Happy Leap Day! I decided to do another “Bad Book Covers” entry to celebrate. Today we’ll be looking at some covers to Little Women (1868).
Previous posts in this series include: Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The Moonstone, Dracula, East Lynne, Lady Audley’s Secret, Wuthering Heights, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Scarlet Letter, Frankenstein, and A Christmas Carol.
1.) These are all professional book covers instead of fan or amateur artwork (or at least I hope so). I’m more than happy to pick on marketing boards who thought these were good ideas, but I don’t want to pick on fans trying to express their love of books. If a fan cover made it in to this collection, then I’m very sorry and you are clearly a good enough artist to make me assume it was professionally done.
2.) I’m ridiculing the covers, not the book itself. I love this book.
3.) I’m going to swear. A lot. If this isn’t your thing, then don’t read it.
Right, do we need a recap of the novel? Eh, couldn’t hurt.
Little Women: An Absurd, Drunken Paraphrasing (with spoilers)
The novel is primarily a coming-of-age story about four Yankee sisters growing up during the American Civil War. They live with their mother in genteel poverty while their father is off shooting Johnny Reb.
Meg March: The goody-two-shoes eldest sister, who marries a lowly tutor for love. On a scale of “Sickening 19th Century Domestic Female Convention”, Meg rates at, like, an 8.5/10.
Jo March: The delightful tomboy writer who is not only the protagonist, but pretty much the only sister you can stomach, because she is a FUCKING BALLER. She famously cuts off and sells her hair to buy her mother a train ticket down to Maryland when their father gets injured in the war. When her younger shithead sister Amy throws Jo’s novel manuscript in the fire as revenge for a minor slight, Jo whups on her ass, refuses to talk to her, and then has to rescue Amy when she falls through thin ice. Jo’s only failing is that she didn’t take the opportunity to quietly take a drag on a cigarette as she watched Amy drown to death. I’m sure that fanfic is out there.
Also, Jo is opposed to Meg marrying her total lame-o fiance (aren’t we all?) and refuses to marry Laurie, the boy next door, even if he was hunkily played by early ’90s Christian Bale. Nope. Jo needs a MAN, not a boy. So she moves to New York and gets all freaky with this sextastic older German professor, who encourages her writing skill, and then Jo gets a book published, and she and Professor Bhaer get married and probably do lots of kinky German sex. AWWWWW YEAAAAAAAAAAH. Most people wish Jo married Laurie, because he’s young, handsome, and rich, but I am SUPER into the intelligent, bohemian people getting together and defying small-town expectations.
Beth March: Beth absolutely has some kind of undiagnosed anxiety disorder and hates people, except her sisters and the old dude next door, who gives her a piano. She’s far too angelic for this world and catches scarlet fever from some poor people she keeps bringing potatoes to, and eventually dies. She’s played by Claire Danes in the ’90s version and there is LOADS of opportunity for Claire Danes’s quiver chin, because Beth is a saaaaaaad character.
Amy March: Not going to lie to you, I was probably a lot like Amy when I was a little girl, but now I just want to roundhouse kick her in her stupid little Shirley Temple face. Amy’s the youngest sister, and the pretty one, and is covered in blonde ringlets (COVERED, like some sort of hideous ringlet monster), and she’s super prissy and loves wealth and she and Jo square off a lot because they’re both the strong-willed sisters, and if they were on some sort of Real Housewives show, they would be throwing cocktails into each other’s faces a minimum of once per episode.
After Laurie proposes to Jo and she’s like, “Ehhhh, I’m just not that into you”, he waits for Amy to grow up so he can marry her, because he wants to marry at least one of the March sisters, and Meg’s engaged/married, and Beth’s asexual, and also dead. In fact, Beth probably died purely to avoid Laurie hitting on her, because I think she would implode with anxiety if that happened. So Amy grows up all hot, and Laurie’s hot and rich, and he’s like, “Hey, you want to take Jo’s sloppy seconds?” and Amy’s all like, “$$$$ DO I EVER $$$$” and they get married, and Amy’s less of an asshole as an adult, and Laurie cools his tits because he’s finally banging a March sister, and everyone is happy, including dead Beth because she doesn’t have to deal with people anymore.
Right, ON TO THE COVERS. I’ll save the decent ones for last.
