How better to start off the month of May than with our very first guest post! Today's post is coming to you from my dear friend Jen Ulrich. Jen and I go way back to my Clearwater Christian College days where our friendship was really born on a study tour to Europe in March of 2008. Jen lives with her husband and their one year old son in Hawaii where she also works as an online professor of history for Liberty University. Today Jen is sharing her thoughts on Little Men by Louisa May Alcott with us. I really appreciate her perspective about the similarities and the contrasts between our culture today and the post-Civil War culture present in the novel. For all things Alcott on the blog including my own thoughts about Little Men, click here. Jen, thanks for putting this together for us. I hope this is the first guest post of many to come from you!
|My favorite photo of Jen and me somewhere in Europe.|
Review of Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
Everybody loves a sequel, right? I grew up watching the 1994 version of Little Women with the wonderful cast of a young Christian Bale as Theodore Lawrence (aka Teddy or Laurie), Winona Ryder as Jo, a very young Kirsten Dunst as young Amy, and several other familiar names and faces. And there it ends, with Jo and her professor inheriting the great house of Plumfield and saying it would make a great school. Well, I finally know what kind of school they establish and all the boys that filled it…and there’s another book after this one, so I really need some closure.
Little Men: Life at Plumfield with Jo’s Boys picks up about 5 or 6 years after the close of Little Women (which apparently has two volumes, but they’re typically combined in editions today). Jo and Fritz have two boys of their own – Rob and Teddy, plus Fritz’s nephews Franz and Emil. In addition to these four boys ranging in age from about 3 to 16, they have taken in: Demi and Daisy (Meg’s twins, Jo’s nephew and niece), Tommy (the scapegrace – what a word!), Jack, Ned, Stuffy (the chubby kid), Dick, Dolly, and simple minded Billy. Nat, a homeless orphaned fiddler, and Dan, an older boy who helped Nat on the streets are the last two to join the school. Nan, a mischievous girl, joins later as a playmate for Dolly, with the theory that the girls will have a civilizing influence on the boys.
Whew! I didn’t start to get the minor characters straight until the end of the book. I flipped back to the character sketches in Chapter 2 to refresh my memory on who’s who throughout, which I’d say was the book’s main weakness – having so many characters means some of them won’t be particularly well developed. Most of the action centers on Nat, Dan, Demi, Daisy, Tommy, and Nan, which was more manageable.
The story begins with Nat, and later Dan, arriving at Plumfield. They come under trial to see how well they do. Nat takes to the love of the Bhaers right away, learning lessons in school for the first time and resuming lessons on violin. He’s such a sweetheart, but I have a soft spot for violinists since I married one. Dan is rougher and harder to reach. He leads Tommy into greater trouble than he’d come up with on his own, and after several chances, Dan is expelled, for lack of a better term. Jo holds out hope for him because he’s so good with her baby Teddy and animals. Dan runs away from the place they send him, and shows up, only somewhat repentant later. The second time around, he feels their forgiveness and love and opens himself up to change. They nurture his passions, and he turns things around.
The setting is somewhat idyllic – this beautiful farm in Massachusetts, the changing seasons, barns, plenty of land, a creek, gardens, orchards, caves, and berry bushes provide the backdrop for the children’s adventures. The simplicity is nostalgic. Was life really simpler then? Virtues and vices are common to all men, though. The boys learn lessons in honesty, diligence, moderation, generosity, gratitude, and forgiveness. Sins have consequences, but forgiveness is offered as well. It’s a most unusual school. When a good man dies, they learn that “a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches” (Prov. 22:1).
Because the characters are so young, there’s no falling in love story, but you see a more mature love between Jo and Fritz as they work, parent, and make decisions together. Jo respects her husband and abides by his wishes. He hears her heart and loves her, while making the final call. Four of the children are paired off towards the end, so I’m curious if those two couples become something more in Jo’s Boys. I have a feeling that Dan, Nat, Tommy, Demi, Daisy, and Nan might form the core of the next book.
Final random thoughts:
- They celebrate Thanksgiving with very similar foods, although it was a fairly recent national holiday (less than 10 years since Lincoln made it one). Jo encourages moderation at the feast, indicating that overindulgence at this holiday was already a societal norm. Eating too many sweets had spoiled Stuffy, which is why he comes to Plumfield in the first place.
- The balance between study, exercise, and honest practical work was emphasized throughout. The scholar needs to learn the real world, and the one with street smarts needs to apply himself to his books.
- A good name is its own reward, much more than financial “success” at any cost.
- The variety in characters shows differences among men and women, as well as between them. Daisy and Nan couldn’t be more different – a little domestic lady and a tomboy, but they’re good friends and have different lessons to teach the boys that only girls can. Some of the boys are rough and some are more tender, but none are any less masculine for it.
- The Cinderella story is told with some differences, but is essentially the same as we know it.
- Jo was the first #boymom.
- “Marmar will come and find me” (sobbing). "...run if you must, but don't run far; and come back to me soon, for I want you very much" (more sobbing)
- Louisa May Alcott knows how to get me when a character dies. So powerful.
- Some friends say they liked this one better than Little Women, but I can’t give it that place yet.
- The second half went much faster for me than the first half.
- I saw part of a movie adaptation for this book, but I was substituting, and didn’t get to finish it.
Have you read any adaptations after seeing the movie? Or read the sequel after watching the movie? Do you have any favorite under-rated sequels? When you read older works, do you see parallels to today, or only the differences?