I recently reviewed a new memoir by the rock singer and poet Patti Smith, and found in it this passage about a surprising influence in her childhood:
I drew comfort from my books. Oddly enough, it was Louisa May Alcott who provided me with a positive view of my female destiny. Jo, the tomboy of the four March sisters in Little Women writes to help support her family, struggling to make ends meet during the Civil War. She fills page after page with her rebellious scrawl, later publishing in the literary pages of the local newspaper. She gave me the courage of a new goal, and soon I was crafting little stories and spinning long yarns for my brother and sister. From that time on, I cherished the idea that one day I would write a book.
A few readers have asked me about my girlhood antipathy for Little Women. I've never entirely gotten over it, I'm sorry to say, and for some reason all I managed to take away from the novel was the sweet, passive, self-abnegating ideal of Victorian womanhood that I found so irksome. I knew Jo was meant to be an alternative, but she was never quite enough for me. Partly, I think, I had a hankering for journeys and I just didn't like the fact that the Marches were stuck in the house.
Nevertheless, I always like to hear about how other children responded very differently to it. It's a reminder of how a book is re-imagined every time a new reader (or the same reader at a different age) reads it. If Little Women inspired a woman as original and fearless as Patti Smith, then obviously there was more to it than met my 10-year-old eye.