Film & Television

‘Little Women’ Still Inspires After 150 Years

With Little Women, Caswill has less drama to deal with, although the lives of the March sisters are anything but dull. The four girls, living in wartime semi-poverty, have rich imaginations. And each has her own distinct ambition. Meg, the eldest, longs for society’s approval and looks forward to being a wife and mother. Jo has dreams of being a famous author and the earnings that will entail. Beth wants only to live in peace with those she loves, while Amy hopes to make her mark as an artist. One reason that Little Women has appealed to so many for so long is that while the girls are being brought up with strong ideals, they aren’t perfect. They love each other fiercely, but that doesn’t mean they always get along. In shaping their characters, they must conquer envy, vanity, impatience, and other real-life weaknesses. Their very imperfection was key to their relatability in 1868, and remains so today.

The cast of the new series includes two-time Oscar nominee Emily Watson as Marmee, Olivier winner Michael Gambon as “old Mr. Laurence,” theatrical legend and Honorary Oscar winner Angela Lansbury as “Aunt March,” and relative newcomers as the girls themselves: Kathryn Newton (Amy), Annes Elwy (Beth), Willa Fitzgerald (Meg), and Maya Hawke (Jo). Hawke, nineteen years old, is the daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke. As the central figure in this new Little Women, she proves to be an extremely talented actress in her own right. And, in an interesting show business twist, she’ll be co-starring with a former Jo (Ryder) in the upcoming season of Stranger Things.

Today, Little Women remains relevant in its depiction of determined girls growing into independent women. Alcott’s characters, especially her alter-ego Jo, question gender stereotypes. Jo March longs for the excitement and sense of mission that her father has as a Union soldier, but strives to improve her nature.

“I’ll try and be what he loves to call me, ‘a little woman,’ and not be rough and wild, but do my duty here instead of wanting to be somewhere else,” said Jo, thinking that keeping her temper at home was a much harder task than facing a rebel or two down South.

A century and a half later, as states debate, and in some cases roll back, women’s rights, girls need empowering role models as much as they ever did. By challenging nineteenth-century conventions, Jo can help twenty-first=century girls stand up for themselves and their goals.

Little Women still appears on many “Top Novels” lists (it’s number 20 of 100 at But, the majority of girls today, sadly, are more interested in social media than classic works of autobiographically based fiction. Perhaps the lovely new Masterpiece production will encourage them to put their smart phones down and pick up an old but still relevant (and still delightful) novel.

Because, as CNN recently observed, “Every generation probably deserves its own version of Little Women.”


Parts two and three of Little Women air on PBS next Sunday. Check your local listings for repeat airings of part one or visit to stream it. If you’re a PBS subscriber, you can watch the entire mini-series via PBS Passport.


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