"Little Women" - mostly a copy of an earlier book

I love Project Gutenberg. Through it, I can read older books which are unavailable in libraries and out of print.

Lately, I heard about and have started reading The Daisy Chain, a book written in 1856 by British author Charlotte Yonge. I’m gobsmacked to discover that Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women virtually copies its characters, scenes, situations and moralizings almost directly from this earlier work. After googling, I see that The Daisy Chain was one of LMA’s “influences.” Har - that’s a nice name for near-plagiary. LMA’s famous Jo March is almost completely identical to Yonge’s Etheldred May.

What a letdown. I always thought that Little Women was completely the ingenious, original invention of Louisa May Alcott. I do know that she quickly whipped out this work without enthusiasm because her publisher requested a story for girls. Maybe she figured it would flop and no one would read it and spot the extreme similarities.

BTW, here’s a link to Yonge’s The Daisy Chain, if anyone’s interested.

Sigh, another childhood idol destroyed.

Why do you do this to me, world? WHY? WHY? WHY? :confused:

I thought “Little Women” was based on Louisa (Jo) and her sisters?
But yes, the “May” family and all that.
The Daisy Chain looks a little bit too instructive and/or religious for me–but in terms of the Victorian era, it does look interesting.

I just saw the new broadway musical Little Women.

And yes many people in the audience were saying how it seemed an great deal like The Daisy Chain.*

*not really

Really, anyone who names a main character “Etheldred” is just asking to be relegated to obscurity.

You might even call her “Etheldred the unread.”

Excellent, hazel-rah! A perfect pun!

Actually, “May” is Louisa Alcott’s middle name, not maiden name. Her father was Bronson Alcott, and she had a younger sister named May (after her mother’s maiden name).

IMHO your childhood idols are safe, anaamika. At least this one is. :slight_smile: Other than the similar themes of following a family of siblings through the years and their attempts to better themselves as humans, I don’t see much of a resemblence between Daisy Chain and Little Women.

Jo, a copy of Ethel, because Ethel’s a tomboy and likes books? It is to laugh! C’mon, it wasn’t exactly unusual for women who wrote 19th/early 20th century books – especially semi-autobiographical ones – to focus on book-loving girls who don’t match society’s idealized standards of dainty girlhood. Look at chicks like Laura from Little House… books, Francie from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the eponymous Jane Eyre, and Mary from A Secret Garden. They not only have a lot in common with the authors, they probably resemble more than a few of the readers!

Anyway, where it counts – quality – the two books are very, very different. The whole beginning chapter of Daisy Chain is cringeworthy: dull, vague, poor at even the basics of identifying individual characters or depicting the setting in an immersive way. I was hard-pressed to figure out even how many siblings there were, they all kinda blended into one another.

Contrast that with the funny and telling first paragraphs of Little Women. Each sister kvetches in her own inimitable way about the substandard Christmas she’s going to have due to the family’s diminished circumstances and their father having gone to war. (At this point, none of them see the irony of complaining about being poor while they have a maid/cook running around, a warm fire in front of them, and enough money to buy themselves little presents. This will change, of course.)

The first chapter takes us right into the March family dynamics, depicting each of the four siblings’ quirky little personalities and casting them in sharp relief from one another through both dialogue and description.

And Alcott’s narrative, unlike Younge’s, gives you a true mise en scene. You can practically feel the warmth from the fire, hear the clicking of the knitting needles, and see the growing anxiety and remorse on the girls’ faces as they read the sobering letter from their absent father.

Looking at the broader themes (of personal growth and maturity), LW tells a much more interesting story and has a more satisfying conclusion, especially for those who value individuality.

Ethel in Daisy Chain learns that her book-larnin’ and boyish ways are detrimental to being a proper member of church-going society. She becomes a domensticated dullard. OTOH, the main lessons that the March girls learn is to think of others and to consider their words/deeds before acting in haste. They’re not turned into simpering ideals of femininity, forced to set aside their ambitions in order to become perfect little housewives. They retain the core aspects of their personalities.

Sure, Meg learns not to be quite such a materialist, Jo learns to consider her actions before going off half-cocked, Beth learns to be a bit more outgoing, and Amy becomes less of a selfish, vain twit. But at the end of the book, the March girls are still the March girls: Meg is still capable of throwing a hissy, Amy’s still strongwilled and bossy, and Beth … well, okay, Beth kinda does lose some important aspects of herself.

(Like, the breathing and the living parts.)

Best of all, Jo is still wonderful, horsey, emotional, stubborn, outgoing Jo. She does become a little quieter, primarily due to maturing, feeling lonelier, and above all having suffered the grievous loss of a family member. But otherwise she retains most of her impetuous, determined, romping-with-boys demeanor.

So geeze, pugluvr, I think your OP title’s waaaay overstating the facts of the matter. Alcott may have been influenced by the general idea of writing about a family of siblings, but the notion that Little Women is “mostly a copy of an earlier book” is hooey. Christopher Columbus! :smiley:

Thanks to this thread I got to reading through yet another of L.M. Alcott’s darling little books of inspiring stories for girls and ran across this passage (from A Garland For Girls):

I was amused.

Just wanted to point out that the OP made reference to women and “daisy chains”.
Off to get the lotion and tissues, back in a sec…

Ah… I always thought a daisy chain was

A group of men engaged in a long line of anal sex back to back to back to back, etc.

This is what I think of everytime I hear the Tick yell, “SPOON!”

I was imagining a female equivalent……

Don’t rain on my parade, I have so little :smiley:

Wouldn’t that actually be front-to-back, front-to-back, front-to-back? I don’t see how “back-to-back” would work.

Grody sexual explanation:

The women would all be on all fours. It can be done, I’ve seen it in a porno from the 70’s called Taboo.

And now, I feel dirty.

O, you poor sweet thing. Let me draw you a bath…and scrub all that dirt away.

Sorry, luv, but I’m spoken for.

Back on topic, I’d be interested in hearing some rebuttals of/elaborations on choie’s post. Anyone else read both books?

I’ve read Little Women about a dozen times and I’m halfway through reading The Daisy Chain. I think there is a strong stylistic influence of the latter on the former, although Little Woman is slightly less preachy. Ethel seems similar to Jo, but I think there is still plenty of originality in Little Women. I wouldn’t say it’s just a copy of The Daisy Chain.

It’s easy to see, though, why The Daisy Chain doesn’t have the other’s popularity. Its incessant moralizing, “dear mamma” this and “dear mamma” that, and long passages concerning the obscure culture of English schoolboys make it less rewarding to read. It was interesting to hear the word “fag” used in the schoolboy sense, though. It kind of reminding me of reading Boy by Roald Dahl.

Great post choie!
That, ladies and gentlemen is how it is done.

I’ve now finished The Daisy Chain, and I still feel it’s amazingly similar to LW. In fact, it feels like The Further Adventures of Jo March, Now With Extra Piety, at least the first half. Thanks, QuarkChild, for pinpointing my reason for starting this thread: it’s the style of writing, particularly when describing Ethel’s struggles for self-improvement, which make me feel like I’m reading another Alcott book.

In addition, certain plot points from The Daisy Chain reappear in other LW books, like Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins, and Rose In Bloom. I won’t discuss these yet, because QuarkChild is still reading.

Idlewild, that’s why I love Project Gutenberg, because you can read more obscure works by past authors which you may not easily find elsewhere. Remember, in LW, the account of how Jo March published a book, to mixed reviews? That story is based on LMA’s original novel for adults, Work, which you will find in the PG list. Also noteworthy is Hospital Sketches, her fact-based memoirs of working as a military nurse during the Civil War.