Cover image for Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy : the story of Little Women and why it still matters / Anne Boyd Rioux.
Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy : the story of Little Women and why it still matters / Anne Boyd Rioux.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W. W. Norton & Company, [2018]

Physical Description:
xiv, 273 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Prologue: "Our book" -- Part I. The making of a classic -- "Pegging away": the road to Little Women -- "We really lived most of it": making up Little Women -- "Fresh, sparkling,...full of soul": the phenomenon of Little Women -- Part II. The life of a classic -- "See immortal Jo!": Little Women on stage and screen -- "The mother of us all": Little Women's cultural and literary influence -- "A divided house of a book": reading Little Women -- Part III. A classic for today -- "A private book for girls": can boys read Little Women? -- "Being someone": growing up female with Little Women -- "Wanting to be Rory, but better": Little Women and girls' stories today.
A 150th anniversary tribute describes the cultural significance of Louisa May Alcott's classic, exploring how its relatable themes and depictions of family resilience, community, and female resourcefulness have inspired generations of writers.


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
813.4 ALC RIO Book Adult General Collection

On Order



On its 150th anniversary, discover the story of the beloved classic that has captured the imaginations of generations.

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.

Author Notes

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.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

To coincide with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Little Women, Rioux (Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist) offers a solid and well-illustrated history of the novel's publication, reception, and adaptations. Rioux lays out biographical background on author Louisa May Alcott and traces her unlikely move from gothic potboiler author to girls' literature phenom as a result of the book's wild popularity. Rioux also examines the novel's many stage and screen adaptations, argues it is as appropriate for boys as girls (a section that could be condensed), and discusses contemporary YA fiction directly influenced by this seminal work. In one section, Rioux explores the many women writers, from Susan Sontag to J.K. Rowling, inspired by the example of Jo March, one of the only early literary models of female authorship. She also successfully highlights important points in Little Women's history, such as the publisher's altered 1880 edition (still commonly read) that cleans up Alcott's lively slang. Throughout, Rioux offers enough detail to entertain and inform without overwhelming the reader. While she notes the novel's readership has fallen off in recent years, one hopes her well-crafted work will help revive interest in a work she rightfully argues should be placed beside Tom Sawyer as an enduring American classic. (Aug.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

New York Review of Books Review

ONE REASON I learned to read was so that I could understand "hard books" like "Little Women," which was read aloud to me as a preliterate child. I remember Louisa May AIcott's heroines - the March sisters - more vividly than some real people I dimly recall from those years. Now Anne Boyd Rioux's lively and informative "Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy" makes it clear why having these fictive young women implanted in my consciousness has been a good thing, helpful for every girl facing the challenges of growing up to be a woman. Rioux's book features a useful, highly compressed biography of Alcott and an account of how her most famous novel was written. Like Charlotte Bronte, Alcott was obliged to support a household. Her father, Bronson Alcott, a friend of Emerson and Thoreau and the founder of Fruitlands, a short-lived utopian community, was so focused on leading "a spotless spiritual life" that he'd forget he had a family. His periods of instability, his delusions and his refusal (or inability) to earn a living meant that the Alcotts moved often and were frequently separated. Yet Bronson recognized and nurtured his daughter's gifts. Louisa was publishing stories at 20, and, after serving as a Union nurse in the Civil War, she began to write novels. Reluctant when her publisher asked for a book about girls, she told a friend, "I could not write a girls' story, knowing little about any but my own sisters & always preferring boys." But she persevered, and when "Little Women" was published 150 years ago, in September 1868, 2,000 copies were sold in two weeks. The book has never gone out of print, and has appeared in hundreds of editions and dozens of foreign translations. A chapter on the adaptations of the novel - for radio, stage and screen - is a compendium of fun facts, much of it about casting. It's pleasant to imagine how liberating it was for Katharine Hepburn to play Jo March as a full-on tomboy in George Cukor's 1933 film. Other roles were less successfully cast, a problem that would persist in films that valued star power over fidelity to the novel. In the 1933 film, "Amy, who is supposed to be 12 years old, was played by 23-year-old and secretly pregnant Joan Bennett. When she could no longer hide her condition, her costumes had to be altered. ... Douglass Montgomery makes a much-too-polished Laurie, who is supposed to be 15; Montgomery was 26 and looked 30." Rioux, a professor at the University of New Orleans, tracks the literary works that owe a debt to Alcott: "Just as Hemingway claimed that all of American literature (by men) came from 'Huck Finn,' we can also say that much of American women's literature has come from 'Little Women.'" She considers the debate about "whether 'Little Women' tips toward realism or sentimentalism" and the ways in which feminists have praised - and critiqued - the novel for its (cramped or expansive) view of female experience. Ultimately, she argues for the positive influence exerted by the book and in particular by the character of Jo, who chooses the life of the mind over the lure of privilege, pretty clothes and boys. More recently the book's readership has declined, and it's only rarely taught in schools, where, Rioux suggests, many educators believe that requiring a boy to read a book with "women" in the title will forever turn him against reading. "Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy" does what - ideally - books about books can do: I've taken "Little Women" down from the shelf and put it on top of the books I plan to read. I'm curious to check in on the March sisters, and - inspired by Anne Boyd Rioux - find out how they seem to me now. FRANCINE prose's most recent book is an essay collection, "What to Read and Why."

Library Journal Review

Rioux (Wielding the Pen) begins with a compressed biography of Louisa May Alcott and her family. The Alcotts' poverty influenced how and what Louisa wrote. When a publisher approached her about writing a book about girls, Louisa hesitated, then composed Little Women based on her family. An instant best seller, it became a classic coming-of-age story. The realism of the story, in contrast to the stilted and moralizing tone of most children's books of the time, made it immediately popular with children and adults. It showed four sisters as realistic but flawed characters. Jo, the central character modeled after Alcott herself, is not a romantic heroine, and readers strongly identified with Jo then and now. Descendants of Jo's independent spirit can be found in characters such as Harry Potter's Hermione Granger and Hunger Games' Katniss Everdeen. The latter half of Rioux's book deals with Little Women as a publishing phenomenon and a cultural touchstone. Kimberly Farr offers a thoughtful, perfectly paced narration. Verdict An excellent addition to most library collections. ["Highly recommended for all readers interested in Alcott and her masterpiece's legacy": LJ 8/18 starred review of the Norton hc.]-Cynthia Jensen, Plano P.L., TX © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.