other works, she previously edited a collection ofAlcott’s contemporary reviews and coedited Little Women and the Feminist Imagination: Criticism, Controversy, Personal Essays.
The Afterlife is scholarly in approach and attimes delightfully wry. Clark assumes the reader’s familiarity with Alcott’s biography, focusing instead on the popularity and critical reception of Little Women. Drawing on a wide varietyof sources, including sales figures, library circulation records, personalwriting, published reviews, curricula, scholarship, and polls, she examines how Little Women has been read by successive generations not justin the United States but across the world. “Little Women is a mutabletext,” Clark contends. “The words aren’t always the same. The illustrations and packaging vary widely. The social context in which we encounter the text varies too, and what we already ‘know’ about the book beforewe read it colors what we read.” We read it—or don’t (as was true, Clarkalleges, of several highly dismissive literary lions of the mid-twentiethcentury)—through much more than just its words.
Clark’s first chapter, “Becoming Everyone’s Aunt: 1868–1900,” considers how Alcott and her publishers capitalized on the autobiographicalaspects of Little Women, encouraging the conflation of Alcott and herfamily with Jo and the other Marches. Alcott turned thirty-six shortlyafter Little Women was published; she could not be the young Jo of thenovel, aged nineteen at the conclusion of Part I, but she soon became“Aunt Jo.” Following the enormous successes of Good Wives (1869, nowusually included as Part II of Little Women) and Little Men (1871), in thespans of which Jo advances to middle age, Alcott’s publisher began releasing Aunt Jo’s ScrapBag (1872–1882). That six-volume series of Alcott’sshort stories and miscellany was presented as though written by Jo herself. Clark notes that this conflation of author and character is demonstrated in Alcott’s private writing as well: she occasionally amended herjournals to refer to her own sisters, Anna and May, as their fictionalcounterparts, Meg and Amy. The illustrations accompanying LittleWomen further confused matters: Louisa’s artistic youngest sister, May,
The Afterlife of Little Women
Beverly Lyon Clark. Johns Hopkins Press,
2015, 288 pp., $44.95 (hardcover)