I’m in the midst of rereading Little Women in preparation for a discussion at Our Coffee Rings, and for the first time it occurred to me the extent to which the book is echoed in another of my childhood favourite reads, Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy series.
Both tales focus on a family of four children being raised by one parent during wartime. In Little Women, it’s the four March sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy) growing up under the watchful eyes of their mother (Marmee) during the Civil War while their father is off serving as a chaplain for the Union Army. In The Saturdays, and the books that follow, it’s the four Melendy siblings, two girls (Mona and Randy) and two boys (Rush and Oliver), being raised by their widowed father in the lead-up to the U.S. entry into World War Two.
Mona, the eldest Melendy, a pretty, blonde, aspiring actress who struggles with vanity and with her duties to her younger siblings, is strongly reminiscent of Meg March. And Randy (Miranda) Melendy, quick-witted, lively, sizzling with creative spark, and possessed of “dark untidy hair,” has a great deal in common with Jo (Josephine) March, although Randy’s passion is painting rather than writing.
Of course there are substantial differences too, not least in setting (New York rather than New England) and time period (the 1940s rather than the 1860s). We first encounter the Melendys at much younger ages (ranging from six to thirteen) than the Marches (ranging from twelve to seventeen). And, of course, there is a significant masculine presence in the Melendy household that is largely absent in the March household. By no stretch do Rush and Oliver serve as stand-ins for Beth and Amy. (Though Rush does share Beth's aptitude for the piano, and Oliver has something of her calm demeanour and sweet nature.)
Nevertheless with the parallels in framework and characters and other shared features like elaborate family theatricals, a similar spirit seems to me to infuse the two.
I wonder if Enright was influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by Little Women when she dreamed up the Melendys. I hasten to add that I’m not suggesting that there would be anything improper in it if she was. The Melendys are a fabulous creation in their own right regardless. But given how fond I am of both fictional families, it’s fun to muse on the connections. I might just embark on a reread of The Saturdays and The Four-Story Mistake as soon as I’ve finished Little Women...