As I mentioned, to my surprise, I loved rereading Little Women. I think I liked it more now than when I first read it as a teenager, simply because the goody-goody characters were refreshing to me after the novels and the nonfiction books I’ve been reading. I related to the girls.
Author Geraldine Brooks read Little Women the first time when she was ten. When her mother recommended it, she said to take it with a grain of salt: “Nobody in real life is such a goody-goody as that Marmee” (Afterword, page 354). With that concept was born Brooks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, March.
While March focuses a little bit on Marmee, the majority of this book is about Mr. March (called March), the father of the girls, who, in part one of Alcott’s novel, is away fighting in the Civil War. In this novel, we read his letters to Marmee—and then we read the truth of what is happening to him in the South. March writes “I promised her that I would write something every day…I never promised I would write the truth” (page 4).
In a fascinating contrast to the girls’ failures in Little Women, March’s failings are huge to him; he cannot solve them in a chapter or even by the end of the book. As Little Women delves into the little problems of teenage girls, March delves into the larger problems of an adult before and during the civil war: slavery, death, violence and war, betrayal, marital and extramarital relationships, and confusion about one’s role in the world and in a family. (Disappointingly, there is a far amount of sexuality in this book, so keep that in mind.) To me, it is an intriguing contrast to the goody-goody world of Little Women.
Geraldine Brooks has thoroughly researched both the civil war and the life of Louisa May Alcott’s father, Bronson Alcott, for many of the philosophies and characteristics of Mr. March. Since Alcott herself based Little Women on her own experience, basing Mr. March on Alcott’s father seemed very appropriate. I love a well-researched novel, especially historical fiction, and this certainly was well-researched.
I also loved the concept of fleshing out a character that otherwise wasn’t noticed. I know I never gave a thought to Mr. March when I first read Little Women. Only on rereading Little Women now, knowing that I’d read March next, did I realize how little attention is given to him.
What behind-the-scenes fictional character would you like to know more about?
Note: I’d recommend reading Little Women (at least part one) before approaching March. They complement each other nicely.