The great reading adventure has begun! I felt a sense of urgency as I headed to the library after work. My husband looked at me, when I asked if we could stop, and said “but you have books at home.”
Understatement of the century. I have plenty of books at home. Many still unread, purchased in a fit of frenzy over a sale shelf or the good intentions of a desiring-to-be-well-read soul. I did not, however, have the correct books. I took the top three off my list and dove headlong into the stacks.
My search started off poorly: there wasn’t a single copy of His Dark Materials. I checked the catalog – there were plenty of books by Phillip Pullman, just not one called His Dark Materials. Forgive me, friends, for being a pop culture dunce. After a brief chat with the librarian I figured out that was the series title, not a book title. I came home with The Golden Compass. I also left with The Five People You’ll Meet in Heaven, Catch-22 and the eternal classic Little Women.
I started with Little Women, and I’ll tell you why. I’d intended to start at the top of my list – with His Dark Materials. I have a full and complete understanding, however, of these serial novels and I feared that finishing the first I would be driven harum scarum back to the library before finishing my other selections. So Little Women it was, a safe, ideal choice for a lover of polite British Victorian fiction.
Little Women has a distinctly American feel to it, energetic and at times a little disdainful of European fussiness. Miss Alcott is a late contemporary of Dickens, the main corpus of his work being written prior to Little Women, although she is evidently a great admirer, for she refers to his works and characters often.
I would take the time for a full plot description, and I’m sure that even if you haven’t read the book you’re familiar with at least one film version (my preference being for Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor – no one can say Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat like Katherine Hepburn). Familiarization with the plot via video, however, is not being truly familiar with the deep resonating theme of the novel: a call to women to live Godly, Christian lives as daughters, wives and mothers.
The book is framed around the four girls – Meg, Jo, Beth & Amy – and their attempts to live out Christian principles in the face of trials, encouraged by the experiences of the traveler Christian in John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress. I’ve never felt a deep kinship with any of the girls, not being tom-boyish like Jo, eternally sweet and peaceful like Beth, or feeling the desire for wealth and physical beauty like Meg and Amy. Well – sort of. All of their problems, their vanities and selfishness hit home in one way or another. I found myself dreadfully sorry for my daily thoughts and actions, for my long periods of laziness and my frequent avoidance of homely duties.
I was inspired with a new sort of home-love, not in a manner that makes me want to go out and spend hundreds of dollars fixing up my home – but in appreciating the simple touches of fresh flowers and hand-adorned linens. Above and beyond all, I was inspired my dear, sweet, Marmee. Good and kind, thoughtful, generous in her poverty and desirous of young women seeking after the righteousness of the Lord for her self and her dear Little Women. That is the sort of mother I should like to be one day.
This book did not challenge me in a literary manner. An easy read for a young girl, the language is mostly simple, plain and straight forward. There is no effort to weave deep symbolism or preach against the ills of an evil society. There is instead a honest effort to point young people toward a life of honest industry, selflessness and godliness that is both inspiring and humbling. The book is instructive without preaching – the best kind of instruction there is.
If you haven’t read this book in a while (or ever), I recommend you do, be you 12, or 22 or 52. It is delightfully wholesome, simply inspiring, and full of a home-love I would like to see in my house everyday for the rest of my life.