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Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters

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In Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, Rioux recounts how Louisa May Alcott came to write Little Women, drawing inspiration for it from her own life. Rioux also examines why this tale of family and community ties, set while the Civil War tore America apart, has resonated through later wars, the Depression, and times of changing opportunities for women.

Rioux sees the novel’s beating heart in Alcott’s portrayal of family resilience and her honest look at the struggles of girls growing into women. In gauging its current status, Rioux shows why Little Women remains a book with such power that people carry its characters and spirit throughout their lives.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published August 21, 2018

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About the author

Anne Boyd Rioux

8 books115 followers
Anne Boyd Rioux is passionate about the recovery off 19th-century women writers, many of whom have been unjustly forgotten. She is the author of MEG, JO, BETH, AMY: THE STORY OF LITTLE WOMEN AND WHY ITS STILL MATTERS (Aug. 2018, Norton), CONSTANCE FENIMORE WOOLSON: PORTRAIT OF A LADY NOVELIST, and editor of MISS GRIEF AND OTHER STORIES, (both Norton, 2016). She is a professor and writes books, reviews, and essays for general and academic audiences.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 441 reviews
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books755 followers
December 1, 2019
This was a joy to read and I hated to see it end. Even if you’re not a Little Women aficionado, there’s a lot to learn here about societal, educational and cultural trends (just to name a few topics) of the past 150 years. (150 years! It’s hard to believe that a book I started loving as a child and that’s still relevant today was written that long ago.)

The first section, ‘The Making of a Classic’, gives a brief history of how and why Little Woman came to be and of its instant fame. I didn’t think I’d learn anything new in this section, but that was not the case at all. I also appreciated the discussion of the various illustrators the work has had, as well as a few examples of some of their art.

In the next section, ‘The Life of a Classic’, Rioux delves into the “afterlife” of Little Woman, its adaptations to stage (the first of an earlier date than I expected) and screen; and how the novel made its way from being considered a book that all, including male adults, would read to being taught in classrooms to its marginalization as just a girls’ book and its banishment from classrooms, or even serious discussion, until new-wave feminists, driven by the unearthing of Alcott’s sensation fiction, “rediscovered” it.

The last section, ‘A Classic for Today', starts off with male reactions to the work and gives a strong case for the benefits of boys reading stories about girls. The analysis of each March sister’s different path to womanhood was likely my favorite part, especially in relation to Beth. The last part of the section is devoted to stories that girls connect with today, of how these stories (including TV shows) are (or are not) like Little Woman, some being direct descendants of this illustrious ancestor. All of this goes a long way toward proving Rioux’s argument that Little Women is a “living text.”

This is a thoroughly researched, yet completely accessible, book that I recommend to anyone interested in Louisa May Alcott, Little Woman, or the relevance of women’s stories from the 19th century to today.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,212 reviews453 followers
August 31, 2018
A well-written, interesting and well thought out book about the novel and what it meant to the girls of yesterday, and the new readers of today. Also a surprising mini biography of Alcott's own life and how closely it mirrored the characters and action in her classic. Recommended to anyone who is a Little Women fan.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,390 reviews302 followers
October 23, 2018
2018 marks the 150th anniversary of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, a novel which became a trendsetter best seller, influencing generations of girls.

Anne Boyd Rioux's new book Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: the Story of Little Women and Why They Still Matter celebrates the novel's history, legacy, and influence.

I don't recall when I first read Little Women. I was given a copy of Alcott's later novel Eight Cousins when I was in elementary school. Madame Alexander created Little Women dolls, and in 1960 to 1962 my great-grandmother gifted me Marmee, Beth, Amy and Meg. I never got a Jo doll for sadly she passed away in 1963. By then, I must have read the book or seen the movie, because I recall thinking that Amy was spoiled and I did not like her. I always liked Jo because she was a writer and at age nine I had decided I wanted to be an author when I grew up.

Meg, Beth, Jo, Amy is more than a nostalgic look at the novel, for Rioux seeks to answer the question of what the novel offers to young readers today. Is it still relevant?

But first, she turns her attention to The Making of a Classic, presenting Alcott 's family and personal history, how they were fictionalized in the novel, how she came to write the novel and its early success.

Although the novel was inspired by the Alcott's family experiences, it was a very much idealized version of their life. Bronson Alcott held ideals that did not include worldly considerations so that his wife and daughters had to struggle to provide for their daily needs. He may have had episodes of mental instability. Louisa was perhaps a genius, but she also had to write to contribute to the family coffers.

Alcott never meant to marry off all the March girls, save Beth who dies. But the publisher insisted. Jo was at least allowed to marry on her own terms, and her husband and she run a school together.

