Women’s coffee talk presents: Little Women off the page


Dr. Anne Boyd Rioux giving her lecture on Little Women. Photo provided by Cassandra Jaskiewiciz.

On Thursday, Sept. 20 at 12:30 p.m., the Women’s Coffee Talk lecture series hosted Dr. Anne Boyd Rioux to discuss the Louisa May Alcott novel “Little Women and its many resulting adaptations.P

Dr. Anne Boyd Rioux is a professor of English at the University of New Orleans, the graduate coordinator of English and a member of the women’s and gender studies faculty. Rioux has written a book, “Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of ‘Little Women’ and Why It Still Matters,’ in time for the 150-year anniversary of Little Women.

Rioux began the talk with a brief plot overview ofLittle Women” and how it follows four sisters and their journey into adulthood, emphasizing that the book “tells young readers that there isn’t just one way to be a girl and that certainly there is no one way to grow into being a woman. There are multiple ways.”

Rioux explained that these girls have unique personalities with flaws and struggles that they must overcome during the course of the narrative. Rioux compares “Little Womento some of the contemporary work at the time. There are big differences between Alcott’s work and other novels of the period. Alcott’s work featured more female characters and their roles within society. Rioux said, “These were things that were extremely unusual for the nineteenth century.

“When I read this book, I had no idea that “Little Women was a national sensation and that it has meant so much to women around the world,” said Rioux.

Little Women has numerous adaptations, from television shows and cartoons to graphic novels, web series and films. These adaptations started as early as 1818 and have continued on today with a new film coming out at the end of September.

“It has been adapted many times,” Rioux said. “In fact, it might be one of the most adapted classic novels ever for big and small screens.

[Adaptations] tend to reflect the time in which they were made. Adaptations are just an interpretation of the text. So the people who are making the film have to decide what to include what to leave out,” Rioux said. “What you see in these adaptations is a reflection of the time they were made as much as the original one [was].”

In the talk, Rioux examined the three major film adaptations that were made in the United States. The first film she examined was the 1933 film starring Katharine Hepburn as Jo. It placed thematic emphasis on charitable aid, which was the influence of the Great Depression. There are scenes of the girls shopping for charities and helping soldiers who have returned home that are not in the book. Rioux added that “The 1933 film shows a tremendous emphasis on the romances. The movie has barely begun and suddenly they are pairing off them off with boys.”

In contrast to the the 1933 film, the 1949 film version was in color, and the tagline for this movie was that it was the world’s greatest love story and a Technicolor romance. Released post-World War II, society had seen many dramatic changes to the role of women. Women had taken an active role within the workforce, but were supposed to return home as the war ended. They needed to take care of the home and become domestic consumers. This new adaptation shows this by adding a new shopping mall scene that was not in the book.

“They called it a love story. Now love was a part of it, but it was supposed to be a coming-of-age story,” Rioux remarked.

The third film was the 1994 version, famously featuring Winona Ryder as Jo, and this poster is very different from its predecessors. There is no emphasis on the love and romance aspect of the story and it has a more feminist approach.

“This was an era of family values…while this movie had a strong feminist bend too, it also appealed to the family audience.”

However, the dialogue of this film was very different from the book. The other movies still tried to have lines that referenced the book directly.

“They gave the characters all kinds of lines that are not within the book … [it] tried to say the things that Alcott wasn’t able to say at the time, but probably would have said if she was alive today,” Rioux commented after showing some clips from the 1994 version.

This movie looked at the double standard that women face, changing the language of the scenes to match the concerns of today when it came to showing skin, and changing the direction of the narrative.

There is a 2018 adaptation that will be coming out this September that was advocated by the same director of the 1994 version. When asked about her own desires for the upcoming adaptation, Rioux said, “I think [what] would be really interesting is if the romances were played down, not the main part of the storyline as [they are] in other adaptations, and that the girls were given more opportunities to explore who they are. In the book, there is a lot more space given to them to make mistakes and learn.”

She continued, “There are so many great scenes in the book that show the girls’ struggles that are not seen in the movies at all…. the book shows us that none of these people are perfect.That aspect of it, to me, has such a powerful message and has been downplayed in all of the adaptations.

“There is something universal about these four girls and their relationships to each other [that] has made it adaptable in so many different times and places all over the world.”

If there was one thing Rioux wanted the audience to take away after the lecture, it would be that “[“Little Women”] is a story I want to know and a story I would want to read.”

The next Women’s Coffee Talk takes place on Oct. 30. Dr. Shelby Richardson will give the next lecture, called “I Conjure You,” on the topic of witches.