This was a dive in to a genre we haven’t explored before but one of my favorites: literary criticism. The book “From Little Houses to Little Women” explored a topic close to my heart: my favorite books from childhood – especially ones featuring interesting girls.
Books can have such a profound effect on your worldview, that it’s interesting (and nostalgic) to go back and look at the ones that have stuck with you through time. Which is precisely what the author of this book did. I had no idea that the author was originally from Wichita, so imagine my shock and delight when she regaled memories of her childhood growing up there. Her book basically took us through a journey across the United States as she visited the settings of books that profoundly affected her growing up.
As someone who did not grow up in the United States, I was unfamiliar with some of the books she spoke about, including Little House on the Prairie, although I have heard of it before (mostly due to the TV series). Therefore, her analysis of those particular books did not connect with me as well as the others. I did find it interesting that she chose to highlight that the younger generation in the book seem more questioning than the older ones. However, since I had never read the books, I was not able to quite grasp or understand her insights.
Her analysis of the Anne of Green Gables series and Little Women were a bit abrasive and over-the-top in my opinion. I grew up on these series and felt more than a little protective of them. Of course, they have feminist issues but they were also set in a time period where such issues were commonplace. I wish she had highlighted some of the more important things that were remarkable in those books that had resonated with me: like Anne, being an orphan, was not only accepted by her adopted family and peers but prided herself in being the best in her class. Unlike today’s media that seem to imply that the popular girls should only care about looks, this book emphasized the importance and love of education. Not only was Anne a hard-working and smart student, but she actually enjoyed reading and learning. Even in the real world around me, excluding book club members, most people I know do not enjoy reading books and/or would rather watch a TV show or a movie. This baffles me to no end because a TV show and/or movie can only relay as much as can be seen and will not and cannot spark your imagination (the root of creativity) the way a well written book can.
It’s true that the later books wandered away from Anne as a writer (although her second book focused on it a lot) and more into a wife and mother, but not everyone is destined to become a writer, and in my opinion, there was nothing wrong with her choosing not to pursue it of her own volition. It’s not like anyone forced her to stop writing. Perhaps she grew out of it or her passions changed directions. Perhaps she writes as a hobby instead of a job. Nothing wrong with that either. I also found it insulting that the author criticized Gilbert for providing Anne with direction in her writing. I think that is exactly what she needed: she needed a fresh perspective from someone she respects who was not afraid to tell her what he thought of her writing. Her writing was indeed a little too flowery to be taken seriously.
In my opinion, I thought the books showed a nostalgic view of rural life but also a realistic one. Not everyone turns into a writer, and a lot of women become wives and mothers and value it as they mature. Her imagination, her temper, her silliness, and her clever and hardworking characteristics made for an interesting but flawed personality that all of us saw in ourselves. Which is why the book is still so popular, and popular around the world. It would have been lovely if she had become a writer, but I wasn’t disappointed when she didn’t. I enjoyed reading about her children, as much as I did reading about her own adventures. It’s fun to read about the progression of my favorite character throughout her life. How often do we wish we could read past the end of a book and see what became of our favorite characters’ lives: L.M.Montgomery gave us that chance.
I’ve always wanted to visit Prince Edward Island (along with Switzerland because of Heidi) and I twitched in envy reading about their visit and read with amusement at the touristy artifacts such as the red haired pigtailed wig you can buy to emulate Anne.
Little Women was another book that profoundly affected me growing up. Having a sister of my own, it was interesting to see the dynamics between the young ladies in the book and how they coped with the hardships of life. I, like many other readers no doubt, was utterly disappointed when Jo rejected Laurie, and was absolutely horrified that she chose to marry and old man! But I think she made the right choice: she and Laurie, in real life, would never really have been compatible. The author again criticizes the fact that Jo gave up her dream of being a writer. I see this as more of a reflection on the author’s own desire to pursue writing and wanting to see a role model in these books that she adored growing up. In my own case, I aspired to be a writer at one point, but decided not to pursue it for several reasons. Hence, it’s not as much a disappointment for me. Seeing as how my life has changed a lot since I was a child, and with the perspective of time, I have come to respect that people do not always know where they are going to end up and wherever they do does not necessarily have to be a bad place even if it wasn’t what they had originally dreamed.
In both these books, their respective authors placed more importance on marriage and family than on pursuing a dream or career. This is a reflection of the times. What’s more important to highlight is their ambition to reach their dreams and the lengths and means they took to try to achieve it. Which, again, I think is why these books are so popular and resonate with people even today. It’s a sweet and nostalgic look at the past.
I think perhaps I would have enjoyed this book more if she hadn’t analyzed it with such a critical feminist lens, and instead analyzed it within its historical context. However, it is still a very good read, especially if you have read all the books she takes down memory lane.