This section alone was fascinating for those of us who love the novel.

The various printings of the novel, the illustrators (including those by May Alcott) are also presented.

In Part II, The Life of a Classic, follows the novel's adaptation for the screen and stage--including a musical and an opera--and their influence. I recently viewed the last adaptation, the BBC/PBS television series on Masterpiece Theater, which I very much enjoyed.

Rioux then turns her attention to the novel's Cultural and Literary Influence, including how it has dropped off the literary canon and has been marginalized as a 'girl's book.' And yet the novel had "more influence on women writers as a group than any other single book," Rioux writes, and she quotes dozens of writers extolling its inspiration. Little Women's legacy includes novels such as Anne of Green Gables by L. M Montgomery and Hermonine Granger in the Harry Potter novels by J. K. Rowling.

Is the novel an idealized version of life, or does it reflect reality? G. K. Chesterton thought Alcott "anticipated realism by twenty or thirty years," while many 20th c writers found it preachy and, in short, too feminine. Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer both loved Little Women, while other feminists rejected the novel.

Is Little Women still relevant today, and why should it continue to be read, is probed in Part III: A Classic for Today.

In recent years fewer children have read Little Women, and that is in part because educational standards became slanted toward boys and their needs and interests. Even if Teddy Roosevelt liked the book as a boy, today's boys won't pick up a book that is girlish. That's why some writers use initials instead of first names--so the boy readers won't know the books are written by a female! Sadly, few books by women appear on school reading lists.

What is lost when boy don't read about family and community? Have we 'hypermasculinized' boys and condoned intolerance of the feminine?

Last of all, Rioux looks at the role models girls today have, from Disney princesses to the action heroines and warrior princesses, Rory Gilmore to Girls.

As a novel about young girls growing up, the March sisters offer readers images of what it means to be a girl and the choices girls have.

The novel, Rioux says, "is about learning to live with and for others," and it is about the compromises we make in life.

I highly recommend this book.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
Profile Image for Emily.
849 reviews140 followers
October 2, 2018
This was rather fun, but I enjoyed the first half, about Alcott's life and the immediate reception of her most famous book, a great deal more than the second, which peters out into an examination of pretty much any contemporary work in any medium in which girls are the the main characters (Katniss and the Gilmore Girls get a lot of attention, apparently being literary descendants of Jo March; I was unconvinced). None the less, any fan of Little Women will want to read this, and should. I was pleased to learn of lots of titles to add to my listopia collection of works of fiction in which the characters read Little Women (found here: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/8... ).
Profile Image for Beth Bonini.
1,270 reviews277 followers
October 28, 2018
Professor Anne Boyd Rioux makes some bold claims for Little Women, including that it is “arguably the most influential book ever written by an American woman.” This is not so much a work of literary criticism - although Rioux does cite what various literary critics have had to say about the novel - but more an examination of the work’s origins, a study of its relevance and popularity during the past 150 years, and an appraisal of its current status within the canon. Throughout, but particularly in the third section of the work, Rioux considers whether it is a book that still has something to offer its readers, and whether it can appeal (and be of value) to male readers and not just female ones.

As a longtime lover of Little Women, I didn’t need much convincing - either to read this book (which I purchased in the gift shop of Orchard House), or of the enduring value of Alcott’s seminal work. But for skeptics, Rioux rounds up an impressive arsenal of women writers who speak to the novel’s emotional power - and positive influence on their own development as creative beings. Jane Smiley calls it “perhaps the essential American novel for girls;” Ursula K. Le Guin describes protagonist Jo March (and alter ego of Louisa May Alcott) as “the original image of women writing;” and Joanna Rowling has written that “it is hard to overstate what she (Jo March) meant to a small, plain girl called Jo, who had a hot temper and a burning ambition to be a writer.”

Rioux argues that it has always been “a divided house of a book” (the phrase of critic Margo Jefferson) and that one reason it has endured is because it is such a “rich, complex, often contradictory book.” She lightly skirts territory beloved of literary critics - namely whether or not it is a “submissive” or “subversive” text - and instead spends more time on the novel’s natural propensity for characterological readings. The four very different personalities of the four March sisters, and the different choices they make on their journey from girlhood to adulthood, have always offered not only variety for the reader, but also many points of personal identification. In other words, readers have always delighted in aligning themselves with a particular March sister - most often Jo, of course. The distinct and memorable personalities of the March girls (borrowed heavily from Louisa May Alcott and her three real-life sisters) give the book much of its realism and emotional resonance.

This book was pleasant reading territory for me, but I didn’t find much that was unknown or groundbreaking. Although the already-converted will probably be the most likely to buy this book, it will be far more eye-opening to those readers who know very little about Little Women and its author.

