Trigger warning, this post is about sexual harassment in LMA´s life and her novels.
Sometimes I wonder if my views on Little Women would have been different if I had read part 2 as a child not as a 17 year old. I had seen the 1994 film so I somewhat knew what was going to happen but all I now remember thinking that on my first read of the second book, Laurie (who I had liked quite a lot as a child) was an immature fuckboy and Amy (who I had had conflicted feelings as a child) was graceful mature and I was very impressed by her character arc (which sadly was not included in the 1994 film) and that it was Amy who was able to get through Laurie and tell him that you are hurting yourself and people around you with your behavior.
I think including Laurie´s character arc is key to everything. I have been very frustrated by the “choose your own narrative” of Greta Gerwig´s film. When I was watching the film I thought “this is great they actually show that Laurie is more immature than Fritz and Laurie is holding Jo back". Then I heard that many previous Jo and Laurie fans moved on to root Jo and Friedrich and then I also heard there is now a whole new generation of Jo and Laurie shippers who think they are super romantic in this film.
Nothing new under the sun.
32- year old Louisa May Alcott was working in Switzerland as a companion to a wealthy American woman called Anna Weld. There she met a Polish composer and soldier. 21-year old Ladislas Wisniewski. Ladislas had turberculosis and Louisa who was a caretaker by nature nursed him. He called him as his “Little Mama” and asked her to call him “Varjo” which was the name that his mother used to call him she called him “Laddie” which was a name that Louisa called all the young “lads”. He was very sweet and romantic bringing Louisa roses, he played music to her and they spent lot of time together talking about the future.
Then something strange happens. Louisa writes to her journal.
“Anna troubled about Laddie who was in a despairing state of mind I could not advice them to be happy as they desired, so everything went wrong and both worried”.
The previous diary markings suggest that Laddie had been flirtatious with Louisa and had even mentioned possible future together. Louisa had written that Anna Weld was whiny, needy, foolish “and didn´t have a clue about Goethe” (probably one of my favorite Louisa quotes). The tone of Louisa´s diary markings change. She begins to sympathize Anna and becomes more suspicious about Laddie.
When Louisa writes “could not advice them to be happy as they desired” what does she mean? Did Ladislas and Anna had suddenly become affectionate with one another? It is very unlikely because quite soon Ladislas announced that he was leaving and it seemed that Anna had asked him to leave.
Did Ladislas pressured Anna to have sex with him?
Notes from the time suggest that “he was overly-friendly with Miss Weld, which is why he had to leave the pension”.
Louisa had seen the signs and felt powerless not being able to go back to the way things were.
This reminds me the first part in Little Women when Laurie is cat-fishing Meg for "bit of a frolic" and Jo struggles to identify with Meg´s pain but then in second part in Little Women when Jo is four years older and Laurie began to harass her, now she knows how Meg was feeling when someone does not respect your boundaries.
In Little Women Laurie tries to kiss Jo in the first part, right after Beth has become sick Jo says no. In the second part, Jo travels to New York because Laurie´s actions are making her feel very uncomfortable. After Beth has passed away Laurie sends Jo another proposal, around the same time when he realizes that the has feelings for Amy. Is this actually a memory of Ladislas affection moving from Louisa to Anna?
Who could forget, Hannah describes Laurie as a "Weathercock".
Reflecting to Friedrich´s character, he never force himself to Jo and only is physically affectionate with her when he has her full consent.
At this point Louisa was not rich but poor as a church mouse. Anna Weld on the other hand was rich. Couple months later after her contract with Anna ended Louisa traveled to Paris where she spent a day with Ladislas and his friends.
Diary markings are censored with lines “couldn´t be” written (Shealy).
Was Ladislas Wisniewski a con artist like LMA biographer Harriet Reisen has suggested?
A year later after Louisa had returned home, her younger sister May met Ladislas in Paris and spent time with him.
This has made MANY Alcott scholars believe that Louisa and May had some sort of argument over Laddie, which is also seen in the strange triangle loop that the Little Women adaptations repeat over and over.
In the novel Little Women, both Amy and Jo are more mature than Laurie, when we move on from book 1 to book 2. Amy is four years younger than Laurie yet she is more mature than he is.
Louisa describes in her journals that Ladislas was always making pranks on others. There is a scene in LW where Laurie who is a very wealthy young man, gives stupid prank gifts for Meg and John, who really start their shared life with nothing. He is 23 year old behaving like a teen-ager.
When Jo says that she doesn´t approve flirting, Laurie who has just been flirting with bunch of girls says that he does not approve flirtatious girls either.
Reminds me the way in 1970 Little Women series, when Laurie forges letters to Meg in John´s name, the whole incident is framed to be Meg´s fault.
It seems that both Louisa and May got tired with Ladislas and that he wasn´t productive and preferred to live on other people´s wing.
