Monday, July 25, 2011

Little Women

I just finished reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott for the first time.  Yes, bookworm that I am, I'd never picked up that classic gem of a book until just now.  I'm not sure why it had never been put into my hands when I was much younger.  It was a free download on my Nook software for my computer and phone, so I figured I might as well read it.  I do believe Mom has said it's a favorite of hers, but I could be miss-remembering again.

Anyhow, I did quite enjoy it, but it left me somewhat unsatisfied.  Well, maybe that's not the right word.  Unsettled?  That might be better.  Hmm... unconnected, or would it be disconnected?  Anyhow, there was something there that I just couldn't identify with and absorb.  I will try and explain as best I can.

I think a lot of it has to do with the drift of time.  You see, Ms. Alcott puts the four March girls out there as young ladies who were of a good family who'd fallen on hard times, but also as being somewhat "average" for their time.  Well, let me tell you, if that was "average", those March girls would both be horrified and amazed at the same time by both the luxuries and the little that the average family has these days.  I'm also amazed and confused by them and their business.  I understand that schools and schooling was much different back in the Civil War era, especially for girls.  I also understand that proper young ladies were expected to do very different things, at a very different age, than we are today.  Today, a girl to working full time in any respect, let alone out of school, before the age of 18 is thought of only for the  poorest of inner city families who have fallen through the cracks or migrant farm workers who may or may not be here legally.  But, in the time of the March girls, they weren't expected to go to school at all, let alone complete high school.  That just boggles my mind.

But, aside from some of those differences, there are also other places I just can't connect.  The whole being able to send one of your daughters off to Europe for three years with a relative thing boggles my mind.  I mean, who has a job where you can take 3 years off, or work remotely for that long?  Yes, yes, I know, this part of the family was obviously quite wealthy and didn't have to work.  But along the same vein, the juxtaposition of the Laurance family literally next door to the March family it a bit head scratching.  The Laurances are independently wealthy and money is no object.  In many ways, the more I think about it, the Marches are like so many middle and upper-middle class families.  They can afford a few fine things, and look to outsiders as if they are doing just fine, but in reality, they're counting their pennies and handing things down and making do as best they can, just to save appearances.  So, I guess there is a connection to the modern world there.
Then again, after my own school experiences, I don't really care much about social image, but I think I've ranted on that before.  So, in that way I'm much like Jo.

Yes, I will admit that Jo was my favorite of the March girls.  As much as Beth was sweet and wonderful, Joe was a bit more like me.  I'm ungainly and awkward and well, a right mess at times.  I don't quite fit in where I should, am a bit too independent for my own good, but know when a good partner is essential, and I too have found my "bear".  (I still connect with Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird more, but these two share some core similarities.)

Of course, when reading this, and knowing the time frame, I try and fit it into what I know about Juliette Lowe's  own childhood and life.  She, too, was a child during the Civil War.  I'm guessing the same age as sweet little Beth or Amy (I keep getting confused as to which of those two were the youngest, it feels like it should be Beth, but I think it's actually Amy...).  In some ways, her life was like theirs, but in Georgia, not in the Boston area.  (I know Ms. Alcott never says, but since that's where she's from.... it makes sense.)  I think having read Daisy's biography, it helped put some of the world the Marches live in in perspective for me.

As much as there is some wonderful advice and wisdom to be found in those pages, I can't help but wonder if time is moving on too far and too fast for the story as a whole to be relevant.  Some things that were so important at the time (like who Jo included in her school) aren't so important, or taken for granted these days and just seem so odd and out of place to draw attention to.

So, while I enjoyed it over all, the style and the time of the book just seemed a little too distant and hard to connect to.  Yes, I'm glad I finally read it.  No, I probably won't read it again.  I may visit passages from time to time (like the passage where Mrs. March gives Meg a waking up to family and why things aren't going well...), but I doubt I will read the whole thing "cover to cover" again.

This was really a bit of a ramble.  I wasn't intending on writing it all right now (Sunday night).  I'm not going to post this until Monday, and maybe I'll give it another go and try and make it a little more coherent.

Peace to all and may you enjoy the classics and get something out of them, even if they seem a bit foreign even when they take place in your own "back yard" of sorts.


Flauta Mom said...

This was one of the first books I read once we moved back to the States. I loved it and have re-read it and the rest of the series a few times. I did connect with it because I had gone from a nice middle-class home in Costa Rica to a working poor one in NY. Plus you gotta love Jo!

Addey said...

Oh, I most definately love Jo! I even enjoyed the feel of the language for the most part.
But, I think I just have a hard time connecting with it because I feel I've lived a fairly average American life, or even somewhat privelaged in some ways, and the luxuries they take for granted, seem so above my "every day" experience.