Sunday, March 1, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Playing Pilgrims (Ch. 1)

Before we dig into the discussion, let me quick explain how I run read-alongs for anyone who might be wondering.  I will be doing one post per chapter, and in it I will share my thoughts about what happens in it, some favorite lines if I have any, and then a possible discussion question or two.  You are free to discuss any aspect of the chapter and in the comments, you don't have to discuss only what I've written about.  We will assume everyone knows the basic story and not worry about spoilage.  I plan to post at least three chapters a week, roughly one every two days.  The chapters are short and read quickly, so I don't think this is a problem.  That would let us finish right at the end of May, roughly, which I think would be a good stopping time.

I put page numbers after things I quote, but those are mostly for my own reference -- you don't have to do that.  I'm using this edition for the read-along.



(This is the edition I'm reading.)
So now... here we go!  Our first chapter.  This is one of the chapters I remember the best from when I was a girl.  I've always loved Christmas, so the beginning of this book made a strong impression on me as a kid.  I haven't read this for at least 17 years, possibly longer.  I know the last time I read it was before I went to college, so I'm really excited to return to it after all this time.  But because it's been such a long time since I read it, I don't know this text nearly as well as the other books I've led read-alongs for, so I'm counting on all of you participants to kind of show me the nuances I might miss.

In this chapter, I'm struck by the emphasis on personal behavior.  I had forgotten, or not realized before, how humanistic these first chapters are!  Their parents are basically telling these girls that if they try hard enough, they can overcome their faults and be good, that goodness comes from within.  We also have the first discussion of Pilgrim's Progress, emphasizing how the main character of that book worked to overcome obstacles.  According to the introduction for my edition, Pilgrim's Progress was Louisa May Alcott's father's favorite book.  I know we'll be seeing more discussion of it in the upcoming chapters.

My favorite character has always been Jo, and reading through this again after so long, I can see why.  Not just that she writes, which I do, or the fact that she wishes she was a boy, which I used to wish fervently myself.  But she says, "I hate to think I've got to grow up" (p. 5), and oh my, how I hated that.  Still hate it.  I am most insistent on never fully growing up, and play and act silly and read children's books and watch children's movies with great enjoyment still.  Sometimes I even do those things with my kids ;-)


Favorite Lines:


"If you mean libel, I'd say so, and not talk about labels, as if Papa was a pickle bottle," advised Jo, laughing (p. 4).


"Don't, Jo!  It's so boyish!"

"That's why I do it"  (p. 4).

A quick, bright smile went round like a streak of sunshine (p. 9).



Possible Discussion Questions:


Have you ever read this before?

Have you seen any movie versions of it?
Do you have a favorite character?

38 comments:

  1. Hamlette,
    Hooray! It has begun!

    I totally understand Jo about the growing up thing and it actually used to bother me a lot, too when I was a little girl. I was taller and felt more "mature" than the other girls my age, which only made it worse. But now at eighteen almost nineteen I even feel younger than the others my age. So I just decided to be my own version of it -- and if that includes dashing around pretending to be Rob Roy, crawling around on the floor playing with our kitties or sledding before breakfast, so be it. :)

    As for Jo's wanting to be a boy though... I could never quite understand why she wanted to be one. I mean, I have a brother and we used to have tons of fun together having duels and what-not, but I always thought girls had the best of it, as we can both play with dolls and run around with swords and other weapons! :)

    And I like what you said about playing with your children... My mother has always entered wholeheartedly into mine and my siblings' interests, too. Hence, I can say (as a child), that those are the very best type of mothers. :) So keep it up!

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    1. In Jo's day, girls couldn't run around playing with swords and weapons. So her yearning is probably a lot more understandable than what I had. Because I played cowboys and soldiers and pirates and knights-errant with my brother, no big deal. For Jo, even dressing up like a guy in a play was bold and kind of improper. She could never have donned a cowboy hat and holster and crawled around under the pine tree in the front yard to ambush unwary passersby the way I could.

      And your mom sounds awesome! My dad is like that -- he's 65 and still knows how to play. I need to play with my kids more than I do, because too often I'm like, "But laundry... dishes... cooking... mending... blogging..." But I do play with them some. Now that Sam is 7, he's getting to be actually really fun to play with because he can play out plots and things, which is my favorite, so I'm hoping that I'll just naturally be playing with them more and more now.

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  2. Goody!;)

    I was thinking about some of the philosophies in the first chapters too (I read the first three or four today). I'm not quite sure about all of it, but I do love the poem at the beginning of the book (in my version, at least). And I love how Marmee gave the girls Bibles:)

    It impresses me how the girls give up their Christmas breakfast with such minimal complaining. They are, at heart, good, caring people, whatever their faults may be.