There are bank notes that show that Louisa had asked her publisher to pay Ladislas 400 dollars in 1873. Which was a lot of money back then.
In her novel “only gossip prospers” writer Lorraine Tosiello suggests that Ladislas was blackmailing Louisa. Based to Louisa´s journal Ladislas had a family in 1873. Louisa supported many orphan organizations it is easy to imagine that she wanted to support his children.
In one of her letters to Louisa, May Alcott writes that Ladislas “never acknowledges his debt”.
Were they talking about the 400 dollars and if not that would mean that they had given him more money which he hadn´t paid back?
I once read that when May Alcott was living in Paris, she would sometimes get really frustrated by the Little Women fans who came to distract her and ask if there was a real-life Laurie. I used to think that May´s frustration was caused by the fact that Amy was already in the 19th century a character who divided opinions but in retrospective what if May was annoyed because she knew that the main model for the real-life Laurie was far from the book Laurie.
In her letters to Laddie and Alf Whitman who was another real-life Laurie (and he and May were very close friends) Louisa wrote that she wanted to capture the “nature of boyhood” into Laurie´s character.
It seems that Ladislas never lived up to Louisa´s expectations like Laurie never lived up to Jo´s.
In Little Women in one moment Laurie is thinking how fortunate he is having four sisters always on his side and showing good example. Then he thinks about going to gamble and that Meg and Jo would be disappointed with him, and then he thinks that no matter what he does, girls always forgive him
and he goes to gamble.
(Similar narrative is repeated in Jo´s boys when Nat is in Germany and tries to over come similar temptations).
Another thing that has also raised eyebrows was Ladislas quick recovery from tuberculosis. Was he faking it all along? Was he traveling around Europe targeting wealthy women? first Miss Weld and then Louisa, after she had become a multi-millionaire. Did he used Louisa´s sympathies for his supposed illness for his own advances. In Rose in Bloom, Alcott novel that appeared 10 years later after Little Women, Charlie who is another literal re-carnation of Ladislas, wants to marry Rose, not because of love, but because she is about inherit lots of money. Why was Ladislas in Anna Weld´s pension in the first place? who had invited him? Did he lured Miss Weld to invite him?
Ladislas called Louisa his "Little Mama". There are elements in this relationship that sound more parental than romantic, which is the case in Little Women as well, even though the book Laurie is few months older than Jo. For Jo he always remains as a boy and when he wants a relationship with her, it is not because he loves Jo but to escape his own demons, which he has refused to face.
A year after the publishing of Little Women, Louisa wrote an essay called "Happy women" where she writes:
"If love comes as it should come accept it in god´s name, If it does not come reject the shadow of it in God´s name for it can never satisfy the hungry heart"
Ladislas had took advantage of Louisa´s loneliness, and she was the one who had to pay the price. Letters to May reveal Laurie who was not who he said he was, and yet for the public Louisa could never tell the truth. When a woman gets played by a conman, there is lots of shame that comes with it.
Louisa wrote Jo to be an idealized version of herself, and Jo has elements from many women who Louisa admired. In some ways Louisa is also Laurie. She had similar way to vent her emotions like Laurie does in the book, but Louisa´s Laurie grows, becomes an efficient member of society and even asks Jo to forgive him the way he behaved.
If Ladislas Wisniewski was a conman (and I am starting to believe that he was). His scam has been successful and has lasted over a century... and it´s still going.
Harassment is a common theme is LMA´s novels. Often the harasser dies and in their death bed asks the protagonist to forgive them or in Laurie´s case they actually begin to question their own behavior. That Little Women adaptations from 1917 to 2019, never include this and how uncomfortable his behavior is for Jo, truly is The Laurie problem and Louisa´s views on what a healthy relationship is is always relevant.
Wedding Marches by Daniel Shealy
Louisa May Alcott, Woman behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen
Only Gossip Prospers (historical context) by Lorraine Tosiello
Louisa May Alcott, life, letters and journals by Edna Cheney
(Check out the story of the real life Fritz as well)
You can get English subtitles from the low-left corner of the video.
Approximately a quarter of Finnish woods are spruce forest. The tallest spruce can be found from the national part of Vesijako and it is 45 meters tall. Finnish word for spruce, kuusi is a proto-finno ugric word. Pines in Finnish folklore are connected to the sun and day, where as spruces are connected to the moon and night. Perhaps the name has something to do with the Finnish word for the moon, kuu.
A young spruce can only grow in the shadow of the older spruces and it binds the sunlight better than any other tree. In Finnish folkore spruce is the tree of shadows and cool shade. Spruce was used to make musical instruments like kantele (Finnish traditional harp) and bells for the cows to wear. Travelers and hunters would sleep under the spruce in their journeys.
