It’s been a long time since I’ve read (or re-read) Little Women or Little Men by Louisa May Alcott, but as a child I read these stories over and over. The cover is falling off my copy of Little Women and the feel of the book in my hands is familiar. I don’t think I could recite the actual words but the stories are deeply embedded in my memory.
I found Jo’s Boys at the library and opened it up out of nostalgia, only to realise I couldn’t remember what happened in this continuation of the March family, probably because I never owned a copy of this book myself.
I’ll start by saying that I didn’t like the picture on the cover of the edition I read (pictured above) because, although Impressionism was in its’ heyday when Jo’s Boys was published, the painting seems too pale and gentle to me to truly reflect characters who live their lives to the fullest, adventuring and frolicking and finding their way in the world.
The story begins by bringing us up to date with Mrs Jo and her Professor, Laurie and Mrs Amy, Mrs Meg and their families, as well as the boys who grew up at Plumfield. Tommy Bangs is still unsuccessfully chasing Nan, wild Dan has not been tamed, beautiful Bess is now a budding artist, Daisy sews and knits, Nat fiddles and Demi writes. Franz has returned to Germany to take a bride and Emil has gone to sea. Josie, who I couldn’t remember at all, is a budding actress. Young Rob and Teddy, Jo and Professor Bhaer’s sons, are loved by all. Some of the smaller characters from previous books make short appearances too, but this story concentrates on the better-loved characters from Little Men.
Following a get-together at Plumfield, which is now a thriving college after a bequest from Mr Lawrence senior, the young men scatter around the world to gain the experiences which will turn them into the people they will be for the rest of their lives.
I found Jo’s Boys preachier and more sentimental than I remembered. Characters constantly lectured other characters about their faults in an attempt to improve the other person, while others freely admitted and rued their failings. Sinners were forgiven and lessons learned and all went on with the intention of doing better in future. The moral lessons in Jo’s Boys were given with a much heavier-hand than in Little Women.
I enjoyed finding out what happened to everyone, but Jo’s Boys will never replace Little Women in my heart.