Holiday Books: A passage of Christmases in ‘Little Women’

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With Greta Gerwig’s recent adaptation being released this time last year, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott has become a firm Christmas favourite. A childhood classic, it reminds me of Christmases spent with family, reunited with friends and the cold weather on Christmas  Day.

The growth of the sisters is marked throughout the novel by different Christmases. 

With the holiday season looking a little bit different this year I wanted to revisit the novel and film before the festive period was over. Although it’s not necessarily a totally holiday-centric text its warmth and joy reminds me of the season. With the novel opening on Christmas Day, as Meg (the eldest sister) bemoans the poverty the March family faces, complaining that ‘it isn’t Christmas without any presents’, the growth of the sisters is marked throughout the novel by different Christmases. 

The novel, a reflection on the passage from girlhood to womanhood, grapples with themes of growing-up, love, heartbreak and grief. Even though it’s traditionally considered to be a children’s novel, I believe that it is one of those novels that any age can truly enjoy.

The generosity of the sisters when encouraged to give their Christmas meal to the even poorer immigrant family that Marmee cares for, evidences not only Alcott’s upbringing but also the spirit of charity during advent and the holidays. When Mr March arrives on the second Christmas Day celebrated in the novel, it feels like hope for the characters who silently and obediently – with some outbursts of upset – commemorate their days filled with imagination and joy, in order just to get by. 

As Beth contracts scarlet fever from caring for the immigrant family, and *spoiler alert* dies from the illness, it’s a reminder of the self-sacrifice the sisters were encouraged to have; despite their poverty. Jo dances with Laurie in a dress that is burnt at the bottom and Meg wears an old dress to the debutante ball – both only to arrive back to their sisters full with stories of romance, glee and passion. The dominant image of both the novel and the film feels to be the image of the sisters on the living room chair, holding each other, telling stories, writing- or even just sitting peacefully with each other. 

Currently life feels to be in constant conflict; to drive home for Christmas amidst tiers and the fear of another lockdown, ‘Little Women’ feels to be the perfect escapist novel and film.

A family that strives to live in harmony at all times, amidst the conflict between characters such as Amy and Jo; each character has a clear defined role. The themes of giving and charity are reminiscent of Alcott’s own upbringing in a transcendentalist family – where putting needs of others before yourself was its most important commandment. As the sisters forgive each other, grow together, all in the nook of a cosy living room with the fire on – the novel itself feels so warm and cosy, with the themes of charity echoing that of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Considering its themes of grief and death, as we witness Jo nursing a broken heart over Laurie and vice-versa and the illness-stricken and innocent Beth, the novel feels even more prevalent today than ever before. Currently life feels to be in constant conflict; to drive home for Christmas amidst tiers and the fear of another lockdown, ‘Little Women’ feels to be the perfect escapist novel and film. 

Personified; Little Women feels, for so many of us, like a warm hug, hot chocolate or a fire burning in the living room whilst it snows outside. And the many film adaptations, but especially Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation starring Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet as Jo March and Laurie, embodies the Christmas spirit. With its warm sepia tones, snow covered fields surrounding the March’s house,  whilst the sisters take part in their storytelling for the children of the village – it is a reminder of childhoods previously experienced. With Jo’s ambition to become a writer (one I resonate with), Meg’s kindness, Beth’s generosity and Amy’s strife – the sisters feel like foundations of figures which we have grown up with. The effect of Alcott’s novel is monumental as writers like Simone de Beauvoir and Cynthia Ozick were inspired by Jo’s fiery ambition to write despite the restrictions of her gender and class. I suppose that’s why I reach to read the novel every Christmas and watch Gerwig’s adaptation faithfully over the winter break.

Image: Kurt Magoon via Flickr

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