The first category is the most boring cover trope I saw: A Buncha White Chicks Sitting Around, Talking
This one gets bonus points because it looks like they’re sitting around, talking directly to the holy light of God, which would have been an AMAZING twist:
There’s nothing particularly wrong with any of these covers. They’re just duller than watching paint dry.
The other category that I felt was a bit lazy is a category I called This is a Girrrrrrrly Book. Mostly I feel like these covers hype up the feminine, domestic, and sentimental aspects of the novel to a ridiculous level, making it something it’s not. Is the book about the domestic, feminine sphere? Yes. Is it about the trials of girlhood and the triumph of sisterhood? Yes. But considering that the protagonist is goddamned Jo March, who rebels against conventional femininity in most ways, these covers feel wrong.
Remember that huge section of the book where Jo tries to pick the perfect ribbon color that she should wear to the ball?
ME NEITHER. BECAUSE IT DIDN’T HAPPEN.
Underwear: An American Tale.
The swoopy handwriting and the pastel color tells us that this is FOR GIRLS ONLY. Also, why are there only three sisters worked into the calligraphy? Is this post-Beth?
Flowwwwwwwwwwwers. This really gets to the heart of the story.
This is an interesting cover, mostly because I think it’s recalling the scene where Jo discovers that Meg’s lame-ass boyfriend/husband (before he was her boyfriend/husband) had stolen one of Meg’s gloves and carried it around in his pocket. These cover seems to be quite jolly about women’s gloves in general, like this were some sort of comedy of manners, when in reality Jo is like, “Wait, he carries around her glove in his pocket? And she doesn’t know? What, does he, like, sniff it or something? This is creepy as shit.”
And you know what, Jo? It is. It is creepy as shit.
What do Little Women do? They sew.
“THIS FIELD GIVES ME SO MANY FEELINGS. DEEP, FEMININE FEELINGS.”
There was also a type of cover that I found very peculiar: Sisters, All Lined Up, Staring in a Weird Direction
I’m not sure what’s going on with these silhouetted lump-monsters, but I don’t like it.
MORE silhouetted lump-monsters, going, “WHAT’S UP THERE?” Also, is the heart thing supposed to be . . . boobs?
DON’T LOOK DIRECTLY AT THEM. THEN YOU WILL BE AT THEIR MERCY.
Something super interesting is happening to the left. Also . . . Meg’s head cannot possess that much hair. That is a tumor if I ever saw one.
Do you reckon that whenever anything interesting happens, one of them screams, “Formation!” and the just jump into this pose? I hope so. I hope so.
We also get some Oddly Misplaced Eroticism.
Laurie’s pose just screams, “So . . . sex?”
Those are vagina roses, or I’ll eat my hat. A decidedly creepy choice, given that the narrative is about “blossoming womanhood”. Take those flowers back to Freud, because no one wants them around here.
I don’t remember the sisters coyly smiling at each other while lolloping around in their bedclothes. This reminds me of the publishing executive in The Seven Year Itch who tries to make Little Women sexy by renaming it Secrets of a Girls Dormitory and giving all the sisters on the cover low-cut blouses.
“Let’s all stand around and undress Meg slowly. Yeaaaaah. Real slow.”
And then there is the category called Little Women: A Tale of Blood-Curdling Horror
Why is their mother a giant? Why is everyone’s head so big for her body? What Alice in Wonderland acid trip did we fall into?
These Stepford wives would like to have you for dinner *thunderclap*.
The radiation for the nuclear apocalypse has made them all glow a hateful shade of day-glo orange. It makes them easy prey to find when their alien overlords come.
Look at the way Amy’s looking at the audience. She has lured her sisters out into the woods to murder them.
Guys. Amy is a fucking White Walker from Game of Thrones.
Meg is very clearly presiding over some sort of Black Mass. As @JuliaVRst commented on Twitter, “the kittens climbing up the table will be the sacrifice.”
The scariest thing about this cover is the color saturation, which makes me physically ill if I look at it for too long. *hurrrrrrrrrrl*
If Melanie Lynsky were a pale Victorian child who died of consumption and then continued to haunt you, then this cover would be appropriate for this book.
We also have, as per usual, a section dedicated to Inaccurate Costuming Choices:
They all have the haircut my grandmother had in the late ’50s. Unless they’re all supposed to be Jo after she’s cut her hair off, that’s a daring choice.
