What the Little Women Read

Posted on January 17, 2020 at 10:55 pm

I first read Little Women when I was in 4th grade. It became and remains one of my favorite books ever and I re-read it every few years since, most recently after seeing the new Greta Gerwig movie, which I loved.

It also gave me a gift. Over the years, I would come across other books and recognize them from references in Little Women. So I really enjoyed Trix Wilkins’ article about the books the March girls read, from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (which the March girls not only refer to but act out) to the dull essays by Belsham Jo has to read aloud to Aunt March to Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, whose characters inspired the names of the March girls’ club members and Boswell’s Life of Johnson, which Jo borrows from Mr. Lawrence.

In re-reading the book, I noticed a reference Wilkins did not mention. I happened to hear for the first time recently about an author named E.D.E.N. Southworth. According to a recent article:

Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth was one of the most successful American writers—male or female—of the mid-19th century, outselling contemporaries like Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. She was a mainstay of Washington’s early literary scene: She hosted Friday night salons at her Georgetown cottage, attended Lincoln’s second inaugural ball, and is even credited with encouraging Harriet Beecher Stowe to write the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

In Little Women, Jo refers to a popular author of lurid melodramas named “Mrs. S.L.A.N.G. Northbury,” clearly a reference to Southworth. Now I want to read one of her books! By the way, you can read the Southworth-ian stories Louisa May Alcott wrote, the ones Professor Bhaer scolds her about in Behind a Mask.

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