Little Women is brutal, a ferocious wolf dressed up in the curly white sermons and sentimental homilies of children’s stories. Though full of references to a kind and loving father, its fundamental faith lies not in God but in books: in life as a literary construct. It is a great and complicated work, Louisa May Alcott’s American response to English writers like Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters who had posed similar questions about life and love and ambition. With its overt mix of autobiography and invention, Little Women is an enduring model for women’s stories, but it is rarely considered literature itself. It should be.