Literary déja vu

Funny how one can know a story from a book so well that one almost feels as one has read it. I am reading, for the first time in full length, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and it feels like I have read it before.

When I was a little girl, I had a series of picture books with retellings of classics works of British and American literature that included not only Little Women, but also Tom Sawyer and Black Beauty and some others. I also had some of the Classics Illustrated comic books, and I loved (and still love) to watch movies with historical settings, many of which were based on novels. All of these books and movies gave me a knowledge of the basic plots of these novels, long before I read any of them.

I knew the story of Jane Eyre well long before I read the book, from having seen 2 movies and one TV mini-series based on it, and the same goes for Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Little Women. Likewise, I knew The Wind in the Willows, which I read recently for the first time, from the excellent TV series, although the book did fill in some gaps corresponding to episodes I missed.

Now, when I open Little Women it’s like I am revisiting old and dear friends and getting to know them even better than I already do. The déja vu feeling I get in circumstances like these comes from the strong sense of having already read the book when I know I haven’t. Fortunately it isn’t accompanied by the feeling of eerie discomfort that comes with real déja vu, only such a strong sense of familiarity that I even remember what the nonexistent book smelled like.


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