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Little Women: 5 things you might not know about the novel

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After you’ve consumed the last scrap of leftover turkey and all the trimmings, head down to your local Cineworld to see Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of classic novel Little Women on Boxing Day.

Before that, however, we thought you might want to know more about the film’s inspiration…

1. This is the eighth feature film adaptation of Little Women

Greta Gerwig’s stab at the classic is actually the eighth movie based on Louisa May Alcott’s beloved tome. The first adaptation came in 1917, a silent British film directed by Alexander Butler, starring Daisy Burrell.

The most famous of the lot is probably either George Cukor’s 1933 Katherine Hepburn-starring classic, or Mervyn LeRoy’s 1949 version which starred Elizabeth Taylor. One could also stump for the critically praised 1994 adaptation, starring Winona Ryder.

The most recent adaptation was released in 2018. Directed by Clare Niederpruem, this modern retelling received a relatively poor reception, although it was released to tie in with the novel’s 150th anniversary.

Along with the eight feature films, there have also been various TV adaptations, musicals and radio plays. This includes a 1980s anime from Japan, believe it or not.

Saoirse Ronan Little Women movie poster

2. Little Women is semi-autobiographical

Little Women is closely based on the lives of author Louisa May Alcott and her sisters. The book’s characters Meg (Emma Watson), Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and Amy (Florence Pugh) are all based on Alcott’s sisters, Anna, Lizzie, and May, respectively. The hot-headed and impetuous Jo (Saoirse Ronan), meanwhile, is based on Louisa May Alcott herself.

Florence Pugh Little Women movie poster

3. Louisa May Alcott didn’t want to write Little Women

Louisa May Alcott wasn’t known for tales like Little Women before she wrote it. She wrote gothic thrillers under the pseudonym A.M, Barnard instead, with titles such as A Long Fatal Love Chase and Pauline’s Passion and Punishment.

She was asked to write a book for girls by her publisher and only did so when they agreed to put out a book by her father as well. Famously, Alcott disliked writing Little Women, noting in her diary that she began to "plod away although [she doesn’t] enjoy this sort of thing.” She added that she “never liked girls or knew many, except for [her] sisters".

Emma Watson Little Women movie poster

4. Little Women only took 10 weeks to write

Louisa May Alcott only took around 10 weeks to write Little Women, between May and July 1868. Presumably this is because either she disliked writing it so much and wanted to get it out of the way, or because writing it consumed her. Given how popular, important and influential the book has been, it is something of a surprise that it was written so quickly.

Four months elapsed between the start of writing and the story’s eventual publication. There are reports that Alcott sometimes forgot to sleep and eat during the writing of the novel.

Eliza Scanlen Little Women movie poster

5. Little Women is actually a collection of two books

Little Women was released in 1868 to outstanding critical and commercial success, so Louisa May Alcott quickly followed it up with a sequel, titled Good Wives, in 1869.

The Little Women book we know and love today is actually a collection of the two original novels, something that has been done ever since 1880, in the USA, at least. You can buy separate novels in the UK and other parts of the world. A testament to the book’s quality and value, it has never been out of print since.

Officially, there are also two sequels to Little Women. These are Little Men, which was released in 1871, and Jo’s Boys, from 1886. All of the books in the series are loosely based on real-life events that took place in Louisa May Alcott’s day-to-day life.

Little Women movie poster

Little Women is released in Cineworld cinemas on the 26th of December.

Toby Saunders is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.

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