Book-vs-Movie: Little Women
Book Release: Part One – 1868; Part Two – 1869
Movie Release: 1994
I saw this movie when it first came out and absolutely fell in love with the March family. I wanted to be one of the sisters, live in that house, and spend time with them.
I’ve never read the book until now because I’ve always been intimidated by the size of this book. It took me a while to read, but was definitely worth it.
I’ve read books that are considered ‘classics’ before, and some don’t hold up the test of time. This story definitely does. Although I couldn’t stop myself from laughing when they called their boots ‘rubbers.’ It was funny to see Amy running through the house shouting, “I can’t find my rubbers!” : )
The movie keeps the girls characteristics exactly like the book: Meg is longing for nicer things and a new life; Amy wants to feel accepted by popular and wealthy people; Beth’s quiet and accepting nature of how things are; and Jo is just as vivid and lively.
I absolutely love the costumes in this movie. The soft fabrics, elegant styles and classic looks makes me want to go buy a gown from the 1800’s right now. Although I can’t image how woman actually dressed like that every day!
Seeing the movie, I knew how people lived over 100 years ago, but reading the book seemed to solidify it somehow; I guess because it was written during that time period. I can’t imagine spending my days sewing and worrying about simple things like they did. I definitely would have acted like Jo and pushed the boundaries of life just because of how simply life seemed back then.
The book is split into two parts: part one ending once Meg gets married. The movie follows part one of Little Women almost exactly. Both start out on Christmas eve with the girls singing before going to bed. On Christmas morning, Hannah makes a wonderful feast that the girls bring to the Hummel’s.
The party that Jo and Meg are invited to is exactly like the book. Jo burns off a piece of Megs hair, which is done so well in the movie. Jo dodges a male that wants to dance with her at the party and lands her in an alcove where she meets Laurie for the first time. Laurie tells Jo all about his time abroad. Jo and Laurie dance in the hallway where no one can see them so Jo will not be embarrassed by the burn on her dress. They run into Meg who has sprained her ankle, and Laurie offers to take them home in his carriage.
Jo and Laurie’s friendship feels just as effortless in the books as it appears on screen. And who can’t love a baby faced Christian Bale?
In the movie, the March girls play in the snow with Laurie while Mr. Brooke approaches Marmee and Meg. Mr. Brooke is not introduced this early in the book. We do not meet him until about a quarter of the way into the book. The girls also do not spend as much time with Laurie so early in the book.
This makes sense for the movie because of having to cram so much information into 2 hours; it’s understood that they have to speed up the story. However, I really enjoyed in the book how Laurie stayed a mystery for a while.
In both the book and movie Amy is struck by her teacher for the limes, Jo writes about her inner struggles for having to conform to the ways of society, and the March girls have their secret society of plays and the Pickwick Portfolio. They accept Laurie as a member and he gives the girls a ‘post office’ for them to share “their most appalling secrets.”
Beth and Mr. Laurence have a much larger part in the books. Beth is often going next door to use Mr. Laurence’s piano, and plays the music that he secretly places out for her. Beth reminds Mr. Laurence his daughter that passed away at a young age, so he dotes upon her.
Amy is just as jealous in the movie as she is in the book that Meg and Jo get to go to the theater with Laurie and John. Amy burns Jo’s manuscript that she’s been writing for years. Jo lashes out and yells at Amy saying she never wants to see her again. Amy apologizes, but Jo ignores her because she’s so upset. Amy gets jealous again of all the time that Jo and Laurie spend together. She follows them when they go ice skating and Amy ends up falling through the ice.
Meg and John do not become close until later in the book; not until after their father comes home. Even then, they do not have much interaction together.
When Meg prepares for Sally Moffat’s coming out party in the book, she is there for days and we see all of the activities the girls do together. Meg feels embarrassed because of her status and how poor she is. All the other girls have gorgeous silk dresses and jewelry. In the movie, Meg is dressed up because the rest feel bad for her. In the book, Meg is dressed up because the rest of the Moffat family has grown fond of Meg and wants to do her a favor.
A telegrams arrives from Washington Hospital that Mr. March has been injured and Marmee leaves to go see him right away. Jo is supposed to ask Aunt March for money for her mothers train ticket, but can’t bare to ask her, so she sells her hair. Mr. Brooke offers himself as company to Mrs. March as she travels. This is the same in the movie as in the book.
A small difference between the book and movie is when Jo wins the money for her story being published. In the book, we see Jo submitting her stories and the entire writing process; not just her winning the money. She struggles with what to write, where does she go to get it published, etc.
