Why Gilmore Girls is a modern adaptation of Little Women

First published in Cinders magazine issue two.

Little Women is the first ‘grown up’ movie I can ever remember watching and it truly stuck with me. More than 15 years later and it can still make me cry. But that first viewing was like opening a door to a world I never knew existed.

I couldn’t remember ever watching a story that had so many female characters, all of whom had distinct personalities that complemented one another and challenged one another. It is a story filled with women who know what they want in life, who have passion and tempers and fights, mostly with each other.

I used to go through phases of deciding which sister I wanted to be more like: poised and tactful Meg who had a burning social conscience despite wishing she had more out of life? Or maybe Jo, strong and passionate Jo, the determined character who most of us wanted to be at some point in our lives? Or perhaps I wanted to be Beth, meek and unassuming, but who was the most musically gifted of the four? And there were days I wanted to be Amy, stubborn and headstrong, the artistic free spirit who always knew what she wanted out of life.

I never quite chose one but instead took elements from each of their personalities and embraced them as my own. I loved this story of clever competent women who had genuine hopes and dreams and I wasn’t sure if I would ever find something quite like it.

I was a Gilmore Girls obsessive for a long time before I realised the connection between these two stories.

Then, many years later I encountered Gilmore Girls. Here was another story about ambitious, talkative women working their way through life. I watched the show on tv, bought the DVDs and consumed them on a loop for about three years running.

I was a Gilmore Girls obsessive for a long time before I realised the connection between the two stories that meant so much to me. It wasn’t something that I realised until the first time I watched the new Gilmore Girls revival in November. Laying aside some of the issues I had with the piece, on the whole I was happy to have Rory, Lorelai and Emily Gilmore back on my screen and to see where their story had taken them.

The biggest realisation I had after viewing it was that I had just finished watching a re-telling of Little Women, right down to Rory committing her childhood stories into a book, á la Jo March. And much like I always wanted to be like the March sisters I have always wanted to be like Lorelai and Rory.

But those weren’t the only co-incidences that occurred to me. Both stories are led by impressive matriarchs in Marmee and Emily Gilmore (or Lorelai, depending on how you look at it). These women’s driving principle was always their family and raising it as best they could. Both have a strict moral code and while they don’t always agree with their daughters they almost always want what is best for them. Another similarity is Lorelai’s relationship with Christopher, the childhood boyfriend whom she out grew – much like Jo and Laurie.

But ultimately Lorelai Gilmore is the mother who made a home out of music and books and laughter for herself and her daughter. This is not only like Marmee of Little Women but also the relationship the four sisters have for one another. Lorelai brings fun and theatricality into Rory’s life the same way that the March sisters enliven each other’s happy lives in Concord, Mass. The beauty and grace that Lorelai conducts herself with is matched by Meg March’s consistent striving for her sister’s happiness.

The March sisters inspired me to want to read the books they read, write my own Pickwick Papers and play the musical instruments they played.

Meg mothers the other girls but is also seen as their sister. She is also the only sister who becomes a mother in the first installment.  Lorelai and Rory have a mother daughter relationship that is remarkably similar to the relationship between Meg March and the rest of her sisters.

Rory Gilmore is a mixture between the other three sisters,  Jo and Beth and Amy .Rory has Jo’s drive and passion for books and reading, Beth’s good nature and interest in helping people (at least in the early seasons) and Amy’s passion for art and perhaps her tendency towards selfishness.

The March sisters inspired me to want to read the books they read, write my own Pickwick Papers and play the musical instruments they played. In the same way, Rory Gilmore inspired me to be happy in myself. To be happy just reading a book and listening to music at lunch. She inspired me to read the books she read and to write the way she wrote. Rory was someone I and thousands of girls found a kindred spirit in. Someone who wasn’t afraid to be anyone but herself – inspired by her wonderful mother and most likely by literary heroes like Jo March.

And it’s Jo who Rory takes the most inspiration from. Jo March was inspired by the books she read and is driven by her sole ambition: to be a writer, to be a successful writer. Rory’s ambition throughout the Gilmore Girls series is to be a journalist, and to be a foreign correspondent. However both Jo and Rory suffer set backs in their ambitions. Rory seems to have undergone an entire career turn around in the revival, A Year in the Life, abandoning journalism for writing. Jo on the other hand finds some success with the publication of her own dramatic fiction, but it is in writing her own story where she finds the most fulfillment and success.  And this is where Rory finds fulfillment in A Year in the Life.

This was the moment that made me realise the connection between Little Women and Gilmore Girls. Both Rory and Jo ultimately find their calling in telling, not other people’s stories, but their own. And that would have been more than enough of an ending for me.

They feel real. Like girls we might know, like the girls we are and the girl that I wanted to be.

But the story didn’t end there, as we all well know. Jo March’s story didn’t end with Little Women either, she went on to have children in Little Men and watch those children become adults in Jo’s Boys. The story keeps on going, in a circle, much like it’s implied that Rory and Lorelai’s will continue to. The Gilmore girls will keep on living their sparkling, pop cultured lives that celebrate female family relationships as did the March family.

JO March
Jo March as illustrated by Meabh McDonnell

Both Gilmore Girls and Little Women celebrate bright intelligent women who have ambitions and hopes for their futures while also appreciate the importance of hobbies and interests. They are passionate about books and music and stories and are refreshingly flawed. One of the most refreshing aspects of both Little Women and Gilmore Girls is although the girls try to do the right thing (most of the time) they make mistakes, they fight and they aren’t always admirable. They feel real. Like girls we might know, like the girls we are and the girl that I wanted to be.

Jo March inspired me to read and Rory Gilmore inspired me to write.

So no matter what my reaction is to A Year in the Life or how I may still harbour hopes for Jo and Laurie, I will always be grateful for them and their stories.

And the  curtain will never fully fall on these girls for me.


By Méabh McDonnell

2 responses to “Why Gilmore Girls is a modern adaptation of Little Women”

  1. Wow I never thought about connecting Gilmore Girls and Little Women – two of my favorite things! – but your post really makes sense of it! Wanted to write like Jo and read like Rory, and be loved by my best friend like both (I think Jess was Rory’s most faithful friend). Two out of three not bad 😉


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