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Little Women

Author Shelley Fraser Mickle
Air Date 9/30/1999

Little Women Transcript

John Cech: It’s the anniversary of the publication of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, which first appeared in 1868. Here today is Shelley Fraser Mickle with her personal reflections on this classic.

Shelley: When I was growing up in the 1950’s, I so dearly adored my older brother that I not only in his hand-me-down clothes, I also read every one of his hand-me-down books.

I went through airplane books and truck books and baseball books, and I fell in love with the idea of becoming a cowboy by following my brother to the Saturday afternoon movies. My plan was to start the first grade with the new name of Billy. I practiced sitting around looking tough with my top lip hooked over my lower one while also wearing a squinty-eyed look. My brother put a quietus on the Billy idea when he went screaming to my mother that there was no way on this earth he was going to let me use the boy’s bathroom at his school! So I ended up being officially registered for the first grade as the girl I was.

It was in the fourth grade that being a girl began to make sense. I checked Little Women out of the library and went home and devoured its pages in less than a week. Here was a story about a girl named Jo, who was a writer. She was strong, hot-tempered, impulsive, and resourceful – all the things I was or aspired to be.

Louisa May Alcott published Little Women one hundred and thirty years ago today, and she did so only at the suggestion of her publisher. She told him she didn’t think the book would do very well and wanted only to be paid up front for it, never mind about the royalties. Luckily for her, her publisher didn’t listen. Maybe he knew, as thousands of us would come to know, that after reading Little Women no girl would ever again think of herself as having to lead a life of small ambition.

In 1970, I was beginning my own career as a writer and was living only seven miles from Orchard House, the home Louisa May Alcott established for her family with the money she made from her books. Many snowy afternoons, I drove over to Orchard House and stood in the living room where a small fire would be burning brightly in the fireplace. The spirit of Little Women was always there – its comedy and courage as the March girls persevered through poverty, hard times, and sorrow. I would imagine them once again putting on their theatrical entertainments while their scenery collapsed around them. Jo’s dinner party with accidentally salted strawberries, and Amy hopping around with her foot stuck in plaster of Paris. Perhaps in my imagination Louisa May Alcott’s characters became not only parts of myself, but also the sisters I never had.

Posted in Literature