illustrated early editions of the novel, demonstrating that May was like“little Raphaella” Amy March. Later editions depicted the March homeas the Alcotts’ home, Orchard House, in Concord. Clark suggests thatearly readers’ attachment to the author was heightened by their sense—enduring in Gerwig’s film and other latter-day texts—that Alcott was Jo.
Each chapter of Clark’s book shifts between popular and critical receptions of Little Women in a given era; these often occupied oppositepoles. In the nineteenth century, the general enthusiasm for the novel wastempered by concerns about its lack of overtly Christian content and itsinclusion of slangy and ungrammatical language. Obituaries and earlybiographies commented on the freshness of the book, its reassuring andreparative Americanness, so welcome in the immediate wake of the CivilWar. But by the early twentieth century, Clark finds “children’s literature. . . increasingly segregated from literature with adults” and Alcott’s critical reputation accordingly slipping. Clark continues to trace the scholarly and critical rejection of Alcott’s work as Little Women becomes associated with sentimentalism and domesticity in the early decades of thetwentieth century and with “the innocent and naïve” between 1930 and1960. Yet Clark’s close readings of the first two major screen adaptationsof the book—in 1933 and 1949—demonstrate the complexities of the mid-century’s returns to Little Women. She points out that adaptations andillustrations in this period tend to show women at work, even if theirindependence is curtailed by marriage plots. In the decades that encompass the Great Depression, World War II, and the postwar baby boom,treatments of Little Women depict domestic space as a bastion againstwar and poverty—the story serving the prevailing zeitgeist.
Clark’s final chapter, “Celebrating Sisterhood and Passion since1960,” explores how the critical reassessments of the past sixty yearshave been accompanied by a dimming of popular interest in LittleWomen itself, though not in spin-offs and adaptations. She attributessome of the complexity of scholars’ responses to Leona Rostenberg’s andMadeleine B. Stern’s discovery (1943) and republication (1975) of Alcott’spseudonymous thrillers. The contrasts in theme and intended audiencebetween these Gothic short stories, which Alcott wrote and publishedfrom 1854 to 1870, and her children’s work continue to suggest new waysof looking at the author’s life and career. What do Alcott’s tempestuous“blood and thunder tales” (which Jo March also writes—and disavows)signify, besides a reliable source of income? Clark’s 2014 study doesn’tencompass Gerwig’s film or the BBC’s poignant 2017 miniseries, but