“In the words of Carolyn Heilbrun, it is ‘perhaps the one fictional world where young women, complete unto themselves, are watched with envy by a lonely boy.’ Girls are for once at the center, and boys and men are at the margins.”
Profile Image for Chris Wolak.
511 reviews142 followers
August 30, 2018
One of the best books about a book/books that I’ve read. This is engaging literary scholarship for a popular audience — if you have the slightest interest in Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, 19th century American literature, film adaptations, literary history, reading & pop culture, or young girls’ and boys’ reading choices/experiences (among a host of other issues), this is a book you’ll want to check out.

I'll write a more detailed review soon.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,509 reviews2,511 followers
May 16, 2018
(See my Literary Hub article on rereading Little Women in its 150th anniversary year and watching the new BBC/PBS miniseries adaptation.) Rioux’s book unearths Little Women’s origins in Alcott family history, but also traces its influence through to the present day. Multiple generations of heroines, she believes, “owe an obvious debt to Alcott’s pathbreaking portrayal of a spunky young heroine with a literary bent”—everyone from Anne Shirley in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series to Hermione in the Harry Potter books. Rioux also compares the dozens of Little Women adaptations, ranging from silent films to an opera and a Broadway musical.

She also makes a strong feminist case for Little Women as the first female Bildungsroman –
a “paradigmatic book about growing up”;

“the most widely beloved story of girlhood”;

“arguably the most influential book ever written by an American woman”;

& “a cultural phenomenon that knew no boundaries of age, gender, or class.”

It also “passes the Bechdel test with flying colors,” but is by no means simply a girls’ book. I especially enjoyed the biographical material about Alcott – it’s easy to see where much of the inspiration for Little Women came from – and the discussion of the influence her work has had on future generations of women writers.

The debate on whether Little Women represents “realism or sentimentality” has been raging for decades, and this book is unlikely to change a made-up mind, but it may encourage you to pick up Alcott’s work again, as I did earlier this year, and try to appreciate it afresh. (Rioux’s most controversial theory is that .) Releases August 21st.
Profile Image for Simon.
800 reviews99 followers
March 2, 2019
Very enjoyable; I would have given it more stars if it had been longer and more developed.

I am a guy who loved Little Women when I first read it. I love it now, and have directed the musical based upon it twice. I have seen virtually every iteration of it on the silver screen --- and Rioux is dead on the money in her estimation of Hepburn's performance as Jo --- with a special fondness for the Winona Ryder version, with Sarandon's take-no-prisoners Marmee. In Rioux's universe, I am a unicorn. Boys just don't read the book. Why the hell not?

It is hard for me to believe that Little Women is not taught as part of the Academy. What book gives a better insight into the peculiar moment when adolescents become adults? Rioux is particularly good when she evaluates the four March sisters as role models. All of them are interesting, but Rioux is excellent with Meg and Beth, while most previous commentators stuck with Jo and Amy as the two obvious antithetical sisters. Beth's evaluation is particularly troubling.

The book is a compilation of what might seem discrete essays, or ruminations, about its importance in American literature. Rioux's approach is therefore episodic, but her light approach works well in keeping the reader's interest. Or mine, anyway.

If you are an Alcott fan, and really if you aren't, why not? This is a good addition to the library.
Profile Image for Rebecca H..
273 reviews96 followers
August 22, 2018
Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux is a wonderful look at Louisa May Alcott’s novel, including its context, history, meaning, contemporary significance, and more. I loved Little Women and read it multiple times as a kid and teenager (and should read it again as an adult), so Rioux’s book was particularly fun for me, although I think anyone who is interested in literary history would get a lot out of it even if they weren’t an Alcott fan. It’s not a terribly long book — less than 300 pages — but it packs a ton in. Rioux gives a biographical sketch of the Alcott family in the first section, and then moves on to the writing and reception of the novel; adaptations of the story, including theater and film versions; academic and critical debates about interpretations of the novel, particularly about its relationship to feminism; its influence on literature and on culture more broadly; and its place in culture today.

I particularly liked Rioux’s discussions about why Little Women isn’t taught often in literature courses — she argues convincingly that it should be — and I loved her chapter, “Can Boys Read Little Women?” where she talks about the gendered treatment of the novel and also the many boys who have read and loved the book. She gets into how concerns about boys not reading have led teachers to assign books aimed at boys and to assume that girls will be able to read the “boys'” books just fine. This leaves little room for boys to learn to see the world from a girl’s perspective and even less room for encouraging anyone to read a book like Little Women.

Rioux covers a lot of ground, and she covers it very well: this is an entertaining, informative, elegant look at one of the most influential books in American literary history.

