Darling Daughter and I watched the recent PBS version of Little Women last weekend.I was out of town when the first episode aired, but she waited for me and we streamed it Friday night so we’d be caught up to watch the final two episodes Sunday night.
I liked Little Women just fine as a kid. I read it tucked between the banisters and “the old book cabinet” at the top of my grandparents’ stairs when I was probably nine or ten. I liked Jo very much, and Beth, too. I found Meg too grown-up to identify with, and Amy…well, she seemed like a bit of a brat to me. I thought her sisters were…generous with her. I started the novel again when I was in college after an American Lit class taught me about the friendship of Emerson, Thoreau, and the Alcotts, but I didn’t make it very far. There was a lot of transcendental preachiness to it, I thought. I didn’t remember those parts from my perch at the top of my grandparents’ stairs.
Darling Daughter listened to an audiobook of Little Women during a pneumonia recovery when she was nine-ish. She loved it. Kept listening to it over and over again, even after she was well. I think of that time as The Little Women Era. I could hear the transcendental sermons from her bedroom all the way down in the kitchen — right away in the morning as I made breakfast. Again at night as she got ready for bed. Sometimes I wonder if her mighty work ethic, diligence, and focus comes right out of that book. She listened to those twenty-three CD’s over and over and over again. And when I got her the thick novel to read, she pored over that, too.
Last summer, we took a trip to Concord, Massachusetts, a place I’d wanted to visit since I was in high school. I’m a Thoreau fan, you see, and it was a thrill to walk around beautiful Walden Pond accessed via the very trail (or close to it) Ralph Waldo Emerson used to visit his friend out in the little cabin in the woods. It was also great fun to tour the Alcott house and hear about the family. Darling Daughter was as elated with that part as I was with tramping around Walden Pond. As we moved room to room, she whispered supplementation to the (very good) tour guide’s words. Her cheeks were pink, her eyes aglow. She was in her element.
Somewhere along the line, I’m sure we’ve watched a couple of movie versions of the famous March family’s adventures and trials. The PBS series was not that — a movie, that is. It was more like a collage we decided — episodes, snapshots, very short acts—gorgeously presented. It deserves a cinematography award, I think. Stunning light and images. We quibbled happily over whether the characterization was just right…or not. We gloried in our recognition of certain places in the Concord area. We fully appreciated the self-reliance footage of the Alcott gardens, henhouse, and orchards. And we teared up with Beth’s death, even knowing it was coming, rejoiced at the birth of Meg’s twins, felt all the conflicted emotions surrounding Amy’s journey to Europe with Aunt March, rooted for Jo throughout, and found Laurie very handsome, indeed…. Though we missed the subtlety of Jo and Laurie’s relationship in the book. They rather upped the romantic element in this production.
At times I looked over at my girl, her face aglow by the light of the television screen. Sometimes her eyes were dancing, sometimes her lips were pursed. She tends to be a purist…and as she said several times, “the movie is never as good….” But this was a special…“presentation,” we decided. We wondered if it would introduce a new generation to a classic, sort of doubting that a pre-tween would find it very interesting.
As for me…I loved watching with my Little Women-obsessed kiddo. I might’ve missed it without her, but I wasn’t about to knowing that this book has so been her book. (Mine is Anne of Green Gables—and I watch all movie adaptations with my heart in my throat, waiting to see if they get it right.) As I brushed my teeth Sunday night I wondered about reading Little Women together this summer…we haven’t done that. Maybe this summer is the time to do so.