Little Women was one of my favorite novels as a child. I read it countless times over the years and still have my own copy of it to this day.
Having already enjoyed Sarah Miller's Caroline (a fictional telling of the story behind Ma in Little House on the Prairie), I was really looking forward to reading Marmee and seeing the backstory the author creates for the beloved mother character in Little Women.
Following closely to the timeline of Little Women, the novel begins with Marmee, home in Massachusetts and raising her daughters, while her husband is a chaplain for the Union during the Civil War. While times are difficult, she continues her charitable works, worries about her husband, and guides her daughters through their teenage years.
Miller creates Marmee as an epistolary novel, told in Marmee's own diary entries. The novel relies on a passing knowledge of the Little Women story, but the entries tell a story that can be enjoyed without a comprehensive background. The journal-style gives a lot more insight into the character of Marmee, her love and devotion to her family and her faith, along with a creative back story to what happened prior to the initial novel.
In 1861, war is raging in the South, but in Concord, Massachusetts, Margaret March has her own battles to fight. With her husband serving as an army chaplain, the comfort and security of Margaret’s four daughters— Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—now rest on her shoulders alone. Money is tight and every month, her husband sends less and less of his salary with no explanation. Worst of all, Margaret harbors the secret that these financial hardships are largely her fault, thanks to a disastrous mistake made over a decade ago which wiped out her family’s fortune and snatched away her daughters’ chances for the education they deserve.
Yet even with all that weighs upon her, Margaret longs to do more—for the war effort, for the poor, for the cause of abolition, and most of all, for her daughters. Living by her watchwords, “Hope and keep busy,” she fills her days with humdrum charity work to keep her worries at bay. All of that is interrupted when Margaret receives a telegram from the War Department, summoning her to her husband’s bedside in Washington, D.C. While she is away, her daughter Beth falls dangerously ill, forcing Margaret to confront the possibility that the price of her own generosity toward others may be her daughter’s life.