Reading last week’s landmark 50th POST in the Six Degrees Series I realized that, even though I hadn’t read the book Jenelle was talking about (Pride & Prejudice) it seemed strikingly familiar to one I had. The book it reminded me of was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Both books center around a group of sisters and their family dramas, their relationships with neighbors and friends and the larger society. Marriage is a central theme in both and much of the intrigue of both of these stories revolves around who the girls end up deciding to marry and who they don’t.
Amongst the sisters in both books, Lydia Bennet and Amy March seemed to have quite a bit in common. Both are (I believe) the youngest in their respective families and Amy, like Lydia, is, as Jenelle wrote, “foolish, brash, excitable, and demands to be the center of attention no matter where she is”. My sense is that Little Women spans a longer time period than Pride and Prejudice so Amy eventually grows out of her child-like ways, but certainly in the first half of the book she is rather self-focused.
Though all the March sisters are given ample time within the book, probably the most often featured would be Jo, the second oldest sister. With her witty comments, fierce loyalty to her family, and honest, tell-it-like-it is nature, she leaves a lasting impression as one of the most memorable characters in all of literature. An aspiring writer, Jo eventually learns to put her dreams on hold for love and family and her headstrong ways mellow somewhat by the end of the novel.
Meg is the oldest and generally considered to be a real beauy. She is a bit vain, but mostly curbs her worldly impulses and shines as a model of kindness and thoughtfulness. Her marriage to John Brook, a forthright tutor and gentle suitor is a bit in doubt at first, and greatly dreaded by Jo, but once the engagement happens, he is eventually welcomed with open arms.
Beth is the third daughter and extremely timid. Her love of music does bring her out of her shell somewhat, but she is the character who changes the least during the course of the novel. But she is so earnest and gentle and loving that she is a delight to read about even from the first so there really is no need that she should go through the same sorts of changes that the other sisters do.
The lady of the March house is called Marmee by her girls. She is in many ways the ideal picture of what a mother and wife should be. Caring, thoughtful, and yet stern and principled when she needs to be, she gently guides her “little women” through the trials and tribulations they face. Her advice and wisdom are wonderful aspects to the novel and she has an understated strength that never diminishes even when tragedy darkens the door of the March home.
Mr. March is not present for much of the tale and even when he does return home from the war, he is not mentioned all that often. Even so, this studious minister’s presence is felt by his wife and daughters in a way that give stability and focus to the home. Beth in particular seems to gravitate to and draw comfort from his loving guidance. As with Marmee, his interest is only ever in what is right and what is best for his family.
Laurie is the wealthy and handsome neighbor who grows up along with the girls. A jokester and a loyal friend, he and Jo thrive off each others’ witty banter and in many ways as a reader you sense that their friendship will blossom into something more, but it ends up being a great deal more complicated than that. However, as their relationship represents perhaps one of the central dramatic turns of the novel, I’ll not spoil it for you if you’re one of the few people who have not read this book or seen the movie.
Competing for Jo’s affections is one of my favorite characters in the book, Professor Baehr. Alcott does a masterful job of communicating just how true a gentlemen this displaced German scholar is. Perhaps because his English is so limited, he speaks more directly than most and tends to wear his heart on his sleeve. He is generous and expansive despite his poverty and academic training, and has a soft spot in his heart for children. His advice to Jo about writing what is good and not just trying to make a profit is one of the more memorable passages in the book and especially dear to me as a writer myself.
A few of the other minor characters include Aunt March who is a rich old widow with a crotchety disposition. She values high society and improving one’s position and feels that her relatives have no concern for money and will ultimately end up in poverty. Mr. Laurence is Laurie’s grandfather and just as well off as Aunt March, but is not quite so stingy and sour, though he is rather strict with Laurie. It seems more out of a fear of losing him that he keeps him on such a short leash, but ultimately his heart is in the right place. He is incredibly fond of the March girls and makes no secret to Laurie that if he managed to win the hearts of one of them he would be making a very fine match.
I hope you enjoyed these brief musings on the characters of this book. This truly is one for the ages and certainly qualifies as a “Kool Book”. You can read my full review for Little Women if you’d like and be sure to check out some of the other Kool Books in this series as well as how to join in yourself.