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Ana and I Discuss Little Women April 4, 2013

Posted by ccbooks in Debate.
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The frontispiece from the Jessie Wilcox Smith edition that I remember reading as a kid.

The frontispiece from the Jessie Wilcox Smith edition of Little Women that I remember reading as a kid.

Over the holidays, Ana and I had the misfortune to be stuck in an airport on Christmas night and as often happens when we are bored, we began to discuss children’s books. Specifically, we talked about several of the classics that we both loved as children, but now have different reactions towards as grownups. A key example is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Cecilia: I’m pretty sure I read Little Women sometime in second grade. I have a memory of taking a paperback abridged copy on a Brownie camping trip and then mom and dad gave me the unabridged Jessie Willcox Smith illustrated version. My sharpest memories are of skipping to the parts where the sisters enjoyed activities that I envied–putting on plays, exploring the mansion next door, creating special clubs like the Pickwick Club.

Ana: I think Mom first read me Little Women. I have a memory of re-reading parts of the books over and over again, but I don’t have a clear memory of reading it for the first time. At some point, she must have stopped, though, because I know for a fact that I’ve never finished the entire book. I got about as far as the girls growing up, and stopped. I was more interested in them as children than as adults.

Cecilia: Why were you more interested in them as children? I think some of my favorite parts were when Jo lives in the boarding house in New York, as well as Amy’s adventures in Europe.

Orchard House, where Alcott lived in Concord, taken during a New England children's book pilgrimage in 2010.

Orchard House, where Alcott lived in Concord, taken during a New England children’s book pilgrimage in 2010.

Ana: At the time, I was a child, and I had no particular interest in reading about adults. I found adults boring. To a certain extent, I think I still do– hence the reason I tend to read and write primarily about children. Childhood, at least in books, is the exciting, magical time when you can do practically anything; you aren’t bound in by rules and proper behaviour. It seemed as though there was so much less possibility for the March sisters once they grew up and moved away, and that they probably weren’t going to be doing anything that I would interested in reading about. So I stopped. In my defense, I was about eleven at the time.

Cecilia: You read adult books now–have you ever gone back and re-read the entire book? If not, why not?

Ana: I read some adult books now, although a lot of that is not necessarily by choice, being an English major. In terms of my personal reading list, a lot of it is still children’s lit or young adult. I also tend to re-read a lot of books, though, so that skews the stats. But I’ve never gone back to Little Women, mostly because as an adult, I find the style and the characters painfully moralistic, and I don’t want to spoil the beautiful memory I have from childhood. I prefer to live in denial.

Cecilia: I guess the difference is that when I read a book from childhood, like Little Women, I find that I’m reading with the mindset of my child-self and so I mostly ignore the moralizing (since I didn’t notice it as a child). Most of the time when I re-read a book from childhood, I’m remembering my reactions and thoughts about it as a kid and so I enjoy it in much the same way.

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