Beth comes down with scarlet fever because the Hummel’s baby has it. Hannah says that Amy must stay with Aunt March because she hasn’t had scarlet fever. In the book, Amy fights tooth and nail and will not go. The only way Amy agrees to goes is when Laurie tells her he’ll visit everyday; which he does. This is where we first see the relationship between Laurie and Amy blossom.
While Amy is staying with Aunt March, we see the two women growing closer together. Aunt March takes the responsibility of making sure Amy because a suitable lady since she believes none of the other girls have a chance of marrying a suitable man. This makes more sense later when Aunt March chooses Amy to go to Europe instead of Jo.
In the book, Beth’s health improves better before Marmee gets home from Washington. In the movie, Marmee coming home is what makes Beth better.
When Meg and John agree to marry, Jo gets visibly upset because she doesn’t want to lose her sister. In the books, this is a huge struggles for Jo. She does not like the way things are changing, and tries her best to deal with it. Jo has many internal struggles throughout this story that are beautifully written throughout the books.
The speech that Laurie makes to Jo after she turns down his proposal is almost verbatim from the book. However, in the book Jo doesn’t tell anyone but Marmee that she’s refused Laurie’s proposal. In the movie, we see Jo telling Beth, Amy and Marmee. This is an impossibility in the book since Laurie proposes while Amy is abroad with Aunt March.
No one ever tells Amy that Laurie has proposed to Jo, but she eventually figures it out when she runs into him in France. Laurie is so heartbroken that he begins to throw his life away until Amy confronts him about it. We see the relationship between Laurie and Amy develop over a year or so, where in the movie it seems like their relationship is forced. Their romance is much more natural and their marriage not so much a surprise because of all the back story. Laurie also never promises to kiss Amy before she dies.
Jo feels the need to get away and needs a change in her life. Jo moves to New York to live with one of Marmee’s friend who runs a boarding house. She keeps to herself at first until running into Mr. Friedrich Bhaer. In the book, Jo secretly watches him around the boarding house finding an attraction to him. He’s unlike anyone she’s ever met. He even teachers her German.
In the movie, we see Jo having a hard time selling her work to publishers. In the book, Jo writes romance stories and has no problem selling them to magazines. Never in the book is she turned down for writing because she is a woman, or does she write under the name of a man.
Friedrich comments on the stories that she’s writing saying that she’s basically selling herself out and not writing what she really wants. Although it hurts for her to hear it, she knows that he is right and should write what she wants. This is similar in the book and movie.
As Jo and Friedrich grow closer in the movie, he takes her the opera. This never happens in the book. The timeline in the movie is also rushed. Jo does not begin a relationship with Friedrich until after Amy and Laurie are married and return home to Connecticut.
Another major difference between the movie and book is Meg and John’s relationship after marriage. We see all about their troubles as husband and wife. How Meg tries to run her own household, deal with John’s imperfections, and really learn one another. Since they never spent a lot of time together before they were married, it’s very hard for them to live together at first. We also see Meg and John’s children grow to be toddlers, talking and running around. In the movie, we only see them as newborns.
In the movie, Jo gets a telegram and rushes home when she hears Beth is ill. In the book, Jo is already home when Beth is ill and takes her on a vacation. Beth admits that she hasn’t been feeling well and knows that she will not be living much longer. We slowly see Beth becoming sicker, as supposed to the movie when Jo arrives home and she’s suddenly deathly sick. It’s more of a progression in the book. Beth’s death hits Jo a lot harder in the book and she is completely shaken by it.
Side note: At this point of reading the book I couldn’t help but think of the Friends episode where Joey is reading Little Women and has to put the book in the freezer because Beth is really sick : )
One thing that I love about this movie, that you just cannot do in a book, is the montage of Jo writing about her life putting together her novel. This is done extremely well, and is such a touching moment in the movie.
When Friedrich comes to visit Jo in the book, it is not because her book is being published. He has business in the area and wanted to see her. Friedrich stays a friend to Jo for a while and eventually over time they agree to marry.
In the book, Jo and Friedrick turn Aunt March’s house into a boarding house and school for children. They even have children of their own.
I love watching movies that have been made about books just to see the differences between the two. I enjoyed both the Little Women book and movie for different reasons, and didn’t mind the differences that were made for the movie. I haven’t watched this movie in years, but I still loved it just as much as I did when I first saw it.
Have you also read the book and watched the movie? What are your take on the differences?
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