Life lessons we can learn from Little Women
- Credit: BBC/Playground/Patrick Redmond
As the BBC's adaptation of Little Women begins, we discover what we can learn from Marmee and the Marchs (and not just that giving your Christmas presents to the poor means they'll give you Scarlet Fever in return).
I devoured Little Women as a child, ignoring all the pious bits about foregoing presents and being wholesome and concentrating instead on the brilliance of Jo, a headstrong woman in a time when women were supposed to be anything but and my first journalist role model (she sold salacious stories to gossip rags).
The tale of the four March sisters: beautiful, vain Meg, feisty Jo, selfish Amy and sickly, saintly Beth, their ridiculously organised and reasonable mother, Marmee, their dear departed (he's away fighting in the Civil War) Papa and their foxy neighbour, Laurie, is a winter warmer which packs a fair few messages for life about being selfless, thoughtful, kind and dutiful – all the stuff we pretend we'll do for our New Year Resolutions and then forget about by January 2.
Written in the late 1860s, the novel has remained in America's top 10 most loved books for decades and since it was written, young women have been picking our preferred sister with whom to identify (clue: it's never Beth or Amy. And it's probably not Meg, either. It's Jo. Always).
The BBC's adaptation of the novel begins this evening on BBC1 at 8pm and promises three nights of heart-warming drama and another opportunity to enjoy the life lessons offered to us from the March family which range from dressing modestly to having 'indoor voices', learning how to look after everyone to resisting chasing men – but it's not all bad news.
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There's also a fair smattering of progressive feminism in Little Women amid the learning to cook so you could look after your husband and not putting it about in case a suitor came along and didn't fancy, as my Nan once put it, 'second hand goods'.
Girls were as good as boys in Little Women and when Laurie wanted to join in with the March sisters, he had to dress up like they did. Jo wants to fight in the Civil War and won't settle for the easy option, ever. Women look after women and are proud of being women and most of all, anyone reading Little Women today is so outraged that wonderful Jo ends up darning socks instead of writing novels and chasing the news that it's impossible not to become a feminist by the last page.
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As we greet the Little Women, let's have a look at the lessons they've taught us through some quotes which, if we were in the 1800s, we could also embroider on samplers while sitting round the fire discussing our future husbands.
Fifteen fabulous life-affirming quotes from Little Women:
1) 'Be comforted, dear soul! There is always light behind the clouds.'
2) 'I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.'
3) 'I've got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen.'
4) 'There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.'
5) 'I like good strong words that mean something…'
6) ''I hate to think I've got to grow up and be Miss March and wear long gowns and look as prim as a China-aster. It's bad enough to be a girl, any way, when I like boys' games, and work and manners. I can't get over my disappointment in not being a boy and it's worse than ever now, for I'm dying to go and fight with papa, and I can only stay at home and knit like a poky old woman.'
7) 'I am angry nearly every day of my life.'
8) 'I'd have a stable full of Arabian steeds, rooms piled with books, and I'd write out of a magic inkstand, so that my works should be as famous as Laurie's music. I want to do something splendid before I go into my castle—something heroic, or wonderful—that won't be forgotten after I'm dead. I don't know what, but I'm on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you all, some day. I think I shall write books, and get rich and famous; that would suit me, so that is my favourite dream.'
9) 'Love is a great beautifier.'
10) 'Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault.'
11) 'Be worthy, love, and love will come.'
12) 'Conceit spoils the finest genius.'
13) 'I know I shall be homesick for you, even in heaven…'
14) 'Let us be elegant or die!'
15 'I wish I had no heart, it aches so…'