Little Women or Breaking the “Rules”

Loiusa May Alcott’s Little Women is the 32nd selection on my 100 novels reading list.  Another classic I’ve never read, I decided to read the novel because Francine Prose mentions it in her Reading Like a Writer as one of her Books to be Read Immediately. I’m in the process of slowly rereading that book as well. Prose places Alcott’s novel in a list of books and authors that appealed to her as a child because of their "plucky heroines."

I love the description Prose gives of reading these books, among others, of the power of reading itself: "Each word of these novels was a yellow brick in the road to Oz. There were chapters I read and reread so as to repeat the dependable, out-of-body sensation of being somewhere else."

Isn’t that one chief reason we read–to be "somewhere else"? It’s a wonderful experience to feel such.

But my first impressions, and the reasons I’m enjoying reading Little Women aren’t necessarily to experience being somewhere else, namely Civil War-era America. While the novel is an interesting look into lives and particularly and pecularily American ideals and attitudes, I’m also enjoying reading it as a writer, and seeing all the writing "rules" that Alcott breaks–things as dialogue tags such as "grumbled Jo". Haven’t we all been instructed not to use such tags, and use instead the unnoticed, unobtrusive "said"? And yet such awkward phrases don’t take away from the story, or getting involved with the characters, and much of the melodrama the novel presents.

One of the main ideas Prose makes in Reading Like a Writer is that the "rules" we tend to learn in creative writing classes or from books on writing, don’t always necessarily hold up. She points to this frequently in the book. And when you read a classic like Little Women, you can see Prose’s point. Sometimes those "rules" can be cast aside and you still have an engaging imaginative work.