I made my first Laurie and Amy video :D Song is "Boys with emotions" by Felix Sandman.
Clips from Little Women 2019, 1933, 1994 and 1978 (Richard Gilliland is hands down my favourite "emotional" Laurie)
Emily and I got together to talk about Laurie´s character arc and how it is missing from every-single-Little Women adaptation.
You can listen the podcast episode on Soundcloud
or watch this YouTube Video
Subscribe to Small Umbrella In The Rain — The Little Women Channel
For those of you who prefer to read, here is the transcription for you.
Hello friends and welcome to Small Umbrella In The Rain. A podcast series on all things Louisa May Alcott and Little Women. This is a special episode. A collaboration between me and booktuber Emiloid. Emily and I discovered that we have lots of similar opinions and thoughts about Little Women and our first conversation actually lasted four hours! We had so much fun that we are probably going to do more collaborations in the future. I hope you guys enjoy this. This is Small Umbrella In The Rain: The Laurie Problem.
Emily: Hello I am Emily. I am also known as Emiloid. I run a booktube channel by the same name and I am also a big fan of Little Women the novel and also a great fan of discussing the adaptations as well.
Niina: I am Niina. Hello everyone and I am a blogger on YouTube and I have a channel called Small Umbrella In The Rain. I do gender studies on Little Women and been lately focusing mostly on the male characters.
Emily: I am relatively well-known for my channel for a review I did on the newest Little Women adaptation.
Niina: Which was a really good review.
Emily: To say the least. Openly critical of the film and Niina reach out to me because we have lot of the same perspectives on the book and the films. I am very honored. I am really flattered that you asked me because I had literally found your blog when I was preparing for my video.
Niina: So nice because it was a really big surprise for me how many people reached out after I published it. You always learn new things when people reach out to you like that. They share their views and it´s been a pleasure.
Emily: I had lots of people reaching out to me ”wow I am so grateful that you have reflected my views on this film” and it feels like they finally got presented. Before I even knew you I remember thinking about your blog post, ”wow this person agrees with me” because you really love professor Bhaer and this film did not have professor Bhaer in it, pretty much. You know, they didn´t have our professor Bhaer in it.
Niina: Yeah, where is our professor Bhaer?
Emily: where is this beautiful relationship?
Emily: Today you wanted to discuss Laurie.
Niina: Among other things, yes.
Emily: Yes, among other things.
Emily: So we are going to do one video on this channel. On Niina´s channel and then one video on my channel, where we will be discussing Jo and professor Bhaer but you will probably find that our discussions will go on different tangents.
Niina: Very likely.
Emily: We have lots of feelings about these adaptations and this book.
Emily: Alright, how about we start out talking about the Laurie model. By the way I literally just watched the 2017 series last night.
Niina: oh you did?
Emily: I think I agree with a lot what you said about it. I like what they expanded but the ending is very rushed.
Niina: It is. I felt that the writer should have had four episodes to do it properly.
Emily: Somehow they managed to expand on some things but somehow the ending was just really rushed. I was so surprised at the end.
Niina: It did not build enough for the two couples. That really bothered me.
Emily: They didn´t really thought through the whole process for Jo and professor Bhaer and suddenly the school is established and they don´t build up on that. It was a bit weird. You sent me a bunch of articles and blog posts about this subject and you clearly had done very deep dive into his character.
Niina: I think my biggest problem with all Laurie´s presentations in the films is that it never follows the book´s narrative. This is something that really reflects to the way people read Little Women. I find it very problematic to say the least.
Emily: I know I remember you said that basically Laurie has to go through a whole growth process in the book, I guess we should preface it by saying that lot of the adaptations idealize him. What you said in your blog post. He is kind of this young, pretty guy who is in love with Jo. We are supposed to feel bad for him but what the adaptations leave out is how immature he really is and actually how horrible he is sometimes.
Niina: One of my blog readers, they wrote a very eye -opening review about Little Women, how Jo and Laurie, the ideas that they feed to each others, they actually end up harming each others on a long run and that is something that people constantly ignore.
Emily: Yes! I think a big example is, remember when Laurie was like ”Ah I don´t want to go to university" and Jo is like just run away, you don´t have to go to the uni and Meg is like ”No, don´t tell Laurie, not to go to uni. You need to do it”. At that point I was like wow these two are not good influence on each other at all.
Niina: Laurie was that kind of character that he always did what he was told to do. He always wants to do what he is told not to do and he has this constant inner conflict because of it.
Emily: That is true. He kinda reminds me of bit of me, I don´t think he really appreciated lot of the privilege he had at the start because he is like ”I don´t like uni” because he is expected to fit into a certain mold in the society what he doesn´t really properly appreciate. He was a party boy in college and messes around and everything. He doesn´t really know how to be a productive member of society. He doesn´t really understand what that means.
Niina: When Jo gets older, it really starts to bother her, that he doesn´t take responsibility of himself. She is like a little mother for him. She is always taking care of him and it is quite sad, the way Jo feels bad that he has all these privileges that she doesn´t have.
Emily: He represents lot of the things that she can´t have but he really takes for granted. I think you might have pointed this out in your blog post but Jo is very much taking care of him because he is really looking for a mother. He really kind of falls in love with her, or he thinks, because he is really looking for this character who is going to nanny him.
Niina: People forget that Laurie is an orphan. He doesn´t really have a stable parental figure until Jo arrives.
Emily: He is always envying that really idyllic view of the March family. All the sisters and their relationship with Marmee and Marmee essentially becomes his secondary mother in away. I think you also pointed out, despite of craving this maternal figure in his life, he and Jo like to make fun of very feminine girls. They have really mutually negative forcing views on femininity and masculinity as well. I was surprised when I re-read the book and I was like wow! Laurie was actually …am I allowed to swear on your channel?
Niina: Go ahead.
Emily: He is a fuckboy.
Emily: He is really a fuckboy but then he turns around and talked bad about these girls to Jo and I am like Wow, this is exactly the kind of guy I would have tried to avoid back in uni. He is quite misogynistic. I wonder what you think because you pointed out that Jo is disappointed with Laurie but I think also Amy is as well. I think Amy even if she doesn´t have the same kind of relationship with Laurie also really steps in and is the one to say ”Hey, you are really not being productive person and you are really idle” and she taps his hand. She is like, your hands, they have never done days work and I´m wondering if you could talk about your view on Jo and why Jo is kind of his mother but isn´t able to build that kind of relationship with him that Amy is somehow able to come out. Give him the same kind of talk but then isn´t really his mother and is actually able to get through him.
Niina: There is a theory that Amy already had a crush on Laurie when she was 12. When I read the book like that it makes sense because there is the scene where Laurie goes to cheer her up when she is staying at aunt March and all that.
Niina: I always liked that chapter but when I read Little Women last time what I noticed was that Laurie always behaves a lot better with Amy than he does with Meg or with Jo. With Meg or with Jo he always seems to have this idea that he is somehow above them but that doesn´t really happen with Amy. It´s really interesting.
Emily: Do you think it is because they are both younger siblings of Jo and Meg and they kind of are able to reach some sort of equal footing that way?
Niina: They are all just very different people. There is that chapter where Laurie forges letters in John´s name and then he is catfishing Meg and then Jo wants Meg and Laurie to get together. To keep Laurie in the family. She doesn´t really see how harmful that is to Meg´s reputation and Laurie doesn´t see any kind of harmful elements in his actions.
Emily: He is just kind of having fun but it really is a mean joke to play at somebody. Especially when one of them involves his teacher, who he really does not appreciate enough.
Niina: He really takes Mr Brooke for granted.
Emily: I think I read this on your blog and this really resonated with me. He is also quite toxic towards Jo especially when he wants to be in a relationship with her. He is saying ”I am going to kill myself over you”.
Niina: There is lots of mental blackmailing and it´s quite hard to read sometimes.
Emily: I think you quoted somebody who said, Laurie is a ”nice guy”. He is one of those nice guys who expect to get what he wants because he is so nice to that person.
Niina: He doesn´t really see Jo as an actual person at that point. He wants to marry her because he is expected to marry someone. When there is that time period when he is in Vienna and he is trying to compose. It is like he doesn´t really care who he is going to marry or who is this romantic woman that he is composing these operas for. It doesn´t really matter at that point because he has this idea that this is what a man is supposed to be like.
Emily: I think he writes about how he has this phantom of a woman in his mind and it is not really vague. He is not really thinking about Jo´s characteristics or anything like that. He just have this sort of Goethean idea of a woman. What we know doesn´t resemble Jo at all.
