December 3, 2018

College Community Celebrates 150 Years of "Little Women," Explores Social Relevance

In celebration of the 150th anniversary of Louisa May Alcott’s timeless novel "Little Women," Emmanuel College’s English Department, in coalition with the Film and Book Club and Cardinal Cushing Library staff, hosted a three-day series of events to examine the highly celebrated work of literature through artistic, social and historical lenses during a film screening, a guest lecture and a student-faculty panel discussion.

Lead by Associate Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of English Lisa Stepanski, the events provided the opportunity for scholars and fans of the beloved novel from across the College community—and beyond—the opportunity to not only revere the story of the March sisters but also examine the work's wider social context, especially students of Stepanski's course "American Childhood 1620-1899."

On November 27, the English Department held a screening of the 1994 film adaptation of "Little Women." The following day, the Department hosted Eve LaPlante, a biographer and New Englander who has conducted extensive research on Louisa May Alcott and Abigail Alcott for her latest biography, "Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother." A cousin of Louisa and a great-niece of Abigail, LaPlante shared firsthand writings and letter correspondences of Abigail's and Louisa's, linking them directly to the family's history and experiences in relation to "Little Women."  

During her lecture, LaPlante explained how "'Little Women' was as much of a cultural phenomenon then as the Harry Potter series is today." LaPlante also noted how the novel was a trailblazer among books, "especially girls' books," laying the foundation for a very new industry and giving voice to the frustrations and fears of women of the time as never before.

"Ultimately, I think Alcott was telling us that we have choices, which women were not told very much in her time," LaPlante said. "Jo March is a beacon to girls, especially those who do not aspire to an old feminine ideal; she asserted her right to be herself beyond a lady, and she provided an alternative path to maturity that might even combine love and work. She's a model of fluidity and resistance to the idea that women—as well as men—are not one-size-fits-all."

The story and once-radical messages of "Little Women" are still being heard today, especially with an upcoming film adaptation featuring stars Meryl Streep and Emma Watson coming to the silver screen in 2019.

"I think it's really important now that we have exposure to books and film that challenge the idea that women's bodies matter more than their minds, which is an idea that has very, very deep roots in our culture."

Rounding out the week's celebration of "Little Women," the Department hosted a student-faculty panel discussion on November 29, titled "'Little Women' Turns 150: Reflections on a Beloved Classic." During the panel, students and faculty were able to exchange their interpretations of the novel, share newfound perceptions from LaPlante's talk, and examine the novel's reflection of the world then and the world today.

Associate Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of English Lisa Stepanski stands with biographer Eve LaPlante

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