Top critical review
A Mix of Profundity, Sexism, and Schmaltz
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on May 1, 2018
More than 3 stars but less than 4.
I suppose I missed (by some decades) the opportune moment to read LITTLE WOMEN, which would have been as a teenager or 20s-something young woman. I think back then I would have had a less critical eye and more appreciation for the classic-nature of this story.
First of all, Louisa May Alcott isn't consistent with "voice". At times she is in the story with her characters, then suddenly steps out and speaks directly to the reader. It's awkward. Parts of the novel - particularly early on - felt slow and tedious as the four sisters contend with the deprivations of the Civil War, mundane domestic responsibilities, petty sibling rivalry, and their saint-like mother. And I confess there were parts I skimmed.
Then there’s the pervasive sexism which seriously dates this novel: lots of lessons of women prioritizing the needs of “their men” and ultimately learning to find life satisfaction only after they commit to roles as wives, mothers, and uneducated second class citizens.
On the plus side, the chapter dealing with Beth’s last illness is so beautifully written that I sobbed. Then, following that chapter, the remaining 20% of the book was completely captivating. The slow evolution of Amy’s relationship with Laurie, Jo recognizing the feelings she has developed for the professor, and the tying up of all storylines in the last chapter were mostly compelling, though occasionally overly sentimental.
I’m glad I read it. I wish I had done it earlier in life. I understand why it’s a classic representative of 19th century America. But I’d choose Jane Austen over Louisa May Alcott any day.