Niina: It is this phantom princess who is waiting for a prince to arrive, from an opera or a ballet. It´s really not Jo March and it is really not Amy either but when he starts to have deeper feelings for Amy, this phantom it starts to look more and more like Amy. It is one of those things that is never included
in the adaptations.
Emily: I am surprised. You are absolutely correct. No one gives Laurie this arc. Nobody delves into his feelings about the March girls. People even cut out that kind of toxic behavior that he has.
Niina: It is really weird. Very odd.
Emily: You know how these days we are talking about Twilight. Twilight is so toxic because Edward stalks Bella and is so possessive and I am just like, well you know, here is this nice guy who is very toxic towards the person he wants to be with and is no better. It really bugles my mind. That even a grown-up reader could go back to this character and be like ”oh Laurie should have been with Jo” and I don´t know if you saw but I think they are even coming out a book called ”Jo and Laurie”.
Niina: I heard about it. I am not going to read it. It´s going to make me angry.
Niina: I know better!
Emily: I don´t want to read it either. If you want to write fan fiction, fine, but I can´t believe people are actually publishing this stuff.
Niina: It´s ridiculous.
Emily: Buy this narrative that they should have been together. I really can´t believe it.
Niina: What it comes to Louisa, the whole premise of Little Women was to write a book for girls about how to marry someone who you can actually live with for the rest of your life and she really does this very well when you think about it because she especially crafted Friedrich´s character for Jo and then he is based on men who Louisa was in love with.
Emily: As we pointed out before, we don´t have lots of full characterizations of Laurie in the films. I am wondering, did you expect the 2019 film to do a better with his character?
Niina: I read very early interviews of Greta Gerwig who talked about the way Jo and Laurie have this relationship that is not romantic and that gave me hope but then I read the movie guide for the new film and then she takes it back. I think she is a Jo and Laurie shipper. Which is why Laurie doesn´t have an arc. What I have seen in Little Women circles with some of the people who I have talked with and interviewed for my articles, is that there are lot of people now who think that Laurie is very immature in that film and they are glad that Jo ended up with the professor. So it is some kind of improvement but he is still a million times more idealized in that movie than he is in the book.
Emily: The really dreamy Timothee Chamalet.
Niina: He doesn´t have a character arc. They did a pretty good job with Amy in that movie.
Emily: Yes, yes.
Niina: But it doesn´t work without Laurie´s arc. That is the problem.
Emily: That is very true. I was hoping to discuss this with you. Despite my very critical review of the new film. I think they were doing okay with Amy and Laurie. For up until the Europe part because I think setting up their relationship is pretty good. I think I said before in my review. I didn´t like how they contrived that with Amy´s painting being the set up for that because I think that is actually a very awful scene that is supposed to be a scene or righteous anger and I didn´t like that it was made to be comical. I liked that they did some work on establishing their relationship beforehand. I´d be okay with this and in Europe they have that discussion. Amy gives him talk and then Amy also doesn´t want to play second to Jo. I was like okay, this was fine. But then you noticed how Laurie doesn´t have to do any work for Amy?
Niina: That´s true.
Emily: I always found this to be a very crucial part of their arc. Amy even encourages him to be a productive member of society but then he never does any of that. That aspect of their story is left hanging and just incomplete and then it´s back to Beth´s death to speed up their relationship instead of him actually putting work in, which really sat badly with me.
Niina: That is something that really bothered me in the film and that kind of reflected into Jo´s character because she was not given a character arch either.
Emily: She is not. I said in my review her arc is flat without professor Bhaer.
Niina: If we compare that to the 1994 film, Jo has a full arc there. That is the way it goes in the book.
Emily: Yes she does. Despite Laurie not having much of a characterization, maybe not much more in the 1994 film. I liked that they actually acknowledged that he went away to actually better himself before coming back to Amy.
Niina: It doesn´t really build up their relationship as much as the 2019 film but Laurie has some sort of arc in that movie.
Emily: Now that we are talking about the film. I think you said in your blog post we don´t get a sense of his temper and how he would clash with Jo which is why we don´t always buy that they would kill each other.
Niina: That is the same with all adaptations. Louisa makes a really big effort in the book. She describes that Laurie has a temper and that he has these violent outbursts and Jo has them as well.
Emily: You get this sense that Laurie is butting heads with Jo, what he kind of is, but he also clashes with her in other ways but they never really represent that. I think in 1994 Christian Bale is really wonderful for the character that they wrote but I guess a lot of people have accused the film of making that relationship with Amy creepy. Underdeveloped maybe, but I never found it creepy particularly.
Niina: I think it´s because Amy is 12 in the first part and Laurie is 16 but it´s just a four years age difference and they are not romantically together in that way but then people also say that Jo and Friedrich are creepy but Jo is 24 when they meet. I never saw that creepy.
Emily: They are both adults.
Niina: It was written in the 19th century. Most marriages were marriages with age gaps and Louisa had a thing for older guys.
Emily: Back then it was super common.
Niina: For most people there was an age gap in the marriages or in relationships in general.
Emily: Because families generally wanted their daughters to marry established gentlemen. Who already had a living and generally it would take time for a guy to actually establish his career and when he did at that point he would marry somebody. So it is not shocking at all that you would have age gaps like that.
Niina: If you think about some of the recent films. For example the new Emma. In the original Jane Austen´s Emma, Knightley´s and Emma´s age difference is 19 years. In the new film, Knightley´s actor is much younger looking. They do that nowadays. The male lead is hired to be a young-looking guy, even if the actor is actually a bit older in reality.
Emily: It´s funny you know, in the 2019 film they did that with professor Bhaer. They were not going to do the proper arc anyway but they made him younger too.
Niina: The actor is actually 36 so his age is really close to the book Fritz but he looks much younger. It´s just Hollywood the way it does it but then if I think about Amy and Laurie in the 1994 film, I don´t think it´s creepy but if you think about how people could actually avoid that why can´t they actually hire a 16-year-old guy to play Laurie but people are going to complain about everything, it doesn´t matter who we are going to cast to play Laurie.
Emily: In the 2019 film I felt that it had an issue with Florence Pugh looking older in all of her scenes when Laurie just looked young in all of his scenes.
Niina: The actors are the same age.
Emily: They are the same age. It´s just that, you could not quite buy Amy or Florence Pugh as a child and you could never buy Timothee Chamalet as an adult. Whatever their real-life age is. It just doesn´t work in the sense of that visual contrast. I mean people have pointed out to me that Christian Bale was only 20 when he played Laurie but he is able to transition from being a teenager into an adult. Sometimes you know, even if the real age matches, that is the thing about casting, you need certain people to pass of different ages. It is weird because I haven´t seen the 1933 film but I noticed that both 1949 and 1994 don´t pay that much attention to Amy´s and Laurie´s arc. In fact,I think 1949 less so. It is not even there.
Niina: No. There is this scene before Laurie goes to propose Jo and Amy is looking at Laurie with a sad expression on her face. I think that is the only scene with them together and then there is the end when they end up together. That is their arc. Laurie´s proposal is extremely romanticized in that film and it´s really romanticized in 1933 film and 1994 film. 2019 film did better but then it completely erased Friedrich´s character so it kind of sucks.
Emily: Laurie in the 1949 film. I recall his proposal being pretty angry and I think that was the only time we could ever really buy into his character having a temper.
Niina: It is the same in the 1933 film. Laurie has a bit of a temper in it but after that, t is just really flat in the next adaptations.
Emily: I have watched the proposal scene in the 1933 film with Katherine Hepburn. At least he has that line ”I can´t believe you, you don´t know what you want”. Jo in 1949 was probably my least favourite. She never really handles scenes like that with much sensitivity. I don´t recall her being very in-depth about emotions in it with Laurie. My problems with that film are that they had no balls to do at of things. Amy´s canning, they come up right against it and back down from it, remember that. When she gets her hand beaten for having limes. They have the teacher almost hit her hand and then he doesn´t do it.
Niina: I really like Elizabeth Taylor as Amy but the problem with that movie is that they make her the butt of the joke and I don´t like that because that is not something that the book does so it kind of brings out this Amy against Jo positioning again. It should´t be there. It romanticizes Laurie the same way as it does with Mr Bhaer´s character so it becomes Laurie versus Fritz and then Amy versus Jo and it´s just not the way the book goes. The book makes it very clear that Amy is really perfect for Laurie, and Fritz is perfect for Jo. I still haven´t seen an adaptation that does it the way the book does.
Emily: Yeah that´s true. I think they did professor Bhaer pretty well in 1949 film.
Niina: They actually build up that relationship pretty well.
Emily: I appreciated that.