    I also love how the girls prepare for Marmee's return each night:D

    Yes, I've seen the movie version with Winona Ryder, but I really want to watch the Katharine Hepburn version, solely for Katharine Hepburn's sake;) I think the WR version is very good; they are quite faithful to the novel, and the MUSIC!!!! "Valley of the Shadow" makes me cry, it's so simple and sweet and beautiful.

    My favorite character is without a doubt Beth--she inspires me so much, and I'd greatly love to be like her in her selflessness and her quiet trust in God.

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    1. Is it Bibles she gives them? I always kind of assumed it was, but she never comes out and says that, does she? It could be Pilgrim's Progress instead.

      Beth is amazing!

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    2. I'm pretty sure it is--it says that it's the story of "the best life ever lived," and the girls' general reactions to the books seemed to indicate they were Bibles, to me at least:D

      Yes. Beth. She will always and forever be my favorite, I think:)

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    3. That was my assumption too, but I found it a little odd that Alcott didn't come right out and say they were Bibles. Maybe they're just New Testaments? Because the Bible as a whole is about a lot more than one life.

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    4. Hmm…you're right, that is strange. They're probably just New Testaments, I suppose. I guess we'll never know for sure;D

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  3. I haven't read this since I was really young... I remember liking but not loving it. I'm interested to see if my opinion of it has changed. I have seen the 1994 version, and had about the same reaction... thought it was good, but not great. I have a vague memory of watching the 1933 Hepburn version around the same time I read the book, but don't remember a lot about it- apparently it didn't make much of an impression on me.

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    1. I was the same -- I liked this enough to read it several times, but didn't love it. I loved Little Men instead -- I've probably read that twice as often.

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  4. Hooray! Here's my post:
    http://bookandaquilt.blogspot.com/2015/03/march-with-marches-readalong.html
    And favorite character? Definitely Meg.

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    1. Cool! I'll check out your post when I've finished replying to comments here. That's neat that you're going to post about it on your own blog too! Please keep linking to your posts here so we can all enjoy them.

      Meg, eh? I have to admit I have a hard time relating to Meg. Or I did when I was a kid -- maybe that will change with this reading!

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  5. One of the things that struck me reading this chapter was how very simply it's written. It's not something I'd have noticed years ago, but I can see now how it was intended for young readers. It'll be interesting to watch and see if the storytelling "grows up" with the characters a bit, like some series do.

    (Another odd thing: I started out reading this on Kindle, and felt oddly disconnected from the book, something that's never bothered me with any ebook before. Maybe it's just that I have so many strong memories of reading it in hardcover and paperback, it just doesn't seem the same!)

    I think my favorite character was always Jo, mainly because she was the liveliest and had the most adventures—I'm interested to see who I like most now! My favorite film version is the 1949 one. There's a thing or two I wish it had done differently, but the first half in particular just captures that sweet, cozy feeling of the book, and the whole thing looks so pretty. I've seen the 1933 one too, but I like '49 just a bit better.

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    1. YES! It is very, very simple! That might be because, according to the introduction in my copy, Alcott wrote this in 10 weeks and sent it off to be published without ever fully revising it! Can you imagine? Ten weeks! That's just the first half, really -- the second half she wrote in a very short period too, after the first half was a smashing success. But still. Wow.

      Actually, I have felt that disconnect with reading things on my phone too (I have the Kindle app on it, not an actual Kindle). I'm okay reading new-to-me things there, but stuff I've read in a "real" book just seems... off. Huh.

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  6. Yes, I have read it before but not until I was an adult. Not sure why I never read it (especially in school) before that.

    I think I saw the Winona Ryder version -- I seem to remember her running through the city in the rain. My memory is not what it used to be, so I could be wrong.

    (And I, too, like Jo the best. As an artist, you'd think it'd be Amy, but she mostly annoyed me.)

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    1. You're probably thinking of the ending, where Jo runs to Professor Bhaer as he's leaving, and then it rains while they're talking to each other.

      (Amy sometimes annoys me too. I think maybe because she's a little sister and I'm a big sister?)

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  7. I am not a lot like Jo aside from being a fervent writer and bluestocking, but I don't relate to her much. I do love her though. I love how she calls she and her sisters a 'pretty jolly set' (as Meg said she did.)

    I ALWAYS forget how young these girls are. Jo is 15, Meg is my age.

