What books could be lovelier than Victorian children’s books (follow this link for some very interesting articles on the topic)? They are so prettily made and have delightful picture plates of healthy rosy cheeked children doing wholesome things like strawberry picking inside, grubby finger marks and colourings-in of various children who have owned and loved the book over the years splotched across the pages, and wonderful titles usually involving a very period name, like ‘Bess’s Adventure’ or ‘Dick’s Nasty Scrape’. It just makes them such a pleasure to read, even when the subject matter is so didactic that it baffles me as to how whole generations of children could have borne being told to shoulder their burdens with selflessness and good grace, look to Jesus, and learn their lessons well if they wanted to grow into good young citizens of the world.
I wonder sometimes whether the world would be a different place if today’s generation of under tens were reading stories with such a message rather than being fed a diet of broken marriages, teen crushes and diets. The morals Victorian children were brought up with led to millions of young men marching out to their deaths in both wars with the conviction that they were fighting for the honour of their motherland and the protection of its women and children; such patriotism and selflessness would never be seen today. Was their character partly formed from the consistent message of How to be Good they received from the books they read as children? I suppose it depends on how much you believe the books you read influence the way you think and act and are. I think literature has a power that many underestimate when it comes to forming young minds…and old ones, too. Many a book I have read has made me understand or appreciate something differently, has encouraged me, inspired me, and made me aspire to being better at something or more grateful, or even more adventurous. Some books have even helped me make big life decisions. There is a lot of power to influence in the humble written word.
So the point of this ramble is…I have just re-read Little Women. The self imposed book ban made me reorganise my bookshelves so my unread books are all grouped together, and Little Women happened to jump out at me from its place within this new arrangement, and so here we are.
It was wonderful. I was transported back to a world when hardship was borne with Christian grace, when poverty didn’t necessitate the firing of servants, and when a hard earned treat was a pickled lime. Marmee was the most delightful, warm, generous and unbelievably good mother I have come across in literature and I adored the four girls with their striking personalities, inner struggles and love for one another that always won out despite their disagreements. Laurie, Mr Lawrence and Mr Brookes, as well as the ever distant figure of Mr March are all excellent examples of strong, upright and protective manhood, and I just loved the small world of gentle kindnesses, neighbourliness, companionship and little adventures they all shared. The image of the March women curled up in their living room around a warm fire, just enjoying each other’s company and keeping busy with their work is something I will always treasure as the picture of what family should be; a loving unit that accepts each other for who they are, weaknesses and strengths, and that helps each other along as they all journey on through life. What marvellous role models there are contained within the pages of this story; Mrs March’s instructions to her daughters on how to improve themselves certainly inspired me to work harder at checking my own quick temper! I hope I have little girls to read this story to one day; nothing could sum up what women I would want my girls to grow into more than the delightful Marches.