Niina: He is Italian, but I´m going to overlook that.
Emily: We should probably save this for the professor Bhaer video.
Emily: I like it when the adaptations build up that relationship. I guess some people will argue and say. Oh, you can´t really develop some of these scenes because or run-time. Because there isn´t really time to do these things but I feel like there is not really an excuse sometimes. When you have the really incomplete arcs for everybody. The 2019 film tried to do this with Meg´s arc, dealing with poverty in her marriage, but then they just kind of slapped on a happy ending on that and they were just like we are not going to explore it. We are not going to have any sort of conclusion.
Niina: It was left half-developed but I think that happens a lot with Meg´s character.
Emily: In the beginning,I liked that they were trying to do something with her. They ended up not really properly deal with her in a way that I would like. First of all Emma Watson, as we´ve discussed can´t carry on that kind of quiet strength that Meg has. When you bring something like a marital issue, a serious marital issue, I don´t think you should be like ”Oh I am just going to sell it! Get rid of the silk” you didn´t make the issue go away.
Niina: There was an older version of the script. One of the older versions where her melt-down was included but it wasn´t added into the movie and I heard that it was because of Emma Watson´s performance and that James Norton had to carry out many of the scenes. It goes back to the casting I guess.
Emily: We discussed this before, casting Emma Watson was very much based on her other accomplishments other than acting. Because she plays the same character in every film she is in. I do admire her as an activist but I have not been impressed with her since Harry Potter. Having recently watched the 2017 film..mini-series. Did you think they did any better with Laurie´s arc or no? Because I don't think he really put in much work either. What did you think?
Niina: I think he was very idealized in that version once again. He is a very melancholic character there. Laurie in the books, he can be very uplifting and very funny sometimes.
Emily: As I said, his interactions with Amy, they were able to build up that relationship a bit more. They acknowledged his musical side. Which is an improvement? I think they tried to get in some of his clashes with Jo. When their characters bummed up their heads sometimes. I think they do a bit of that. When he ends up with Amy and they come together. We don´t see Amy getting him to put his life in order. I feel again, that is such an important part of their story. Amy is the one to get him to be a productive person.
Niina: Amy´s portrayal in that series it is really a villainization. It was once again putting Amy against Jo. For once they adapted my favourite chapter, which is Calls. She gets to go to Europe and Jo doesn´t get to go to Europe because Jo is actually really rude towards aunt March.
Niina. In that particular version, it was framed that we should admire Jo for being rude to aunt March and Jo is like a feminist hero because of that and then Amy is quite happy that Jo doesn´t get to go. Then in the book, it is the opposite. Amy is really horrified by Jo´s actions and she feels ashamed by it. It is not something that she is secretly glad about and when she finds out that she is chosen and Jo is not chosen. She is really sad for Jo. She really feels bad for her. I think 2019 film had that part done much better.
Emily: Jo and Amy rivalry, the problems I had with 2017 I had similar issues with 2019 where I felt like Amy and Jo were somehow in competition over Laurie, which I don´t like that dynamic.
Niina: That doesn´t happen in the book because Jo never wants to be with Laurie romantically. She is very clear about it since the beginning.
Emily: The only reason she would ever consider accepting Laurie is that´s because she was lonely and that was really the only reason. I think in 2017 when I saw Jo is like ”oh she is engaged to Laurie what! And I was like ”No” they are not supposed to be in competition over this guy. That is not how it works.
Niina: It really has to do a lot with the scriptwriter and how they feel about the characters because I read an interview from Heidi Thomas who wrote that show and she was not a big fan of Amy. So you can really see how that reflects in the film. Jo doesn´t really have an arc and Amy doesn´t really have an arc. It´s all just a mess.
Emily: I did feel some of the weaknesses in the writing. I don´t know if it is the issue with that actress who plays Jo but sometimes she can´t always pass off Jo´s lines in a believable way. I liked other aspects of that series. The civil war. They included a lot of elements of that which I appreciated. There is a lot more of Marmee and their father.
Niina: That was something that I really liked about it and they developed their characters a bit more and it was a new take so it was refreshing.
Emily: I am always a fan of a strong Marmee because Marmee has to deal with so much. She has to mother the four girls. She is kind of a secondary mother to Laurie. She has to give him addressing down at some point and she has to run a household that is financially struggling. So you need a very substantial Marmee and I love what they did with her in that mini-series. That´s an issue I had with 2019 film. She is so overly happy about everything.
Niina: It was a bit strange and they didn´t really put that much effort to show the struggles that were going on. In the opening of the film, I think there was a quote from Louisa ”I write happy stories because of my tragic life” or something like that. You don´t really see any of that tragic life. That was something that bothered me because you see that in Little Women, the book itself.
Emily: I know, the whole point of Little Women is about people getting over their struggles and to find happiness despite the unhappiness. That is why I don´t like the framing device of the 2019 film. ”Oh well the childhood was so simple and warm and happy and now this dark time and adulthood is so complicated” I am just like ”No, it wasn´t that happy even when they were kids. They were poor and they had to struggle. They had to work very hard from a young age. It was not that simple. It is very pessimistic too because the whole point is that you are supposed to build up into adulthood and you know to find your happiness there as well. That thematic bent on it I did not agree with it at all.
Niina: What it comes to Amy´s character and her relationship with Laurie, the dilemma against Amy´s character is that some people say she is really vain, or that she marries for money, but then if you actually read the book, she says that she wants to marry…what was the name of the rich guy she was dating?
Emily: Fred Vaughn
Niina: Fred Vaughn! Because she wants to provide a good life for her family. So she is thinking it is some kind of a sacrifice that she must make. That she is not going to marry for love but marry for convenience.
Emily: I don´t think she loves the idea of marrying for money. She always has her family in mind. I think the book burning incident sends a t of people against Amy and I think that incident always makes Amy seem like an anti-Jo in away but she is also a kid at that point. Later on, we are supposed to see her become this really mature person and eventually is able to set the guy she marries stray, so she does marry for love and it works out very well for her. She is incredibly mature character. She has a sense of social graces. She actually genuinely cares about Jo.
Niina: Yes, she does.
Emily: 2019 film really keeps setting up Amy and Jo even with their artistic pursues. Did you notice that? Amy being like ”I am always in the shadow of Jo” implying that even artistically she is in competition with her.
Niina: If you read the first part of Little Women before the whole book burning accident Jo is really making fun of Amy constantly and she is bullying her. There is a whole episode of Jo being a mean big sister. It is pretty normal what it comes to siblings that you fight with them. Especially when you are younger and they both have high tempers. It is when Amy wants to become a lady. She starts to work on her flaws. She starts to control herself. She sees that she can be better and then the whole premise of Little Women is that all the sisters want to improve themselves somehow. With Jo, her biggest issue is her anger and she is very aware of that and Amy thinks that it is her vanity that is the problem. If you actually read the book. She is not really a vain person. It´s in her head.
Emily: The vanity is more about her desire to fit into certain circles of society.
Niina: They are a very poor family and Meg has the same problem, that she wants to fit into society. To the world of the young girls. Then she thinks it is vain for her wanting to do that because she comes from a different social class but the Marches they used to be part of the higher social class and they fell down. Meg is the one who still remembers what it was like.
Emily: It really hits harder for her because she remembers the days when her family was still living comfortably.
Niina: It is not wrong for her for wanting to be that again but she makes it a big deal for herself and that is quite sad but I think it also has a t to do with 19th century Christian morals and all that. We can´t really fully understand that because we live in 2020.
Emily: It is hard for us now to really identify with that Christian perspective that novel really has because when I read it this time around ”wow there is a lot of Christianity in this book”. They structured their entire lives around these ideals. Of course, can understand why they would now try to tone it down in the adaptations but I am not really a fan how they totally wash that out because that played such a big part in how they viewed their labour in life.
Niina: It also explains at of the things that people struggle nowadays to understand in Little Women. I think it would be important to talk about it more.
Emily: I think so. I think that the Christianity, transcendentalism aspect of the story is very important and I liked that the 1994 film actually acknowledged that intellectual circle that they were part of.
Niina: That´s one of my favourite things about that film.
Emily: They got lots of nice historical, context in that film. The philosophical discussion I love it. But definitely Christianity it´s such a huge thing and why Little Women is also such fundamentally American novel is that ideal. You work hard and things will be okay.
Niina: That´s a very important part of American literature in general.
Emily: You can really understand our current ideals about personal responsibility, personal development when you really delve into this book and it plays out with all the characters. About being able to grow up and become productive and give back. I think, you know, people are always so upset about Jo not becoming a famous writer. You know she finds joy in being productive.
