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Places to Go: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Written by Rachael Norris, 9th April 2020

Literature provides us with one of the most powerful experiences of travel, all from the comfort of our front living room. Places to Go, People to See is a special feature that The Reader is bringing to you in the hope that it may provide some inspiration on how we can spend our time at home during these difficult times. We will be posting extracts from stories which highlight special moments of travel and adventure, for you to enjoy and, if possible, share.

Before making my choice of text for this feature I asked myself, if I could go to any other home right now (other than my friends’ and families’!) where would I go? Many wonderful literary homes and magical lands from books came to my mind: Hogwarts; Middle Earth; The House on Pooh Corner; Wuthering Heights, to name a few. And then I remembered the March family - the four sisters Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy, who, along with their mother, are the main characters of Louisa May Alcott’s novel, Little Women.

When I was young I had a bit of a fascination with North America and the ‘pioneer’ life: I had read all the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ series, and something about the lone wooden houses separated from others by expanses of land, the snowy winters, and the extended families gathered around a fireplace – a visitor from ‘outside’ now and then – appealed to my imagination in suburban England.

Having two older brothers myself, the Marches seemed to me the ideal sisters. I loved how different each of them were – kind, home-loving Meg, impulsive tomboyish Jo (who I was sure I was most like), gentle Beth and beautiful, pettish Amy – and I felt immediately at home in the midst of them.

In the extract here I read from Chapter Five, called ‘Being Neighbourly’. I live in a city, in a large house that’s been converted into flats, and it’s struck me a few times since the ‘Stay Home’ policy came into effect that despite living here for five months now, I don’t know my neighbours at all. We’ve passed on the front steps a couple of times, said hello whilst picking-up post a couple of times – but now we are all here, all day, in the same building, and I wish I knew them better. So reading this extract felt particularly poignant: I love Jo’s instinctive sense of her neighbour’s loneliness in this passage, and her immediate decision to act – to take the gentle risk of approaching, and saying, ‘How do you do?’ – and ‘You know me!’, when he tells her he doesn’t know anyone to keep him company.

Jo managed to warm my heart as she does Laurie’s in this passage and, although we still can’t be physically close, she has encouraged me to take that first step in the spirit of friendship when I’m next getting the post…

Here’s to being neighbourly!

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