    The ending of the chapter is darling! They wake up with their mother singing. I plan to do that when/if I'm a mother. :-P Yup, I decided that just now.

    Oh, and my favourite? Beth. For-always. One of the reasons is explained in this line:
    "Beth ate no more, but crept away to sit in her shadowy corner and brood over the delight to come, till the others were ready."
    I just love her. :-)

    And yes, I definitely have read this book before. Loads of times! But it's sooo good to read good ol' Little Women again. :-)

    ~ Naomi

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    1. They're young, yes! Between twelve and sixteen, the lot of them. Of course, they grow up and age a lot over the course of the book.

      I used to wake up my brother by singing "Good Morning" from Singin' in the Rain to him. He was generally not amused.

      Beth is wonderful. I feel very protective toward her, if that makes sense.

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  8. This was one of the first "classics" I read (and I've since read Certain Parts MANY times), but haven't read it in its entirety for a while -- so most excited! ;)

    That humanistic element was really jumping out at me in this first chapter, too. Alcott was also heavily influenced by transcendentalism, which I've noticed in some of her other writing as well (like Rose in Bloom -- which I really love and where it never fails to make me go "ouch!" :p).

    I've seen all three of the films (not the tv series or the silent film, though) and my favorite is the 1949 version with Janet Leigh/June Allyson, etc. I've seen the b/w with Katherine Hepburn a number of times, too and like it. I've seen the '94 twice (and it's not a favorite), but the soundtrack is one. of. the. best. EVER. :D Perfect for writing....washing dishes....anything!

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    1. I remember back when the '94 movie came out, a Christian magazine for kids that we got had a whole article about the transcendentalism that's in the movie, and how it made the article's author reread the book and notice how much it incorporates that philosophy. At the time, being 14 and fully convinced I knew everything, I was like, "Nuh-UH!" But now, yeah, I can see it all over the place.

      I really want to see the Katherine Hepburn version because it has Margaret O'Brien in it, and I adore her.

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    2. Actually Margaret O'Brien plays Beth in the 1949 version starring June Allyson.

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    3. Aha! Okay, thanks for clarifying. Wouldn't you know it, my library has the Hepburn one instead. I may have to find a used copy of the other one on Amazon...

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  9. I ought to quick answer my own question about movie versions, huh? I've seen the Winona Ryder version many times, as it was one of the few movies my friends and I owned when we were in college, and I'm very fond of it. I showed it to my kids a week or so ago, and my daughters are in love with it right now -- Sarah has renamed herself Amy, and Tootie is now Jo. I ordered the soundtrack this weekend and can't wait for it to come!

    And I recently got to see a TV version from 1978 that has Dorothy McGuire as Marmee, Greer Garson as Aunt March, and William Shatner as Professor Bhaer. It's great! I reviewed it here if you want to know more about it. I thought it was really quite good, and I liked how it could delve more deeply into the story because it's longer than a measly 2 hours. It's not hard to find to buy online, and you can legally watch it for free on Hulu here if you live in the US, which is how I first got to see it.

    I haven't seen the 1933 or 1949 versions, though my library has one of them, and I hope to watch it later this spring.

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    1. Oh, my. I can't imagine Shatner as Professor Bhaer. Nimoy (RIP), maybe. But not Shatner. How was he?

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    2. Understand that I am a Shatner fan. I find him charming and entertaining, and I've never seen him turn in a performance I didn't enjoy. Including this one! He was sweet, a little hesitant and shy, yet very Germanically strong-minded, and I even thought his accent was rather good.

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  10. Hi! I haven't been very well over the past couple of weeks so I haven't been online much. I'd love to do this read-along but I still need to finish off Persuasion and the other book that I'm reading before I start. That other book I'm reading? Louisa May Alcott's An Old-Fashioned Girl :) I'm really enjoying it so far!

    Little Women is a childhood favourite. I love that book and the 1994 adaptation very, very much. They give me all sorts of feels. The 1994 movie is the only adaptation of the book that I've seen all the way through. It captures the spirit of the book beautifully and the cast is wonderful. It's funny because I saw that film before I got to read Good Wives. I know most editions of Little Women also include Good Wives but my first copy of the book didn't. So when I watched the 94 movie on TV for the first time I was shocked when the story didn't end with Meg getting engaged!

