Places: Little Women

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Part 1, 1868; part 2, 1869; illustrated

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: Mid-nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedMarch home

March Little Womenhome. Home of the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, in an unspecified northern city. The house is probably based on the Orchard House in Concord, where Alcott herself spent much of her youth. Alcott reveals few physical details about the March house; it seems to be threadbare but comfortable. The Marches live frugally because the girls’ father has suffered financial reverses trying to help a friend. They often gather around the fireplace during the winter months, and Jo has scorched one of her best gowns by standing too close to the heat. The Marches’ comfortable home contrasts with the dwelling of German immigrants to whom Mrs. March and the girls take food on Christmas Day. The Hummels’ home has broken window panes, no heat, and no food; however, the Marches try to set things right before leaving.

Gardiner house

Gardiner house and Moffat house. The comfortable but plain home of the Marches also contrasts with the more luxurious homes of the social-climbing Gardiners and Moffats. At a party at the Gardiner residence, Jo meets Theodore Laurence (Laurie), who is hiding in a curtained recess and realizes that he lives next door. Later, the novel follows Meg’s activities at a party at the Moffats. It is here at “Vanity Fair” that Meg becomes troubled and angered when she overhears Mrs. Moffat suggesting that Mrs. March is scheming for one of her girls to marry Laurie.

Laurence mansion

Laurence mansion. Home of the prosperous Laurence family. It, too, provides a contrast to the Marches’ home. Located immediately next door to the Marches’ home, it is the home of the wealthy and kindly Grandfather Laurence and his grandson Laurie, who is about the same age as the March girls. At the beginning of the novel, the girls seem never to have visited the Laurence house; however, after Jo meets Laurie, they frequently visit the home. The mansion contains a conservatory filled with rare and beautiful plants, which to the March girls is almost a paradise. The mansion also contains a piano, which is particularly attractive to Beth, and a library which is attractive to Jo. One senses that this house reflects a concern with human values rather than mere wealth.

Great Aunt March’s house

Great Aunt March’s house. Another home depicted in detail is that of Jo’s father’s aunt. Jo visits her great aunt daily to take care of the cranky elderly woman. The house possesses a library that belonged to Great Aunt March’s deceased husband, and Jo reads interesting books while the old lady sleeps and her parrot squawks out insults. At the end of Little Women, readers discover that Jo has inherited the house from Great Aunt March and plans to use it to open a school for boys.

*New York City

*New York City. Finding that Laurie is too fond of her, Jo spends some time working in New York, where she lives in a rooming house in which she meets Professor Bhaer, to whom she becomes engaged near the end of the novel.

*Europe

*Europe. Amy’s visit to Europe signifies the girls’ coming of age. Laurie visits her in southern France and Switzerland, while she is traveling with a rich aunt and is intent on improving her drawings. Laurie and Amy fall in love in Europe and marry there before returning to America. The marriage of the youngest of the March girls indicates that the March girls have indeed come of age.

BibliographyDelamar, Gloria T. Louisa May Alcott and “Little Women”: Biography, Critique, Publications, Poems, Songs, and Contemporary Relevance. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1990. Goes beyond a biography of Alcott to include a comprehensive bibliography of Alcott’s works and analyses of her work. Includes critical analysis of Little Women and selections from letters by Alcott and her close associates.Elbert, Sarah. A Hunger for Home: Louisa May Alcott’s Place in American Culture. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987. Elbert provides both biographical background and critical coverage, tracing the two predominant themes in Little Women and in Alcott’s work generally: domesticity and feminism. The chapters “Writing Little Women” and “Reading Little Women” are particularly useful.Graham, Peter W. Don Juan and Regency England. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990. Six essays that examine Byron’s comic poem in the context of various aspects of Regency English culture, from politics to pantomime.Kaledin, Eugenia. “Louisa May Alcott: Success and the Sorrow of Self-Denial.” Women’s Studies 5 (1978): 251-263. Kaledin argues that Alcott’s need to succeed financially prevented her from becoming a true literary success. Kaledin offers several persuasive biographical interpretations of Little Women, showing the similarities between the fictional Jo March and Louisa May Alcott.Keyser, Elizabeth Lennox. Whispers in the Dark: The Fiction of Louisa May Alcott. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993. Intriguing analysis of Jo and Laurie’s relationship as the Sleeping Beauty tale with gender roles reversed. Suggests that Alcott depicted them as androgynous characters who together made a whole person, but whose wholeness could not exist in the Victorian era.MacDonald, Ruth K. Louisa May Alcott. Boston: Twayne, 1983. MacDonald’s critical overview of Alcott’s works includes a chapter on “The March Family Stories,” which covers not only Little Women but also its sequels: Good Wives (which is part 2 of the novel), Little Men, and Jo’s Boys. While acknowledging the autobiographical basis of Little Women, MacDonald also shows how the work departs from factual details of Alcott family life.Payne, Alma J. Louisa May Alcott: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980. The most complete bibliography of works by and about Alcott; entries are arranged chronologically and contain descriptive annotations. Includes an index.Saxton, Martha. Louisa May: A Modern Biography of Louisa May Alcott. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977. Saxton’s biography gives full coverage of Alcott’s life and the range of her writing. Saxton tends to favor Alcott’s novels for adults over those for children, but her discussion of Little Women is valuable, especially in the light of the thorough biographical treatment. Contains an extensive bibliography and an index.Showalter, Elaine. Sister’s Choice: Tradition and Change in American Women’s Writing. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Discusses American women writers and the diversity of their language and literary vision in the context of race, ethnicity, and class. Influential analysis of Little Women.Stern, Madeleine, ed. Critical Essays on Louisa May Alcott. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984. A collection of essays on Alcott’s body of work, from nineteenth century reviews to late twentieth century criticism and interpretation.Strickland, Charles. Victorian Domesticity: Families in the Life and Art of Louisa May Alcott. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1985. A thoughtful exploration of the sentimental and its implications in Alcott’s work. Suggests that her juvenile fiction offers the most radical departure from Victorian conventions. Connects to Alcott’s own struggle with the sentimental ideals of child and parent in her own family.Watt, Ian. Myths of Modern Individualism: Faust, Don Quixote, Don Juan, Robinson Crusoe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Ian Watt studies the origins and literary uses of Don Quixote, Don Juan, Faust, and Robinson Crusoe as pervasive myths of the modern individualist world.
Categories: Places