[Note: This won't be a review, as halfway through I start going on about my favourite character, so consider it a collection of thoughts on the four books about the March family, written by Louisa M. Alcott, instead. Also, I tend to ramble, and omit tedious details, so this may be confusing for those who have not read the books.]
To sum up: Little Women was preachy, though sufficiently exciting to hold my interest, Good Wives was tedious, but Little Men and Jo's Boys were both delights. I finished reading the latter last night, and was instantly struck with the desire to share my thoughts on each book and the series as a whole.
Little Women, so I have heard, is one of those books that all girls should read. I first read it when I was too young to really understand most of the morals or writing of the time period -- sneaking limes into school, for instance, or the definition of a 'poplin' -- but on the whole, I enjoyed it. In an odd way, both my favourite and least favourite character is Jo -- I won't pretend to understand her, but she's the most interesting of the lot.
My copy of Little Women is a raggedy, dog-eared affair, handed down from some relative (grandmother? great-grandmother? I've no idea), and missing a back cover and part of the last page. It's paperback, but old-fashioned, and the cover image is of Jo and Laurie on the frozen lake, with Amy calling for help, half-submerged, in the background.
Although I liked Little Women, and reread specific parts sporadically, there are likewise parts that I usually skip -- the pages of Marmee's morals at the ends of chapters, usually. The plot is very episodic, and ends with Mr March coming home from the war, which ties up things nicely, if not satisfactorily. The most underrated character would have to be Beth -- although she was a little too saintly, I found it heartbreaking how people would only really pay attention to her when she was ill.
While scrolling the internet, I found that Little Women and Good Wives are often published as two parts of the same book (Little Women). How odd! No wonder I got confused when Jo's Boys was sometimes referred to as 'book three'. Note to self: must investigate further. Maybe it's a weird British vs. American thing.
Good Wives opens, I think, just before Meg's wedding. I didn't much care for the descriptions of Meg's married life (I never warmed to John Brooke, and toddler-Demi was a little devil at bedtime). However, Jo's relationship with her dear Professor was beyond awesome, and I can't understand why some people were so upset that the Jo/Laurie shiptease was thoroughly sunk. (I totally agree with Marmee and Jo's reasoning -- Jo and Laurie are too alike, and Laurie at the time was too childish.) I also enjoyed Amy's letters about her tour of Europe and her subsequent romance with Laurie. Overall, the book was about the same level of quality as Little Women. Unfortunately, I found it longer and duller, which may explain why it took me so long to get around to reading Little Men and Jo's Boys.
Little Men was where things really got interesting, at least for me. By exploring a setting in greater depth and adding a number of new characters, Alcott renewed my interest in the series.
My favourite character in both Little Men and Jo's Boys is Jo's 'black sheep', Dan, though I do have soft spots for Demi, Nat, Nan and Josie as well. Dan is the anomaly in the original group of twelve boys (Franz, Emil, Dan, Jack, Billy, Ned, Stuffy, Nat, Tommy, Demi, Dick and Dolly, for those wondering). While the others are at least somewhat predictable -- Jack loves money, Stuffy loves food and Demi loves books and his father -- Dan has always been the odd one out. Jo first described him as a 'fire-brand' (I had to look that word up), and the description of 'a person who causes unrest or is very energetic' fits Dan to a T.
In Little Men, he arrives at Plumfield as Nat's friend from the streets. He has no family (though once Jo speculates that his father was what Dan would have been, had he never come to Plumfield) and is sullen and withdrawn, antagonising the other boys and showing no desire to change. This leads to him being sent away to the country, where he runs away. A month or so later, he is found in the barn at Plumfield, lame and half-dead from the journey. He says he only popped in to see Teddy and Jo (Teddy is Jo's younger son, and a favourite of Dan's), but Jo is convinced that Dan was hoping for a second chance at the school.
Throughout the course of Little Men, Dan gradually changes for the better, though his character is too strong to ever become a little saint like Demi. His true flaw is not his temper, which Jo often alludes to, nor his inability to settle (a 'rolling stone'). Instead, his flaw is the fact that he is the opposite of mellow -- he lives life and enjoys it wholeheartedly, and it breaks his heart and mine when (in Jo's Boys) a single rash act in defence of a friend puts him into prison for a year for manslaughter.
Whatever Dan does, he throws heart and soul into, whether it's confessing to a crime he didn't do in order to get the other boys to stop bothering Nat, or harbouring an unrequited romantic affection for Bess (Amy and Laurie's daughter).
His story was the one that was the most real and captivating to me. A quick Google search reveals that it is also the focus of several film adaptatations of Little Men
Daisy and Nan remind me of Meg and Jo -- or rather, what Meg and Jo could have been. Daisy is every bit a 'housewifely creature', while Nan becomes, much to her own satisfaction, a doctor and remains unmarried.
Out of several childhood romances -- Nan/Tommy, Nat/Daisy and Dan/Bess (though this last is one-sided) -- only Nat and Daisy end up together, which made me glad. Nan and Tommy were far too different to be happy together. As for Dan, his worship of the 'Princess' bordered on an unhealthy obsession. His wild ways would never suit her, and having too much spirit, I don't see him changing for her sake alone. He is very much his own man, and this shows.
In the end, Dan is killed defending his friends, the Native Americans. It is a fitting end for a soul who never quite fit in and added much drama and tragedy to the tale: he came into the story with a bang, and therefore must leave with one also.
I started out by talking about the books and ended up gushing about the most interesting character, but I won't apologise, because he is fascinating. However, I'll close by saying I loved all four books, some more than others:
Little Women: 8/10
Good Wives: 7/10
Little Men: 9/10
Jo's Boys: 9/10
Points taken away for preachy monologues, and added for captivating characters and charming stories. I can see why these books are known as classics, for they deserve it. Susannah out.