Niina: She does become a famous writer but people just don´t read the sequels.
Niina: She is very famous in Jo´s Boys. She is so famous she is really annoyed by her fame. When do we get Jo´s boys adapted?
Emily: I confess to not reading Jo´s Boys but I have read summaries of the book and people are like ”oh she doesn´t become famous” and I´m like, she does become famous in Jo´s boys.
Niina: It took Louisa a long time to become a famous writer. It´s the same with Jo. It doesn´t happen in one night. It takes work.
Emily: It does! Art is work. Jo, he had to go through a lot failures to get into that point. Art is hard. I know that to be true. I feel like we are heading into Jo discussion now.
Niina: Okay, back to Laurie.
Emily: Back to Laurie!
Niina: In the book when he is in Vienna, he really goes through that process of self-discovery, self-growth and self-understanding. I have this thing when I read Little Women I always get really frustrated by Laurie because I don´t understand his character, his actions and it is not until there is that chapter when he is in Vienna I start to understand who he actually is. It´s really interesting and it happens after Amy´s lecture. She is the first one he actually listens and I think the difference between Amy and Jo is that Laurie took Jo for granted. He doesn´t take Amy for granted. I don´t think Laurie was even in love with Jo. He was in love with the idea of being in love. He was afraid to grow as a person so he was clinging on to Jo so that he doesn´t need to grow and so that he doesn´t need to take responsibility for his life. Amy actually tells Laurie the truth. This is the way it is and you need to do something about it. In away Amy´s character is similar to Friedrich, in that sense, Friedrich tells Jo the truth. This is the way it is. You can improve yourself or you can stay at the same level you have been. This is what is missing in the adaptations. That whole sequence of Laurie in Vienna and the way he actually decides to be useful for the society. Do a favour for himself. He is about 24 at that point. He has been living in a bubble for most of his life. Very privileged, young, aristocrat life. I just love that scene when Amy and Laurie are rowing the boat together and that has never been adapted either.
Emily: I feel like it is so important to his story because lots of young people could probably identify with that now. A lot of people come from that privileged circle and they have these dreams that may take a little bit longer to process. ”I am just going to be an artist” you know. ”I am just going to live this bohemian life” and then it´s like ”oh well I didn´t really contribute anything and these are all just fantasies. Naturally, am just going to get into work now”. It is funny in our culture because I don´t know if I am wrong but I feel that lot of us really want that ideal ”oh no be an artist, follow your dreams”. For some people, t is only talking and what they really need to do is to get a job”
Niina: He doesn´t even really know how to be an artist. He hasn´t really done that work-in-process that it takes to get into that level that he wants to be.
Emily: He hasn´t worked on his art the same way as even Jo has because Jo gets that it is work.
Niina: It is the same with Amy when she comes to the realization that she is not going to be a great artist. She continues doing art but then at the same time she combines that with her other passions, like charity work and supporting young artists. She finds a different way to approach her passions.
Emily: I found a recent YouTuber who reviewed the new film and they were almost like ”oh I didn´t like that in the book, that everyone is just married”
Niina: What a misunderstanding!
Emily: Not married in the exclusion of everything else. I mean sometimes it´s just a reality for people. Sometimes they can´t make it so sometimes they need to channel their passions in different ways. That is the reality of life. That is what Louisa May Alcott understood.
Niina: That is what I like about Little Women is that you can have it all. You can have a good career and you can have a relationship with a person that respects you. It´s such a win-win situation really.
Emily: I can not for the life of me understand why people find that unsatisfactory. It is even a promise for people who don´t even feel like they could find someone that they could marry. Even if you would feel like couldn´t be with anyone. Then you can find somebody. It is something that I don´t think the 2019 film really understood. I think they really wanted to push that whole independent woman narrative and I just really don´t like what that film seems to misunderstand about that book. They at least did a ce job with Amy and her speech about marriage being an economic proposition. That´s a pretty good scene actually. That´s a scene I didn´t hate.
Niina: In the 19th-century marriage was an economical proposition. It was really interesting when I did my research on Louisa and especially on Friedrich´s character. She was part of the movement, where it became more important than love and romance was part of marriage and not just money. That is something that Louisa is promoting in all of her novels. That is something that people are not aware these days. We don´t like to bother ourselves with historical facts about the author but there is lots of misunderstandings about Louisa as a person that is reflected in the way we read Little Women. It´s been really interesting to do research about her.
Emily: She is a real feminist in a t of ways and I think people have these very contradictory ideas about her and I don´t know if it is because Little Women has been around so long that our interpretations are changeable in a t of ways because we are like ”oh she was a feminist” I think they kind of understand that but then ”oh no but Louisa would have been on board with these other notions now, she didn´t really want marriage she forced her characters into it”. They want to force Little Women to conform to their own modern narrative when you really can not do that. That is the problem, in the adaptation if you do that.
Niina: This idea that Louisa was forced to marry her characters, it is really the opposite. She puts lots of effort to explain why these marriages work and why it should be this way. These character arcs they are really beautifully crafted in the book and the way these characters, the way they complement each other and it is really the same in all of her novels. I have been reading quite many of Louisa´s novels recently and I always surprised the way she does that. It is something that she is really into.
Emily: Jo´s story really doesn´t work, I mean none of them really work essentially without their partnerships, not because they are nothing without their partnerships but because being able to share a life with somebody, she saw that as being able to achieve harmony in your life. To be able to form your own circle, your own family.
Niina: In many ways that fits with the transcendentalist idea of romance. There is this quote from Louisa, well not a quote, but something she had highlighted from her favourite book, how the character evolves, person transcends with another person. She is very fond of this idea.
Emily: That is a very Christian idea, to form a union with the person that you marry. It is not that you are not your own person, just that you build something better with another person, that is bigger than both of you.
Niina: I think that was something that was a very radical idea in the 19th century and nowadays we take that for granted.
Emily: It is a real shame that so much of Little Women has been worked overtime by our modernizing world. Like I said before, we seem to have the desire to form Little Women into our modern world, into our modern ideals when really we are just restoring the work.
Niina: It is difficult to understand Little Women if we don´t know the historical context of it.
Emily: That´s very true. I really admire adaptations that try to put the story into its historical context. I think that context is everything. You might have heard me criticizing the costuming in the new film, for instance, they are like ”we are trying to make it sort of you know pseudo-modern and we are trying to make it relatable and we are trying to do this and that to make it more relatable to the audience” and I´m just like ”are you saying that you need to strip away that context in order to make it relatable. Are you saying we can´t relate to Civil War? Or anything from that era? Is that what you are saying?” That seems very condescending.
Niina: It takes away from the story itself when we are being distracted by the modernism in away or post-modernism in this case. Or the post-modern ideas which are not part of the story itself.
Emily: We touched a bit the Amy rivalry with Jo. You felt that they had kind of villainization of Amy in the 2017 show. They expanded her character a bit more in 2019. How do you feel about how they expanded Amy´s character and that rivalry? Because I think they really lean into it remember when Jo is flashing back to Amy falling in the lake and she burned the book and she is like ”oh Amy finds a way to get out of easy situations, get out of hard situations” which took me back because it was like ”No, she was called to be with aunt March, she was travelling with aunt March. In that other situation, ´d say, she was very ashamed of what she did and she almost died. I don´t understand where you are coming from when you say that she gets out of situations.
Niina: That is a very weird way to look at Amy. In the book, she feels humiliation. She really regrets some of the things that she does. Jo also regrets things that she has said to Amy. Jo regrets some of her behaviour patterns. But I think that the 2019 film did okay in that sense it showed that Jo and Amy were sides of the same coin. They are very similar and when they realize that they are actually very similar they become much closer. That is an improvement what it comes to Jo and Amy and understanding their relationship. One of the biggest problems in all the adaptations is really idealizing Jo a lot and not really see her as a full character. Really as a human being who actually does regret sometimes the things that she says. Things that she does.
Emily: She is very flawed.
Niina: Yeah, she is very aware that she is flawed. We live in this culture where we are supposed to idealize people who are adamant and don´t want to change or are rude or aggressive. That´s just not the way Little Women is written to be. Jo sees that her actions are harming other people and that is one of the reasons why she doesn´t want to be with Laurie or hang out with him on the second part because she sees that they are feeding each other with these toxic ideas.
Emily: I don´t know how much young adult fiction you read but it is a common trend to have this female protagonist, you even see that in Star Wars where we have this female character who can do no wrong. Is very spunky and we are supposed to admire that. I think our culture has become a bit adverse to what we are trying to get off from Little Women. Jo is supposed to soften out. She is trying to not harm people with her behavior and it is a good thing for her because she becomes a more compassionate person. That is what becoming more tender means. That is how her father puts it. She has become a more tender person because she is just are a compassionate individual. That is also what happens with Amy as well. She also wants to be a productive person. She also gets to understand that all these things you get in life, you have to work for them as well.
