Saturday, March 08, 2008

Little Sententious Women

I re-read Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women. The last time I read this was probably 26 or so years ago, way too early for me to understand what I read. And way too long ago for me to remember it much at all, either. So, being on a children’s literature kick in general lately anyhow, I thought I ought to revisit this two-part, 450-page “girls’ book.”

The plot's episodic and linear. The four March sisters --- tomboyish Jo, beautiful Meg, socialite Amy, and sickly Beth --- grow up to embrace their less exalted positions in the world and find happiness in the simple joys of family and home.

I wasn't as thrilled with this book as I have been with some other classics. I can’t deny the lasting appeal of Alcott’s characters, especially the literate and introspective Jo (based on the author herself); and I enjoyed the depiction of the sisters growing up along side their boy neighbor. But I had forgotten --- or possibly never realized, due to my age at the time --- how didactic, priggish, and tedious this book is, its primary purpose apparently being to moralize to young girls.

The book’s a product of its time, of course, and I have no problem with moral lessons in literature as a general rule. But I do object to being moralized at directly by the narrator and to being told rather than shown the conclusions I as a reader must draw. Of course, I’m a 37-year-old man in 2008, and the book was written for young girls in 1870. Still, so was Alice in Wonderland, and that’s timeless. This book, not so much.

Also: some of the most nauseating fake children’s speech ever ("Opy doy, me’s tummin!" is written for "Open the door, I'm coming" --- did children ever talk like that? They don't now).

1 comment:

Michael5000 said...

I love the word Sententious. It's just that I never know what it means. So it's good you made me look it up.

I've never read Little Women. Most classics I've read have turned out to be awesome, but there is a class of really dull, often preachy ones out there. Sounds like LW falls into that camp.