Saturday, May 19, 2012
I just finished rereading the March family chronicles, better known as Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott. I enjoyed them very much, but something disturbed me about myself and society. Alcott had several themes which she wove into most of her books: "sensible fashion." temperance, morality, phillanthropy, rights for women, and her own ideas in education. Sometimes, her narrative of the story stops almost completely while she puts out a chapter on one of her topics.
Here is what bothers me: I first read most of her books when I was in my teens, even my late teens. I was a very "square" little person. I always wanted to do what was right and tried very hard to be good. These books were such a find. As an almost non-reader, I found not only great friends in her pages, but ideas that I agreed with and which guided me for a long time. As I grew older, each time I read them, I would find myself more bored by the "preaching" parts. Have I gone so wrong? Has society gotten so dark that her lessons are completely outdated? I hope that is not the case. Perhaps it is just the writing style that has changed. Modern books do have "issues" in them, but they tend to be character driven and so a child reader might not feel as much preached at as in Alcott's books. I, myself, often feel that someone has been on a soapbox, even with the newer styles. It seems that writers with a passion just have to put out what they feel.
And so I think that is my answer. Louisa May Alcott had every right to put her heart into her books. Along the way, she created some of my all time favorite characters. One of the best things about her is that when she does get into naarrative mode, she is the best. Her romances are full of wit, warmth, surprises, and just the right amount of pulling things together for a happy ending. Her books are still in print, in spite of the values which have surely changed. Some of her dreams have been realized. She would like that. Some have not.
So why do I read old books in the first place when there are so many new ones out there? I do read newer books and there are many I enjoy. I think I keep going back because, in spite of the fact that I am no longer such an innocent, and the styles are sometimes difficult, there is just such a peacefulness, a pleasure in being in a more simple time. It's as much an escape as a fantasy. And with Alcott's Marches, I feel that I am visiting family.