March (2005)

by Geraldine Brooks

Using her tremendous imagination and extensive historical research about the Civil War, Geraldine Brooks wrote the novel March about the absent father of the family in Little Women. It won the 2006 Pulitzer Price for fiction.

Brooks based the character of March on the actual father of Little Women author Louisa May Alcott, who was a Concord abolitionist and friend of Emerson and Thoreau. Unlike the idealized male parent in Little Women, Brooks's March is a flawed man. He impulsively enlists in the Union Army as a chaplain even though at 39 he's well past the age of most soldiers. He alienates many of his service comrades with his naive idealism, he is cowardly and incompetent when lives are on the line, and he surrenders to his attraction to a slave. March flagellates himself for his failings but keeps most of them secret in the loving letters he writes to his wife, Marmee, and daughters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

In an interesting afterward, Brooks describes how she had once been bored by her husband's fascination with the Civil War until she "finally saw the light." In March she may teach readers some new things about that war. Two examples: John Brown played fast and loose with abolitionists' donations to finance his antislavery activities. Northerners leased former Southern plantations that they paid freed slaves (known as contraband) to farm. 

Much less sentimental than Little Women, March brings home the realities of war. It is a changed March who returns to the "little women" who will nurse his broken spirit.



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