January 19, 2021

What if 'Little Women' was not a feminist book? | Culture

What if 'Little Women' was not a feminist book? | Culture



The first reader caught by the story of the four March sisters was Lilly Almy, the young niece of editor Thomas Niles, in 1868. Her uncle passed her the first chapters of the novel, some pages that both the author, Louisa May Alcott , as he agreed that they were pretty bland. Seeing the enthusiasm of Lilly, Niles intuited the sensational success: encouraged Alcott to stay with royalties, the title was invented (the draft was called The pathetic family) and suggested that he leave open the possibility of a second part. His instinct as publisher did not fail: two weeks after its publication, on September 30, 1868, the circulation of 2,000 copies of Little Women and the readers wrote asking for a sequel, which was ready three months later. The book that brought together the two parties was consecrated as a classic inspiration for restless teenagers.

One wonders if a novel can or should be feminist, if that is the yardstick by which it should be measured

Translations, film and television adaptations, plays and, above all, millions of readers have proven over the course of a century and a half the irresistible charm of the non-conformist Jo and her sisters. From Ursula K. Le Guin to Simone de Beauvoir, through Hillary Clinton, the number of women who have cited this novel as a fundamental reading make it a great Bildungsroman female. And yet Little Women has not been exempt from re-readings and debates that question whether it is a feminist novel, a controversy that began in the sixties and has been revived this autumn at the heat of the 150th anniversary in the heat of the It was Me Too.

One may wonder if a novel can or should be feminist, if that is the standard by which it must be measured, but the truth is that no work is safe from readings from another prism beyond the strictly literary. Hence the critic Hillary Kelly note that "it is frankly strange that intelligent women consider that a book in which the dreams of the protagonists are discarded to end up in a life dedicated to darning socks is pointed out as mandatory reading for today's girls. " His angry comment on New York Magazine is probably up to what many readers felt in 1869 when they read the second installment of Little Women, but for different reasons. May the three March sisters who survive (the fragile Beth dies) end up married, giving up the artistic life that Jo imagined for them, unworthy of Kelly. However, what hurt her ancestors is that the author did not attend to her wishes (expressed in hundreds of letters) that the rebel Jo married her friend and neighbor. "I will not marry Jo to Laurie to satisfy anyone," Alcott wrote. He also showed his satiety with the missives in which he asked who would marry whom "as if it were the only end and goal in the life of a woman", according to Anne Boyd Rioux in the recently published essay in the US Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters (Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy: The story of Little Women and why it still matters).

Louisa May Alcott, her parents instilled something different. Friends and neighbors of the transcendentalist circle, Abigail and her eccentric husband Bronson were abolitionists and believed in equal rights for women. But every ideal contains its contradictions. When Louisa was asked by her father when she was little that what she thought was a philosopher, she described the image of a man on a balloon whose family holds the ropes trying to take him to the ground. Like the Scarlet O'Hara of Gone With the Wind, (another American fighter, although southern) Alcott proposed that with his pen he would prevent his family from going hungry. And wow he got it.

When he was commissioned to write "a book for girls," Alcott said he would try, although he confessed to a friend: "I never liked girls or met many, except my sisters." He pulled memories and had the audacity to create a self-confident heroine able to climb and run like any boy, kind and temperamental. Jo and her sisters live in an idyllic home, but they are not perfect; They have envy, arguments, shame. One of the first critics praised the novel for "simple and true". That realism perhaps was what led Alcott in the nineteenth century to marry the March and describe in the second part their struggling married lives. In the United Kingdom, the (disappointing and ñoño for many) second book has remained separate from the first and is titled Good Wives (Good wives). In Spanish the publishing house Lumen has published an illustrated edition of the volume of 1868, and there the marriages are left out.

Feminist criticism has focused on the sweetened vision of family life that frustrates the young dreams of the protagonists

The feminist discussion started in 1968 when Little Women a century, and it involved, among others, Gloria Steinem and Judith Fetterly. The criticism focused on the sweetened vision of family life that frustrates the juvenile dreams of the protagonists, the fixation with marriage and home. But is not this part of the female experience? Can endings be happy and bitter at the same time? The marital outcome of the March can be frustrating (even more so if one takes into account that Alcott led his protagonists to a civil state that he did not want for himself), but there is no doubt that the writer endowed her heroines of freedom to choose. No house is forced or for money: they are masters of their destiny, the ultimate freedom to which one can aspire. Perhaps the new film adaptation prepared by the director Greta Gerwig, in which Saoirse Ronan will play Jo, managed to respond to today's reproaches.

On September 28, two days before the anniversary of Little Women, Dr. Blasey Ford testified before the US Senate committee in the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as judge of the Supreme Court, a milestone in the feminist history of that country. The bookstores there are filled for months of feminine dystopias that pick up the thread of what Margaret Atwood wrote in her Tale of the maid, and of essays like Rebecca Traister's on the revolutionary power of women's outrage. Where is Alcott's novel? In it is Marmee, the mother who confesses to her daughter that she lives "angry every day of her life". That lesson, for the moment, is still ragingly topical.

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