March by Geraldine Brooks

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Ignored Characters

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.

Reviewed on May 2, 2008

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • Congratulations on being one of the winners of Maw Books contest. This is my first time visiting your blog and I really like it.

    I read Little Women as a teenager and haven’t read it since then. I’m not sure if I want to read March. From other reviews I’ve read, it doesn’t portray him as a very virtuous character. I’m not sure if I want to see him in a different light. Is he a likeable and sympathetic character?

  • @Kim: As I said I was pleasantly surprise to enjoy rereading Little Women . As for March, I think March is not a very virtuous character, and that is why I really enjoyed this book. He wants to be, but he faces real challenges and makes some wrong decisions. (I do believe some of the failings weren’t necessary to make the point, however.) I enjoyed seeing a realistic portrayal of the March family, but if you don’t want to see them in a different light, maybe give this book a miss. I thought he was incredibly likeable, however. I sympathized with him.

  • Becky,
    I enjoyed your review. I liked the book and was not that concerned about the sexuality. I thought it was fairly subtle. Have I forgotten something?

  • @judith.peterson: I did think it was fairly subtle, both the affair and the incident with his wife to be. But it was there, and I didn’t think it was necessary for the plot: we would have understood his weaknesses anyway. It didn’t concern me, but it could concern some. (I know I replied to this already, but it got deleted so I’ve replied again.)

  • I also liked how well-researched the book seemed, it didn’t feel like Brooks was stretching when she made March more complicated than he was in Little Women. I do wish I had reread Little Women first though, I think it would have added some more depth to March. Also, I added your review to mine 🙂

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