her widowed eighty-eight-year-old father, Bronson, who predeceasedher by less than forty-eight hours. Alcott had legally adopted Anna’syounger son, John Sewell Pratt, so he could inherit her copyrights andmore easily manage her estate, and both John and his brother, Frederick,worked for Roberts Brothers, Louisa’s publisher. In short, all the living members of her immediate family relied on her, as they had overtlysince the runaway success of Little Women and, to some extent, sinceshe’d begun working as a teenager. As Jo March dreams of keeping herfamily together and happy, so did Alcott—and she never stopped chasing that moving goal. The books and films included in this review offerfurther insights into the real Alcotts and the fictional Marches, considering the cultural work done on Alcott and her most famous work overtwo centuries.
The adaptation freshest in the collective mind’s eye, Greta Gerwig’s 2019film, draws attention to the autobiographical elements of Little Womenby blurring the distinctions between Jo and Alcott. This is especiallyevident in the film’s revised ending, in which the oft-bemoaned pairingof Jo and Professor Bhaer is presented as a development in the novelthat Jo wrote—a fiction-within-a-fiction—rather than an actual eventin the character Jo’s plot arc. Cross-cutting a scene of negotiations between Jo and her publisher with scenes of Jo’s hectic pursuit of Bhaer,of her book’s production process, and of the March family reunited atJo’s coed academy, the ending of Gerwig’s film subordinates all LittleWomen’s happy endings to the achievement of Jo publishing her novel.The book handed to Jo, straight from the press, is titled Little Womenbut embossed with Jo’s name. Thus, Gerwig suggests a path for Jo thatis more like Louisa May Alcott’s own as a never-married author, a pathAlcott’s publisher and her contemporary readers couldn’t abide. At thesame time, the film delivers but destabilizes the familiar unifying conclusion of the novel. Gerwig leaves us asking whether its rosy and rapidfinal scenes happened to the characters or only in the central character’smarket-savvy imagination.
Gerwig’s film is the most recent in a long line of adaptations, abridgements, revisions, and retellings of the novel. These are explored withcare in Beverly Lyon Clark’s The Afterlife of Little Women (2014). Lyon isa professor of English and women’s studies at Wheaton College; among