I've read another edition of "Work", not the Penguin edition but a large print edition, so I can comment only on Alcott's story.
It's too earnest. Too laboured in getting it's message across. Too preachy and strident. Miss Alcott was a "Boston bred" activist, like Harriet Beecher Stowe (both were New Englanders and had the views and prejudices of New England Yankees) I take that and their Victorian writing styles into account. But "Little Women" reads like a labour of love. This book reads like a labour of -- well, work. As if another person (her mother?) wanted Louisa to write this sort of book. Some of Alcott's humour is there, but it's very little yeast to lighten heavy bread. And this bread is very heavy. The heroine becomes a governess, an actress, a housemaid, a seamstress, a seeker of lost souls. Other characters include several rich and idle men and women, a fugitive slave cook, a number of Good Samaritians, a 'fallen woman', a woman who kills herself because of inherited madness and her siblings, who don't seem mad.
Christie, the heroine, was too "Pollyanna" like in some chapters and too saintly to be real until David started to intrigue her. As she fell in love with him, she gained in dimension. Jo and her sisters in "Little Women" were realistic from the start, yet the messages of sisterly solidarity, working for God's Kingdom on Earth, and moral self-improvement are much the same.
David is intriging. There was a woman in his past that he beats his chest over. He is very like the modern strong and silent type romance hero. A girl has to pry his thoughts out of him, yet Christie is so reticent about getting him to open up that I nearly threw the book across the room. I refrained only because it was a library's copy.
I think it's an insightful story into Miss Alcott's own spiritual journey and what she learned and wished to teach. Women's work, and work for women, is never done, but worth doing.
The Penguin books usually have insightful forewords. I hope this one does, because I really wanted to read one after reading the story.