Niina: Amy is very compassionate and she is a very kind person. I really like that in the books. She cares about other people.
Emily: You noticed even when Fred Vaughn asked her to marry him, she is like ”it´s not fair for either of us”. She has to think herself and this other guy and, it wouldn´t be kind to either of them. I really respect her character a lot.
Niina: I think Amy was really the one in the family who really loved aunt March. They really ruined aunt March for me in the 2019 adaptation because she was way too kind in it. It is Amy who makes her a bit softer in the book. Meryl Streep is great don´t get me wrong but aunt March is a tough person to get along with.
Emily: She is a very tough lady. She is a very crusty lady because she has lived alone for a while. Her kid died. Her husband died. She has got a little bit bitter over the years. You can´t really blame her and Jo was like ”oh I am just so done with this gig, reading to this lady” Amy is the only one who is really able to properly connect to aunt March. Aunt March in her heart she loves these girls. She loves them all.
Niina: She does. She loves her nephew as well but she is not impressed by his way of being.
Emily: Sometimes when she was like ”oh you made this really awful decision I can´t believe it” sometimes I feel that way about other people in my life ”oh I can´t believe you did that in your life what are you doing?”
Niina: She is quite relatable in the end.
Emily: Yeah she is really relatable. I mean isn´t that what adulthood is eventually, relating to aunt March.
Niina: The part of her losing her child, I didn´t realise that until last time I read the book. Somehow it had slipped off. I had a talk about in Louisa May Alcott group on Facebook with some people and we were all thinking about what was the back story of aunt March and this child and her husband.
Niina: That would make a really interesting story for someone to write. It seemed that they had a very loving relationship based on the book, it must have made her bitter to lose it.
Emily: Somebody write the aunt March book. She is that sort of person you need to come to her level and when you do, she´ll be nice to you. She will do things for you. Amy is really capable of doing that. She doesn´t even take aunt Marches belongings. Aunt March gives her a turquoise ring. She is like ”I am not going to always wear it, it wasn´t just for the material possessions that I worked hard”. I think they wasted Meryl Streep in the 2019 film. They did not do enough of her at all. I think her job was to be like ”well you know as a woman you are supposed to marry well” and that was it for her character. There is a lot more dimensionality I like, that other adaptation add that on.
Niina: I love her in the 1994 film. She is one of my favourite characters. Very much like in the book.
Emily: You have to have that kind of element of toughness and also those nuances as well. I love Angela Landsbury as her in 2017 series.
Niina: She was very good.
Emily: She is very good.
Niina: I liked the way that version developed her relationship with Jo.
Emily: That final scene between the two of them.
Niina: It didn´t really do that well with Amy and aunt March because it didn´t do that well with Amy but there is always something that seems to be missing.
Emily: Little Women, it is so hard to adapt, so hard to get all these elements.
Niina: There are elements that I like in all adaptations and there are things that I don´t like in all the adaptations.
Emily: That is true. I am so critical about the 2019 film and there are things that I like in it, referring to comments on my video ”why did you hate it? Why did you say that?” ”well I did like this aspect of the film like I didn´t like these ten other things”.
Niina: We are talking about a book that was written 150 years ago. We are allowed to be critical about the adaptations and we are allowed to talk about the things that are missing, like Laurie´s arc.
Emily: We should.
Niina: Things don´t move forward if we don´t talk about these things and the way we approach the book.
Emily: I think we should have these discussions. To some extend a lot of people are too afraid to talk about against the 2019 film because I got that sense from a lot of my comments ”I didn´t like this all that much but I couldn´t really validate why I didn´t like it until I saw your video” and so many people were so up and arms against when I criticized it and I´m just like ”well if you are really that upset with me then go find these other people that talk other ways”. I even appreciate it when people talk about some aspect that in the 1994 film that doesn´t work as well which I also acknowledge. You are adapting 500+ page book there are things you are not going to get. I get that Amy and Laurie's relationship isn´t that developed and I would have liked it if Meg would have had more screen time after she got married. I do appreciate those things.
Niina: Laurie is connected to all of this.
Emily: He is a side-character but he plays different roles to different people.
Niina: When I started to do my research on Laurie´s character specifically I began to understand him better when I started to pay more attention to the way he has this emotional turmoil because when I was younger I used to be very much the same. I wish that we would see that more in the adaptations because that is the part that is always missing and people misunderstand it because they see that something romantic. We don´t see Laurie´s struggles. He is really a creep sometimes. If we would see that we wouldn´t have the TeamBhaer/TeamLaurie debate. Especially if you are hardcore TeamBhaer like you and I are if you really like Amy as well and you actually have read the book many many many times. It just puzzles my mind how people can misunderstand the book so terribly.
Emily: I feel that even the fans of the book who have also read it many times still have this view on Laurie and these characters which still feels such a surface level interpretation of the book.
Niina: Feels like they haven´t really paid that much attention to what they have read. That´s all in the book and they still don´t seem to understand it. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to do an in-depth study on Laurie and Friedrich as well. It really surprised me that it was really difficult to find unbiased views on Laurie that weren´t about Jo or Amy but Laurie himself as a character, his actions and his behaviour.
Emily: In a sense, we are no better when people first read ”Young Werther” by Goethe. People looked at Werther and were like ”Oh my God, we should all die suicide for love and I think Goethe was ”No, don´t do that, this was not about that”.
Niina: Yeah, he was criticizing himself and his own behavior as a young person. For those of you who are new here. Louisa based Laurie´s character arc to young Werther which is Goethe´s novel from the 18th century Germany. Just a little side note, and Friedrich is based on Goethe on one-level. We will get into that.
Emily: Yes. In the other video. I read Werther in German. It´s a lovely read but you also see some of the ridiculousness of that kind of romantic vision because he really relates to these big storms, these thunderstorms. It signifies his emotional events and it really makes fun of that and people at the time didn´t get that and people also don´t seem to get that now.
Niina: It is very harmful when suicide is being romanticized in general or trying to blackmail someone for ”romantic” reasons that are really harmful and that is something that is still not recognized fully enough.
Emily: Like I said before if we are criticizing that behavior in books now, in fiction that is coming out now, then why can´t we change the way that we see this character. I wonder if people decide how they see him because of the films.
Niina: I´v been thinking about this a lot. The films they tend to include the same scenes. Then there are those scenes that are being dismissed. Laurie, he is idealized and romanticized. His flaws are downgraded and with Amy, it is the opposite.
Emily: Which is why some people get angry when they get together. You are missing all that nice context. I think really Little Women needs a proper show. Not even just a mini-series. We need a show. Otherwise you don´t pick up on all these really great scenes that add dimensions to these characters. I really liked that exploration you did based on Goethe because I hadn´t really seen that character that way before. More discussions like these need to happen.
Niina: I just love this. This is great.
Emily: I am having a lot of fun.
Niina: Next people who are going to adapt Little Women, have a good listen of these talks we are having.
Emily: I hope so. I really hope so.
Niina: Both me and Emily are definitely available to be consultants on these matters and we know people who can help you more.
Emily: Hollywood needs to head us up. That´s our discussion on Laurie and Amy also on different films as well. Of course we went on different tangents on different characters because all these things are connected. I hope you enjoyed our discussion of Laurie.
Niina: Thank you for listening guys.
Emily: Thank you.
Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy (and the boy next door)
I finally finished my long Laurie meta. Both the video and the article are pretty long (I lost count on how many adaptations I mentioned) so take some time to read/watch it. The article is a bit more detailed.
Cinematic and cultural evolution of Theodore Laurie Lawrence through gender studies.
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There is no hate for any of the characters, please do not leave that to the comments either.
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FAIR USE All multimedia clips included in this video constitute a 'fair use' of any copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of U.S. Copyright law, which allows for criticism, comment and scholarship. Here in Finland similar purpose is driven by the quotation law https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sitaattioikeus
This article has been updated and fact-checked on September 2020
(Originally published in October 2019).
Original Description of Laurie
Theodore Laurie Lawrence is one of the most complicated characters in Little Women and his cultural and cinematic history is also complicated. More than often the Hollywood adaptations of the book changes our perspective of the characters. In the original book that was published in 1868 Laurie is both foreign and androgynous.
Laurie has brown skin, curly black hair, long nose, nice teeth, little hands and feet. He is the same size as Jo making him equal to her. When he asks Jo to dance he makes a little French bow.
