Book name: Good Wives
Author: Louisa May Alcott
Publisher: Roberts Brothers
Format: Print, ebook
Genre: Vintage children’s book
Publication Date: 1869
Star Rating: 5/5
Good Wives is the follow up to Little Women, featuring the March sisters: Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy.
It was initially published as a separate volume to Little Women, only to be joined with that earlier story afterwards as a single book.
This didn’t last, in that the two books were soon published separately again. However, the tendency to treat the stories together has persisted, especially in recent film adaptations.
The book opens with a summary of the last three years and then moves on to Meg’s wedding to John Brooke.
The wedding is as simple and as charming as the reader expects, given the modest financial circumstances of the March family.
This doesn’t seem to have improved a great deal even though their father is now safely home from the Civil War.
Amy, now sixteen, devotes herself to her painting and other artistic endeavours. She enjoys the work and has some talent.
Amy’s invitation to a fete is extended to all the other members of her drawing class at the end of their term. She has grand plans as their hostess and takes real trouble over the preparations.
The March family worry about how this can be afforded, but Amy is determined and even buys a lobster after the roast chicken is stolen by the cat.
In a development that amply illustrates a horrible casual lack of care in accepting an invitation and then not turning up, all the girls promise to come and Amy spends her time and money accordingly.
On the day, only one girl appears.
Amy is tireless in her efforts to give her sole guest a lovely day, but she is very upset by what has happened. Her family are as kind and discreet as they know how.
Happily, Jo’s writing is getting published and Meg makes a promising start to life as a young bride once she has learned to live within her means.
After Meg’s twins (Daisy and Demi) are born, she faces a new challenge in balancing the desire to be a good wife with the equally strong wish to be an attentive mother.
Good Wives also sees Jo go to New York to write and teach, while Amy is offered the chance to travel in Europe with Aunt March and make a good match there.
Beth’s health, which has not truly been strong since her fever, enters a slow decline.
The two romances in Good Wives centre around which of her two suitors Jo will marry, and whether Amy will accept a proposal from a rich young man she doesn’t really love simply in order to support her family.
I had so much sympathy for Amy. As Aunt March doesn’t hesitate to explain to her, Meg has married a poor man, Jo is apparently not interested in matrimony and Beth is not well enough to marry at all.
Therefore, it is Amy’s responsibility to make a good match to a rich man for the sake of the rest of her family. I felt so sorry for her, but she was gracious and brave about the situation and never complained.
There have been two film adaptations of Little Women and Good Wives in the past few decades, both ending at the point where Jo makes a decision as to which man to marry and sees her book published.
The 1994 film starred Winona Ryder as Jo. It centres around Christmas over the years, which makes it a wonderful Christmas movie. It was released on Christmas Day. The moral element of the girls’ lives is strong in this adaptation, where Marmee is played by Susan Sarandon. The actress wear corsets, which produces a more traditional style of movement. The filming used sets and locations faithful to the original books, and I thought there was a very strong sense overall of what daily life would have been like back in the Civil War.
The 2019 adaptation starred Saoirse Ronan as Jo and also bagged Meryl Streep as Aunt March, which was a brilliant piece of casting. Corsets were not worn in this version, giving the actresses a welcome degree of physical freedom in their movement. Jo in particular, during a dance scene with her childhood friend Laurie, exhibited a very strong sense of her unique character via her balletic and unusual movement. Jo’s other interest (in the book and earlier film a middle-aged German professor) has become a Frenchman of around her own age. Although still bearing a German name, the professor sports a French accent and the actor cast in that role was French. I didn’t mind this particularly, though perhaps as a result for me the professor will always be Gabriel Byrne from the 1994 version.
Each adaptation for film was wonderful, in part because they were so unique. In the 2019 film Jo’s denouement centres less around her choice of husband and more around seeing her book published, giving it a more modern feel than the earlier film.
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