Little Women Goes to War

"Actually, the reasons that men (and a fair number of women like myself) don’t share in the widespread euphoria over the film couldn’t be more mundane. For one thing, the movie is based on a children’s book—to be precise, a book for girls. Thomas Niles, Alcott’s editor at Roberts Brothers, asked her to write a “girls’ book.” And that’s exactly what she set out to do. She wasn’t keen on the idea, but she needed the money. “I plod away, though I don’t enjoy this kind of thing,” she complained in her diary in the spring of 1868. “Never liked girls; never knew many besides my sisters.” When Niles reported to Alcott that his niece had found the early pages enthralling, Alcott, who remained unenthusiastic about the project, conceded: “As it is for them, they are the best critics.” No surprise, then, that grown men aren’t crowding theaters to see the latest movie version of a nineteenth-century girls’ book.

Here’s something else that might limit the film’s appeal to men: Little Women was a work of commercial fiction, meaning that it had to satisfy the taste of Alcott’s intended young, female audience. True, the unconventional Alcott chafed against this commercial imperative. She felt exasperated by her fans’ insistence that Jo March, the most independent of the sisters and the writer’s alter ego, marry her neighbor and childhood mate, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little woman will marry as if that was the only end and aim of a woman’s life,” she grumbled. She refused to “marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.” In the end, though, she had no choice but to throw her readers a bone. She married Jo off, all right—to a stout, older, German professor. Worse, in the eyes of contemporary readers, she had the high-spirited, ambitious Jo give up her “scribbling” in order to be what her contemporaries would have thought of as a proper wife. The compromise pleased no one, whether romantics, traditionalists, or feminists; the author herself admitted that she had made the match “out of perversity.”"