Profile Image for Carol Storm.
Author 28 books174 followers
March 25, 2019
Read this whole book in one day while filling in as a high school librarian at the wonderful school where I substitute teach. This book was so much fun and it's absolutely the best companion you could ever have to the wonderful classic novel by Louis May Alcott. It gives a bang-up biography of the author, and shows how she was and wasn't like Jo March. It shows what her career was like as a writer and how she got talked into writing a book for girls almost by accident. It shows the incredible acclaim the author won in her lifetime, and how the book was remembered (and forgotten) in later years. And there are tons of exciting stories about the many movie versions and how readers feel about the Little Women characters today. You could not possibly ask for anything more!
Profile Image for Amanda.
840 reviews344 followers
March 3, 2019
This book spoils endings for Little Women, the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games trilogy and the TV shows Gilmore Girls and Girls.
The first half disappointed me, but I enjoyed the second half quite a bit. The book begins with a brief biography of Louisa May Alcott, then continues to describe and analyze the various movie adaptations. It then lists books inspired by Little Women, books in which the characters read Little Women, writers who have found Little Women to be incredibly influential for them, and people for whom Jo March is a major role model. These lists, while providing proof of Little Women’s enduring influence, were tedious to read. However, the second half, which deals with the feminist interpretations of Little Women and questions of whether Little Women is still relevant for today’s readers, was what I wanted this entire book to be. Overall this book was very well done and I do recommend it. I think readers who absolutely love Little Women and want to know everything about it are the target audience. I’m not one of those, so it missed the mark just a bit for me.
Profile Image for Deb.
593 reviews29 followers
September 6, 2018
A very unique look at one of my favorite books. Anne Boyd Rioux looks at Little Women in various ways. Why it was written and the parallels between the March girls and Louisa's sisters and family. How the novel was published and of Louisa's writing career after. She also looks at the multi media aspect of Little Women. The different film productions, theater productions and an opera production. Her final focus was on how Little Women influenced other writers, actors and women of all kinds. She touches on how important it should be to have boys read this as well. Loved looking at a favorite book in so many academic ways!
Profile Image for Charlotte.
962 reviews26 followers
June 16, 2019
I liked the first half, about Alcott and her writing, lots, but I found the author's attempts to say meaningful things about the book were rather tedious (mostly lists of other people's opinions of the book, and discussion of contemporary media about girls). and she didn't convince me at all "why it still matters." Also Amy bashing annoys me, and I never wanted to be Jo, who the author seems to think is the ne plus ultra of girlhood.
Profile Image for Pauline.
971 reviews17 followers
January 30, 2020
This was a really fascinating take on the importance and position of Little Women in the realm of American literature. I found myself learning new things about a book I loved and the legacy it left behind.
Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,013 reviews104 followers
March 10, 2022
So yes, in section one, in the first three chapters of her 2018 Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why it Still Matters Anne Boyd Rioux provides a very brief and outline-like biography of Louisa May Alcott, the primary reasons why she ended up writing Little Women in the first place, as well as how Little Women textually corresponds to the reality of the Alcotts' life, information and details which not only do not really tell me anything new about Louisa May Alcott's life and the publication and reception history of Little Women but are also yet ANOTHER case of ridiculous and problematic fawning over and being an apologist for Louisa May Alcott's father, for Bronson Alcott, by the author by Anne Boyd Rioux. And really, this is definitely rather majorly disappointing, because in 2018, you would think that a likely tenured university professor such as Anne Boyd Rioux should be refraining from making Bronson Alcott appear as inherently positive and supportive, that she would primarily be showing his narcissism, his arrogance, his failures to provide (and also, that instead of generally being proud of his daughter's writing success and achievements, Bronson Alcott was clearly often majorly jealous, as he rather repeatedly denigrated both it and Louisa even though it was Louisa's "scribbling" that provided financial support and security for the Alcotts).

Now with regard to chapter four of Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why it Still Matters, while I have personally not all that much enjoyed reading an entire analysis of Little Women adaptations on screen and on stage, I do think that for film studies graduates as well as movie and television buffs, this particular section might well and truly be both interesting and enlightening. But for me, Anne Boyd Girioux's section on Little Women movies, Little Women TV series and Little Women plays, it is at best a bit tedious, so that I also and certainly have not spent all that much of my reading time there, skimming instead pretty quickly ahead to the chapter in Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why it Still Matters that is focussing on the cultural and literary influences of Little Women and the one concentrating on how to read this novel, two sections which I have definitely found interesting (as well as readable and educational) but also at the same time often more than a bit frustrating.

For honestly and as much as Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is a classic and very much a total personal reading favourite, I equally and absolutely do not believe Anne Boyd Rioux's assertion in Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why it Still Matters that basically EVERY single post Little Women English language book, movie etc. about women and about female friendships is somehow tied to and influenced by Little Women (as this in my opinion goes a trifle too far, places Little Women too much on a pedestal and might even cause negative and rebellious reactions against Little Women and its supposed lofty and as such also unassailable status). And yes, considering that I have always and since my childhood rather despised being told HOW to read, sorry, but while Anne Boyd Rioux's musings in Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why it Still Matters about the best ways to textually approach Little Women might well be interesting to a certain point, her tone of narrative voice still feels somewhat preachy and like she expects me (her readers) to peruse, to read Little Women according to her own specific criteria (and no, this will never happen with me and I also kind of resent being given these criteria in the first place).

And I also do very well know that my so-called inner teenager is in fact laughing a bit at Ann Boyd Rioux trying to tell me how to best read Little Women and that in my opinion that whole and entire question and chapter regarding whether boys should be reading Little Women at all is at best a little bit silly, and indeed that I am also rather frustrated with Boyd in chapter eight of Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why it Still Matters (in the section on "growing up female" with Little Women) seemingly kind of catering to those "feminists" who have tried to occasionally get Little Women banned by showing, focusing on and analysing their at best problematic arguments, and well, that whole scenario of Beth possibly being anorexic, it really doe not at all sit well with me and with my own and personal interpretations of Little Women.

Finally, I do have to admit that if I am to be perfectly honest, I have in fact not read Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why it Still Matters from cover to cover, since I decided to completely ignore and skip the final section, where Anne Boyd Rioux tries to tie Little Women to modern TV series like The Gilmore Girls, because for one, I am not that much of a TV watcher at the best of times, for two, I have actually NEVER watched an episode of The Gilmore Girls and for three, I am also simply not al all interested in trying to find connections between Little Women as a novel and modern, contemporary television series.
Profile Image for Robin.
84 reviews34 followers
September 1, 2018
Rioux's book is excellent! Even if you've never read Little Women and never will, this is a fascinating cultural history of the continuing influence of Little Women. I checked this out from the library, but am going to buy a copy - adding it to my collection of "books about books". Definitely a favorite read of 2018. Thank you to the @BookCougars podcast for selecting it as one of their readalongs for their "Summer of Little Women"!!
Profile Image for Anna.
1,191 reviews18 followers
January 14, 2019
Little Women is one of my favorite books which means sometimes I reveled in this cultural exploration of it and at other times it made me cringe.
Profile Image for Rikke.
615 reviews651 followers
July 24, 2020
I don't think I agree with Rioux's reading of Little Women. But I enjoyed it nevertheless.

Part biography, part analysis, part personal memoir, this book tries to uncover why Little Women is still relevant; why it still has an audience and why its readers responds to it with so much force.

Rioux masterfully contextualise Alcott's novel, merging it with the important events of her life. She dives into her childhood, highlights her other, lesser known, works and share anecdotes she has uncovered in her research. It's well done and I especially loved getting more context on the death of Louisa May's sister, Lizzie, who influenced her work so much.

Rioux then places Little Women in our time and traces its many adaptions through illustrations and book covers as well as plays, movies and even fanfiction. In a particularly stunning chapter, she fiercely argues why boys can – and should – read Little Women too, sharing truly appalling statistics on how rarely it is given to boys in school.

But Rioux also goes one step further; because not only are boys rarely given the book, it is barely taught at all. Though she is such an important part of American literary history, Little Women isn't considered teachable literature, and Alcott thus suffers the fate of so many other realistic female writers; she is written off as too sentimental and traditional when all she actually did was depict female lives for a female audience.

It's thought-provoking.

Rioux then loses me a bit when she tries to trace the influence Little Women has exercised on popular movies, books and TV shows. Partly because she is too blinded by Jo and sets her up as the true archetype (forgetting and overlooking the many Megs, Beths and particularly Amys that populate modern literature as well), and partly because she is too prejudiced against modern YA, too busy blaming Gossip Girl or books by Jenny Han for their easy reading instead of diving into what they have to offer.

She does however get points for her comparison of Little Women and Gilmore Girls. The parallels she draws between Jo March writing a book about her sisters and Rory Gilmore writing a book about her mother where the male characters are only minor characters that come and go – it's brilliant. And worth a read for that chapter alone.

In the end, I wish Rioux wasn't as prejudied against modern culture as she is. Because she's a joy to read.
Profile Image for Sarah Emsley.
Author 5 books25 followers
October 23, 2018
I had been looking forward to reading this book for a long time and when I finally got a copy I couldn't put it down. I loved reading about the creation of Little Women and I found Anne Boyd Rioux's analysis of the book's afterlife fascinating, especially the chapter called "Can Boys Read Little Women?" and the long lists of writers who've been inspired by Alcott's novel, from J.K. Rowling to John Green to Simone de Beauvoir.
Profile Image for QNPoohBear.
2,922 reviews1,469 followers
June 23, 2019
Anne Boyd Rioux examines the life of Louisa May Alcott and her seminal classic novel Little Women and questions whether the story is still relevant for modern readers. (She argues that it is).

Section I, "The Making of a Classic", provides a brief biography of Louisa and how she came to write the novel. I didn't learn anything new there but when the discussion turned to the different editions of the novel and the illustrations featured within, I was more interested. It would be fun to collect each illustrated edition. Even though the author argues that later illustrators prettied up the Marches and turned them into fashion plates, my favorite illustrations are by Jessie Wilcox Smith.
Jessie Willcox Smith - Little Women
I missed the omission of Tasha Tudor's illustrated edition of the novel.

"The Life of a Classic," discusses the adaptations on stage and screen. It was interesting to see the parts of the novel that each direction chose to emphasize. I did not know about some of the very early productions and how many TV and movie adaptations there have been over the years. The author completed the book before the newest miniseries aired on PBS and before the Greta Gerwig movie was announced.

Chapter 5 of this section was my favorite. Rioux examines Little Women's literary and cultural influences. I think my TBR list is going to be increased exponentially! I do think the author stretches a bit with some of them. I don't think every work about women and female friendships is influenced by Little Women. What would Louisa make of Sex in the City?

The final section of the book, entitled "A Classic for Today" has chapters titled "A private book for girls: Can boys read Little Women?", "Being Someone: Growing Up Female with Little WomenLittle Women and Girls' Stories Today." These sections discuss how Little Women went from being a book for everyone to a book just for girls to one that isn't read much or taught in schools. I don't agree with Rioux's arguments. Rioux clearly finished her analysis before "The Great American Read" so people DO still read it and love it. I think the real issue here is timing. The book appeals most to children but the reading level is too advanced for the age group that would enjoy the novel. It also has to compete with a more kid-centric world: YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, video games all cater to children, not to mention kids have more required school work, homework, after school activities/daycare/camp and less emphasis on the arts and humanities. I do think kids should read the book on their own because the fastest way to get them to hate it is to make them read it in school! I also think readers need to understand the context behind the novel to truly appreciate it.

What surprised me was how the second wave feminists in the 1970s dismissed the book because it focused on marriage and the only feminist character, Jo, gives up her ideal career for marriage and motherhood. Not exactly and anyone who loves the novel will immediately want to read the sequels and Jo is way herself than Anne Shirley. Anne gives up writing all together and becomes a stranger to readers who loved her childhood mishaps and her dream of being a writer. Can boys read Little Women too? Sure why not. Laurie is bound to appeal to boys and I think they would like Jo too. I don't see my older nephew ever reading anything so slow or so much about girls but I could see my younger nephew enjoying it. He has a sister and cousins all close in age and can relate to the story about the importance of family.

I really disliked the author's assessment of Gilmore Girls. That section wasn't entirely necessary. The show is witty and filled with literary allusions and the parallel is a bit stretched in my opinion.

The writing style is accessible enough to be read by readers who don't read a lot of non-fiction. I think fans of the novel, Louisa May Alcott, Little Woman and women's fiction/stories would enjoy perusing this book.
495 reviews12 followers
February 7, 2020
This was a bookclub selection. I probably would not have finished it otherwise. The first part was somewhat interesting with the bio information on LMA and her family. The second part was ok but the last part not so good. The author has done her research but she did not convince me of the relevance of Little Women for today's readers. Just my opinion. She generalized too much and claimed that LW had influenced lots of today's writers and tv shows. I'm sure it did influence some. I read LW when I was a young girl and I can't say that it had any lasting effect on my growth into womanhood. I really can't recommend this book but I saw from the reviews that many liked it. Many also felt as I did.
Profile Image for Crizzle.
850 reviews7 followers
January 19, 2019
Super interesting for any reader of Little Women. Having just read Little Women for the first time since I was 13 and coming away from it a bit disappointed in its Victorian-era gender norms and lessons, this book was such a great help for me to see and appreciate the feminist side of Little Women! I never realized that it broke the mold in several ways: a book written about the lives of girls and women with men on the outside looking in, Jo being the first of a crop of literary girls who live a bit outside social norms, a (basically) single, hard-working mom, the protagonist not marrying this “perfect” man, but one who isn’t handsome or rich, and agrees that she will be an equal in the relationship. As this book quotes, “Where else in popular culture can young readers find an all-female group discussing work, art, and all the Great Questions?... Most of all, where can they find girls who want to be women - instead of vice versa?”

I learned about Louisa May Alcott’s life and how her book was written from her real-life experiences and philosophies. I learned about various film and book adaptations. I was very interested in the chapter about using it in school (and how no one does anymore) and how girls read book after book about boys, and boys should read books about girls. Super powerful quote from an author I like, Shannon Hale (who writes about girls!): “...the idea that girls should read about and understand boys but that boys don’t have to read about girls, that boys aren’t expected to understand and empathize with the female population of the world... this belief directly leads to rape culture. To a culture that tells boys and men, it doesn’t matter how the girl feels, what she wants. You don’t have to wonder. She is here to please you. She is here to do what you want. No one expects you to have to empathize with girls and women. As far as you need be concerned, they have no interior life.”
Profile Image for Lisa Jass.
20 reviews14 followers
August 2, 2018
I found Rioux's book Meg Jo Beth and Amy to be both an informative and entertaining read. She gives an account of how Alcott came to write these beloved characters, but she also gives insight into why this story has endured as long as it has and has resonated with both writers and readers for generations and why some generations have more ties to these characters than others. As someone who is including Louisa May Alcott in my own dissertation, I found this book to be a useful addition to my research in terms of getting a further look at Alcott's life and these characters relationships with readers and writers. It is reader friendly for both academics and non-academics alike.
Profile Image for Jill.
227 reviews4 followers
September 10, 2018
An excellent analysis of Little Women's cultural, feminist, and literary impact since its publication 150 years ago. I couldn't put it down and learned a lot about a book and author that I thought I was already familiar with. A recommended read for anyone interested in women's literature.
Profile Image for Mind the Book.
767 reviews60 followers
January 1, 2020
Slutade bokåret 2019 med en (trots allt lite oväntad) femma! Kunde inte föreställa mig en trevligare mellandagsbok vid brasan, men sidantalet, 270+, gjorde mig först lite tveksam. Fanns det verkligen så mycket att säga? Riskerade den att bli lika torrt akademisk som den överdekonstruerande kpop-boken jag nyligen läste?

Rioux tar upp allt man kan önska sig; t.ex. romanens tillkomst, fakta om familjen Alcott, alla olika filmatiseringar och spin-off-romaner. De senare kände jag inte alls till. Det finns visst allt från italienska till pakistanska varianter och japanska anime-versioner började dyka upp redan på 80-talet.

Kapitel som ger mig särskilda litteraturrelaterade thrills (med Anne Shirleys vokabulär) är de om livet i Concord - eftersom jag var där för ett par år sedan och gick förbi Orchard House på min pilgrimspromenad till Walden Pond. Älskar även den långa listan över framgångsrika kvinnliga författare som säger att de kanske inte skulle ha det yrket de har utan Jo. I sista delen dryftas frågan om det finns några little women i vår tid och då nämns Rory Gilmore och Katniss Everdeen och analysen fortsätter ända fram till serien Girls.

Efter att ha tänkt mycket på Little Women de senaste månaderna avspeglade det sig i mitt eget kreativa uttryck: https://www.etsy.com/se-en/listing/75...
Profile Image for Susan Bailey.
Author 13 books12 followers
August 23, 2018
Most important work on Little Women in years - for the fan as well as the scholar

Disclaimer: I was sent an advance copy by the publisher to review.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of a classic read by millions around the globe. Written by Louisa May Alcott, a writer under duress fulfilling the assignment of an insistent publisher, Little Women, in the words of Anne Boyd Rioux is the “paradigmatic book about growing up, especially for the female half of the population.” Her latest book, Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, tells the story of Alcott’s enduring work as well as its impact on the lives of millions of readers.After reading Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy I better understand the genius of Little Women: why it has resonated with so many readers, and why it still remains relevant today.

Rioux, a professor of English at the University of New Orleans is that rare academic who can combine meticulous research with a writing style that appeals to a broad range of readers. The work is succinct and appealing, providing more than enough information to satisfy the scholar while engaging the mainstream reader. I was delighted with Rioux’s many sharp and surprising insights not only about Little Women, but of the Alcott family as well. She brings fresh ideas to Alcott scholarship.

In the introduction Rioux writes, “What seems like a tale from a simpler time turns out to be the product of a difficult and sometimes troubled life.” While providing the customary biographical information for each family member, Rioux provided fresh insight on familiar themes.

