It is really strange to revisit a childhood favourite and find that it is not at all what you thought it was because, through some strange defect, your childhood favourite was (gasp!) an abridged version of the real thing.
It is even stranger when (dare I say it) you find that the abridged version is even better than the real thing.
Yep. I said it.
It all, of course, has to do with the abridgment. I can’t remember what my childhood abridgment was. I only know that it skipped a lot of maudlin scenes about patience and virtue, as well as an entire yawny chapter on Keeping One’s Temper or perhaps it was Putting Others Before Yourselves or perhaps it was Little Womanly Virtues Extolled. It was, as you can see, very unmemorable.
That’s not to say the abridged version was stripped bare of moral content. Of course not! If there was no moral content, it would not be Little Women! Alcott was full of moral content! No, no, no. It’s simply that my abridged version had made the moral content more palatable by trimming off the fat here and there. I still know about Jo’s terrible temper and scrapes, Marmee’s words of encouragement, Beth’s saintliness, Amy and Meg’s vanity, Laurie’s moods.
Remember the picnic where they play croquet with the Brits? Remember when Jo gets lemonade all over her gown and rubs it off with her glove? Remember the “post office” that they keep? Remember when Beth gets a piano and goes to the Laurence mansion to boldly thank grumpy Mr. Laurence? Remember when Amy burns Jo’s book? The dance at which Jo and Laurie meet, Meg’s trip to “Vanity Fair”, Amy falling in the ice, and Beth’s slow and pathetic (in the classical sense of the word) decline…these are the things that make the March family so real!
But when I read the non-abridged version I felt like…well, like I was trying to make my way through some weird anti-version of Pilgrim’s Progress where each chapter was another trial between the Slough of Extreme Uprightness to the Moderately Moral City where people have a normal amount of worry about whether their activities are virtuous enough.
Reading Ages: 10-14 for a first read. Although it’s really hard to say, since I apparently read the abridged version in my youth. In retrospect, I don’t think I fully understood all of the book (particularly its more virtuous bits), but I got the gist of it.
Rating: B- for the full version; A- for the abridged.
Funny side note: I just saw a cover for Little Women and Werewolves. I’ve flipped through Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and thought it was funny enough to borrow from a library. I have to say, I’m intrigued. What exactly would Marmee do to werewolves…make them a nourishing meal?