A video talk
Writer Anna Quindlen once claimed “Little Women changed my life”, and she was not alone in having such a strong reaction to this extraordinary classic. J.K. Rowling, Simone de Beauvoir, Ursula le Guin and Ethel Turner were just some of the literary fans of the novel.
I have laughed and cried over Little Women so many times! As a girl I simply loved the story and the romance of it all, but as an adult, when I came to learn more about its remarkable author and her struggle to support herself, I appreciated the book even more. Now there’s a new film version, introducing Little Women to a new generation of viewers and, hopefully, readers as well.
Come with me on a fabulous reading journey through 2020. Together we will explore a thought-provoking selection of 19th and 20th Century classics. For each novel you will receive an illustrated monograph packed full of intriguing stories about the author behind the book, explaining its themes, tempting you with film versions to watch, and challenging you with discussion questions.
I love to share my passion for great literature. Please consider joining me in this literary exploration.
Did you know that Louisa’s grave is marked by an American flag indicating service in the Civil War? She was eager to serve – after all, this was a war fought over slavery and the Alcotts were ardent abolitionists. Her modest childhood home had served as a ‘stop’ on the famous Underground Railway, assisting escaped slaves from the South to head north to Canada looking for freedom, and Louisa wanted to play her part.
Enlisting as a hospital nurse, Louisa saw some horrific sights – men mutilated by cannon fire and wracked by the diseases that swept through the armies of both the North and South. She was paid just $10 for her service. After only six weeks she fell ill with typhoid pneumonia and nearly died. Her thick, glossy hair was chopped off and she was treated with calomel, a mercury-based medicine. This treatment caused far more problems than it cured, for the mercury poisoned her system. “I was never ill before this time and never well afterward”, she later wrote. The world had come so very close to not having Little Women in it at all.
Louisa’s first book, Hospital Sketches, based on the letters she wrote home during the war and published in 1863, didn’t make much money, but it did help to get her name known in the literary world and, most importantly, it taught her her true style. She realised that writing about what had actually happened was something she did well. This little book taught her the writing path she should follow and was a precursor to Little Women.
“Louisa May Alcott was telling girls they could do anything they wanted to: be actresses, writers, artists, wives or homebodies. That you could be a philosopher and still cook and look after people. And I thought that was wonderful.”
― Sandi Toksvig, writer, broadcaster and actor
I also love the story of her publisher making up his mind about the manuscript of this novel. He personally thought it was a dull story, but gave it to a group of young girls to read. These girls said it was a “splendid” book and longed to know what would happen next to the ‘little women’. The publisher concluded that young girls must be the best critics of a tale intended for them, so he made the decision to publish. Of course, he never regretted that decision!
So, how did Little Women come to be written in the first place, when Louisa never much liked stories about girls? How did she cope with all the fame it brought to her and her family? She financially supported her sisters, parents and nephews and nieces through using her pen – a rare feat for a woman in the 19th century.
My talk explains the autobiographical aspects of Little Women. You will discover what parts of her own life Louisa May Alcott changed when she turned her experiences into fiction. You will learn about the start of her writing career, penning what she called her ‘blood and thunder’ novels packed with murder, guilty secrets, frustrated passion and violence.
I also delve into the novel itself and discuss what makes Little Women such an enduring tale. How did Louisa use a religious classic as a model? What are the major personality traits of each sister? How do we respond to the men they marry?
Jo lies on the rug, and cuts her hair short – not proper behaviour for a young lady of that era? But there’s so much more that makes this a feminist book. Discover all the ‘Me Too’ aspects of Little Women.
Anne Boyd Rioux who wrote the book Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters first read the novel as an adult, and yet still fell in love with it. Did you read it in childhood, or later? Did you fall in love with the book? It’s a deeply religious book – do you think that is off-putting for a modern reader? Do you think this novel still matters and why? I’d love to hear your reactions to this classic story. Let’s discuss it here.
This Virtual Talk is a real video treat! In it, I reveal intriguing stories about the author to help you understand what prompted this book to be written. I identify the main characters and their roles, analyse the themes behind the story, and describe the influence that the era, lifestyle and circumstances have on the book’s setting. This talk is illustrated with photographs, paintings, scenes from different film versions and book covers – you’ll have plenty to look at while you listen.
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