After quite a heavy first year (2018) into my new Classics Club list, with some long and/or difficult classics tackled, I thought I needed to go easier on myself this year by reading some more of the children’s classics I have on my list. And, first up, I decided to read Little Men by Louisa May Alcott, the 1869 sequel to Alcott’s utterly charming Little Women.
Set several, unspecified years after the original, Little Men begins with the arrival of ‘Nat’ Blake – an orphaned street musician discovered by Mr Laurence in a cellar – to Jo and her husband’s school, which they have set up at Plumfield after inheriting the estate off Jo’s Aunt March. As one would imagine of Jo, it is an unconventional school, where children have their own gardens and pets; are encouraged to start their own businesses and follow their passions; and pillow fights are permitted on Saturdays, subject to a time limit, of course.
Through Nat’s eyes we are introduced to the other boys at the school, which includes: Jo’s sweet, innocent nephew ‘Demi’ Brooke; the well-meaning but troublesome ‘Tommy’ Bangs; the over-indulged ‘Stuffy’ Cole; the mentally challenged Billy Ward; and Mr Bhaer’s strapping nephews, Emil and Franz Hoffman. Later they are joined by ‘Nan’ Harding, a wild tomboy, brought in as a companion for Demi’s twin sister Daisy and Nat’s troubled, free-spirited friend ‘Dan’ Kean, who struggles to settle in.
Each and every one of them is welcomed to Plumfield with warmth and affection, and is treated as an individual. However boys (and girls) have a habit of getting into scrapes, and so what follows is a charming series of troubles and adventures that the children get themselves into. I particularly enjoyed their berry picking trip, which ends with two children missing into the night; Daisy and Nan’s rather disastrous dinner party; the creation of their own natural history museum; and Dan’s terrible struggles and redemption. There is also the surprising and poignant death of a beloved character from Little Women.
If you weren’t a fan of the slow, steady pace or the moralistic tone of Little Women, then you won’t be a big fan of this either, as they are just replicated here. However if you loved the original and in particular loved the wilful tomboy Jo March in it, then you may still not love this because Jo has now grown-up into a sensible, caring mother of two small boys. There is no remnant of her former self really, except for the almost imperceptible twinkle in her eye when she deals with young Nan’s antics. This wasn’t really an issue for me though, as Jo wasn’t my favourite March sister, especially after she broke lovely Laurie’s heart.
So overall, I thought Little Men was a lovely, easy-going read, with a delightful collection of characters and adventures. Its only downfall – which is probably why it is unfairly overlooked – is that, well, it’s just not Little Women! I look forward to reading its sequel Jo’s Boys in the near future. Good read.
Have you read this? Have you read Little Women or Jo’s Boys?
This is book 7/50 for my Classics Club II reading challenge.