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.
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.
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).
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:
- I now know that blanc-mange is a “sweet meat made from gelatin boiled with milk.” I no longer want to try it.
- “What the dickens” is late 19th-century slang for “what the devil.” I may adopt this expression.
- Tea roses were introduced from the Orient in the early 19th century; their fragrance resembles Chinese black tea.
- Hearts-ease was a common name for pansies. (So fitting, don’t you think?)
- 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.
- 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…