Although May enjoys a romance with Julian Hawthorne, the son of neighbors Nathaniel and Sophia, his poverty and lack of direction make him a bad choice as a husband for an ambitious woman. Once Louisa’s Little Women becomes a bestseller, a trip to Europe finally looks like more of a possibility. However, Louisa’s interpretation of May’s fictional counterpart – golden-haired Amy March, who dabbles in art but gives up her hobby to marry – shows May that her sister hardly knows her.
Atkins creates beautiful images with her writing: May and Julian’s moonlit boat excursion through the water lilies floating in the Concord River has the feel of an impressionist painting, and May’s observations of the bustling Parisian streets bring the city alive. Some sharper characterizations would have helped; the Alcott parents fade into the background, for instance, and without dialogue tags during lengthy exchanges, it can sometimes be hard to tell who’s saying what. A slight re-edit would be of benefit here.
While this is a quiet book, the characters’ strong emotions come through on the page. Thoughtful readers will appreciate the depictions of the sisters’ passion for their art and the challenges that 19th-century American women faced when they worked for a living.
Little Woman in Blue was published by She Writes Press this month ($16.95, trade pb, 326pp). This review first appeared in the Historical Novels Review's indie reviews.
See also Jeannine Atkins' essay about her research, posted this past Monday.