Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott

I re-read Little Women last year and was surprised to find that my memories of the story had been unduly influenced by the wonderful Winona Ryder-Kirsten Dunst-Claire Danes film version I watched as a child; in comparison to the film, half the book appeared to be missing, and I wondered why the filmmakers had taken such liberties in extending the story so far beyond Louisa May Alcott’s imagination! It was then that I realised the film had depicted not just Little Women, but its sequel, (one of three sequels, actually) Good Wives, too, and so off I set to find myself a copy of the latter. I found a gorgeous early 20th century edition that matches my copy of Little Women shortly afterwards, but as usual, it was left to gather dust for a few months before I got around to reading it. I never change! Last week I was finally in the mood for a bit more Louisa May Alcott and so out came Good Wives, and I was enchanted all over again by the world of the March girls.

Good Wives takes off about three years after where Little Women left off. Meg is about to get married, Jo is attempting to launch a literary career, Beth has sadly never recovered from her scarlet fever and is now virtually housebound, and little Amy is maturing fast, and about to go off travelling with a wealthy aunt. Each girl is struggling with her own problems; for Meg, she must learn to be a good wife and mother, and juggle the demands of the two; Jo must learn how to maintain her morals in a corrupt business, and rein in her headstrong and often selfish nature; Beth has to come to terms with the fact that she may never grow old, and learn to enjoy the time she has left without dwelling on what may come, and Amy must learn to put others first, and understand that money and fine things are nothing in comparison to a good heart and unconditional love. As they make their way from childhood to womanhood, each of the four March girls has her own path to tread, and though there is much joy to be found along their way, there is also much sorrow, heartache and lessons to be learned. In all things, they look to the quiet strength and wisdom of their mother, whose gentle reprimands and loving encouragement sees all of them through their trials and helps them to greater appreciate their blessings.

Louisa May Alcott is very much a Victorian writer, in that her stories are all about girls being obedient, self governing, faithful to God and developing characters and hearts that reflect the great virtues of patience, love, and charity, so that they can be a blessing to all around them, and bring perpetual sunshine to their homes. Little Women and Good Wives are a thinly disguised Pilgrim’s Progress, the March girl’s favourite book, and I can understand that the didactic and religious overtones can be a little too much for the modern reader. However, I absolutely adored this book and it gave me a lot to think about, as I dripped tears onto the pages, laughed, and gave satisfied sighs at these delightful girls’ various antics. These books have both made me search my soul and promise myself I will be a better person. More patient, more kind, more compassionate, more considerate, more tactful, more loving…and then I continue to get REALLY ANGRY AT EVERYONE on the tube and fight with my brother and tut loudly behind SLOW people and open my big mouth where it’s not wanted and think evil thoughts about people who take the last seat on the train even though I was clearly waiting ten minutes longer than them…but still, the willingness is there, I suppose, which is a start.

I think any story that makes you want to be the best person you can be has got to be worth reading, and when I closed this book, in the midst of Mrs March smiling at her girls and grandchildren and saying this, this is happiness, and nothing more, it was like a little ray of light beaming into my soul, reminding me that it is the simple things in life, like family, and friends, and sunny days, and walking barefoot on grass, that are important, and not the rest of it that we stress ourselves out about on a daily basis. It might be cheesy, and it might be old fashioned, and the characters might be a little bit too good to be true, but it works for me.

Little Women and Good Wives will always be amongst my favourite books, because they are not concerned with being flashy or different or clever, but about inspiring and encouraging their readers to grow, and change, and love, and dream, and live, and to never give up, because no matter what, life is worth it. What could be better, and truer, than that? I urge you to read them; they’re not just for children, and I promise you’ll close the pages with a smile.

Want to read some Alcott? Join Margot at Joyfully Retired in her All Things Alcott Challenge!

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44 comments

  1. What a wonderful, in-depth review of Good Wives. I like that you compared your life to that of the characters in the book. And, I found your last paragraph an excellent reason for reading Alcott’s books.

    I’m so glad you’ve joined the All Things Alcott Challenge. I hope to hear of more Alcott books, or Alcott-inspired books you read, listen to, or watch. Thanks for the reminder of the Winona Ryder film of Little Women. I’m adding that to my list.

    1. Thanks Margot! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I’m so pleased to join you in your challenge and will be reading much more Alcott in the months to come, I hope!

  2. When I saw that you were reading Good Wives I could barely contain myself waiting for you to review it. Little Women can also be had here in the States in a volume with Part First and Part Second, which our book group was told to be mindful when getting the book or they would miss out on a great deal. We had a very lively discussion of the book, much to my satisfaction as I was the one who recommended it. Most had read it or heard of it through one of the three movies (I think the Winona Ryder one is the best of the movie versions). One of our group had never heard of her or the book and was so glad to have been introduced.

    I love Little Women and have read it several times since I first sobbed over Beth as a young girl in elementary school. I sobbed again with this reading.

    I am a great fan of Louisa May Alcott and was ecstatic a few years ago when we went to Concord, Massachusetts and were able to visit the house where she lived and wrote Little Women. There is a website for the home http://www.louisamayalcott.org/index.html and it is filled with all things Alcott, including many, many books by her or about her and her family.

