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History of the Text

Little Women’s Reception and Publication History: The first volume of Little Women was a massive success with both critics and the general public when it was published in September 1868. Readers became invested in the March sisters and demanded to know more, with one letter to author Louisa May Alcott declaring that if she did not “make Laurie marry Beth . . . I’ll never read another of your books as long as I live.” Volume two quickly followed in April 1869 and enjoyed similar popularity. The volumes were published together as a single novel in 1880; this edition remains popular and has never been out of print.

  • Adaptations: Little Women has enjoyed enduring international popularity, resulting in numerous adaptations into different mediums, including radio, stage, film, and animation. The first major adaptation was a stage play by Marian de Forest, which debuted in New York in 1912. Two silent film adaptation followed in 1917 and 1918, but both films are now considered lost. The third screen adaptation was released in 1933 and starred Katherine Hepburn, who went on to consider it one of her favorite projects. The 1933 film adaptation, as well as the subsequent 1949, 1978, and 1994 adaptations, all received critical acclaim and were commercially popular. A seventh and eighth film adaptation were released in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

Inclusion in the American Literary Canon: Despite its popularity, Little Women was not always considered worthy of scholarly analysis—or even inclusion in curricula—because of shifting perceptions of what constitutes a serious work of art. Even its own author distanced herself from the book, describing it as “moral pap for the young.”

  • Sixteen years after the first volume of Little Women was published, Henry James wrote “The Art of Fiction,” an essay establishing the novel form as a serious work of literature. His definition left out sentimental fiction (which is often moralistic and focused on the domestic...

(The entire section is 463 words.)