I’d always assumed that this story was one book. It isn’t. Or rather, the adventures of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy that appear in the three film versions I’ve seen (1933, 1994 and 2019) come from two books: Little Women and its sequel Good Wives. I’ve now read them both and –
Well, what is there to say about them that hasn’t been said by hundreds, thousands, of other people already? For me, the language is just a little bit too old-fashioned and it’s the reason I didn’t find Little Women particularly gripping. But then Good Wives has several chapters – Jo writing, Meg struggling with children and husband, Marmee giving advice – that I didn’t want to end.
Jo’s great. Meg comes over better in the books than in the films. I wish there’d been more of Beth. Neither Amy nor Laurie won me over, but I liked Professor Bhaer and Mr Laurence enormously. Marmee tossing Aunt March’s admonitory letter – about running off to look after her husband and leaving the children alone – in the fire was a high point.
And despite what I said about the language, both books are dotted with little gems of observation I’m going to copy out and keep. Here are three of them.
“When will you stop such romping ways?”said Meg reprovingly, as she settled her cuffs and smoothed her air, with which the wind had taken liberties.
(Jo attempting to calm a lovesick Laurie:) “Sit down and listen; for indeed I want to do right and make you happy,” she said, hoping to soothe him with a little reason – which proved that she knew nothing about love.
Meg’s high-heeled slippers were dreadfully tight, and hurt her, though she would not own it, and Jo’s nineteen hair-pins all seemed stuck straight into her head, which was not exactly comfortable; but, dear me, let us be elegant or die.
I’m glad I read them.