Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, originally published in two volumes almost 150 years ago—and readable here (if “your” copy got lost)—has been a staple of schoolgirl reading ever since. “Like every other girl who ever read Louisa May Alcott’s novel, I wanted to be Jo: creative, strong-minded and independent,” says NPR’s Lynn Neary, going on to wonder whether Jo sets too high a standard. (And I ask, what are standards for, if not to be aspirational?)
Adult re-readers may want to reexamine their assumptions about this work and may find darker commentary underlying the surface action. “Little Women is brutal, a ferocious wolf dressed up in the curly white sermons and sentimental homilies of children’s stories, says Deborah Weisgall in The American Prospect, and its larger themes of thwarted ambition, not fitting in, and family rivalries make it “an enduring model for women’s stories, but it is rarely considered literature itself. It should be.”
The archetypical sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy and their travails during the Civil War were based largely on Alcott’s life with three sisters. Almost inevitably, Hollywood has produced five movies, including two silent films of the March sisters’ story. News that a new version of the film is in the works has prompted speculation about which actors might play the leads, and “dream casts” have been proposed by both Entertainment Weekly and the website Book Riot, which proposes an especially bold choice for Professor Bhaer, the portly German who ends up marrying you-know-who (and would finally make that outcome rather palatable).
In 1933, the sisters were played by Frances Dee (Meg), Katharine Hepburn (perfect as Jo), Jane Parker (Beth), and Joan Bennett (Amy), with neighbor and love interest Laurence, called Laurie, played by Douglass Montgomery. The 1949 cast—a real dream cast—included Janet Leigh (Meg), June Allyson (Jo), Beth Margaret O’Brien (Beth), and Elizabeth Taylor (Amy). Peter Lawford played Laurie. Most recently, in 1994 (trailer), Trini Alvarado (Meg), Winona Ryder (Jo), Claire Danes (Beth), Kirsten Dunst (Amy), and Christian Bale (Laurie) led the cast.
For generations, young readers have been heartbroken—me included—that conniving Amy, not wonderful Jo, ends up with Laurie. Fan fiction has finally provided the sought-after happy ending. FanFiction.net has a sizable Little Women fandom, and the fic I glanced at was totally PG, though I did not review all 316 entries. Here’s a sweet one. Pretend you’re twelve years old again and swoon.