In So Many Beginnings, Bethany C. Morrow (A Song Below Water) proves up to the challenge of remixing Louisa May Alcott’s most famous work: Little Women.
Like Alcott’s novel, So Many Beginnings takes place during the American Civil War. However, the experiences faced by Morrow’s March sisters—formerly enslaved young Black women—are drastically different from those of Alcott’s more sheltered white family.
In the wake of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the Marches have settled on Roanoke Island, along North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Readers may be familiar with Roanoke Island's mysterious history during the colonial period, but few are aware that it was home to a colony of free, formerly enslaved people during the Civil War. As Morrow notes in an afterword, she didn't learn about this history until researching the novel. Roanoke, and a handful of other settlements like it, were considered “contraband camps” by the Union. “Black folk were spoils of war, if they were more than a nuisance,” Morrow writes, “and their greatest value was in not being available to serve the Confederacy.
On Roanoke, the March sisters soon realize that they’ve exchanged the brutality and dehumanization of enslavement for the paternalism and disrespect of Union forces, missionary teachers and other white people who have come to the island to dictate what young Black people should learn, where they should live and even how they should dress.
Morrow’s nuanced take on what life was like for newly freed Black people at this time will prompt readers to reconsider the simplistic good vs. evil, North vs. South mythologies that characterize too many Civil War narratives. Morrow also skillfully incorporates cultural divisions between Southern Black people like the Marches, who lived through enslavement, with those of Northerners who never experienced enslavement firsthand.
Part of the new Remixed Classics series, which reinterprets canonical texts like Treasure Island and Wuthering Heights through diverse cultural lenses, So Many Beginnings contains twists that will surprise even the most devoted Little Women fans. In addition to shedding light on a lesser-known chapter of American history, Morrow takes creative (and for many readers, long-desired) liberties with the fates of the four March sisters. Alcott fans and newcomers alike will find much to appreciate in Morrow’s sophisticated remix.