Little Women, a classic coming-of-age-story of a tight-knit, Civil War-era, Massachusetts family, has been a best-selling novel since it was first published in the mid-19th century. Louisa May Alcott’s enduring semi-autobiographical tale weaves together the stories of four sisters, and presents young women in a light rarely seen in that era.
There have been several film and television adaptations of Alcott’s story, the most famous of which premiered to rave reviews in 1994 and 2019. While these two films have quite a bit in common with each other and the novel, they also have some pointed differences.
Novel: On Christmas Day, Marmee tells the girls that she has a letter from their father, which she will read aloud after dinner.
1994: In this adaptation, the film opens on Marmee coming home and presenting a letter from Mr. March, which Amy reads aloud.
2019: Marmee tells the girls that she has a letter from their father, which she reads aloud as they gather around her. It is not the opening scene in this version.
Novel: Mr. Lawrence gifts Beth his piano, because she reminds him of his deceased granddaughter. Beth is so surprised and happy that she gives the kind gentleman a big hug.
1994: In this version, the gift is given on Christmas Day, and all of her sisters are incredibly affectionate and happy for her.
2019: This adaptation sees Beth come home to find that her sisters are standing in front of the piano she’s been gifted. While her sisters are ooing and awwing over the new instrument, Beth immediately heads to Mr. Lawrence’s home to thank him. It does not take place on Christmas.
Novel: Before a party in which eligible young men and women meet to dance and make connections, Jo uses a curling iron on Meg’s hair, and, to Meg’s horror, ends up burning off a lock.
1994: In this adaptation, the hair begins smoking and making crackling sounds before Jo becomes aware of it and releases the curling iron. Jo notices it at the same time as everyone else, and tells Meg, “You shouldn’t have had me do it!”
2019: This version also sees Jo curling Meg’s hair, but though Amy mentions a burning smell, no one is aware of what has occurred until Jo releases the curling iron to find that the curl came with it. Jo is immediately apologetic and offers to style Meg’s hair to hide the mistake.
Novel: Jo thinks of Laurie as a brother, a male version of herself, so his proposal feels like a betrayal of their friendship. She suggests he marry Meg or Beth, which would keep her family structure intact.
1994: This version of Jo avoids change at any cost. She is not only deeply unhappy when Meg gets married, but also distressed when Laurie wishes to change their dynamic. Throughout the film, she always wishes to keep things just as they are.
2019: When Laurie proposes, he and Jo squabble like siblings. She cares about his feelings, but is also disturbed and disappointed by his proposition. She tells him that she could never love him the way he wants her to.