Little Women Parts One and Two, since -- by the end of the latter I'd really had my fill of Victorian moralizing even if it came with a dollop of feminism. After Louisa May Alcott agreed to her publisher's request for more of the March sisters, Good Wives picks up the story three years later with the wedding of eldest sister Meg to the noble -- if poor - John Brooke. They were engaged for a long time.
Alcott continues with the format she used in the first part -- time moves forward and each chapter features the adventures/ activities of one of the sisters, further illuminating her character. Meg and John have twins (a chapter devoted to how this affected their marital bliss was perhaps the low point of the novel for me), Jo hies off to New York to try and start her writing career where she meets Professor Bhaer, Beth ... well, you know what happens to Beth, and Amy gets the opportunity to travel to Europe with her aunt and uncle, study painting, and ... well you know what happens to Amy as well.
What surprised me the most was the whole Jo-Professor Bhaer thing, which threw me a little off-kilter. Sensible Jo -- who rejects Laurie's proposal (see below) because she utterly knows how unsuited they are to marriage (to each other) -- gets quite loopy for the Professor, pretty early on. And then, she stops writing (the sensational stuff for the hilariously named Weekly Volcano) when she senses that Bhaer doesn't approve! And way at the end of the book, she offhandedly says that she thinks she might occasionally write something (when she can spare the time from all those boys). Holy cow! I had Professor Bhaer pegged as a proto-feminist, but he's just like all those other guys insisting the world be the way they think it should be (Republican Party anyone?). Well, not completely ... he's willing to take his wife's money and to let the little woman work ... for him.
Kate Reading (pronounced red-ing). The audiobook included both parts, and so I only listened to part of it. Reading reads the prolix 19th century prose with confidence, and creates distinct characters for the four sisters as well as many others in the novel, including the German-accented Professor Bhaer. Each sister had a voice that nicely captured the essence of their character (diffident Meg, stalwart Jo, sickly Beth, and spoilt Amy).
While I didn't make a side-by-side comparison between Reading and Lorelei King, their narrations were not dramatically different. Since both Beth and Amy were older, Reading chose more mature deliveries for these two Marches and this was much appreciated. Her Marmee also didn't sound quite as smug as King's. While I was listening to Part One, I didn't think of King's interpretation as particularly self-righteous when she makes her many pronouncements about her "little women," but Reading's is definitely a little more relaxed.
I've listened to Reading read before (although once I didn't bother to give her name -- thank you Audiobook Jukebox!), and have also listened to and enjoyed King, but I think I need to give Reading the edge here. Not by much, though. They are both great narrators.
My foray into Little Women makes me want to read Geraldine Brooks' March (available on audio), and watch the recent documentary about Alcott. More than I want to delve into other books from my childhood ... hmm.
[Laurie's marriage proposal has just been rejected by Jo in this 1947 illustration from Louis Jambor (Illustrated Junior Library edition). It was retrieved from a tumblr site, The Northern Light.]
Good Wives (Little Women, Part 2) by Louisa May Alcott
Narrated by Kate Reading
Listening Library, 2002. 9:51