Nancy's Reviews > Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy by Anne Boyd Rioux
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it was amazing
bookshelves: netgalley

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.
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Reading Progress

June 14, 2018 – Started Reading
June 14, 2018 – Shelved
June 14, 2018 –
page 49
June 15, 2018 –
page 73
June 16, 2018 –
page 101
June 18, 2018 –
page 144
June 19, 2018 –
page 163
June 20, 2018 –
page 186
June 20, 2018 –
page 186
June 22, 2018 – Finished Reading
June 24, 2018 – Shelved as: netgalley

Comments Showing 1-10 of 10 (10 new)

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message 1: by Julie (new)

Julie That cover!! Please report back soon.

Nancy Julie wrote: "That cover!! Please report back soon."

❤️I will!

message 3: by Cheri (new) - added it

Cheri Wonderful review, Nancy!

Nancy Thanks Cheri!

message 5: by Julie (new)

Julie Nice, Nancy. I was quite mesmerized with your review. I'll be re-reading the actual book soon, this fall, because I was always somewhere in the middle with it, and I want to see how I feel about it as an adult. And, FYI, I did own one of the Madame Alexander dolls--Amy, because my grandmother liked the blonde. I wanted Jo!

Nancy Thanks, Julie. I thought about buying myself Jo, but my other dolls are needing a doll hospital and restringing so haven’t. But she is available on eBay!
I read LW sometime back, but after viewing the BBC series and reading this book, perhaps I will read it yet again this year.

message 7: by Julie (new)

Julie Nancy,
There isn't a doll hospital on this planet that can bring back life to my doll, Amy. She's beyond repair! Looks like my childhood Pekingese may have used her once as a chew toy.

Nancy Oh my! In 1959 my grandmother gave me a Sleeping Beauty doll that Madame Alexander had when the Disney movie came out. I took it down the street to show it to my best friend. My dog followed me and DID chew the doll up! Twenty years ago I bought myself a replacement doll.

message 9: by Toni (new)

Toni Nancy, I cherish your excellent review. This book and others like it are part of our history, and therefore the history of the women they represent; which is so important. As Rory Gilmore was an influence to my daughter during her younger teen years. They all matter to women regardless the decade or medium.

Nancy Thanks Toni! How nice your daughter had Rory. We loved her too.

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