of better quality.) Part II, “The Life of a Classic,” discusses the influenceof the book, as demonstrated through its many adaptations for stage andscreen, the frequency with which it and Jo March herself are cited as asource of inspiration by female and queer writers, dozens of whom arequoted, and the varied lit-crit conversations around the book, beginningin the 1970s. Part III, “A Classic for Today,” takes up the question ofwhether and how Little Women is read by young people in the twenty-first century.
In Part III, Rioux makes a case for Little Women as a novel aboutidentity formation, a book that could still do important work in theclassrooms from which it is now largely excluded due to its length and itslanguage. Rioux suggests, “Little Women is the perfect text for examining with students how gender is constructed and how it is often imposedfrom without, not from within (something they know innately but arequickly being taught to ignore).” Jo and Laurie, with their androgynousnicknames and their vexed relationship, struggle to navigate and nametheir strong feelings for each other, as well as their strong urges towardself-expression, which are discouraged by even their most loving familymembers. Jo is constantly urged to be more ladylike in her manners;Laurie is steered away from his feminine-seeming passion for musicand toward a conventionally masculine career in business. Ultimately,both wind up with spouses who curb but also cherish their nonnorma-tive qualities. Rioux traces a lineage between Little Women and severalmodern female coming-of-age narratives, focusing particularly on thetelevision shows Gilmore Girls and Girls, each of which ends with itswriter-heroine’s pregnancy. In both these cases, Rioux suggests that “themessage is still clear: you are a girl until you become a mom; only thenare you a woman.” However, these shows depart from Little Women byeliminating what Rioux regards as “two of the most important themesof Alcott’s classic: companionate marriage and sisterhood. And many[successors to Little Women] are missing the central premise altogether,namely that growing up means becoming a better person, one who canbalance her own needs and desires with those of the people she loves.”Alcott suggests that self-fulfillment comes from finding one’s place in afamily and community; Rioux laments that many contemporary plots offemale maturation lack this social dimension, representing motherhoodas a solitary or individualistic path.
Most likely, those reaching for Rioux’s book will not need to be convinced that Little Women still matters. Along with the many writers