A couple of weeks ago we posted on here about the Reading resolutions of the YLG Northwest committee for this year. My own resolution was to take part in the 2016 Classics Challenge – to read and then blog / tweet about one classic book each month.
When I stumbled across the challenge via Twitter one day I realised just how much my reading of classics has dwindled in recent years. As a children’s librarian I am naturally eager to keep up to date with current trends and developments and there are so many brilliant books being published each month that this could almost be a full time job in itself. Whilst I do love reading contemporary books, I always used to enjoy reading classics too, and this challenge has given me the perfect opportunity to reconnect with that.
I decided to start the challenge with the book that I have always most felt I “should” have read – Little Women. I have no idea why I did not read this book when I was younger – I do have vague memories of watching a film version as a child so there are some parts of the story that I remember (and some that I had completely forgotten about, or maybe weren’t in the film at all).
Little Women is the story of the four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – and their transition from girlhood to womanhood. With their father away at war and the family having relatively little money, the girls balance the trials and triumphs of growing up with the responsibility of contributing to the household and family income. This is something that they complain about regularly:
“It’s so dreadful to be poor!”
and then vow not to complain about anymore, with grand declarations about how they will try to be better:
“I’ll try and be…”a little woman”, and not be rough and wild; but do my duty here instead of wanting to be somewhere else.”
This quote comes from Jo, whose “rough and wild” nature is what makes her such a charming and intriguing heroine. Whilst her elder sister Meg longs to be mistress of “a lovely house, full of all sorts of luxurious things,” and to “never need work a bit”, Jo aspires to “do something splendid…to write books” for a living.
Becoming great friends with Laurie, the “boy next door” the sisters navigate the difficult path of finding their place in life in less than ideal circumstances.
Reading this book has made me realise just how much of a 21st century mindset I bring to my reading. The qualities that Jo vows to work to get rid of are what most endear her to me as a 21st century reader, whilst I find the endless “goodness” of her younger sister Beth frustrating and somewhat pathetic. Likewise the constant vows from all the sisters to do good work and never complain do feel rather tedious.
Having said that, the conventionality that Jo alternates between trying to conform to and trying to escape, is what serves to show her true brilliance as a character. A book full of Jo’s in the 1860s would after all be completely unrealistic. Some people criticise this book for being too “preachy” and, although I can see their point, the fact that Jo not only survives but thrives, makes me think Louisa May Alcott was very forward-thinking and clever and that if anyone in this story was the example of how she felt “Little Women” should be, it was Jo.
Overall I am really enjoying this book so far – I have always found reading classics to be challenging but very rewarding and am looking forward to continuing. If you want to find out more about the Classics Challenge, visit https://theprettybooks.wordpress.com/2015/12/27/2016-classics-challenge/