You can read the blog, or you can click on one of the icons below to listen to the podcast version! This podcast has a guest, so the blog version and the podcast version are very different! The post below is what I used as notes when talking to my guest on the show.
**Warning: Spoilers for both book and movie!**
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1869)
Little Women directed by Greta Gerwig (2019)
Louisa May Alcott
I used to just associate Alcott with having written Little Women, and when I researched her, I was surprised she isn’t spoken about more in terms of all the awesome things she did and the fact that she is a great feminist icon.
She helped with the Underground Railroad, she was a Union nurse during the Civil War, and she was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Massachusetts!
She would often go on long walks and would even run! Which was considered very taboo for back then. She encouraged other women they should run which as well I think is so cool.
She remained single all her life, though she did journal about a romance of some sort with a man she met while in Europe and it’s this man that was the basis for Laurie. But she has said that she never had romantic feelings for any man and even said she felt like she should have been a man, much like the character Jo.
Little Women was released in two parts, and before the second part was released, girls would write in saying how they couldn’t wait to see who the others girls married. Alcott is quoted as saying, “Girls write to ask who the little women will marry, as if that was the only end and aim of a woman’s life,” she wrote in a letter to a friend in 1869. But: “I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”
Thoughts on the Book
The first half definitely seemed targeted towards a younger audience, with each chapter telling some kind of life lesson. The second half I found more interesting, in part because the characters were older. All in all, it’s a great book for people of all ages and is very wholesome. I think that’s one of the reasons it has remained so loved and iconic-the relatability of the family (and if people can relate to some extent, it’s just an idyllic family that those that don’t have close family can read this and get that experience) plus it is such a good-natured story with characters that are each distinct and fleshed out.
The script was adapted by Greta Gerwig who also directed the movie. There have been quite a number of adaptions of this story, and as far as the ones I’ve seen, I think this one has been the best. Though maybe that is partly due to the fact that it is more suited to our day and age in some ways as far as not being scared to being more progressive.
I think everyone was well cast for the most part, and had good chemistry, which is vital in a movie such as this. If we don’t feel the connection between the March sisters and their parents, the story just doesn’t work. We also need that chemistry between not only Laurie and Jo, but Laurie and the whole March family.
Saorise Ronan is a former child actress who has continued to be an amazing actress as an adult. She worked with Gerwig on Lady Bird and when she heard Gerwig was adapting this book, she wrote to Gerwig saying she would play Jo. I think she is very well cast.
Emma Watson plays the oldest sister, Meg. This role was supposed to go to Emma Stone, but Stone had to back out due to scheduling conflicts. I think Watson is perfect for this role and in my opinion, Stone would have been a more fitting Jo than a Meg.
Florence Pugh is the youngest Amy. She started working on this movie right after doing the horror movie, Midsommer and she said it was very therapeutic to work on a wholesome movie like this after that.
Timothee Chalament is Laurie, and it took me a bit to like him in the role to be honest. In the later sections, he just seemed so young! Though he looked the part when Laurie is still a teenager. Overall, I ended up liking him in this.
Laura Dern is the mother, Marmee.
Eliza Scanlen plays Beth, the sister who had the least screen time. In the book I found Beth to be a bit one deminsensional. In the movie this seems to be the case as well, but Scanlen did well with what she had.
Jo is a writer, and many of her experiences mirror Alcott’s. At one point, it is talking about Jo in a writing fever and it reads, “Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and “fall into a vortex,” as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace.” I thought the visual of describing writing as “falling into a vortex” was a cool visual. It also reminded me of Stephen King in Misery. His character in that is also a writer, and he says when writing is good, he falls into the hole in the paper.
In the book and movie, the editor tells Jo, “People want to be amused, not preached at, you know. Morals don’t sell nowadays;” which was not quite a correct statement, by the way.” I love that she added that part at the end, because clearly Little Women was a hit.
Like Jo, Alcott also wrote sensational stories with lots of drama and death. In the book and movie, Fredrick Bhaer doesn’t like them. Jo realizes how ashamed she is to be writing stories such as these and thinks, “They are trash, and will soon be worse than trash if I go on; for each is more sensational than the last. I’ve gone blindly on, hurting myself and other people, for the sake of money; I know it’s so, for I can’t read this stuff in sober earnest without being horribly ashamed of it; and what should I do if they were seen at home, or Mr. Bhaer got hold of them?”
When I was younger, I remember not especially liking the Amy character. This time around, in both book and movie, I liked her very much. She is a very agreeable person, and this is shown in the book in particular. She and Jo go make house calls and Jo is very rude to a man she doesn’t approve of. Amy says of it, “It’s a greater one not to be able to hide them. I don’t mind saying that I don’t approve of Tudor any more than you do; but I’m not called upon to tell him so; neither are you, and there is no use in making yourself disagreeable because he is.”
