Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, experienced both enchantment and wretched poverty in her early years. Her father was an intellectual and member of the Transcendentalist movement, which meant that little Louisa met Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who apparently let her borrow books from his library. But at the same time the family was in financial ruin. Louisa vowed at an early age that she would not marry but will devote her life to being an author. Following in her mother’s footsteps, she was a suffragette and one of the first women to exercise a newly-acquired right to vote in Massachusetts.
Greta Gerwig did a marvellous job adapting the classic novel to modern sensibilities, though perhaps the book itself was already infused with the feminist spirit of its author. On the one hand, the movie tells a story in a tender loving manner which utterly sweeps the viewer away emotionally. It is warm, comforting, at times powerful and moving, especially when the female characters open up about their disenfranchised position in patriarchal society. “I’m sick of people saying that love is all a woman is fit for,” says Jo, the alter ego of the writer. It is love, though, that suffuses the movie; love which goes beyond the domestic towards the transcedent.
The narrative structure of the film is absolutely ingenious – non-chronologically postmodern, which perhaps gives the movie the utterly modern feel. The story goes back and forth between the little women’s childhood and their adulthood. It seems that the various strands of the story emanate from some kind of core, innermost heart space, occupied by “the tender narrator,”* who is both in and out of the story. The childhood scenes are suffused with sepia golden glow, while the adulthood is cold blue.
The postmodern spirit is also palpable in a meta layer added to the narrative by the director. This aspect deals with the act of storytelling itself and with our own deep need to turn our lives into stories. In my favourite scene, towards the end (spoiler alert), Jo rushes to the station to tell Frederic that she does not want him to leave. The audience are bracing themselves for an ultra-romantic ending when an interjection occurs. Jo is now discussing the ending of her novel with the (male) publisher. She tells him that she intends Jo to be an unmarried author, but the publisher would not have it. Jo must be married, otherwise the book will not sell; hence the romantic scene at the station. We, the audience, require all the creases to be ironed out: life is messy enough, and the stories should make up for it.