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Me for the WSJ: Greta Gerwig’s scrambled-eggs version of “Little Women” is just as preachy as Louisa May Alcott’s–except that this time it’s the gospel of feminism

February 7, 2020
In her 2019 adaptation of of Luisa May Alcott's classic novel, director Greta Gerwig weaves a touching and refreshingly modern perspective of Little Women.
By violating Alcott’s narrative structure Ms. Gerwig also undermines the writer’s framing of the story as a tale of moral growth in a world at odds with living a Christian life. In particular, Alcott tied her story through explicit references to “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” John Bunyan’s entertaining and hugely successful 17th-century allegory of the journey of a man named Christian—and later, his wife and sons—through the travails of this world to the Celestial City. Bearing the burdens of their sins, they encounter such colorful characters as Mr. Worldly Wiseman and Giant Despair, and pass through such traps for the soul as Vanity Fair, the Slough of Despond, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Well into the 20th century “Pilgrim’s Progress” was, after the Bible, the most-read book in many Anglophone Protestant households.

In Alcott’s “Little Women” each of the March girls has besetting sins that she must overcome through constant striving. Jo learns to quell her ferocious temper and to sand down her rough edges. Blonde, charming Amy learns to overcome selfishness. All this moralizing—including some mini-sermons about the evils of strong drink that Alcott, an adherent of the temperance movement, slips into her narrative—would have tried the patience of even the most serious Victorians were it not for Alcott’s extraordinary talents as a writer. They included a knack for creating rounded, likable characters falling in and out of love, a sly sense of humor, and an eye for nuances of personality, dress, and social gradation….
An allusion to “Pilgrim’s Progress” survived in George Cukor’s 1933 “Little Women,” the first non-silent adaptation of Alcott’s novel. Bunyan’s book also figured in a 2018 version geared to a religious audience and distributed by Pure Flix. But in Ms. Gerwig’s version the moralistic preaching has switched to a different topic: feminism. In Ms. Gerwig’s adaptation, during a talk with Jo about her anger, Marmee speaks a line from Alcott’s book: “I’m angry nearly every day of my life.” But Ms. Gerwig’s script doesn’t include the follow-up from Marmee telling her daughter to entrust herself and her faults to “the strength and tenderness of your Heavenly Father.”

That is because, in the feminist moral calculus, anger—at various aspects of perceived male privilege and social injustice—is a virtue. Starting in the 1970s feminist scholars began finding the notion of girls’ growing into “little women” ideologically suspect. In a 1979 essay Janice M. Alberghene and Beverly Lyon Clark regarded lifelong spinster Alcott’s decision to give Jo a fictional husband as an act of “capitulation.” A 1994 film adaptation of “Little Women,” directed by Gillian Armstrong, featured Marmee railing against corsets and silk dresses and Jo delivering a lecture on women’s suffrage. Ms. Gerwig’s Jo begs Meg not to marry but to pursue a career instead. As Pace University professor Sarah Blackwood writes in the New Yorker, Ms. Gerwig seems to be arguing that “marriage is a kind of death.”
Read the whole thing here.
Posted by Charlotte Allen

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