    Jo is probably my favourite character in the book too although I also really love Laurie. Christian Bale's Laurie was one of my earliest crushes and apparently his character is an INFJ :)

    I'm not sure which sister I best relate to. I can definitely relate to Jo but I can also see aspects of Meg and Beth's personalities in myself. Amy... no. I don't think I'm anything like Amy at all but I could be biased there because Amy really annoys me at times. With Jo I really connected with her passion, her love of reading and her hatred of chores. I *did* really want to grow up though. I was pretty unhappy during a lot of my school years and I couldn't wait to leave the place. I was also quite mature for my age and I much preferred talking to adults because their conversations were more interesting.

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    1. I'm sorry you've been unwell! Please feel free to join us when you finish your other two books-in-progress. These are short chapters and I'm pretty sure it would not take long to catch up.

      I hadn't watched the 1994 adaptation in probably ten years, and when I watched it with my kids a week or so ago, I kept crying. Not so much over what was happening in the movie as just over how much I had missed these characters, I think.

      Someone referred to Good Wives a while ago in the blogosphere, and I got all freaked out thinking there was another sequel I had never read! Took me days to discover that no, not so, my copies just didn't list Book 1 and Book 2 as "Little Women" and "Little Wives." Hee!

      I still have a crush on Christian Bale's Laurie. For years, this was the only thing I'd see him in, and I was a fan of his based solely on it.

      I think, looking back, that I was rather grown up as a kid -- when I was a teen, I preferred hanging out with the adults at a gathering and just listening to their conversation rather than playing with kids (especially kids I didn't know well). So to me, the idea of becoming even more grown up was pretty ghastly, when the truth was I wasn't going to get much more "grown up" than I already was for a really long time.

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  11. Oh! My favourite, favourite book ever! Louisa May Alcott writes with such motherly wisdom and gentleness that one can apply her lovely lessons to their lives... And I honestly don't know how many times I've read it...I don't know If it is even possible to tire of reading it... Each tike I am captured by something new and wonderful!
    Meg has to be my favourite character...I am much like her in many ways, not just because I too am the eldest sister...
    And I have seen the 1994 version of the book and truly loved it, even though it was quite a bit different to the book...
    Thank you for hosting a read-along - such a delightful way to discuss a book in the land of blogging!
    Much love!

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    1. Ooooh, your favorite book ever! How exciting! Glad to have you aboard :-)

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  12. I remember "libel/label" making an impression on me in my childhood reading. It took me a really long time to understand what "libel" actually meant, so I sympathize with Amy's confusion.

    I did a reread and post back in December (http://www.emeraldcitybookreview.com/2014/12/the-immortality-of-love-little-women.html) but am happy to read along again. : )

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    1. Glad to have you along for the ride, Lory! I'll be interested to hear if you pick up anything new by rereading to so soon after your last reading.

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  13. I got so excited about this that I started the book a week early! It's only been about six years since I've read it, but I'd completely forgotten how good it is! And Jo is still my favorite character too. (-:

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  14. So, reader confession time: I've never actually read this book through consecutively. I've always skimmed my favorite parts. I've started this book so many times that I actually have the first page almost memorized! It's weird to think the Meg is the same age as me...
    I probably like Jo the best because I can sometimes relate to her, and I love her in Little Men! This will be fun! Thanks!

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    1. Really? That's amusing. Well, I hope you enjoy reading the whole thing, then!

      Thanks for joining :-)

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  15. Something else I thought I would add to this chapter's discussion...
    I loved how their father, although away and fighting the war, encouraged his girls through the Christmas letter he sent to work diligently so that the years wouldn't be wasted... And then of course how the sisters went to work straight away with their knitting:). Oh! I do so love to read this touching story!

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    1. Yes, it's neat that Mr. March is still doing his best to be a good parent from a distance, isn't it? And how they're affected by his fatherly concern, even from afar.

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  16. I can't even count the times I've read this book (part 1, that is. I never knew there was a sequel until i watched the 1994 movie, and it just continued past the ending I thought I knew).

    I love the first chapter, with its quiet introduction of characters and qucik establishment of themes.
    When I read it now it strikes me how much of a educational book it must have been for young women, with its many lessons. But back when I read it the first time, I just thought this was how grown-up books were.

    And a favourite character?.... I really like Jo, but I don't have a definite favourite, for I love tham all in different ways.

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    1. And I didn't even realize there were two parts to it until a couple years ago when someone referred to "Good Wives" and I was like, "WHAT?! There's another sequel I didn't know about??" And so I got a copy of "Good Wives" out of the library and discovered that my book had all of it too, it just called it "book 2" instead.

      And yes, a very educational book. I'll be touching on that in my post on chapter 4 some more. Alcott isn't shy about trying to impart lessons, is she?

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What do you think?

(Rudeness and vulgar language will not be tolerated.)