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Little Women

About forty years ago, I went to stay with my grandparents on my own for a week. There wasn’t a great deal to do there in the evenings, but I found a shelf of children’s books in the dining room which I think must originally have belonged to my aunt. I was a voracious reader, so that was enough to keep my busy. I started with The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley and absolutely hated it. Even at the age of eleven or so, I thought it was a pile of sanctimonious tripe.

Fortunately, also on that shelf was a hardback copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. It was written only a few years later than The Water Babies, but I found it much more engaging and enjoyable. I remember being captivated enough by the story to get the sequels out of the local library when I got back home, but then I don’t think I’ve given it a thought in the next four decades.

There is however a major new film adaptation of the book which has just been released and is getting some pretty good reviews. It’s been on at Malvern Theatres this week, and I’m still off work for my Christmas/New Year break, so I took myself off to the matinée showing this afternoon. My recollection of the book is a bit hazy, to say the least, after all this time, though I did recall that it’s about four sisters growing up in genteel poverty in New England. I remembered that one married the stinking rich boy next door, one married a penniless professor, and one died tragically young, but that was about the sum of it.

The film didn’t tell the story chronologically, but kept leaping backwards and forwards between the girls as teenagers and as young women. So I found it a bit confusing at first, especially as the same actresses played both the younger and older versions of the characters, which sometimes made it hard to tell which time period each scene was set in. However, it was a very clever way of showing how the characters developed, with their past foreshadowing their future. I also found it interesting that the director, Greta Gerwig, has put a strong feminist spin on the story, which is just fine by me.

Overall, I thought it worked well, and was an interesting and enjoyable way of spending the afternoon. I’ve just looked online, and it appears that there is actually a film adaptation of The Water Babies, starring Bernard Cribbins. Based on my memory of the two books I certainly wouldn’t give up an afternoon to watch that one!