Little Women, By Louisa May Alcott

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The Independent Culture

Re-reading this 19th-century feminine take on John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is a real joy. Successive films of Louisa May Alcott's masterpiece relinquished much of its Christian message, and the pushing of that agenda is probably the book's only flaw. Pleasure in reading about exuberant, tomboyish Jo, will never diminish.

The novel's brilliance lies in its unflinchingly honest representation of sympathetic but flawed women: Amy is vain; Meg materialistic; Jo headstrong and thoughtless; Beth passive.

Following Austen's example, Alcott made her story about these girls learning from their mistakes and coping with loss. Alcott valued womanhood: women were the strong ones in pioneer country, and a new land could not afford for them to get it wrong.

Penguin has included this classic in its (RED) series, and 50 per cent of profits go to the Global Fund to fight Aids in Africa. "Can a book save lives? This one can," goes the tagline. I suspect it has already changed the lives of many who've read it.