little women, little women, where are thee?

“Books are made out of other books” is the motto, the welcoming message of Jane Nardin’s debut novel, which may also function as the author’s justification for writing a British counterpart of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (a novel I haven’t had the chance to read yet). 

 As Alcott’s novel, Jane Nardin’s Little Women in India follows the story of the May sisters’ coming of age and their endeavour to discover themselves in a world dominated by turmoil, violence and masculinity; a world which is not prepared yet for four independent little women. The author set the action in the 1856 British India, thus combining her passion for the Victorian life and literature with her keen interest in Indian culture. 

Being set in a subjugated land, it deals not only with feminism, social hierarchies and etiquette but also with themes like history (Nardin presents real events – The Indian Mutiny – trying not to take sides) and the clash of cultures, with the inevitable tensed relationship between the conqueror and the conquered. 

However, I believe that Jane Nardin does not say anything new. She repeats the same stories; she follows the same paths already trodden by others. She presents a society in which the fishing fleet (ships that brought girls from England to ‘fish’ for husbands) was a reality. A society in which the sole attribute of being a woman was that of being a good wife and thus that of choosing the best match. Hence, it was not uncommon for a woman to seek for a three-hundred-pounder, a slang term for any Company official (the British East India Company, of course) whose wife would receive a 300 pound pension if he died. 

Still, among all the bloody events and the patriarchal society, we can take a glimpse at a beautiful India, with all its interesting deities and colourful art. 

In an essay on Alcott’s feminism (1987), Sarah Elbert argued that the first vision of the American Girl (curious that it’s a girl and not a woman) transpired from the novel, a vision that united all four aspects embodied by the March sisters. I believe Jane Nardin did not accomplish this. She did not create the vision of the Victorian Little Woman. Or Girl. The May sisters fail to unite into one personality. They fail to represent the Victorian Woman in all her shapes and colours. However, deciding whether this was the purpose behind Nardin’s story of her little women is debatable. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help noticing that at times the characters did not seem very plausible and their discourse seemed unnatural, unfitting for some adolescent girls. 

Moreover, Alcott’s novel may have provided the first vision of the American Girl also because it was published in a very masculine American literary tradition: Hawthorne, Emerson, Melville and Harriet Beecher Stowe as the only female writer; one that did not speak about her femininity. She did not advocate for her feminism or for her liberation but for the freedom of the African-Americans. Jane Nardin’s novel comes at a time when women already know who they are and where they stand; at a time when (most) societies are no longer divided between the One and the Other. 

All in all, I recommend this book firstly to all Alcott fans, and secondly to those who are interested in a quick and easy insight into early feminism, (white) Indian history, culture and lifestyle. 

*I received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley.
**Photo credits:


  1. Though not a very complex novel, I recommend it to all Louisa May Alcott fans and to those who are interested in a quick and easy insight into early feminism, (white) Indian history, culture and lifestyle.


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