“You can go through the world with your elbows out and your nose in the air, and call it independence, if you like. That’s not my way…”
It was a horrible moment for me when I realised that Little Women is actually split into two parts and that I had only read half of a book that I had to finish for uni with four days remaining until the deadline. It was with a stiff upper lip and a grim determination then that I sat down to part two of Louisa May Alcott’s seminal novel.
In truth however, speed reading Little Women Part Two or Good Wives as it is also known, was a genuine pleasure from start to finish. I will leave a full plot summary to my original review but basically Good Wives carries on where the original novel left off, with Meg settling down to married life while her younger sisters attempt to traverse their differing environments with varying degrees of success. Because the little women are not so little any more, their problems invariably have higher stakes and are therefore more compelling. Some of the child like innocence of the first novel may be lost but it is replaced by characters that are more well rounded and sure of themselves.
Good Wives provides a satisfying conclusion for each character, without completely succumbing to the idea of a happy ending. Higher stakes results in more emotional resonance and there are moments in Good Wives that are more touching than anything in Little Women. Ultimately though, it is daft to compare the two. They were written close enough together to be considered two halves of the same whole and in the end, reading Good Wives in such a short time span was in no way a challenge. Indeed, compared to Oroonoko or The Duchess of Malfi it was a relative pleasure!
I was expecting Alcott’s sequel to be an extended epilogue but it reality it is a successful novel in its own right. That is about the best you can hope for when considering a follow up to such a celebrated novel as Little Women.
One thing that I did find a little off was Jo’s reluctant descent into domestication. While all the other girls were given a character arc that felt earned, Jo’s marriage to the professor jarred with everything about her character. Especially when considering that Jo is based largely on Alcott herself, a fiercely independent woman who never married.