Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Little Women Report #2

Perhaps I spoke too soon awhile back, because the second half of Little Woman was really wonderful. Though the characters were good, they were good in ways that were true to themselves and the ways in which they strayed beforehand weren't necessarily obvious and were interesting to read. The chapter where Meg makes jelly that doesn't set on the day her husband brings home a dinner guest without warning was an incredibly realistic depiction of domestic dynamics. Jo's experiences as a writer were fascinating and so true. Amy became a wonderful mass of contradictions, and the most interesting sister by the end. I really enjoyed this part of the book and am glad I followed through.

But the second half was so different from the first that I could scarcely believe that the two were published a year apart. I'd figured Alcott must have grown significantly as a writer in the interim. Or perhaps she realized her characters had wider appeal than she'd initially planned?

It's the tone of the second half that is so very different, as though it's growing up along with the characters. And that's something I've never found in a book before, an omniscient narrator so in tune with her characters' perspectives. In the first half of Little Women, there is little going on beneath the surface. Of course, you get the sense that Marmee is wiser than she lets on, but it's so obvious, and the other characters know it too. But it was distinctly a children's book, whereas the second half wasn't.

And maybe that's what young readers like so much about Little Women, that they begin with something quite geared towards their level but the book takes off on its own speed, and by the end the narrative is quite above them. So that it would be a book one would revisit time and again, to find out what has changed since the last time.

Note: I was so glad that Jo didn't marry Laurie. The Professor is so lovely, however much German and old. Obviously, Jo hadn't watched enough Sex and the City to be brainwashed into thinking enacting adolescent drama is an aspiration more worthy than mere happiness.