Little Women by Louisa May Alcott — Additional Annotations

I think Little Women is the first annotated book I’ve read, and I didn’t quite know what to expect going in. I was hoping that the annotations would give me some context for the time period and country that the book was set in. Not living in America, my knowledge of the American Civil War is hazy, at best. (And mostly comes from pop culture, since it’s not a topic any of my many schools elected to cover.)

However, colonial America, especially New England with its Puritan heritage, associated billiards with taverns where men gambled, smoked and drank alcohol. When John Quincy Adams placed a pool table in the White House in 182, many people questioned his moral character. Michael Phelan (1817-1871), often called the father of American billiards, helped change the popular attitude toward the game when he opened an elegant pool hall in New York in 1850.

Annotated Little Women, ed. Daniel Shealy

Daniel Shealy’s annotations didn’t quite give me that. In fact, judging by the annotation explaining what cricket was, I think this was annotated for American audiences. Many of the annotations were about how much of Little Women corresponds to Louisa May Alcott’s actual life. (More than I thought!) Those were mildly interesting.

My brave old mother, with the ardor of many unquenchable Mays shining in her face, cried out: “Tell [Lucy Stone] I am seventy-three, but I mean to go to the polls before I die, even if my three daughters have to carry me.

Letter, Louisa May Alcott

The annotations explaining where various places in Europe were, however, I could have done without. Especially in the latter part of the book, when Amy is living in Europe, these were so thickly-scattered through the paragraphs that it became hard to read.

So a bit of a mixed bag. I probably didn’t get enough out of the annotations to make it worth the extra price and shelf-space this edition takes up. But I would still be interested to try other annotated books in future! Perhaps when they are less based on one person’s real life, they’ll annotate more about cultural context.

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley — New Review

Rebecca bought me Jane Austen at Home for either my birthday or Christmas, for the obvious reason that I enjoy reading Jane Austen’s novels. I’d never thought before about how much of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility are about finding a secure home, and I most enjoyed the parts of Jane Austen at Home that focused on that, because I’m always interested in the idea of homes. The insights into Jane’s situation (and that of her sister, Cassandra) as single women also played into themes I’ve been interested in.

So far, so good for Stoneleigh Abbey: it had been handed smoothly from father to son seven times, and most of those involved were called Thomas.

Jane Austen at Home, Lucy Worsley

I learned a lot of interesting titbits about Georgian England, including the fact that for letters carrying bad news, people used black sealing wax, so that the recipients would have some warning before they opened the letter. Sadly, I did feel that a lot of the material around these interesting themes and facts was quite dull, and it took me a full month and a bit to get through this book, which is unusual. Of course it makes sense for a biography to be written in broadly chronological order, but I wonder if it would have held my attention better had it been more focused on grouping by theme or topic.

I’d definitely recommend this to people who enjoy both biography and Jane Austen’s novels, but perhaps not so much for anyone who is looking for literary criticism. Next, I’ll be reading The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes.

For Jane, then, it doesn’t matter what books you read, even if your choice is ‘trashy’ Gothic novels. It’s what you make of them, how you behave in consequence, that counts.

Jane Austen at Home, Lucy Worsley

Rating: 2 out of 5.