The old weepies are the best ones. You might think that today's youngsters, buffeted by violent cartoons from the time they can sit upright, soaked in the schmaltz of Neighbours and ersatz agonies of Brookside, might resist Louisa M Alcott's tale of four New England girls growing up more than a century ago with highlights like the trauma of the blessed Beth's early death or pretty Meg's worries over her first ballgown but you'd be wrong. A carload of modern children sat listening to the whole four hours of Hodder Headline's version of Little Women and Good Wives read by the ineffably soothing Jan Francis with rapt attention. "What a pity there wasn't more," said one tough, football-addicted 10-year-old boy.
Of course, there is more quite a lot more as I know, having sat in my youth, just like leggy tempestuous Jo with her pocketfuls of apples and her books, poring over Little Women and Good Wives and devouring every sentimental and cliffhanging moment. But the tape does capture most of the best bits and skates over much of the Victorian piety in favour of her sort of feminism.
Over and over again she stresses the important of girls having something to do that is not related to simply getting a husband, or emphasises children as the moral agents of their own destiny. And over and again she strikes such plangent notes.
Who can forget how Jo, her father critically ill, sacrifices her only beauty, her long tresses to send her mother to tend him and spends all night crying not about her father but about her hair.
Or how Meg, trying to make jelly, swamps the entire house in sugar and fruit, just when her husband brings home their first dinner guest? These and other joys of the books are equally enjoyable in this scrumptious set.