Little Women Readalong—Chapters 1 to 17

littlewomenreadalong

I am participating in James’ TBR Triple Dog Dare challenge, and I’m not supposed to go to the library until April. But last week, I broke the rules. It’s acceptable, I think, because I got a book I already own. Plus, it blew my reading slump to smithereens.

You see, there’s a Little Women readalong going on this month (hosted by Jenni Elyse, Suey, and Kami), and when I started to read my book, I discovered that the ink has faded so much in parts that I can’t make out the words.

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A coworker gifted me the “book plus movie” edition.

So I requested the book at the library, opting for the first available copy. I expected a solid little paperback, but instead I got a mammoth book: it’s 9 × 9.5 inches and has 694 pages. And it’s THE BEST BOOK EVER.

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My book (left) quickly became friends with the library copy (right).

The actual text of Little Women takes up only one column of the book’s two-column setup, leaving the outside column for annotations and lots of pictures. And boy, are there annotations! I Googled Daniel Shealy, who edited the book, and the man has obviously spent a great deal of time studying Louisa May Alcott. If I didn’t appreciate his annotated edition of Little Women so much, I might suspect him to be a tad obsessed (in a really good way).

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Text in black; annotations in red. How delightful to think there was a “real” Laurie.

I have never read Little Women before (and it’s been a very long time since I saw the movie). I am enjoying my reading journey immensely, but I can honestly say that I love it even more because of the edition I am reading. I knew that Alcott’s own life influenced her writing of Little Women, but I had no idea how much of her own experience made it into the story. It is wonderful to get these glances of Alcott’s life as I am reading about the March family. For example, I didn’t know that Alcott worked as a nurse in Georgetown, DC, during the Civil War, even though it was only for two months, as she caught typhoid pneumonia. In addition to the information about Alcott, I am also learning lots of other interesting tidbits:

  1. I now know that blanc-mange is a “sweet meat made from gelatin boiled with milk.” I no longer want to try it.
  2. “What the dickens” is late 19th-century slang for “what the devil.” I may adopt this expression.
  3. Tea roses were introduced from the Orient in the early 19th century; their fragrance resembles Chinese black tea.
  4. Hearts-ease was a common name for pansies. (So fitting, don’t you think?)
  5. I know everything I never knew I wanted to know about pickled limes, which were highly popular in the 19th century. The peel of the lime was pierced and the fruit placed in brine. The import tariff on pickled limes was extremely low, since it was neither a fresh fruit nor a pickle. Thus, they could be sold for a penny a piece.
  6. I had never before heard of “floriography,” which describes “the language of flowers.” It was extremely popular in the 19th century; hundreds of books were published on the subject, and it was even picked up in etiquette books for women. So for contemporary readers, the description of each girl’s garden that is at the beginning of Chapter 10 conveyed information about her character: Meg’s roses show she’s ready for love; Jo’s sunflowers symbolize her “lofty thoughts”; Beth’s old-fashioned flowers imply her special qualities; and Amy’s lilies symbolize purity.

I am pleasantly surprised not only by the edition I am reading, but also by how little annoying I find the characters. The four girls and their mother are so stereotypical in so many ways, and you couldn’t escape the morals of the stories even if you tried really hard, but none of it bothers me. I happily sigh every time I heft this tome onto my lap. On to the next chapters…

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28 comments

  1. What an awesome experience! I want to read this edition next time I read Little Women. I think it sounds delightful to learn all the fun stuff you’re learning. I’m glad you’re enjoying it!

  2. Do you find the annotations terribly distracting? Like, when you were reading the book, did you always stop and read the annotations when indicated to do so, and does that pull you out of the story? Recently, I was reading a book of the collected letters of the famous poet Langston Hughes. Every little thing he wrote had some kind of footnote–when he mentioned people, places, events, the editor had something to say. I couldn’t keep myself in the letter long enough to get a sense of Hughes, whose poetry always blows me away.