    I just love your early edition. Your review is so well done and I appreciate and agree with your point of view in your last paragraphs.

    I won’t be able to do the challenge, but, will visit Joyfully Retired for fun and see what is up there as well.

    1. What a fantastic book club read this must have been! I think it’s so good to discuss older classics as well as the latest bestsellers and I’m glad someone else’s book club is doing this – mine is quite good at achieving a mix in this way too. I’m glad you enjoyed the review and agree with me- I think we are kindred spirits indeed!
      I am so painfully jealous of your visit to Orchard House – I’d love to go one day. I also want to visit Walden and all those sorts of places…one day I will have an American Literature journey across New England and take in Edith Wharton’s house and revisit Emily Dickinson’s as well. Something to look forward to!

  3. This brings back such fond memories of reading Alcott when I was younger! I must admit that I enjoyed Eight Cousins/Rose in Bloom more than the Little Women books but that An Old Fashioned Girl is my favourite Alcott. As you say, her books always left me determined to be a better person, however old fashioned the models she may have presented. The books and their heroines still resonate for a reason!

    1. I’m so glad you’re an Alcott fan too! I would really love to read her other books – the three you mention I very much would like to read, but I shall have to wait until book purchasing is allowed again! I am intrigued by Eight Cousins/Rose in Bloom especially but I’m excited by you saying you like An Old Fashioned Girl better than Little Women – high praise indeed! I clearly have much to look forward to! Exactly – these books are timeless and that is why they are still classics. We can all learn from the March girls!

  4. Gosh! I thought I was missing something big when I saw “Good Wives” by Louisa May Alcott. : ) But it turns out I’ve only ever seen the Book 1 and Book 2 version of Little Women, so I didn’t miss out after all. If you want more of the love, please read Little Men and Jo’s Boys as well. They really tie the story up nicely. Wonderful books. I think the most romantic storyline in history is Jo and the Professor.: ) Thank you for reviewing such a wonderful American classic.

    Traci

    1. No! I was the one missing something! I have Jo’s Boys at home but I’m missing Little Men so I’m going to have to wait for a copy of Little Men before I can read on! So true about Jo and the Professor – there’s something not quite right about Laurie and Amy but Jo and the Professor are so adorable together! Glad you enjoyed the review Traci!

  5. Thanks to your recommendation, I finally read the complete edition of Little Women last year and loved it. What a wonderful review you’ve written!

  6. Hi Rachel, what a lovely review, and yes they are old fashioned but gorgeous books. I feel inspired to be a better person just from reading your review. Must try and ‘hold that thought’ through one whole day now! I also enjoyed a little peek at the Lifeonthecuff link.

    1. Thanks Merenia, I’m pleased you agree! Oh you are too kind – I am just the same- always making resolutions and five minutes later, there I am, mouth open, impatient ramblings issuing forth. I have tried extra hard today but still I have fallen short – oh, well – I am nothing but human! Lifeonthecutoff is a gorgeous blog and one I am glad to have discovered – you and she will get along well, I think. As always, lovely to hear from you, Merenia!

  7. What a wonderful response to this book Rachel – I think some books are absolutely timeless. It’s worth seeking out the other two sequels as well for more on really wonderful family values.

    1. Thanks Verity – timeless is just the way to describe these books – the essential message will never cease to be pertinent as long as humans have souls! I am looking forward to reading Little Men and Jo’s Boys – just have to track down a copy of Little Men then off I will go!

  8. I’ve read all of the sequels too (and Little Women in parts 1 and 2 volume) and I do love those March Women.

    Nymeth reviewed March by Geraldine Brooks recently, which is told from the perspective of Mr March when he’s off at War; it and now this has made me want to reread Alcott and then read it.

    1. I’m glad you’re a fan too Claire! I have heard of that and wasn’t sure what it was about. I’d definitely be interested in reading it – Mr March does remain somewhat of an enigma in the original books, so I am intrigued to see what Geraldine Brooks has made of him as a character.

      1. I read a thought-provoking take on the Mr. March side of things on Jezebel’s “fine lines” feature (http://jezebel.com/5302959/little-women-the-sisters-are-doing-it-for-themselves).

        While most readers (especially the young ones) just breeze past the parts about the missing father and accept it, Skurnick points out a few clues hinting that Mr. March has outright abandoned Mrs. March and the girls:

        “Don’t you wish we had the money Papa lost when we were little, though?”
        and
        “I think it was so splendid for Papa to go as a chaplain when he was too old to be drafted, and not strong enough to be a soldier!”

        (ie. He lost the money they once had – how? And he went to join the war entirely by choice.)

  9. Great review Rachel. I have never been sure if I would like Alcott but might try Little Women one day as have heard its marvellous though am not sure as a 28 year old male I will get it? What do you think?

    Loving the tulips, they are my favourite flowers above all.

    1. Thanks Simon – you should definitely give them a go. The lessons you learn are universal and not just for women! I think you would really enjoy them – you’re a sensitive soul at heart!
      Aren’t they gorgeous? They are picked from my mum’s garden!

