Friday, April 6, 2012
Starting at the End
And I was confused. March is a civil war book, in the same sense that a book about the Holocaust could be considered a World War II book. It is focused on abolitionism, and not so much on war. March reminded me a lot of Beloved by Toni Morrison, in telling the story of the mistreatment of the slaves. I thought that it was strange that a book that won the Pulitzer in 2006 would be so cutesy as to give the main character the last name "March", and then have him have four girls, named for the four March girls in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Then it seemed a little too coincidental that the main character was friends with Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The whole book just felt a little too contrived for me, and certainly too hokey for an award winning novel. Why was the main character a vegetarian? Were there even Civil War era vegetarians?
Then I got to the end, and read the section titled "Afterward". There Brooks explains that the character in March did not name his daughters after the girls in Little Women, but that his girls were the girls in Little Women. March is intended to be the story of the father in Little Women, who is not fully developed in the original novel. The dad is off to war, and then said to be close to death in a Washington hospital, but that's really it. In March, in order to make the character of Mr. March more complete, Brooks models him after Alcott's true father, Amos Bronson Alcott.
In real life, Bronson Alcott was a vegetarian. He was also an abolitionist, who was friends with Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne. Amazingly, they all lived in Concord, Massachusetts, at the same time, making Concord in Civil War times the literary equivalent of Brooklyn today. Alcott was a person who didn't believe in hurting people or animals, which explains some of March's more strange decisions in the novel.
Looking back on March with the realization that it is intended to be an expansion on Little Women, but with true semi-biographical information added, makes it much more interesting to me, and I wish that I had known it from the beginning. So a word to the wise: Read the Afterward first. Or, at least read the back cover of the book, which I also somehow failed to do. It's been years since I read Little Women, and actually I'm not even sure that I ever finished it. For now, I think I'll add it to the pile of books that I want to read to my daughter. After reading March, I am sure that I will have a new perspective on the story.
One more done for the Off the Shelf Challenge! 16 to go.
Next up: Moby Duck by Donovan Hohn
Still Listening to: Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin