Monday, January 4, 2016

Marmee's Girls

Hola, are we all ready to be done with the holiday's and back to our (sort of) regularly scheduled programming?  Great.  To get back into it I'm gonna ramble about one of my favorite old school books.  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott has been a favorite of mine for a long time and I read it as a bit of a counter balance to all the snark and weirdness I was into this year.  As always SPOILERS AHEAD!
This book is about the March family, a family in the New England region during the Civil War era.  Marmee (the mamma) has four girls.  The oldest is Meg, who is beautiful, practical and longs for the finer things in life.  Next comes Jo, a wild girl who when younger wishes she could have been born a boy, is creative, impetuous and loves her family dearly.  Beth comes next and is as sweet and fragile as they come, she is musically and domestically talented and is beloved by all.  Finally the youngest Amy, a fair and pretty girl with artistic talent, a wee bit of pretension and dreams of being a proper lady.  These girls are the main focus of the story and we watch them grow from teenagers into women and follow their lives, dreams, challenges, heartaches and eventual futures.  The book was origanally two separate books, Little Women and Good Wives, but has been published as one book forever.  Lets start with the first half (There is WAY too much stuff going in to put in every detail, but I'll try and give you the highlights).  The girls and their Marmee are trying their hardest to live their live in a greatly reduced state while their father is off being a chaplain for the North during the Civil War.  The are encouraged by their mother to continually improve themselves for the sake of others.  Each girl is continually featured dealing with their own particular flaws, getting into some sort of scrape because of it and becoming better for learning their lesson.  All of this is enhanced by the presence of the neighbor boy Laurie, who has his own good points and bad as well.  Meg continually struggles with her want of nice things, she wants to be comfortable and often over extends herself to the point of foolishness to obtain them.  She is called on it more than once by Laurie who prefers Meg to just be content with her natural beauty and charm.  Meg is the first to grow up and is won over by a man who while poor is honorable and loving.  Jo is continually either up or down, she is constantly frustrated at trying to constrain herself to the ideals of a female in polite society.  Lucky for Jo, her family understands her and gives her great leeway in finding herself.  She and Laurie are very close and run around getting into all sorts of shenanigans, enjoying themselves immensely.  Unfortunately, Jo's mouth and temper are getting her into all kinds of scrapes, some with significant consequences.  She is the most distraught when her sisters start to grow up and have lives of their own, as she is torn between wanting everything to stay the same, and the urge to turn life on its head.  Beth has very few flaws, other then being incredibly shy.  She is sweet and docile and just wants life to be smooth and happy for her little family.  Her giving nature leads her to fall ill with Scarlet Fever, an illness that she never fully recovers from.  Little Amy tries very hard to be good, and usually succeeds...even if she tells everybody just all about the nice things she has done.  Her burden is her desire to be a little lady and accepted in society, even if it means going against her upbringing.  Of all the girls she probably does the most growing.  The second half of the book deals with the girls as they become women and show how the hard work they put in growing up eventually pays off.  Meg marries, John and has a pair of adorable babies.  She works hard at being a good wife and mother and entertains the reader as as she tries to balance the two and her never far desire for the finer things in life.  After a heart breaking decision regarding her relationship with Laurie (she can only see him as a brother and he wants more) she leaves to New York to work on her career and eventually finds her future in a German professor by the name of Behr and a school she founds for the boys of the town.  Beth continues to serve her family and breaks all of their hearts when she can no longer fight her illness and dies.  Amy goes abroad and learns to be a gentle and devoted lady and is rewarded when she and Laurie fall in love and marry.  At the end everybody returns home, watched over by the spirit of Beth and do their best to try and live the best lives they can.
Whew that was a chunk of synopsis and it does not even got into any real detail, and the detail is where the charm lies.  I have always enjoyed this book starting the first time I read waaaaaay back in the second grade.  I think most of it comes from the fact that, especially when I was younger, I very much identified with the March family.  There were four kids, I come from a family of four kids.  There are lots of sisters in the book, I have two sisters.  Laurie reminds me very much of my own adventurous, mischievous brother.  Mamma and Daddy March tried their best to raise decent, thinking kids, with love and acceptance being the main mode of operation, the same at our house.  All of this combined with all the little episodes and going ons of the girls and Laurie made me feel like I was part of the family as it so closely resembled my own.  Now that I am older I appreciate the struggle of many of the characters to just become better humans,  They all have flaws that most humans have, but instead of glorifying them, or vilifying them, the author used them to create very realistic and constantly growing characters.  Now all that being said, the book can very preachy and moralizing, but never in a judgmental way, but more in a gentle "hey maybe not be so selfish so everybody can be happy" sort of way.  All the girls are realistic, with not any one being better then the other, and even little angel Beth had her moments of self-pity and little rebellions.  I also like how all the characters grew and improved, but still struggled with their own particular problems, none of them magically going away, but constantly being worked on.  Jo was always my favorite, with her boyish and bold personality...and since I have been accused of having a big mouth on more then one occasion understand the struggle.  I have read this book so many times that I rarely read the whole thing cover to cover anymore, perfering to flip to the bits and pieces that best suit my mood and situation at the time.  Overall it is a great read for anybody who likes early American fiction, great characters and/or an overall timeline that can be read in small stories.  I give it 8 out of 10 limes and will probably read it several more times.  Happy Reading Everybody!

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