Rioux’s analysis of the anger issues presented in Little Women is spot-on, linking it to the difficult life led by Abigail Alcott as she coped with the dire consequences of a husband who would not, or could not, support his family. She cites Marmee’s confession to Jo about controlling her anger as packing in “the years of extreme poverty the Alcotts endured and the anger Abigail felt about it.” Abigail’s anger was absorbed by Louisa who was, in Rioux’s words, “deeply marked by these early experiences of poverty, family instability, and worry for her father’s sanity.” She writes that Abigail was particularly resentful of Bronson’s inability to recognize the many sacrifices she made to do the work he refused to do. As a result, Louisa made it her life’s mission to right that wrong and provide for her mother. This is reflected in Jo’s inheritance of Beth’s role as the family caretaker after Beth dies.

There is far more to Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy than biographical information. As it is impossible in this review to get into that kind of detail with which I would like to indulge as it would constitute a novella, I will instead offer a summary of the other aspects of this book and hope that these few details I have offered will encourage you to read this ground-breaking work.

Rioux presents a chapter on how Little Women was received. I have often longed to experience Little Women as did readers in 1868 (the closest approximation being the Harry Potter phenomenon with my teenage children). Rioux’s explanations and insights have deepened my understanding of the originality and genius of Alcott’s book. Those aspects of Little Women that are normal and accepted ways of living for today’s readers were considered radical in Louisa’s era; Rioux got that sense across to me such that I could appreciate it for the first time.

Rioux’s analysis of the numerous theatrical, film and musical adaptations takes into account the historical background of the period when they were produced, demonstrating its influence how Little Women was interpreted and presented. Two compelling examples were how the Great Depression influenced the 1933 Katherine Hepburn version, and how aftermath of World War II affected the 1949 June Allyson movie.

A chapter is devoted to the many prominent women writers, leaders and politicians influenced by Little Women. Rioux points out the common experience of all these women in recognizing themselves in Jo March, thus drawing inspiration from her experience. Jo became a guide, a means by which a reader could say, “That is me, and I can do what Jo has done.” One of the most important legacies of Little Women is the sheer number of women who have gone on to greatness because of Jo March.

The second half of Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy draws upon Rioux’s experience as a college professor teaching Little Women in her classes. Her interaction with students provides valuable information on how young people today perceive the classic. An entire chapter is devoted to the question of boys reading the book which is quite fascinating and timely.

Rioux also provides a chapter on how the reading of Little Women varies so much from person to person revealing again the genius and complexity of the story, hidden behind a seemingly simple telling of four sisters growing up.
The final chapter recounts present-day books, television shows and movies influenced by Little Women including the long-running “Gilmore Girls” and the character of Rory, and Hermione from the Harry Potter series.

I highly recommend the reading of Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy. Read it first for pleasure and then go back a second time and study it with care. Anne Boyd Rioux has captured the genius of Alcott’s classic, demonstrating without question why Little Women still matters.
Profile Image for Tiffany Rose.
626 reviews
July 7, 2018
Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux is a look at the making of "Little Women", it's success, and why it is relevant today. It shows us how and why this book is a timeless classic.

I learned a lot from this book that I hadn't previously known. I liked how it went over how the characters reflected the author and her family. I also enjoyed how the author talked about the illustrations found in "Little Women". This book covers almost  everything you could want to know about "Little Women".

I enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to all fans of "Little Women".

I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion of it.
Profile Image for Libby.
300 reviews
October 7, 2018
Interesting biographical and historical information about Louisa May Alcott, some I knew but much I did not. I have a new appreciation for her, as she was a wildly successful writer who happened to be a woman, and as she supported her own family of origin and many of her sisters' families too. It's a short book, but I bailed at page 84, as we began to read of the move from the page to Broadway. I guess I'm not interested enough to hang in for another hundred pages, which seems to end with discussing and describing the film versions. I did enjoy what I read, and found it's scholarly enough to be respected for the depth of its considerable research by the author, but not dry.
Profile Image for Melissa.
2,252 reviews144 followers
August 14, 2018
A lovely overview of Alcott’s life, the publication history of Little Women, and how Alcott’s most famous creation has endured as a beloved work of American literature.

Unless we’re talking about the “canon” and then “ugh, girl cooties” which is the basis for almost an entire chapter about why boys don’t/aren’t expected to/can’t read “girl books” even as girls are fully expected to read “boy books” and I spent almost that whole chapter yelling PREACH SISTER at my iPad.
Profile Image for CindySR.
475 reviews
February 9, 2019
I never noticed the scene from Downton Abbey that is similar to one from Little Women. There are many gems like that here but that's not why LW Still Matters. Anyone that lists Little Women as an all time favorite should read this book, it's almost like taking a college course.
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