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The Afterlife of Little Women The hit Broadway show of 1912; the lost film of 1919; Katharine Hepburn as Jo sliding down a banister in George Cukor's 1933 movie; Mark English's shimmering 1967 illustrations; Jo this time played by Sutton Foster belting I'll be astonishing in the 2004 Broadway musical flop these are only some of the markers of the afterlife of Little WomenThen there's the nineteenth century child who wrote If you do not make Laurie marry Beth I will never read another of your books as long as I live Not to mention Miss Manners a Little Women devotee who announced that the book taught her an important life lesson Although it's very nice to have two clean gloves it's even important to have a little ink on your fingers In The Afterlife of Little Women Beverly Lyon Clark a leading authority on children's literature explores these and other after tremors both popular and academic as she maps the reception of Louisa May Alcott's timeless novel first published in 1868Clark divides her discussion into four historical periods The first covers the novel's publication and massive popularity in the late nineteenth century In the second era the first three decades of the twentieth century the novel becomes a nostalgic icon of the domesticity of a previous century while losing status among the literary and scholarly elite In its mid century afterlife 1930 1960 Little Women reaches a low in terms of its critical reputation but remains a well known piece of Americana within popular culture The book concludes with a long chapter on Little Women's afterlife from the 1960s to the present a period in which the reading of the book seems to decline while scholarly attention expands dramatically and popular echoes continue to proliferateDrawing on letters and library records as well as reviews plays operas film and television adaptations spinoff novels translations Alcott biographies and illustrations Clark demonstrates how the novel resonates with both conservative family values and progressive feminist ones She grounds her story in criticism of children's literature book history cultural studies feminist criticism and adaptation studies Written in an accessible narrative style The Afterlife of Little Women speaks to scholars librarians and devoted Alcott fans


3 thoughts on “The Afterlife of Little Women

  1. Susan Bailey Susan Bailey says:

    In 1868 a writer desperate to pull her family out of a lifetime of poverty sits down at the tiny half moon desk in her bedroom to begin work on the book she has dreaded writing Assigned by her publisher to write a girl's book Louisa May Alcott draws upon the lives of the only girls she ever knew herself and her sisters Declaring their childhood experiences ueer she writes a semi autobiographical account of portions of her life through the characters of Meg Jo Beth Amy and the brother she always longed for Laurie Little Women is an instant bestseller catapulting this relatively unknown author into fame and fortuneThe Afterlife of Little Women by Beverly Lyon Clark documents the stunning and continuing impact of this children's book around the world and throughout history This book is a sumptuous feast for every devoted Little WomenLouisa May Alcott fan Clark professor of English and Women's Studies at Wheaton College and one of the leading authorities on children's literature has put together the go to book about the impact of Little Women on the world since its publication in 1868 Clark takes the 147 years of the novel's life and divides it into four historical periods Becoming Everyone's Aunt 1868 1900 Waxing Nostalgic 1900 1930 Outwitting Poverty an War 1930 1960 Celebrating Sisterhood and Passion since 1960 What Little Women shows us By peering through the lens of Little Women's aftermath we get a fascinating glimpse into the thinking of the day and how American society in particular saw itself Though this lens we witness the evolution of children’s literature and its impact on Alcott’s standing as a serious writer One point becomes clear in the end it doesn’t matter whether Little Women is considered great literature; it is here to stay The softening of Little Women Clark’s descriptions of the numerous offshoots of Little Women including books plays musicals movies and television programs reveal a reoccurring theme that of softening the enigmatic Jo March in favor of a focus on traditional home and family This “softening” began with the author allowing herself to be marketed as “Aunt Jo” by her publisher and Roberts Brothers trifling with the text for a revised edition of the book in 1880 Edited were many of the collouialisms in favor of a polished dialogue Character descriptions were modified to reflect gender ideals as in calling Marmee tall rather than stout and “noble looking” rather than “not particularly handsome pg 24 As a smart businesswoman intent on making a profit proper marketing was always in the forefront of Alcott’s mind and her publisher’s as well Jo March had to be maintained as a “safe” inspiration for girls Fun The Afterlife of Little Women is a must read on so many levels Let's begin with the fun factorDetailed analyses of just about every derived book including spinoffs and online fan fiction play musical including an opera movie and television program ever made about Little Women Statistics regarding sales of the book throughout the years from countries around the world Discussion of famous people influenced by Little Women A listing and discussion of adult and juvenile biographies of Alcott Translations and interpretations of the book Analyses of the various illustrations And of course reviews of the work iThe Afterlife of Little Women is a wonk's paradise every detail you ever wanted and then some is included in this thoroughly researched book It documents not only the public's response to Little Women but also those of scholars critics and librarians There are times when the statistical information becomes excessive but overall this does not distract from the enjoyment of this work What role did feminism really play? I had two small uibbles with this book First there seems to be an insinuation of twenty first century feminism into the discussion particularly with regards to plays and movies produced about Little Women in the early and mid twentieth century Perhaps this was unconscious on Clark's part but it appears that fault is assigned to these productions for their focus on the mainstream themes of domesticity and romance rather than Jo's artistic goals and independent spirit It's likely the mainstream audience of that era was simply not ready for the feminist message of the story It does however demonstrate just progressive Alcott wasI was also disappointed that the many adult Alcott biographies that have emerged since the 1960’s received small mention since this is a pet interest of mine Eden’s Outcasts was singled out along with Madeleine B Sterns’ definitive biography I was however uite surprised that Eve LaPlante’s Marmee and Louisa did not warrant a mention; nor did Martha Saxton’s controversial work or Harriet Reisen and Nancy Porter’s PBS documentary Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little WomenThese are hardly fatal flaws; this book was a most entertaining and informative read engaging this reader in a wonderful conversation with each page book as evidenced by the numerous comments uestions and underscores Little Women lives Little Women is a work that uite likely was an accident of genius Clark’s book plumbs that genius through the incredible depth of interpretation explored by illustrators reviewers teachers librarians scholars and devoted fans alike It is this level of interest that continues to ensure Little Women’s viability The Afterlife of Little Women shows clearly why this fascinating and endearing book continues to be read and cherished as a classic


  2. Lauren Straley Lauren Straley says:

    This was a great book that dove into the scholarly and post scholarly attention for Little Women The author dove into Alcott's life in a provocative and interesting way through details like Alcott's resistance to writing Little Women in the first place Anyone interested in 19th century America and how books have the power to have a life after we flip the page will love this book


  3. Kristi Kristi says:

    Clarke examines popular interpretations of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women since its publications with a an emphasis on illustrations and dramatic portrayals She argues that Alcott's text is a mutable and ever changing cultural artifact


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