The plot thickens

It’s become obvious to me that I need to better explore the back story of Little Women in order to fully appreciate it (and to be able to comment on it intelligently!). Plus, your comments keep me on my toes as you know so much more than I do! I found this article yesterday on Little Women that caused me to purchase Little Women, the Norton Critical Version, edited by Gregory Eiselein and Anne K Phillips. It arrived today in the mail and already I am absolutely fascinated by all the extra material it contains, including excerpts from Louisa’s journals, parts of Madeleine Stern’s fine Louisa May Alcott: A Biography, letters between Louisa and Thomas Niles, relevant portions from Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, and so much more. The most fascinating thing so far has been the discovery of the fact that the book has evolved over the years. Punctuation and spelling have been corrected, words replaced by other, seemingly more appropriate words, and sentences have been restructured. Those of you who comment regulary are probably aware of this, but to me this is an amazing discovery!

I started reading through the revisions (and I was happy to find that the original edition that I bought and have been enjoying is, in fact, the original 1868-1869 version). Right off, I found a change that I found quite disconcerting:

In chapter 1, Marmee (in the original version) is described thus: “She wasn’t a particularly handsome person, but mothers are always lovely to their children,” ;  the popular 1881 Regular Edition(which includes Little Women and Good Wives, also known as Part One and Part Two) rephrases it as: “She was not elegantly dressed, but a noble-looking woman,”.

That rephrasing, to me, really changed the meaning of the sentence and left out a charming, sentimental thought – that mothers are so loved that they are always lovely to their children.

I feel like I’ve struck gold today and can hardly wait to read more! I just wish the size of the type in the book wasn’t soooo small. 😦

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2 Replies to “The plot thickens”

  1. As someone who comments regularly I am compelled to say that the beauty of this blog is in its power to “get us going.” You know that your blog is great when your blogers motivate you to learn more and when a person who knows about Alcott more than we do (author of Women Behind Little Women) suggests that you should write another book.

    To me this is like a photo album where individual photographers are posting pictures of the same party and then we are all able to see what was going on in different corners and more we see, more we want to see more. 🙂

    Regarding edited sentence about Marmee, I think that the first sentence saying that Marmee wasn’t a particularly handsome person could have been interpreted in broader sense, I mean it could be understood as more than just the way she was dressed. Maybe she changed it because she wanted to stress that there was some air of dignity around her mother, in spite of the fact that she didn’t have money for elegant and refined clothes, and that by no means her personality could be described as “not particularly handsome person.”
    Are there any explainations of this change in the book you just bought?

    1. The Norton Critical version didn’t really say why it was done, except to fix discrepancies with spelling, punctuation, typos and so forth. But I don’t know why that line about Marmee would be so streamlined, the original line is so much better!

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