Places To Go: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Learning and Quality Coordinator at The Reader, Lisa Spurgin reads from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. The theme for our daily readings this month is 'Winter Warmth'. Check out the rest of our readings for December and download the calendar here.
Little Women is one of those books which can be enjoyed at any time of year, but it seems to take on a special significance at Christmas. Perhaps because it is a story that has family and love for others at its heart. I read the book in its entirety when I was growing up – a ‘little woman’ myself – but have since seen several film and television adaptations of it, and funnily enough, always over the festive season. There’s just something about the feel of it that evokes Christmas.
The book begins as the four sisters of the March family are anticipating Christmas, and what they imagine will not be a very happy one. They will not be expecting any presents this year due to the family’s unfortunate financial situation, and their father is away from home serving in the war. They each have a dollar to spend as they wish, and come to the collective decision that instead of using the money to buy themselves something they each want that they will club together to buy gifts for their dear mother, whom they call ‘Marmee’.
In this extract which starts the second chapter of the novel it is Christmas morning, and Jo – the most confident, outspoken and adventurous of the four sisters – is the first to wake. Though at first disappointment strikes her, she finds a book underneath her pillow. All four sisters have been gifted the same book from their Marmee. Led by Meg, the eldest sister, they spend the start of their Christmas reading, with Meg making the promise to keep her book at the table by her bedside and “read a little every morning as soon as I wake, for I know it will do me good and help me through the day." It’s such a lovely image to picture – all four girls quietly engrossed in their reading, their expected sorrow about their lack of presents faded away, and helping one another, as can be seen through Beth and Amy, the youngest two.
The morning holds another surprise for the sisters who are delayed in their gift-giving to their Marmee by the woman herself, who has encountered an impoverished family living nearby who are struggling with lack of food and adequate shelter. Marmee asks whether her girls might give their breakfast as a Christmas present to the poor mother and children of the Hummel family.
For me, this passage exudes so much warmth and reminds me what the season is truly about – not receiving but giving, and finding the truest joy within that act. Through the kindness, care and loving attention they show to the Hummels, as well as the love they shower upon their dear Marmee, the March sisters embody the spirit of putting others before oneself and show their transformation from girls to little women in all senses of the word.
However you are spending Christmas this year, I wish you a very happy one, and hope you are uplifted by this extract from such a wonderful and heartwarming novel.