For the 1880 edition of Little Women Louisa´s publisher demanded her to make changes for the books. Little Women was a huge hit and publishers want to make money. Now all Laurie´s foreign features were removed because they were not suitable for a romantic suitor. He became more handsome, no mention of the colour of his skin and he is taller than Jo, making him superior to her.
The problem with these changes was that LMA herself never meant Laurie to be a romantic suitor for Jo. Quoting her own words when she created Laurie she gave her alter-ego a brother that she never had. It is the 1880 version with more "masculine Laurie" that is familiar to most people. This description of him remained in the books nearly 100 years. When I read Little Women as a child my Finnish version did not have any mention of Laurie being androgynous neither there was any mentions about his skin colour. The translation I read had been made in 1920´s. Last Finnish translation of Little Women appeared in 2012 so that is when the Finnish readers got to read the original description of Laurie for the first time. Little Women has been translated into more than 50 languages. Many translations especially the older ones are abridged and entire chapters are missing.
Another very important part of Laurie is that he has androgynous looks. In the famous and beloved 1933 film version of Little Women Douglas Montgomery plays Laurie and he has very androgynous looks. He has quite feminine and soft features. Katherine Hepburn´s Jo is close to the book Jo. She is tall, with androgynous looks and sharp features and a strong way to carry herself. Little Women is a semi-biographical novel and Jo´s character is loosely based on Louisa herself and Louisa was a tomboy and not traditionally feminine.
Hollywood and Adaptive Attractiveness
What it comes to Little Women adaptations they are model examples of adaptive attractiveness. Adaptive attractiveness refers to the way Hollywood changes the appearance of a book character. Who in the story is described from anything from old to ugly from androgynous to plain looking is played by an attractive actor in a film version. As we learned the adaptive attractiveness of Laurie already started in the 19th century. In films/tv adaptations Jo, Laurie and Friedrich all go through adaptive attractiveness. This does not mean that beautiful actors can not play these characters or that we should stop watching these movies. Some of them are the best adaptations of Little Women. The reason for this is the same as Louisa´s publisher changing Laurie´s looks, to make money. Studios invest great deal of money to the films and the best way to make profit and get viewers is to hire attractive actors.
Problems With Adaptive Attractiveness and Little Women
Louisa´s original description of the three characters is a big part of the narrative. Adaptive attractiveness is deeply rooted idea in our culture. Starting from fairy-tales which follow the Hollywood narrative that love only belongs to the young and attractive. When Little Women appeared it became a massive hit and it made Louisa May Alcott a billionaire. When young girls came to visit Louisa they often left disappointed because they were expecting to see young and pretty Jo March. Instead they saw Louisa who was rather plain looking. Sometimes she even opened the door dressed up as a maid and she said to the young fans of Jo March that Miss Alcott was not at home. An effective way to get rid of fans.
Flipping Gender Stereotypes
Laurie in the books is a complex character with both good and bad qualities. He is an orphan living together with his distant grandfather. Laurie was an aspiring pianist. He had no problems becoming best friends with four girls next door. He put snow to Meg´s ankle, saved Amy from drowning and was Jo´s bff. That is what we usually see in the movies but in the books Laurie is much more complicated character. Louisa was ahead of her time. She refused to impose any gender stereotypes to any of her characters. In 19th century context Laurie and his love for music can be seen as a more effeminate trait. Even the way he is lonely in the big old mansion follows the narrative of the 19th century where young women were domesticated and shut down from the social life. In one of my favourite chapters in Little Women camp Lawrence Laurie is compared to a colt, a gun that can go off at any given minute. Colt also refers to an untamed horse. In the beginning of Little Women Jo is also referred to a colt.
No Temper For Laurie (Or For Jo)
In many ways the 1933 film is loyal to the books but (naturally) it shows the characters through 1930´s lens. Both Jo and Laurie lack their aggressive outbursts they have in the books. Dougla´s Montgomery´s Laurie and Peter Lawford´s Laurie from 1949 both have bit of a temper which is what you can see in the proposal scene but in all adaptations after them Laurie´s temper is missing. In the 1949 version Laurie played by Peter Lawford is one of the most idealized Laurie´s. He has run away from the school. Lied his age to get into army were he got wounded (we can´t see any wounds). He is also extremely kind and charming. Film does not either show Laurie´s and Amy´s time in Europe together.
Why Jo and Laurie don´t end up together
(Or why our expectations of tropes set us up for disappointment)
Quote from @thatvermillionflycatcher
We are used to seeing literature for women as romances or epic fantasy. Not that there is anything wrong with any of those genres. But this perspective sets us up expect and assume some things. For example we expect the main couple in the novel to be introduced to us in the first few chapters. Usually via some kind of meet-cute or meet-ugly.
But Little Women isn´t a romance novel. It features love and marriage but the romance is not the core of the story. We read chapter three where Jo and Laurie meet and we read it as meet-cute. It never crosses our mind to expect a meet-ugly between Laurie and Meg. For example because Meg is not the protagonist and Jo thinks of an arrangement between Meg and Laurie.
Little Women is a strange story if you think it as a romance. Because the protagonist marries a character that appears well into book two but this is not a problem because it is not a romance. Alternative reading is the adventure quest. The heroine is different. Has a new world view and engages in a quest to change her world but Jo isn´t a heroine in this way. If there are two defining characteristics of Jo´s character those are her anger and her fear of change. She doesn´t want Meg to marry Mr. Brooke not because she thinks that marriage is a constricting future for Meg because it would mean change in her family. Meg would no longer live with them. The family dynamics would be totally different and the mere idea terrifies Jo.
Jo´s quest doesn´t fail because there was no quest. Little Women isn´t an adventure novel either. It is as many people like to point out but frequently seem to overlook consequences of a semi-biographical novel. It is the life story of four sisters. A slice of life with everything it brings. Love and romance and some adventures. Yes but the simplicity of every day life. Pain, lost, friendship, family, work, talent and virtues.
Let´s talk about gender
In this essay I will be writing a great deal about men and women, masculine and feminine, male and female. So much that some of you might wonder what are my thoughts about gender in general. Gender is a spectrum and fluid spectrum for that. Some people fit to one point at the scale and that is fine. Some people are more fluid and that is fine as well. When I use the word "men" that refers to one particular demographic and they are not people with male parts, beards or beer bellies but simply people who identify as men. Same with women. Not just people with breasts and ability to give birth but people who identify as women. Femininity on the other hand is a set of attributes, behaviours and roles generally associated with girls and women. Femininity is made up of both socially defined and biologically created factors. Definition of masculinity is similar. Set of attributes, behaviours and roles generally associated with boys and men. Masculinity as well is made up of both socially defined and biologically created factors. Both males and females can exhibit both masculine and feminine traits. In Little Women especially Louisa May Alcott explored masculinity and femininity through social and cultural factors of her time and it is a very common theme in all of her works.
When Jo does find out that Meg does have romantic feelings towards Mr. Brooke Jo becomes angry and upset. She literally runs to her room and cries. She says Marmee that she would rather marry Meg herself than have her family torn apart. This has made many to believe that Jo is a lesbian. I personally believe it´s more about gender fluidly. Susan Bailey has an insightful article in her blog about 19th century female relationships reflected in Little Women. Also when Louisa´s sister Anna announced that she was getting married Anna was 28 and Louisa was 27 and it was not long after their sister Lizzie had passed away so Louisa´s wish to keep her family together is understandable.
Louisa May Alcott was born in 29th of November 1831. Her mother Abigail was one of the first social workers in US. Her father Bronson was a religious reformer, educator and one of the leading figures in New England´s transcendentalist movement. Louisa had three sisters; Anna, Lizzie and May. From a very young age Louisa was introduced to the intellectual circles of the time. Likes of Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreu, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emmerson. Many Louisa´s family members and friends were abolitionists, suffragettes and women´s rights activists.
Marriage between Abba and Bronson was stormy and argumentative. Often Bronson would refuse to look for work and put his highly spiritual ideas before his own family. Bronson Alcott was a very controversial figure even during his own lifetime. Louisa´s childhood was way less idyllic than Jo´s. From very early on she started to support her family with her writings. In the 19th century context the role of the provider was seen more masculine. There were times when Alcott´s lived in extreme poverty. Louisa´s love and dedication for her mother Abba was fierce and protective. Louisa and her older sister Anna were very close and when Anna got married Louisa grieved it a great deal. In the books Jo is very uncomfortable with change which is something that correlated with Louisa´s own life. Same way as the Marches the Alcott´s went through hard time together and both Jo and Louisa were protective over their family. In the 19th century puberty began much later on than now days. Part of Louisa´s youth was also time spent in Fruitlands, a spiritual community based on transcendentalist ideas started by Alcott and John Slayne. Some of the rules in Fruitlands was to follow a strict vegetarian diet. Also coffee, tea, milk, alcoholic drinks and warm bath water were banned. Many Alcott scholars believe that the low nutrition might have also effected to Louisa´s hormonal balance.