    • I love the annotations, but I think the way the book is set up helps. A quick glance tells me how long the annotation is, and then I know when to read it, i.e., at the end of a sentence or a paragraph or at the end of a scene. So I wasn’t really pulled out of the story. But I can definitely see how a different setup or an overwhelming number of annotations could be distracting. (I like Hughes’ poetry as well…)

      • That is helpful! I saw the picture of the pages on your post. With Hughes’s book of letters, it’s all footnotes that come right after the name of a person, place, or event with no regard to where I should actually stop reading and look down. Then again, footnotes aren’t designed to care about the reader, they’re designed to care about documentation and accuracy.

  3. What a fun edition! I will have to add that to my wish list.

    Thank you for sharing the extra info! I’m quite intrigued by the pickled limes. What type of solution did they place them in, I wonder? A vinegar-brine like we do today?

  4. Oh wow! I wish I had that copy! How much more fun it would be. I’m enjoying the reading, but am struggling to get through the long chapters. Maybe I needed an actual book in hand instead of the Kindle version? Great observations as well! Thanks so much for sharing!!

  5. This annotated edition sounds like the bee’s knees! I have such fond memories of reading this book, but I’m sure all the subtleties and interesting facts you mention here were lost on my younger self. Maybe I should buy a copy of this version as a present for my goddaughter – I’m pretty sure she would love it.

  6. The Annotated edition looks rather scrumptious – I’d love to have all that extra detail at my finger tips. I’m esp curious about the Alcott’s Transcendentalism – what it is and how its reflected in the Little Women books.

    I was saving my first annotated edition of something for Ulysses (whenever I feel brave enough to finally tackle it) but I’m beginning to see the benefits of having one for a well known well loved book to give my reread extra depth.

    Keep the fascinating info flowing 🙂

  7. What a lovely edition you have to read. The pages of my copy are fine but the spine is crumbling, because first my mother and then I read the book so many times. You inspired me to check my own library catalogue and I found twenty copies, but nothing so lovely.

  8. I’ve enjoyed reading your comments and learning about floriography (did I get that right?). Your edition sounds like the perfect copy – I have been googling a lot this read-along, and I’m sure I’m not even getting half of the information contained on your copy. I’d love to see the parallels with Louisa May Alcott’s own life! Thanks for sharing these tidbits.

  9. So fun to have all those annotations! My family (well my mom) says “what the dickens” or some variation of the phrase all the time! Also, I’ve never really been sure how much of what we are reading was “real life” but I read it as if all this stuff really happened to our author in a some sort of way. So glad you are enjoying the RAL! 🙂

  10. It sounds heavenly. And makes me want to run out and buy it!
    I didn’t read Little Women until after University, and I was surprised by how much I loved it. I often think I should read it again, but haven’t (no surprise there). I also keep thinking I should read more by Alcott, but I haven’t done that either. It sounds like I might also want to read about Alcott’s life. And about pickled limes (never heard of such a thing). Reading is the best. 🙂

  11. This annotated version looks wonderful. I wish I had picked something like that up for this read along. I love the information you included in this post, especially the part about floriography.

  12. I loved reading this post, and the special edition looks lovely. Also, thank you for sharing those tidbits. Very interesting. 🙂

  13. That edition sounds amazing! Little Women is on my list for the Great American Novel Quest – I loved it as a child but haven’t read it in years… decades! I must try to get hold of your edition when I get to it. Incidentally, she wrote about her hospital experiences in Hospital Sketches which is available on Project Gutenberg – I downloaded it ages ago but have yet to read it… *sighs*

    • I think this edition would be perfect to use when you read Little Women as part of your GAN quest. You’d probably enjoy all the historical details the annotations provide. Alcott was a firm believer in the equality of men and women, and there are lots of details in the story that show that. I know I would have missed most of them if I didn’t have the annotations point them out.

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