As I sat in my Children’s Literature class this summer, there were only two people my age in the room – another student and the professor herself (though she’s younger than me also). It’s a common situation when you fall under the “mature student” title.
There is one moment that has stuck with me from that course. We were discussing one of my favourite books: Little Women. It’s the classic story of 4 sisters growing up during the Civil War. This book was the “Harry Potter-like” MUST READ of the early 19th Century. Since it was first published in 1868, it has NEVER gone out of print. Surprisingly, even for this day and age, only a couple of us had read it before.
It was not well received by the class.
I kept waiting for the story to start.
It’s sappy and sentimental.
It’s not real. Life just isn’t like that.
What’s the point?
The complaints were sadly reminiscent of my own daughters’ less-than-thrilled reaction to the book. And my sisters. And several of my friends.
Naturally, I bristle and feel personally wounded by these “attacks” on my pet prose… every time. Rationally, I know that others don’t sink into the warm comfort of nostalgia as they read it, or filter the stories and characters through their own somewhat old-fashioned upbringing. My experience with this book is my own and cannot be duplicated. I know that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” “different strokes for different folks,” and all those “to each their own” clichés apply here. But it still feels personal.
I’ve read Little Men about 30 times (at least once a year since I was 10). Even more than the much more popular prequel, THIS is a story that caught my imagination. Here was the type of parent I wanted to be. Here was the type of life I wanted to lead. In many ways, it’s my ideal.
Maybe it’s not sexy or exciting, but it’s a good story, a very real story. Much like these books, in my life…
Not much happens from day-to-day.
The focus is on the mundane, the details, the people closest to me, and my, very slow, character development.
Most of my stories are small and ordinary, but they make me who I am.
Sappy and sentimental works better than cynical and self-absorbed.
Under all the complexities, regardless of context, life still boils down to a few close relationships and trying to find my place in the world.
The point is this: there is poetry in the everyday, we just have to see it.
I completely understand the appeal of the dramatic, the fantastic and the amazing. Don’t we all wish life could be so exciting? Science fiction is usually my first choice of reading material, but I always come back to Anne Shirley and Elizabeth Bennett and, yes, the March sisters.
Domestic realism in literature isn’t what it used to be. I honestly don’t mind the grittier storylines and darker undertones. There’s something relatable about it, something that rings true. Sometimes we need to tell our own stories this way too. Raw and real, without neat, predictable endings, without resolution – the story in process, too messy to make for pretty bedtime tales.
But there are times when we need to hear the best truths in our own story, to mine the highest ideals from our daily grind, to filter reality through faith, to find the sentimental spin… because these are the stories that give us hope and fill us with purpose and show us the inestimable worth of our day-to-day.
So I will tell my sweet, sentimental tales without apology, to others and to myself. It’s not my only truth, but it’s the best one. Every time I do, I’m better for it.
I like to think that my classmates simply haven’t grown into Little Women yet. They weren’t raised on it like I was. But as they set up households and build families and settle into familiar ruts, perhaps they too will learn to appreciate the subtle appeal of everyday beauty.
So here’s me, happy to report that my 13-yr-old listened to Little Women on tape last year and LOVED it.
August 27th, 2013 at 6:59 am
I first read Little Women when I was 8 years old! And I loved Little Men, too…I also wanted a life like that. Thanks for bringing back some old memories of these stories. I can still remember snapshots of how I imagined the scenes…haven’t thought of these in years!
August 27th, 2013 at 9:52 am
I was sad to realize how few of this younger generation had those snapshots. Goosebumps and RL Stine just don’t paint a sweet pastoral scene.
August 27th, 2013 at 10:19 am
can i just say that i love the way you write! It is real and filled with real life!
I also loved little women , it’s been a long time since i have read the book. I might have to revisit this one. I am a fan of all the old period drama movies and books…..it’s about the way they lived life, perhaps more simply than us but still filled with the same emotions. Sweet!
August 28th, 2013 at 10:22 am
Thank you! I think that most emotions are universal, which is why some stories last.
August 27th, 2013 at 2:28 pm
I love Little Women. I read it when I was little and I still love it. Yes it moves slow, but that is life! I remember making my boyfriend in high school watch the movie with me, since I could not convince him to read the book, he just sat there as a balled my eyes out. . . that relationship didn’t last. . . hmm. I have never read Little Men, I guess I must go out and get it. Thanks for the post! Loved it.
August 28th, 2013 at 10:36 am
Yes – definitely try Little Men. It’s a sweet story and less mushy. I can’t quite put my finger on why I always loved it. I just know I grew up determined to parent just like Jo.