Last night, I attended a talk by Anne Boyd Rioux on her new book, “Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters.” It was an enlightening lecture by the English professor. Her website bio states “I am a writer and professor passionate about recovering women’s voices and telling their stories. I teach, write, and speak about lesser known or undervalued women writers and issues of gender and literary history.” What a gorgeous endeavor. I enjoyed listening to Rioux as a writer: she delved briefly into her writing struggles, being published by an academic press, finding an agent, as well as some of the finer literary points of Little Women in characterization and Alcott’s author journey.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the printing of Little Women. Since then, it has been published in many languages and been made into various other art forms like plays, movies, even a ballet. Some interesting trivia about Little Women:
- The Japanese title translation for Little Women is “Love’s Tale of Young Grass.” This gender-neutral title is perhaps the reason for so many Japanese men reading the book as opposed to other countries.
- The book was originally published in two parts. Alcott wrote the first version, which ended happily. After feedback from readers who wanted to know what happened and who the sisters married (remember, this was the 1800’s), Alcott wrote the second half of the book. There are still versions sold that sell it as two books.
- Little Women ranked #8 on the PBS Great American Read list
I have read Little Women several times and have read it to my daughter. It is one of the classics that resonates with you. As Rioux pointed out, it is a discovery of girl to womanhood. Many readers have wanted to become writers themselves after reading about Jo March. But as Rioux also pointed out, the book is not being read very widely anymore, and certainly not being taught in schools amid classics like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.
The book was ahead of its time, exploring how there wasn’t just one way to be a girl; here were four very different personalities. Jo aspiration to be a writer and her exploring gender (how she wanted to be a boy!) and the sisterhood and family exploration. This is more than a “sweet” story of sisters growing up together.
Rioux makes a strong case about the need to read across genders. LGBTQ is widely pushed now, with good reason, but gender is often neglected as a push to read. Girls read books about boys all the time, but “girl” books aren’t really read by boys. (Rioux mentioned John Green is a fan of Little Women!). Reading across genders (as with LGBTQ) develops empathy, teaches love and respect for others. There are very few books on what it’s like to grow up as a girl or to have books pass the “Bechdel Test” (a simple test that meets three criteria: 1-it has to have at least two women in it, who 2-talk to each other, about 3-something besides a man.)
Rioux was inspirational to me as a writer to explore ways to write about the girl perspective. Whether you are a girl or a boy, go out and read some of these wonderful books and grow your mind:
– Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
– The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
– Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Here are a few others to check out: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/2049.Best_Novels_in_Female_Perspective
I would love to hear what you think about these books!
Rioux’s book can be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound and Octavia Books.