Three different point of views
As much as we idolize Jo she was drowning into internalized misogyny. Jo and Laurie were brothers. They planned to ran away together, they had good time making pranks and they made fun of the feminine ladies who Laurie used to flirt with in college. One of the best examples of the internalized misogyny is chapter 21. Laurie makes mischief and Jo makes peace. You can read the whole chapter here.
In this chapter Laurie pretends to be his tutor John Brooke and he sends letters to Meg in his name, who he knows Brooke has feelings for.
She was quite right, for the mischief-loving lad no sooner suspected a mystery than he set himself to find it out, and led Jo a trying life of it. He wheedled, bribed, ridiculed, threatened, and scolded; affected indifference, that he might surprise the truth from her; declared her knew, then that he didn't care; and at last, by dint of perseverance, he satisfied himself that it concerned Meg and Mr. Brooke. Feeling indignant that he was not taken into his tutor's confidence, he set his wits to work to devise some proper retaliation for the slight.
Jo´s reactions throughout the chapter however has annoyed plenty of contemporary readers and so have Laurie´s actions.
Jo´s first reaction is to beat up Laurie and to defend Meg´s honor.
"Oh, the little villain! That's the way he meant to pay me for keeping my word to Mother. I'll give him a hearty scolding and bring him over to beg pardon," cried Jo, burning to execute immediate justice. But her mother held her back, saying, with a look she seldom wore...
Seeing Meg's usually gentle temper was roused and her pride hurt by this mischievous joke, Mrs. March soothed her by promises of entire silence and great discretion for the future. The instant Laurie's step was heard in the hall, Meg fled into the study, and Mrs. March received the culprit alone. Jo had not told him why he was wanted, fearing he wouldn't come, but he knew the minute he saw Mrs. March's face, and stood twirling his hat with a guilty air which convicted him at once. Jo was dismissed, but chose to march up and down the hall like a sentinel, having some fear that the prisoner might bolt. The sound of voices in the parlour rose and fell for half an hour, but what happened during that interview the girls never knew.
When they were called in, Laurie was standing by their mother with such a penitent face that Jo forgave him on the spot, but did not think it wise to betray the fact. Meg received his humble apology, and was much comforted by the assurance that Brooke knew nothing of the joke.
Jo stood aloof, meanwhile, trying to harden her heart against him, and succeeding only in priming up her face into an expression of entire disapprobation. Laurie looked at her once or twice, but as she showed no sign of relenting, he felt injured, and turned his back on her till the others were done with him, when he made her a low bow and walked off without a word.
As soon as he had gone, she wished she had been more forgiving, and when Meg and her mother went upstairs, she felt lonely and longed for Teddy. After resisting for some time, she yielded to the impulse, and armed with a book to return, went over to the big house.
When Laurie is scolded by Marmee Jo quickly forgives him and sees the whole thing only as a harmless prank. She has difficulties to understand how much Laurie´s mischief actually hurt her sister.
"If John doesn't know anything about this nonsense, don't tell him, and make Jo and Laurie hold their tongues. I won't be deceived and plagued and made a fool of. It's a shame!"
Meg is in an age that if this prank would have turned into a rumor it would have severely hurt Meg´s reputation and John´s as well. (Quote from @this-thrown-out-gentleman from an in-depth conversation we had about this chapter).
Meg´s response is very mature. Considering the time there is very little that Meg can do when something like this happens.
Back at the Lawrences Laurie is lectured by his grandfather.
"No, he would have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I'd have told my part of the scrape, if I could without bringing Meg in. As I couldn't, I held my tongue, and bore the scolding till the old gentleman collared me. Then I bolted, for fear I should forget myself."
"It wasn't nice, but he's sorry, I know, so go down and make up. I'll help you."
"Hanged if I do! I'm not going to be lectured and pummelled by everyone, just for a bit of a frolic. I was sorry about Meg, and begged pardon like a man, but I won't do it again, when I wasn't in the wrong."
"He didn't know that."
"He ought to trust me, and not act as if I was a baby! It's no use, Jo, he's got to learn that I'm able to take care of myself, and don't need anyone's apron string to hold on by."
Jo works as a mediator between Laurie and older Mr.Lawrence. After being forced to apologise to Meg Laurie is now expecting his grandfather apologising him for lecturing him without no reason. He refuses to see any faults in his own actions. Next moment he is asking Jo to go to Washington to see Mr. Brooke and Jo is tempted to go but she is mature enough to see that such trip is Laurie only trying to escape facing his grandfather.
There is of course an actual reason why Laurie´s and his grandfather´s relationship is difficult and why he is constantly looking for attention but that does not adjust his actions.
Mr. Laurence's ruddy face changed suddenly, and he sat down, with a troubled glance at the picture of a handsome man, which hung over his table. It was Laurie's father, who had run away in his youth, and married against the imperious old man's will. Jo fancied her remembered and regretted the past, and she wished she had held her tongue.
Why the feminine sister´s feelings are treated less valid?
One thing I have noticed while doing gender studies on Little Women characters and talking to fans across the world is that this chapter is more than often ignored and the focus isn´t on the prank but in Laurie´s and Jo´s conversation.
"Why didn´t Jo just agreed to go with Laurie to Washington and have fun?"
"Nothing bad happened as long as Jo is happy".
One fan I chatted with said "why care since no one as hurt".
What about Meg?
For many Meg seems to be a less valid person in the story than Jo is and Jo forgives Laurie so aren´t we ab-lied to forgive Laurie as well?
In her analysis of this very same chapter in Little Women 150 blog Jan Alberghene brings out many of the similar themes I have presented here.
No matter how much time Laurie spends with Jo, her sisters, or Marmee, Laurie lives in a man’s world. And so do the women, whether grown or “Little.”
Jo´s reaction can feel almost as violating as Laurie´s actions because Jo is the protagonist and even though she is participating to cover up Laurie´s behavior she does not question it (unlike Marmee and Meg do).
The idealization of both Jo and Laurie is so deeply rooted in our culture, this chapter has never been adapted into any of the movies. It would be important to include it. Chapter captures both Jo´s and Laurie´s fast mood changes and their parallel tempers. We also see that Meg is a very strong person (in this case more feminist than Jo who´s growth process is only beginning).
Only adaptation where Laurie makes mischief has been included is the obscure BBC series from the 1970. One can definitely tell that the series comes from the 70´s. Marmee´s first reaction when she sees the letters is to laugh. Which is very off-character. We don´t see Laurie being scolded neither by Marmee or his grandfather. Like in the book Jo does forgive him, when he mopes how difficult life he is living with his grandfather. Meg is portrayed as someone who is overly emotional and over-reacting. In this version John knows what is going on and he sees it as a harmless prank. Once again very off character.
The Book Laurie
What is most distressing in the adaptations is the lack of Laurie´s character arc and not showing him as a full person. In the book before Laurie moves to Concord he has been tossed around in Europe from one boarding school to another and then he moves to live with his grandfather and they have to build their relationship from the scratch. Older Mr.Lawrence had rejected the marriage of Laurie´s parents so since the beginning Laurie feels unwanted and this is why he becomes so attached to the Marches. He even calls Marmee his mother and that is why he is clinging on to Jo so much. Because of Jo´s idealization towards the masculine Laurie thought he could do anything and she would always forgive him. Hannah describes Laurie as a weathercock. He is a character with constant mood changes. He can be sensitive but he also has high temper. Which has never been shown in the films. He can be very inconsiderate towards other people´s feelings (same way as Jo) like during the time when he forged those letters and hurt Meg. Times when Laurie is sweet and caring are the times when he puts other people before him. Like during Beth´s illness and when he went to cheer up Amy when she was staying at aunt March.
There are times when Laurie is vain like a peacock. He likes nice clothes and keeping up good appearance which is something that Jo at times makes fun off. He can be funny but also very immature. He wants to break free from his grandfather´s obey dance but he is afraid to do that. Laurie is an orphan. Relationship with his grandfather is complicated. For older Mr Lawrence Laurie resembles both of the children he lost and this is why he doesn´t want to hear music because of the painful memories and I suppose self-blame. It is only with his encounters with Beth these wounds start to heal. Laurie doesn´t like school. He wants to go to Italy and be a composer and to re-connect with his roots, this is aspect of him that is hardly ever included in the adaptations. Laurie´s Italian roots are connected to his love for music, his temper and his brown skin.
