Little Women is on the list care of Bloom's Western Canon and Jane Smiley's 100 Novels.
It was one of my childhood favorites. I haven't read it in a decade, but I must have read it a thousand times between the ages of 6 and 16.
I've seen the movie adaptations over and over again - the Hepburn version, the Elizabeth Taylor version, the Winona Ryder version (the Hepburn one is the best).
I have three sisters. There aren't a lot of big families like that now. Especially after we moved to Europe. All the people we knew had one kid - maybe two. We gravitated towards large fictional families. Little Women was one of the books we took for our own, with Little House on the Prairie and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I read and re-read the Boxcar Children and the Bobbsey Twins. I'm just glad The Waltons wasn't available in Italy, or I'd probably have glommed onto that too.
I still have this fascination with finding my childhood reflected in print remains. I swallowed up Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible. Even Big Love has an old feeling of familiarity about it. There's something about living with that many women....
I felt a special connection for another reason as well. When I was three, my little sister was born, and I became fascinated with the naming process. My mom told me that I was named after Beth in Little Women because that was her favorite character. This immediately motived me to learn to read, and a short three years later I was plowing through this book to figure out just who I had been named after. Then I found out that Beth dies.
I bear a grudge to this day.
I came out of the first half of Little Women feeling a little superior. My god, these March girls are so.... bourgeoise. None of them have passion, or genius, or ambition. They're just regular, ordinary people. Their little troubles are very, very little. I don't need explosions or sex scenes, but couldn't there at least be a great moral crisis? Meg goes to a party and borrows someone's clothes. That's the big scandal.
And oh, the guilt! Amy commits an unforgiveable sin against Jo. Really. Unforgiveable! You tell me how quickly you'd forgive someone who burnt the only copy of a manuscript of short stories you'd worked on for months. 'Never' is my answer. But at the end of the chapter it's Jo who regrets that she didn't forgive Amy. Amy gets to make injured remarks about people who don't forgive others, and doesn't apparently, get punished AT ALL. How does that make sense?
Nonetheless, a few chapters later, I was crying like a baby. My namesake, Beth, gets sicker and sicker, and finally dies. And I wallowed in it.
In the end, I couldn't disentangle my adult judgement from my childhood love. The Marches are still my dream family. The sisters quarrel with each other, but they are genuinely friends. Their parents never have fights, and every family gathering is surrounded by a golden glow. I want to crawl right into the book and have dinner with them. Though the conversation might be a little dull unless Professor Bhaer was present.
Who cares if they're just regular people?
So am I, after all.