So I was reading a thing about Greta Gerwig’s new movie, and it made the argument that Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women should be considered as a legit classic of American Literature, and it only gets excluded because sexism. This made me feel guilty that I’d never read it, so I started it off… and then remembered that, oh yeah, I actually don’t like most old-timey American Literature.

And there is definitely stuff to not like in this. It’s explicitly a book that pushes old-timey Christian morality on you, and is structured so that each little story has an edifying moral to it. It’s also structured as a collection of episodes rather than any kind of single storyline. If someone asked you to describe the plot, you’d almost have to say, “a family of teenage girls grows up and/or dies,” because there really isn’t more of a throughline than that.

But… despite those things, it’s actually a really compelling, quick read. When Alcott allows her characters to be human, instead of allegorical figures in a morality tale, she captures them vividly and precisely, such that even though they’re from an alien society with wholly different mores and norms than our own, we can recognize their humanity in its particulars. And their coming-of-age struggles, as they seek to figure out what it is they want out of life, are relatable, too (although these are also the quickest to get quashed into a moralizing form).

On the whole, my take is that the forgotten movie reviewer was correct: This absolutely belongs right up there on the shelf with Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ethan Frome and the rest of the American Literature canon, for better and worse. But also it’s a quick read, and largely pleasant enough (if you ignore the offscreen implications about its delightful little society for the people who fit into it less well). Recommended, if you’re up for some old-timey Americana.


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