There is another line Amy says, “Because they are mean is no reason why I should be. I hate such things, and though I think I’ve a right to be hurt, I don’t intend to show it.” In general, as she gets older, I found myself agreeing with a lot of her thoughts and feelings.
Meg is married at the end of the first half of the book and in the second half we have more “life lessons” but they are instead lessons that are applied to marriage. There are two stories about Meg in John in particular and I really enjoyed both. The movie shows this to some extent when it has her buying the fabric for $50. (Which would be almost $850 in today’s money!)
There is the part in the book, when Meg is hurt that John is going to a friend’s house every night and it reads,
“She would not ask him to stay at home but felt injured because he did not know that she wanted him without being told, entirely forgetting the many evenings he had waited for her in vain.”
I thought this was a great story, because so often a person expects their spouse to just know what they want. As if they think their spouse should be able to read their mind. When in fact, the key to a good relationship, whether in marriage or otherwise, is to voice your wants and feelings and not expect the other person to just automatically know.
Even though the movie does take a more feminist stance, with Meg they do show that if a woman wants to be a mother and not focus on a career, that is totally adrimable as well.
Laurie and Amy
The movie gives us more kernels in the early years, showing Amy’s interest in Laurie as to help their marriage make more sense at the end. In the book, it never seemed as though Amy was into Laurie when she was younger and it felt like it was something that truly started to blossom while in Europe together. Even though the book doesn’t give us those kernels from early on, Alcott made their romance very believable in my opinion. It happens slower, they spend time together, then he leaves to be with his grandpa and tries to be more useful, being inspired by Amy’s reprimanding. They write letters back and forth and they each start to have strong feelings. The movie speeds things up, which is to be expected.
The movie also has Jo regretting not saying yes to him and writes him a letter telling him so. When she learns he and Amy are married, she doesn’t give him the letter. This was not in the book; in fact, Laurie writes Jo to ask once more if there is any chance, she will change her mind and she says no. After this, his feelings evolve and he starts to fall for Amy.
The book specifically talks about how they are going to use their money to help others and the book says “So the young pair shook hands upon it, and then paced happily on again, feeling that their pleasant home was more home-like because they hoped to brighten other homes, believing that their own feet would walk more uprightly along the flowery path before them, if they smoothed rough ways for other feet, and feeling that their hearts were more closely knit together by a love which could tenderly remember those less blest than they.”
Alcott based the character of Jo on herself in many ways. In the movie, the character of Jo starts to become Alcott when it shows her writing Little Women. Prior to watching this movie, I was thinking how great it would be if there was an adaptation where Jo didn’t marry. It seemed Alcott had included that because that’s what the people wanted. If it was up to her, Jo would have stayed single I’m sure.
publishers insisted that Jo had to marry someone, that the book would be unsaleable otherwise. And so, although “much afflicted” by their demands, Alcott wrote to her friend, she had concocted a solution “out of perversity.” She invented dour and dictatorial Friedrich Bhaer as a “funny match” for Jo. Laurie she disposed of by marrying him off to Amy.
“…thirty seems the end of all things to five-and-twenty; but it’s not so bad as it looks, and one can get on quite happily if one has something in one’s self to fall back upon. At twenty-five, girls begin to talk about being old maids, but secretly resolve that they never will be; at thirty they say nothing about it, but quietly accept the fact, and, if sensible, console themselves by remembering that they have twenty more useful, happy years, in which they may be learning to grow old gracefully. Don’t laugh at the spinsters, dear girls, for often very tender, tragical romances are hidden away in the hearts that beat so quietly under the sober gowns, and many silent sacrifices of youth, health, ambition, love itself, make the faded faces beautiful in God’s sight. Even the sad, sour sisters should be kindly dealt with, because they have missed the sweetest part of life, if for no other reason; and, looking at them with compassion, not contempt, girls in their bloom should remember that they too may miss the blossom time; that rosy cheeks don’t last forever, that silver threads will come in the bonnie brown hair, and that, by and by, kindness and respect will be as sweet as love and admiration now.”
When we get to the end of the movie, the character Jo is basically Alcott herself, and as her editor is reading little Women, he tells her the main heroine must marry and she gives in. I thought this was a great ending and gave me what I had hoped for but even better.
As far as the details, in the book we got to know Fredrik much better and there were many more scenes with him. In the movie, it felt more rushed for sure.
Mr. March is a bigger role in the book, especially in the second half. In the movie, he comes back from the Civil War, but is in hardly any of the movie.
Book or Movie
I thought the pacing of the movie was excellent. It is over two hours, yet it seemed to fly by. When a story has been adapted this many times, I think it’s important to make certain changes to help it stand out from the others. Having the timeline bounce around helped make it more unique, along with having Jo become Alcott at the end.
This wasn’t one of those books that was hard to put down, and though I enjoyed it, I was never anxious to get back to reading. Whereas the movie I think I enjoyed the journey a bit more.