I didn’t realize the American Civil War was set in the Regency Period! Also . . . why are there six sisters instead of four? This is a PRIME example of a lazy art department slapping any old nineteenth-century painting on a book, regardless of content.
I don’t have any issue with this cover on the Little Women paper doll set, except to note that they are all uncharacteristically FIERCE (except Amy, who is always fierce). Look at fucking Beth, rocking her cape and pouting like some sort of fabulous, terminal Red Riding Hood. WERQ.
Oh, shit, no
Sorry, guys, but why are the genteely poor mid-nineteenth-century March sisters living in late-nineteenth-century opulence?
Art department . . . I’m calling you on your bullshit. You didn’t really think about this much, did you? I mean, it’s nineteenth-century, there are four young women, they’re gathered amicably around a piano . . . and that’s about it.
Is that supposed to be Amy? Because she’s the only one who could get away with wearing a skirt that short. Why is she covered in lace and trimming? Aren’t they supposed to be . . . oh, I don’t know . . . KIND OF POOR?
Apart from the general simpering silliness of this, those type of necklines come far later in the century, and would have been seen as far too mature for young girls. This is extremely pedantic, I know.
Nope. That is a Regency hairstyle. Try again.
Everyone here is wearing something that my mom wore in the 80s. I think my elementary school principal had the exact outfit, shoes, and hairstyle that Mrs. March is wearing.
Presenting the March sisters, in shapeless bin bags from the late 1960s.
Now we’re down to the last of the “bad” categories: the catch-all Random category:
They are just ripping off the Les Miserables poster. Also also, as someone who lived most of her life through New England winters, just like the March girls, why is she sweeping that level of snowfall? Get a shovel or go inside.
Amy designed this cover. This story is all about Amy. This is Amy’s tale.
Ah, a good ole author mug-shot cover, because we can’t be bothered to think of anything else to put on it!
“Wenceslas, how are you coming on that Little Women cover?”
“Well, Andrej, we have taken paintings of women from very different decades and styles in the nineteenth century, put their heads on a bouquet of flowers, and slightly blurred the edges so no one can tell that they’re not part of the original flower design.”
“You are a genius.”
So . . . okay . . . I get the general “New England” feel of the first one. But the girls don’t really spend any time in church, as far as I can remember.
The second one is only appropriate for when Jo goes rogue and runs away after killing Amy, and the story becomes a desperate, Revenant-style survival tale.
That woman, whoever she’s supposed to be, has a neck tattoo.
WHO ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE? THIS IS TOO MANY PEOPLE. IS THIS THE ENTIRE CAST FROM ALL THREE BOOKS?
They all look so happy because Amy’s about to die.
It took me an embarrassingly long time (like, over night) to realize that that weird thing was actually the head of a woman wearing a bonnet. If Chuck Palahniuk wrote Little Women, this would be the cover for it.
I understand what’s happening on this cover even less. Unless that’s Jo, who’s sad about some sort of quiet sexual awakening? My head hurts.
Finally, we can get to the good covers. After all this nonsense, let’s look at some examples of people who put a little bit of thought into the artwork.
I love the simplicity of these covers (there’s a whole giant series of them I always see at various bookstores), largely because they’re forced to think about the one image or moment that defines the novel. What I like is that they’ve chosen the moment where Jo cuts off her hair. The book in many ways revolts against gender norms of the day and deals with sacrifice and family, all of which are tied up in this moment.
My hearty thanks for putting thought into this.
Yeah! Another haircut moment! Is this the most sophisticated or beautiful cover I’ve ever seen? No. But I appreciate that they’ve given us a moment of action. Jo has just run in and whipped off her bonnet and her family is like, “WHAAAAAAAAA?” It’s nice to have the cover represent a little bit of action and agency, rather than the dozens of covers with some girls quietly sitting around, being gentle and beautiful and appropriately womanly.
Again, not the most sophisticated or beautiful cover I’ve ever seen, but I appreciate that it gives a bigger picture of all of their dynamic lives together, and that so much of the cover is dedicated to reading and writing (which Jo does a lot of).
Anyway, that’s all from me today. Please let me know if you can recommend any good novels with loads of ridiculous covers!