9/07/2008

Pop-culture women of the week - The March Sisters

Names: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March
First appearance: Little women (1868)
Creator: Louisa May Alcott
Weapon/ability: Each other
Race: Americans
Ages: At the beginning of the novel, Meg 16, Jo 15, Beth 13 and Amy 12.

Please observe that the following text contains very few spoilers for the book.

The story of the four March-sisters is a classic American coming-of-age book which still is widely popular, despite being 140 years old. It is the story of four sister growing up in the shadow of the American civil war (1861-1865) and who also have to handle a strained economical situation, being middle class but having lost their money.

The main theme is the growing up of these four girls, they all have their virtues - but also vices and in a very straight forward manners these are all pointed out to the reader - many times through the words of their kind, but straight-laced, mother. There are also many occasions when their development is likened to the travels of Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (1678), though these references were probably more obvious and easy to understand to 19th century readers than today's.

The most central character is Jo, short for Josephine, who is a real tomboy, who hates to have her hair pinned up and to dress womanly. Her real passion is writing and she tries repeatedly to get her work published. Her character is based very much on Alcott herself and her own experiences, both with growing up and becoming a woman and as a writer - which can be a troubled path too. The other sisters, the kind and motherly Meg (who at times can be a bit vain though), the one who seems to be really without a fault, Beth (who ends up with ruined health due to taking care of a child with scarlet fever) and Amy (headstrong but with a really good eye for drawing) are all based on Alcott's sisters - Anna, Elizabeth and May.

Another important person to the plot is their neighbour, the rich young man Theodore Lawrence who lives with his paternal grandfather and to whom the girls is a breath of fresh air. But even though love enters into the book from time to time it's never a central theme and of secondary interest. The main theme is the love between the sisters themselves.

Little women was an immediate success and Alcott published a follow-up in 1869, just called part II and since then both books has been published in one volume since then in the US. In Britain the book is separate, titled Good wives - though this book was not named by the author herself. Later two other follow-ups appeared: Little men (1871) and Jo's boys (1886).

The book(-s) has been filmed on several occasions, most noticeably perhaps in 1994 (with Winona Ryder as Jo and Susan Sarandon as Mrs. March) and 1933 (with Katherine Hepburn as Jo). Also worth mentioning is the version from 1949 - with a blond Elizabeth Taylor as Amy.

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