I followed up my re-read of Little Women by reading the two sequels, Little Men and Jo’s Boys. The original four March girls are all grown up, and as adult lives don’t make very interesting children’s literature, the focus of the story shifts to their children and to the boys who live and go to school with Jo and Professor Bhaer at Plumfield, which has been turned into a sort of boys’ home/boarding school. These two novels follow that generation until they, too, are on the brink of adulthood, marriage and career.
I think I read both of these books long ago, but they didn’t stick with me like Little Women did and I’ve never felt the urge to reread them. As a result, almost everything in them seemed new to me. The one detail I’d retained from my long-ago reading was from Jo’s Boys, in which the now-middle-aged Josephine Bhaer has become a celebrated novelist whose career rather closely parallels that of her creator, Louisa May Alcott. The chapter where she writes about a day in the life of a novelist much sought-after by her public is great, but the one and only detail that stuck with me from the books was the fact that Jo’s writing goal (as we would say today) was thirty pages a day. Assuming she was writing longhand (as she had no other choice) on a sheet of paper similar in size to our 8.5×11 pages and she had average-sized handwriting, Jo was logging over 7000 words per day, which puts NaNoWriMo -ers to shame.
Other than that, though, I’d forgotten all the details of Jo’s adult life and the lives of the boys in her care. Going back to them, I found them interesting but not engrossing. It was interesting to see Alcott’s early feminism, especially as evidenced in the Nan’s choice of a medical career and her rejection of marriage, and interesting, too, to see that the Jo/Laurie pattern of not marrying the person who’s hopelessly in love with you carried on with Nan and Tommy in the next generation. The story of Jo’s “prodigal,” the wild and wilful Dan, is obviously meant to be moving, but I found myself wondering why Jo was willing to expend so much energy on saving Dan, while another boy (Jack, I think) was lightly written off as one of her “failures” because he wanted to follow his father into business and wasn’t always entirely honest in his business practices. What, Jack didn’t deserve saving?
Anyway, it was interesting to follow the fortunes of the March family through the years but I found the youthful hijinks of “Jo’s boys” didn’t engage me much — reading as an adult, I’d love to have known more about the adult lives of the original characters, particularly about Laurie’s and Amy’s marriage! By the end of Jo’s Boys it’s patently obvious that Alcott is sick to death of writing about the Marches and of readers’ incessant demands for more — and that suited me just fine, because by that time I didn’t really want anymore.