In various best books lists, certain childhood classics keep springing up again and again. What are very rarely ever mentioned though are the sequels to these, and often there are many. Some good, some not so good.
There are a number of reasons I suspect these books very rarely get a mention in best books lists:
a) They don’t quite live up to the charm of the first one.
b) They are awful.
c) Putting them in would take up a lot of space in a ‘Top [insert number here]’ list so list-makers just put in the first book.
d) A combination of a) and c).
As someone who always hates saying goodbye to characters at the end of a book, especially in books such as ‘Little Women’ and ‘Anne of Green Gables’ which don’t have a single plot and rather follow the lives of their protagonist (a trend in books that is noticeably 19th century American/Canadian – although I would love to hear of any children’s books doing that now?), I’m always dying to hear more about them and gobble up sequels. Read on for my guide to these lesser known sequels and some notes on interesting recurring motifs.
Assuming that you have read Little Women Part II that is sometimes made into a separate book, ‘Good Wives’, the two sequels, which are well worth a read, are:
Perhaps not the most original title, but a charming book nonetheless. This sequel follows the lives of the varied mix of boys in Jo and Professor Bhaer’s school, Plumfield, and you get to meet the original Little Women’s children too.
There are a few girls in this too, Meg’s daughter Daisy and Amy’s daughter Bess are very ladylike little girls, so the figure of Nan is introduced to fulfil the role Jo once inhabited.
The main protagonist is the quiet Nat, a new boy at the school and we are introduced to everyone mainly through his eyes. Being quiet he is of course perceived as a bit weak and feeble and feminine (good old sexism). At the other end of the scale is the wild Dan, who he introduces to the school who is bold, firey, gambles, gets into fights and is perhaps not entirely white but ultimately proves honourable. A favourite with Jo because he’s not quiet and mild like Nat…
The final book in the series. Plumfield appears to have expanded to become a university allowing us to view all the characters we were introduced to in ‘Little Men’ and more at a later, obviously crucial stage in their development, namely the marriageable and career deciding age.
What I do like about Louisa May Alcott is that she is passionate about proving that women can have careers. Although she throws in wet blankets like Daisy too, no doubt for some realism and goes on about domesticity being a fine alternative for women with gentle, traditionally feminine personalities. I have a slight problem with this as a daughter of the modern age but no doubt in the rampantly sexist time Alcott was writing, women probably needed to be very manlike to get ahead.
Jo’s neice and Meg’s daughter Jo (confusing, huh) is no longer a babe in arms and has a personality, rather like that of her namesake. She wants to be an actress, which is a nice genetic development of Meg and Jo’s acting tendencies back in ‘Little Women’ while her cousin Bess wants to be an artist – carrying out the unfulfilled ambitions of her mother. Nan has decided to become a doctor which is very gruesome, so it’s all shock and scandal in this novel with these women wanting careers.
Courtship naturally abounds in this novel with a rather bittersweet story for Dan, but I won’t give that away. Needless to say though, despite various struggles, (including Nat’s weak feminine character getting him into trouble *rolls eyes*) happiness triumphs for all! And Nan never marries, remaining a happy spinster with a career, a fate Alcott originally wanted for Jo but couldn’t because of all the fan pressure.
And if we wanted further proof that these sequels came about from fan pressure, the way Alcott rounds off the end with an exasperated tone offering a quick run down of all futures not decided already in the novel and threatening an earthquake to get rid of them all if she essentially has to write any more about them.
Anne of Green Gables
Again, another classic book with sequels I love immensely.
Anne of Avonlea – This book follows Anne as she become teacher of her school in Avonlea and we see her friendship with Gilbert Blythe develop. Anne and her friends also set up a society designed to essentially improve Avonlea.
Anne of the Island – Thanks to money from teaching Anne and coincidentally Gilbert too (and unfortunately Charlie Sloane) can finally go to university at Redmonds. This book is the big ‘romance’ book with many beaux competing for Anne’s hand – and several refusals on Anne’s part, including turning down Gilbert Blythe!
Anne also meets a charming society belle who is also very clever and rich but is still lovely and adores Anne to pieces called Philippa. (Interestingly this type of character is not exclusive to this Anne series, in classic ‘What Katy did at school’ she appears in the form of Rose Red – maybe 19th century authors loved the idea of their slightly non-traditional female characters being loved by the more traditional ones to give them validity?). Philippa happens to live near where Anne’s parents live, providing a bittersweet moment in the novel where Anne goes back to her first home.
Anne of Windy Willows – As Gilbert is training to become a doctor so marriage is off the cards for a couple of years (sorry for giving away the outcome of the previous novel) Anne goes and teaches in the town of Windy Willows. After a couple of books where everyone loves Anne, it is refreshing to see her met with hostility at first by the ruling family in this town.
Anne’s House of Dreams – Wedding bells ring away at the start of this sweet novel. Shorter than the others, it follows the first couple of years of Anne and Gilberts married life in the sea side town of Windy Point. As the title suggests, they live in a very sweet house. And have the mysterious and tragic figure of Leslie, a golden-haired beauty married to a horrendous man, who is not only horrendous but has also lost his memory and knowledge of how to carry out basic functions leaving Leslie tied to looking after him.
Anne of Ingleside – Anne’s brood of six children take precedence in this novel which follows their individual little stories.
Rainbow Valley – Follows the further adventures of Anne’s children in the idyllic ‘Rainbow Valley’. They are joined by the children of the new vicar, John Meredith.
Rilla of Ingleside – Bertha Marilla Blythe, or ‘Rilla’, is the youngest of Anne’s children and is the sole protagonist driving the narrative in this novel unlike the two before. This novel has a more sombre tone as World War I has broken out and Rilla’s older brothers and sweetheart have enlisted. Rilla herself has to grow up fast helping out with organising the Red Cross effort in her hometown and bringing up a baby she finds, whose father is away at war and whose mother has died, after being challenged to do so by her father.
I feel I ought to mention there are other novels, in which Anne and her family are mentioned: Chronicles of Avonlea, Further Chronicles of Avonlea and The Blythes Quoted. But my memory of them is hazy or non-existent.
What Katy Did, What Katy Did at School and What Katy Did Next
These three are the most famous in the Katy series, but there are two (very much) lesser known sequels – Clover and In the Valley High.
Clover – Because of little Phil’s ill health it is recommended he cross over to the wild west of America, to the high mountains and valleys to recuperate. Naturally he needs a chaperone, so Clover as the eldest single daughter goes with him. And falls in love with a cattle ranger. Not an incredibly interesting novel and Katy only gets small page time.
In the Valley High – Clovers husband is English and an English girl, Imogen, who is friends of his family comes over to America to chaperone her brother, Lionel. Her brother loves Americans, is keen to embrace all aspects of Americanism while she is the complete opposite and sticks to her ‘English traits’ of being stuck-up, unfashionable, reserved and racist. This novel is essentially an English bashing affair (a similar less extreme portrayal of the English is interestingly present in ‘Little Women’ in the chapter ‘Camp Lawrence’). I didn’t really have much time for this rather racist, sexist book.