Soon after its publication on September 30, 1868, Little Women became an enormous bestseller and one of America's favorite novels. It quickly traveled the world and since has become an international classic. When Anne Boyd Rioux read it in her twenties, it had a singularly powerful effect on her. Through teaching it, she has seen its effect on many others.
In Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, she recounts how Louisa May Alcott came to write the book, drawing inspiration for it from her own life. She also examines why this tale of family and community ties, set while the Civil War tore the country apart, has resonated through later wars, the Great Depression, and times of changing opportunities for women.
Alcott's novel has moved generations of women, among them many writers. Simone de Beauvoir, J. K. Rowling, bell hooks, Cynthia Ozick, Jane Smiley, Margo Jefferson, and Ursula K. Le Guin were all inspired by Little Women, particularly its portrait of the iconoclastic young writer, Jo. Many women writers have felt as Anna Quindlen has declared, "Little Women changed my life."
Today, Rioux sees the novel's beating heart in its portrayal of family resilience and its honest look at the struggles of girls growing into women. In gauging its current status, she shows why it remains a book with such power that people carry its characters and spirit throughout their lives.