  10. Your review brings back memories of being cuddled up with Alcott’s books as a child and being swept away. I’m quite sure she had something to do with my fondness for the swish of a long dress. And don’t be too hard on yourself, you lovely young lady, Jo wouldn’t be beyond elbowing someone for a seat on the Tube!

    1. Cuddled up is the perfect way to read Alcott – I bet you have such lovely memories, Darlene! I wish I’d discovered her when I was a teensy bit younger so I could have those fond memories too. You are so sweet to me, Darlene! I can believe that actually – Jo reminds me of myself in lots of ways!

  11. You are a much better person than I am – Louisa May Alcott’s didacticism always irritates me, even when I agree with her. But I’m glad you enjoyed this! Did you cry when Beth died? When I am not reading Little Women, I always think how nauseatingly virtuous Beth is, but when I reread, I cry and cry every time.

    1. Oh I’m sure I’m not! I can understand how it could irritate after a while – noone likes a dogooder! Of course I did! Sobbed like a baby – even though I knew it was coming! She is so good and sweet it’s untrue but you can’t help but love her anyway, can you?

  12. My copy of Little Women includes both books, just as the movies use both. (BTW: The 1949 version of the movie is my favorite. It uses the same script and sets as the 30’s one with Katherine Hepburn, but I still like this one more.)

    I love these books as well. They make you feel so good, which I think is the ultimate accomplishment for a book. What is the third sequel? I know there’s Jo’s Boys and Little Men…

    I really enjoyed An Old-Fashioned Girl as well. There are some pretty wonderful moments in that book, and it has a similar message as well. I have a copy of that one from the 30’s with an inscription that I treasure. Hoorah! for old books!

    1. Oh I haven’t seen an earlier movie – I’ll have to track those down! Yes Jo’s Boys and Little Men are the two sequels to Little Women and Good Wives, there aren’t any others.

      I would love to read an Old Fashioned Girl – that sounds like a lovely copy, you lucky thing! I’m so glad you are an L M Montgomery fan too.

  13. ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and its various sequels have the same effect on me: I always resolve to be a better person when I’ve finished reading them–especially Anne’s line “Oh world, you are beautiful and I am happy to be here” (that’s a paraphrase from memory).

  14. What a lovely review, and of one of my favorite books from childhood! I had a copy with both books (I think most American editions come that way), so I had the immediate gratification of knowing what happens to all the sisters. But in some ways I envy you, getting to visit the March family again as an adult. They’re wonderful books, and even knowing a bit more about Alcott and her family, and how she herself felt about her writing, I still return to them as old friends.

    1. I had suspected you would be another adorer of Little Women – I am so excited to be discovering the sequels for the first time. It’s such a joy! I think they will become my go to comfort reads from now on.

  15. You remind me that my plan to read the series began and ended with reading Little Women, back in 2002 or thereabouts. And I don’t remember much about it… but my copy is a nasty 1970s paperback, nothing like your beautiful edition (and beautiful photograph, may I say).

    I can’t think of any book, the Bible and other Christian non-fic excepted of course, that has made me want to be a better person… which clearly indicates that I need to read Good Wives and pronto!

    1. You must continue reading, Simon – Good Wives equalled Little Women in loveliness for me. Glad you like my edition – and the photo – I was experimenting with my brother’s swanky camera!

      Well aside from the Bible of course…I think you’d love Good Wives! It will change you!

  16. Heh. Good Wives always makes me wish I was a better person, too! I love the part where Amy is snubbed at the craft fair and gets her own back. Unfortunately Jo’s Boys and Litte Men get very sentimental and are not as good as the two first volumes. Loved your review.

    1. Oh I loved that bit too! I would definitely not have behaved so gracefully, I must say! Oh really? That’s a shame. I did suspect they may get slightly more saccharine as they go along. I won’t be reading them for a while though as I don’t have Little Men, just Jo’s Boys, and I don’t want to read Jo’s Boys out of sequence.

  17. I found you through your comments on Persephone Reading Week and what a lovely blog you have. What a gorgeous review! Like you, I love the stories (never found Jo’s Boys or Little Men quite so satisfying). What a beautiful edition you have too! I’ve reread them at various watersheds in my life and sometimes when I wanted a good laugh and/or cry. I remember feeling so keenly with Meg when she has the unexpected dinner guest and hoping I could be a quarter as good a mother as Mrs March!

    1. Thanks Donna! I’ll be off to check you out now! Glad you liked the review and are also a Little Women/Good Wives fan – I think they are perfect comfort reading and sustenance during difficult times! It’s a shame Jo’s Boys and Little Men are not as good but in the face of Little Women and Good Wives can you get much better?!

    1. Lisa, in the UK Little Women is frequently separated into its two volumes – Little Women and Good Wives. In the US I think both books are usually combined under the one title of ‘Little Women’. So Beth actually dies in Good Wives, not Little Women, but if you’re putting them both together, then she does indeed die in Little Women. Does that make sense?!

  18. hello……. my scool project is to write about 2 characters from this only book.can anyone help me to tell about the characters PLEASE

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