Marmee the Woke? Review: Marmee: A Novel of Little Women by Sarah Miller


My Interest

Little Women is my fourth most read novel after GWTW, The Joyous Season, and Auntie Mame (the last two both by Patrick Dennis), so of course I had to read/listen to this one. I also enjoyed, March: A Novel by Geralidine Brooks–“Father’s” story from Little Women. If asked for a preference on movie versions I would say the 1990’s Winona Ryder/Claire Danes/Susan Sarandon’s version, even though that cuts out Katherine Hepburn. But Kate was TOO OLD to be Jo! There. I’ve said it.

Also, I liked the author’s book, Caroline: Little House Revisited.

The Story

“Little intimidates a man more than a learned woman.”


Margaret March, the mother in Little Women known as “Marmee” was an interesting woman. Author Louisa May Alcott’s family was part of the society in Concord that included Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau. Written as very long, prose-y diary entries, the story starts where Little Women starts and ends where it ends.

We see Marmee as a crusader for the poor and the immigrants, helping in the Relief Rooms in Concord and on her own time in back alleys. We learn of her struggles to bite her tongue and control her anger. We hear her thoughts on her husband, who even when present in the home was largely “absent” in the world of his own thoughts and dreams. She loves him and enjoys him, but is not blind to his faults. She struggles to accept his sincere and childlike belief that God will provide for his family even if he himself does not always do so.

Marmee enjoys her children, enjoys friends, and enjoys taking time with her own thoughts. She is as spirited and active as you imagine her to be in Little Women. She takes time to help her children develop their character without putting preachy lessons on the subject before them

It is her love and acceptance of Beth as being too gentle to face the real world (though at times she does). The joy of Beth’s gentle spirit and lovely music bring to the family together. She also adopts Laurie as a son his grandfather as a new father for herself.

My Thoughts

At first, the “woke-ness” grated. Then I laughed at myself. What transcendentalist-Unitarian WOULDN’T be “woke?” They invented it! LOL. Then I relaxed. There are very real parallels between the Civil War and Reconstruction and today. We ARE on the verge of a 2nd Civil War–at least in terms of culture. The Civil Rights hammered out in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments during the story ARE in real danger of being lost today. The same anti-poor, and anti-immigrant phobias rear their heads in each generation. 

Two small spoilers.  Two teeny-tiny parts of the story made me snort with laughter. I knew the current day debate on gender would get in there somehow and it did–Marmee sees Laurie as drawn to the male part of Jo. Snort! She also seems to hint that Jo might not be made for marriage in a way that isn’t about her independence. Hint only. And, then there was the “give the money” away plan that a couple in the story espouse.  Not in an Andrew Carnegie or Bill Gates way of having too much to ever spend, but as “vocation.” Ok then….

I loved that while Marmee was practical, she acknowledged that her husband was right–God had provided for them every time. That was amazing in a book today. I thought it sad that with so many unchurched and the media of today so anti-everything Christian or Church, the author had to explain how Unitarians differ from other sects. Sad, too, that many who read it may have to Google to see what the Trinity is.

All in all, I thought the author did a commendable job of bringing Marmee to life. I felt she owed a bit to Susan Sarandon’s wonderful portrayal of Marmee in my favorite of the Little Women movies, but….

The Author’s Note at the end is very interesting–don’t skip it.

Now I want to watch Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon again!

My Verdict




A few other “what if” books on the real life Alcott family or on the fictional March family that I have read and reviewed:

March by Geraldine Brooks (My review was lost on my old blog)

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

Like a few other well known writers or famous people, Louisa May Alcott has been turned into a fictionalized sleuth though I have not read these books. Louisa and the Missing Heiress by Anna MacLean is book #1. I’ll add her to my next update of my post on real people made into fictional slueths.


Louisa May Alcott by Susan Cheever (my review was lost on my old blog)

American Bloomsbury also by Cheever covers Louisa, Margaret Fuller, Thoreau and Hawthorne (I skimmed it).

The Concord Quartet covers Louisa’s father and the other Concord luminaries, Emerson, Hawthorn and Thoreau (I skimmed it).

Eden’s Outcasts is about Louisa and her father. (I skimmed it).

7 thoughts on “Marmee the Woke? Review: Marmee: A Novel of Little Women by Sarah Miller

Add yours

  1. Very nice review, Lisa. I think the first movie that was made that starred June Allyson as Jo is the only movie I’ve seen. Loved it so much. I read the first book also, but since then have read nothing else on Marmee and her gang!


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