Little Women, Good Wives, An Old-Fashioned Girl, Little Men, Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom are all huge favourites of mine, along with pretty nearly every other book Louisa May Alcott wrote for girls. I read Little Women and sequels first at about eight years old and then at least once a year every year thereafter and am still not sure what the appeal is exactly – certainly the large family of girls, the troublesome boys, their tribulations and efforts to be good, their love affairs (count me as a fan of Fritz, I was never in love with Laurie) and the struggles with making their way independently in the larger world. Of Alcott’s heroines, I have always loved Polly, Rose, Meg and Beth the best (in that order as well) – not I know the most popular of choices, but I did so want To Be Good and could emphathise all too well with Meg’s domestic struggles (that jam that wouldn’t set!), and they’re still my favourites even though I recognise now that Jo, Laurie and Amy were perhaps really where the author’s interests fell. I also love the fervently held Christian beliefs and the really good cry Alcott nearly always gives us – it isn’t that I’m a bible thumping evangelist, but these books make me want to try to be a kinder, nicer person. Hmmm I’d better keep reading as have a very long way to go to Beth-like saintliness!
Let’s see – looking for a good cry? Don’t forget L M Montgomery – Rainbow Valley gets me going. In fact, I don’t think there’s a single one of her books that doesn’t bring a tear to my eye. But, there’s nothing as harrowing (and satisfying for my money) as The Proper Place by O Douglas. Douglas’ stories are mainly set between the two wars and have wonderful characters and settings (skim through any tiresome Scottish dialect – understanding every word isn’t necessary, and you soon get in the swing of it), and Penny Plain, Priorsford and The Proper Place should come with several daintily embroidered hankies attached.
Then there’s one of my favourite English Victorian novels written for young women, The Daisy Chain by Charlotte Yonge. Or, there’s the Australian Victorian classic, Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner. I have known people so upset by the death in this book they couldn’t finish it. Not me. Mind you, be warned: I remember telling poor Miranda at about 4 years old how much she’d love the film of Ring of Bright Water (I’d completely forgotten just how traumatic that story is, and I had a lot of comforting to do after we’d sat down to watch it, not helped by the fact that I suddenly remembered it was based on a true story though of course I kept mum about that bit at least) – not sure if she’s quite forgiven me Even To This Day – so better add not to read if you’re especially likely to confuse fiction with fact (all the nicest people do it to some degree) or are in an especially fragile state.
On a jollier note, do you love the domestic aspects of Alcott? Then girls’ stories with plenty of keeping house, recovering invalids, making gifts on a shoestring and jam-making details are for you. Plus we’re bosom buddies! This is a category I’m something of a enthusiast about (so much nicer to be reading about successful home cleaning/renovation and housekeeping all accomplished with nothing more than a few pennies and plenty of elbow grease than actually attempting to do them oneself!) Start with Katharine at Feather Ghyll by Anne Bradley and Sally’s Family and The Girls of Friars Rise by Gwendoline Courtney if you haven’t read them already. I have The Sugar and Spice Girls by Mollie Chappell waiting for me at Miranda’s and apparently it’s very much of the same ilk so should be just my cup of tea.
Image and great reviews of other Mollie Chappell books (and books generally) from here
Finally for a very light-hearted American time travel return to Little Women don’t miss The Time Garden by Edward Eager. It’s funny and engaging and really very clever indeed! Also a book that never fails to make me smile and hence the perfect antidote to any of the too sad ones mentioned earlier.
Image from here