The Louisa Challenge: Little Women

Illustration from: An Old-Fashioned Girl. By L...

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Welcome to the second installment of The Louisa Challenge where we read one Louisa May Alcott book every month and then discuss it. You can find the prompts here. If you wrote a post yourself, please link it up in your comments so that we can all read your work!

I was watching Midnight in Paris (for the fifth time) last night, and Woody Allen’s script calls for a character to say that Mark Twain is the father of the American novel. I’ll accept that, but I’d like to add a mother to the little family. I’d like to propose that Louisa May Alcott is the mother of the American chick-lit novel.

Louisa May Alcott has long been known as the forerunner of the Young Adult genre of authors we know today. In her time, her popularity was based on the fact that most other writers for children were moralizing and preachy. Her characters resonate with real-life drama — they don’t always behave well, they feel guilty when they misbehave, and they don’t always marry the man of their mama’s dreams.

Are Louisa’s string of novels the archetypes for such popular books as Lisi Harrison’s Clique series?  At first glance, one might be horrified at such a comparison, but let’s extrapolate, applying a little Midnight in Paris – style time travel. If Alcott were alive today, would she embrace Facebook and Twitter and use it for her characters to gossip about each other? She writes with an almost vicious delight at the “mean girl” antics of Meg’s friends and she gets even better at it in An Old-Fashioned Girl. They make the perfect foil for the March sisters who struggle to be “good” while also wanting to enjoy the good life. Only Beth seems immune to peer pressure, but then she doesn’t get out much.

How many times have you read a current novel in which the heroine realizes that the hunky bachelor, while providing social standing and sinful delight, is not the one to settle down with and marry?  Sometimes the heroine even passes off the hunky bachelor to a friend, and that relationship turns out to be a marriage made in heaven. Goodbye Laurie, hello Professor Bhaer.

I need to go on record here that I’m frequently appalled at a lot of what my students read today. I believe that constantly reading about the mean-girl phenomenon legitimizes its inevitability, even though many of the popular books do have heroines with a heart of gold who make the right choice in the end. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that in our drive to present young girls with realistic role-models, we’ve also given them permission to misbehave because “everyone does it.”

But let’s get back to that time travel thingey. Louisa as YA Queen. No wonder people came to her house in Concord and asked for locks of her hair. If she were a modern woman, would she also be appalled? After all, she often called her YA novels rubbish and was kind of embarrassed about them.

Can you see her on The View? What do you think?

P.S. I really struggled with writing to my own prompts, and thus found myself straying off-task. I hope you will forgive me, and I’m looking forward to reading what you have to say!

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