Spruces that had unusual shape were considered to be sacred trees of Tapio, the god of forest and hunt. Spruce tree that grew wide, was called Tapion kämmen, Tapio´s paw and the huntsman had to eat the first gain from the paw and leave some rabbit flesh and a goblet of vodka as a sacrifice for the god.
Before the Christmas tree tradition spread to Scandinavia from Germany in the 16th century, there was a custom to decorate homes with green branches during Winter Solstice. The custom of decorating homes with ever-green branches is believed to have symbolized the circle of life and nature´s awakening.
Spruce is seen as a masculine tree. It is connected to wisdom, old age and the elements of fire, earth and air. Roots go deep into the ground and top reaches the sky.
It is connected to several forest deities Tapio (Finland) Porewit (Slavic) Baldur (Norse). In Finnish folklore spruce is connected to the land of the death, Alinen but it was also seen as a protective tree. When a family built a hose the spirit tree in the yard, might as well been a protective spruce tree. It was also believed that it kept ghosts and evil spirits away.
In Finland we had a tradition called Karsikkopuu (pruning tree). This was a tree that had been pruned/marked in order to commemorate the death. Most common pruning tree was a spruce. When a person was buried people believed that their soul was still able to roam freely and spirit could crab the tree branches and pull themselves up from the grave. All the lower branches were cut away from the pruning tree so the spirit of the deceased would not leave their grave. Marking on the tree was usually a cross that was either carved or painted. As the time went on markings were turned into wooden boards where the time of death was written. Tradition started slowly vanish in the end of the 19th century. Another custom was to spread spruce branches to the cemetery roads so that the spirits would not follow the living.
Kaarle Krohn: Suomalaisten runojen uskonto
Ready for some spicy Jo and Fritz content. I have been thinking about this a lot. Lot of people go against Friedrich´s character because of the feedback scene and when they read the book they see him as a bully because they have been influenced by the adaptations (1994, 2017 do it horribly) (based to the reactions to the 2019 film viewers either see Fritz as a good or the bad guy).
The part in the book where Jo feels that those sensational stories are really having a bad effect on her mental health has never been adapted.
100 years of Little Women adaptations, it´s not there.
Weekly Volcano is a caricature of a New York magazine called Frank Lesley´s Weekly illustrated Newspaper, which is a newspaper where Louisa May Alcott used to send her sensational stories and Mr Dashwood is a caricature of Mr Leslie himself. Louisa didn´t particularly like Mr Leslie same way as Jo doesn´t particularly care about Mr Dashwood.
When Jo goes to work to the magazine, she is hired because the previous “hack” has left the job for higher paying position. She becomes part of a machine. There is no room for individualism and her stories must follow the magazine´s policy no matter how much they contradict with her own values.
Mr Dashwood asks Jo to cut moralities away from her story. Jo doesn´t like the idea but agrees, Dashwood also asks Jo to make the story more thrilling which once again makes Jo feel very uncomfortable. Finally when Jo sees the finished product she hardly recognizes it to her own.
Imagine being Louisa. Writing thrilling tales was a way for her to vent her hyper-dramatic imagination at first, but same way as Jo, Louisa had her own code of morals. 19th century was both Christian and puritan, Louisa grew up in a home that supported humanitarian values, her mother for example being one of the first American social workers.
Throughout her life Louisa practiced self-reflection which is a part of transcendentalist philosophy. You stop for a moment to look at your actions outside yourself. Sensational story sequence was one of those moments. Should she write more shocking tales about rapists and predators, women and children being hurt? stories that encourage discriminating marginalized groups because those were stories that were selling, and those went against Louisa´s own values.
It is when Friedrich reminds Jo that the writer has either negative or a positive influence over her readership Jo realizes that, any work that she produces that goes against her own values can and will create harm.
The chapter is called “Friend” because Friedrich encourages Jo to take the ownership of her own work. She is no longer going to sacrifice her own integrity for a badly paid job writing content that does not bring her satisfaction.
You can see this reflected in Louisa, because she wanted to cut her ties to these sensational stories entirely.
Friedrich is not the villain, he is Jo´s hero, reminding her about her own capacities. Which is why Jo doesn´t snap at him or defend her sensational writings because that doens´t happen in the novel either.
If you want Jo to shout at someone in the adaptations, that should be the editor.
In our current times there are lots of young creative people who work in low paid jobs sacrificing their artistic skills to companies that have zero respect for them. Louisa knew what important lesson this was, which is why she captured it into Little Women
In one of her diary markings Louisa writes that her friend Emerson had said to her that she should write something that pleases herself. Stories that come from her heart, will be the most successful ones.
As we know, this was the case.
Thank you for reading and as always, if you enjoy my articles feel free to share them in your social media networks.
Pronounced as Nee-na.
Artist, illustrator, writer, watercolorist and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
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