Soon after publication on September 30, 1868, Little Women became an enormous bestseller and one of America's favorite novels. Its popularity quickly spread throughout the world, and the book has become an international classic. When Anne Boyd Rioux read the novel in her twenties, she had a powerful reaction to the story. Through teaching the book, she has seen the same effect on many others.
In Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, Rioux recounts how Louisa May Alcott came to write Little Women, drawing inspiration for it from her own life. Rioux also examines why this tale of family and community ties, set while the Civil War tore America apart, has resonated through later wars, the Depression, and times of changing opportunities for women.
Alcott's novel has moved generations of women, many of them writers: Simone de Beauvoir, J. K. Rowling, bell hooks, Cynthia Ozick, Jane Smiley, Margo Jefferson, and Ursula K. Le Guin were inspired by Little Women, particularly its portrait of the iconoclastic young writer, Jo. Many have felt, as Anna Quindlen has declared, "Little Women changed my life."
Today, Rioux sees the novel's beating heart in Alcott's portrayal of family resilience and her honest look at the struggles of girls growing into women. In gauging its current status, Rioux shows why Little Women remains a book with such power that people carry its characters and spirit throughout their lives.
Anne Boyd Rioux, a professor at the University of New Orleans, the author of Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist, and the editor of Miss Grief and Other Stories, has received two National Endowment for the Humanities Awards, one for public scholarship. She lives in New Orleans.
"Rioux considers the cultural impact and enduring popularity of Louisa May Alcott's American Civil War-set novel Little Women, a runaway success since it was first published 150 years ago." -- The top page-turners of 2018: History - Mail on Sunday "Thoughtful... An adroit consideration of Alcott and her milieu." -- Meghan Cox Gurdon - The Wall Street Journal "Lively and informative...Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy does what-ideally-books about books can do: I've taken Little Women down from my shelf and put it on top of the books I plan to read." -- Francine Prose - The New York Times Book Review "...highly companionable and illuminating..." -- Vanity Fair "Rioux gives an enthralling account of how Little Women broke new ground - with realistic girls who spoke in `vulgar' slang, lost their tempers, had career plans and, if they did get married, found it pretty hard work... This delightful read had me leaping to grab Little Women and its two sequels off the bookshelf immediately." -- The Mail on Sunday "Highly entertaining and eminently sane...[Rioux] paints a compelling portrait of Alcott, giving us fascinating insights into the creation of Little Women." -- Charlotte Gordon - The Washington Post "Anne Boyd Rioux's book, published to coincide with Little Women's 150th anniversary, is a compact but rich account of Alcott's life, how she came to write her most famous and enduring work, and its effect on her and American literature... [a] satisfying, balanced but punchy tribute to Alcott's great work..." -- Lucy Mangan - The Spectator