A Feminist Romance: Adapting Little Women to the Screen

Karen Hollinger and Teresa WinterhalterArmstrong Atlantic State University
Vol. 18, No. 2 (Fall 1999), 173-192.

This article looks at Louisa May Alcott’s 1869 classic, Little Women, in order to confront the 1994 film adaptation with the long embattled history of women and feminism that the film ignores. This article recovers not only Alcott’s ambivalent portrayal of domesticity—where a woman’s self-expression must be subdued to self-abnegation focused on helping others—but also the rich, difficult history of feminist efforts to describe and re-describe this ambivalence. These ambivalences are lost in the 1994 feminist triumphalism of Robin Swicord and Gillian Armstrong’s film. Against the desire of contemporary women to see themselves no longer torn between little womanhood and nonconformity, to see ourselves instead as women with the ability to transform even the legacy of a restrictive past into a history of female triumph, this paper resurrects the novel itself: thick with patriarchally complicit aspects of nineteenth-century gender ideology.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]