My mother had a teacher in elementary school who doted on her. She left India and moved to Washington D.C. to be with her husband but continued to send parcels of books to my mother from the other side of the world. One of those books was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
I read it when I was a little girl and promptly fell in love with Jo’s fierce independence, Laurie’s playfulness and the strange world of 19th Century Massachusetts. It was set in Concord, Mass., during the Civil War to be precise and couldn’t have been further in thought and setting from that of a kid growing up in the 80s (and 90s) in urban India. But therein lies the magic of reading, it can transport you to places unknown and eras unseen.
I don’t want books to be mirrors. I don’t need to see myself in the pages all the time. I much rather prefer books to be windows into an unknown world. It is so much more refreshing that way.
As much as I loved the story, I wanted Jo to be with Laurie and not Professor Bhaer and had spent many an afternoon discussing this gross injustice with my mother. Little did I know then that Alcott didn’t want Jo to marry at all, but was told by her publisher that women in fiction should wind up either married or dead. Hence, the older plainer professor.
With this latest film adaptation of Little Women, Greta Gerwig has finally put my mind to rest. Her Professor Bhaer, the French actor Louis Garrel is handsome and charming and everything that the book version sorely lacked.
Gerwig also plays with the linearity of the book, as in, she keeps going back and forth between present-day New York-based ink-stained writer Jo and simpler times back when the sisters were all together navigating a grim wartime Christmas, making new friends, putting up plays and attending dances. If like me, you are a fan of the book, and you watch movies with close attention, you will find this meandering timeline delightfully giddy and a pleasurable exercise of the mind. The “chronological shuffling” as the Times puts it, is a welcome ploy that makes the movie more cinematic.
The cast includes the marvelous quartet of Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep, with Ronan playing the plucky Jo March. Timothée Chalamet is cast as Laurie and he takes to the role like a duck to water. The movie was released in 2019 but if you haven’t watched it yet and are in the mood for something sincere and sweet, make yourself a cup of cocoa and immerse yourself in a time when women had plenty to be angry about but nevertheless found ways to enjoy life to the fullest.