a chapter, and only mentioned in passing again.
So much for Little Women; what about Good Wives?
The sequel was published a year later, and what a difference a year makes!
Now the characters come to life and seem to be real people instead of walking cliches; now they seem to live and breathe lives of their own. Towards the end of the book, a character dies and I actually felt for her, I was moved by it; even if it was only a little, it was more than I felt for anyone in Little Women. There are moments of great comedy and romance, and this is what the first book should have been all along.
In terms of writing, I can’t fault Alcott. Her dialogue sparkles with wit and her descriptive passages are alive with detail. Here’s one of my favourite pieces of dialogue:
“You’ve gone and got married!”
“Yes, please, but I never will again,” and he went down upon his knees, with a penitent clasping of hands, and a face full of mischief, mirth, and triumph.
“Very much so, thank you.”
“Mercy on us. What dreadful thing will you do next?” and Jo fell into her seat with a gasp.
“A characteristic, but not exactly complimentary, congratulation,” returned Laurie, still in an abject attitude, but beaming with satisfaction.
I like it.
In conclusion: Read Good Wives and skip Little Women, you’ll have a lot more fun.