I know it's a terrible thing to admit, but as of yet, I have not read Little Women. Oh, I’ve always planned to, but I’ve never made the reading time to invest in this classic of literature, despite all the glowing things I’ve heard about it. I had initially been a little skeptical about reading this book, and figured that having not read Little Women, this tale would surely fly right over my head. I was pleased to discover that this was not the case, and found myself very interested and absorbed in this fictional account of Alcott's life.
I have to say that this portrayal of Louisa was very eye-opening. For most of the story, she’s quite aloof and bad-tempered. I might even say that she bordered on rude at times, which made me feel a little distanced from her character. I think the real reason for her coldness was her intense desire to leave everything behind and embark on her writing career, which, by necessity kept getting shoved to the back burner time and time again. She was a very spirited heroine, but most of her drive came in the form of gruff proclamations and retorts about the dissatisfaction of her life. Joesph was truly in for a hard time when he set his sights on her, because it seemed that she had no time for love and affection and would rather spend her time in pursuits of the mind. I think that’s what finally cracked her shell in regards to the young man. When she discovered that he, too, longed for intellectual companionship, a bond between the two was formed, with eagerness on both sides.
I had a hard time with Louisa's father, Bronson Alcott. I thought it was extremely selfish that he would not work to support his family and basically left their fates to the mercy of friends and acquaintances. It was frustrating to see the women of the house working endlessly to keep things going while he spent most of his time reading in his study or entertaining philosophical debates with his friends. When the girls and their mother objected to his laziness, he would begin to spout off rhetoric about leaving himself free to entertain the world of the mind and would object to doing even basic work for his family's sustenance. I’m actually surprised that the family fared so well because it must have been tiring for his friends to always have to come to their rescue. Bronson was by turns arrogant, shiftless, and distant, which really frustrated me. I do believe that these parts of the story were based on historical fact, and as I was reading, I imagined that living under his rule must have been horrific at times. In a roundabout way, Louisa's behavior towards her work sometimes mirrored her father's, for she was endlessly pursuing creativity at all costs.
The love story between Joseph and Louisa felt very organic to me, and it formed the majority of the plot. At first, I was very upset that Louisa kept denying the young man, but when the battle was finally won, the progression of the love story seemed that much sweeter. One of the main things that caused distance between the two was Louisa's fierce drive for independence. Nothing else mattered to her, and it took tremendous effort on the part of Joseph to make her see another way. I really liked Joseph and thought that his courting of Louisa was almost regal in its sincerity. He was doggedly persistent in his courtship, which made me hold him in high regard. As the story wound toward its conclusion, I found that I was getting upset with Louisa's staunch attitude of defeat when it came to their love. It could have been so much easier than she was making it for the two of them! But Louisa was Louisa, and this was not to be.
The dramatic turn at the conclusion of the story was heartbreaking. Just when all was going well, things took a turn, and I was saddened by the fate that the lovers gave into. For Louisa, things went on as she had planned, but there was a lot of hurt along that path. It seemed that circumstance coupled with Louisa's desire to be free was the stronger of the imperatives. But lest you think I spoiled the book for you, there was much that was unforeseen in the conclusion of this story. Just when you think things are going to be played out in one direction, an unexpected turn is divulged. The door between the lovers does not close as abruptly expected.
I got unexpectedly caught up in this book and think that the author did a wonderful job of making her characters well rounded and sympathetic individuals. The story had a lot of immediacy, which is funny to think about, considering it occurred such a long time ago. The author admits that the love story portrayed here is a work of fiction, as are other aspects of the tale, but questionable gaps in the record of Alcott's life may lead the reader to believe that this story may not be all that far-fetched. I definitely think that those readers who have enjoyed Alcott's body of work would do well to pick up this book, and for those who have not read anything by the author, do not fear! There’s enough grist in this story for it to stand alone beautifully. It was a very interesting read, and I’ll be doing my best to start giving Alcott's work the attention that it deserves!
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.