So much about female adolescence has changed since the mid-19th century—and yet Little Women, a novel about four teenage sisters published in the 1860s, endures. That longevity derives in large part from the timeless archetypes each March girl embodies. There’s marriage-minded Meg and saintly, sickly Beth. Amy, the youngest, blossoms from bratty child to wordly painter. But it’s Jo whose influence has really rippled through the centuries. A brash, boyish creative force who lives to write, she broke the mold for female characters and, in mirroring the book’s fiercely independent, proto-feminist author, became an icon for future generations of budding artists. Over the past century, kindred spirits ranging from Katharine Hepburn to Winona Ryder to Saoirse Ronan have embodied the character in films directed by George Cukor, Gillian Armstrong and Greta Gerwig. And so, more than 150 years after its publication, each generation still has its own Little Women to treasure. —Judy Berman
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