Christian Bale´s Laurie is mischievous but none of the film versions have included any of Laurie´s immature pranks.
Laurie the composer
Only adaptations where Laurie actually plays the piano are series from the 70s and 2017 mini-series. What it comes to the movies it is Mr. Bhaer who is actually much more musical and Fritz does sing and plays music in the books. But it is strange that there are only couple adaptations where Laurie actually plays piano and after all Laurie is a composer. So far all film versions have had their focus on romanticizing Jo and Laurie instead of giving him a full-personality. They follow the Hollywood narrative that the only reason why Laurie exists is to be pretty and to be in love with Jo and he doesn´t have any other aspirations or inspirations outside that. The plot of the novel is unconventional because it flips the conventional romance trope, but when the adaptations try to do this while erasing Laurie´s arc they actually follow the conventional romance trope, and not the unconventional story that Louisa wrote.
Laurie the prankster
In the beginning of Good Wives when John and Meg move to their new home Laurie comes bringing gifts; knife cleaner that spoils all the knives, soap that takes the skin off one´s hands, sweeper that leaves all the dirt and bunch of other similar items. Each week when Laurie is on holiday from college he brings them random useless things. It can be a funny joke for the first couple of times but Laurie does it for months. It´s behavior you could expect from a teen-ager but not from a 21 year old. John and Meg are poor. Laurie is rich. He could give them something useful. None of Laurie´s pranks are never shown in the movies. Big part why Jo wanted to be more boyish and her being dismissive over feminine was about showing off. Laurie´s pranks were his way of showing off and to get attention.
Call to conform
It is when Laurie goes to college the gender expectations of the time start to have more bigger impact to Jo´s and Laurie´s behavior. Laurie is not very interested from his studies. He goes to college simply to please his grandfather. Laurie is more of a party-boy in college. That is not necessarily a character flaw. Quite many young people go to college to do just that still today. In college Laurie smokes, drinks, plays pool, flirts with girls, gets into fights (never shown in any adaptations) and Jo criticizes him for doing these things. Jo doesn´t want to do any of these things but she wishes she could have the liberty to do whatever she wants without being judged by the society. Jo was very aware of the unfairness of the situation. In the books Jo never likes Laurie romantically and his romantic interest only makes Jo feel uncomfortable. Not only does their dynamics change because Jo doesn´t want to fit into the traditional female role of the time but because Laurie fits into the traditional 19th century male role almost too well. Their relationship in their youth worked when there was more space for gender fluidly but it starts to fall apart when they are called to conform more. When Laurie develops a crush on Jo he breaks that brotherly bond and that shatters Jo´s ideas of masculinity the way she has come to know it. It has never been showed in movies. The closest example of this the way it is described in the books is the song Astonishing from Little Women musical.
Laurie´s behaviour becomes more obsessive and as a result Jo travels to New York to work as a governess and there she meets Friedrich. The movies have swapped the timeline so that Jo travels to New York after she has rejected Laurie´s proposal when in the book proposal happens after Jo has returned to Concord. When Jo meets Friedrich in New York he is not only her sexual awakening but Friedrich´s masculinity it collapses the male-female binary Jo knows. When Jo meets Friedrich the narrator says that for the first time Jo did not compare a man to Laurie. Up until to that point Laurie has been her ideal of masculinity but those old models have failed her miserably and then she meets a man who provides her a new definition of masculinity. Which does not demand Jo to change or to be traditionally feminine. Which is what Laurie´s model of masculinity did.
Two very different proposals
Lot of the relationship between Jo and Laurie was based on mutually reinforcing ideas of toxic masculinity. Eventually this turned out against both of them. In Jo´s case it made her to loose the trip to Europe and in Laurie´s case it brought out his temper and more possessive behavior. The best example why Jo rejected Laurie´s proposal and why she did fell in love with Friedrich is to examine the two proposals. When Laurie proposes to Jo he says he loves her because Jo has always been so good to him. He doesn´t love her because of her personality or her ambitions. Jo had a tendency to mother Laurie and we can probably explain this with the fact that the young men who were inspirations for Laurie´s character were much younger than Louisa. Being maternal figure was something that came naturally to Jo. In away March´s adopted Laurie to be part of their family unit. That Jo sees Laurie as her brother makes perfect sense and sisters often become pseudo-mother figures to their brothers. In movies we only see Laurie´s pain but we never see the pressure he puts on Jo or how uncomfortable his actions make her feel. When we read the book and see Laurie´s character through the movie´s lens it perpetuates the idea that the controlling behavior he has in the books doesn´t matter and it is a sign of love. Yet the book Laurie is not in love with Jo. He is in love with the idea of love. Laurie´s story and his character arc in Little Women it is not about Amy or Jo. It´s a story how Laurie becomes a man.
I´v tried to show it you but you wouldn´t let me. Now I am going to make you hear and give me an answer for I can´t go on any longer.
"But girls are so queer you never know what they mean. They say no when they mean yes, and drive a man out of his wits just for the fun of it"'
Laurie seems to be thinking that Jo would fall in love with him because that is what girls do. Laurie has said similar things as a teen ager. Things like "someday I´ll get you Jo" which is quite a possessive thing for a 15 year old boy to say and it highlights how much the two have fed each others with harmful stereotypes about gender roles. Now that they are adults Jo feels the need to leave this toxic cycle. Not just because of her own sake but also Laurie´s sake and it is toxic because up until to that point Laurie has been told what to do by Jo, John Brooke or by his grandfather. Laurie wants to keep the status quo of their relationship so that he does not need to grow and take the responsibility of himself or his own actions. Laurie was not used to making decisions. Marrying Jo is an easy escape of his life remaining the same rather than different as it is meant to be. This type of chase is not something that Jo likes or enjoys. It makes her feel incredibly uncomfortable.
Most adaptations have also chosen the easy escape by not showing the slow and painful work of the personal transformation that Laurie does go through in the books. If we now take a look at the narrative of the second book. There are no glimpses inside to Laurie´s head where he would be thinking about Jo or dreaming about future with her. When Jo leaves New York we do get a glimpse inside Friedrich´s mind and he does admit to himself that he is indeed in love with her and he wonders what life with Jo would be like. Laurie´s actions in most part of the second book don´t make any sense because Laurie´s mind is a complete mess.
Almost like the lack of Laurie´s inner thoughts the book is telling us that Laurie hasn´t thought things through. This is another contrast between Laurie´s shallow idealized dreaminess and Friedrich´s deeply grounded reality (@this-thrown-out-gentleman).
Jo is honest with Laurie. She sees that if she would marry him their arguments would escalate to violence. Laurie´s relationship to Jo is more codependent.
Laurie wants to keep the status quo of their toxic relationship and it is toxic because up until to that point Laurie had been used to do by Jo, John Brooke or his grandfather. He wasn´t used to making decisions (@renee561)
When Jo rejects Laurie we should be on Jo´s side. Yet in 90% of Little Women adaptions Laurie´s character arc is missing. He doesn´t have a temper (or character arc) in 1933, 1949, 1994, 2018 and 2019 films. Series from 1950 and 2017. Little Women musical and or in Japanese anime.
Little Women costumes written by @this-thrown-out-gentleman
Jo and Laurie in 1994 and 2017 versions. Jo has her hair down in the proposal scene and her dress has a softer look to it making her look more feminine than usual.
It´s an obvious effort to make the scene look more romantic but Greta Gerwig´s version assuming it is also the proposal scene is really interesting because with Jo´s hair up she looks more adult and instead of a flowy dress she is wearing a jacket and a tie. You can see exactly what they mean with switching the gender roles in this photo. Her hair is still perfectly waved blowing in the wind but it is Laurie who looks soft with the velvet waistcoat and the flowy white sleeves and the unbuttoned collar. This really works because Laurie is the vulnerable one in this scene. He is the romantic who gets his heart broken and Jo is the stronger emotionally mature one. I get why previous versions really want to make Jo pretty for this scene but having her look masculine and most importantly grown up makes a lot of sense for the characters here.
Trying to threat someone you say you love is never a good idea. Instead of seeing any fault in his own actions Laurie blames it on someone else and he wants Jo to feel guilty for rejecting him. Then he guilt trips her even more by saying that she will marry someone and that she will be a silly woman by going back on her word of never marrying. Jo has a brilliant response but Laurie doesn´t want to hear it.
Then Laurie threatens to go to the devil and behaves like a 19th century brat boy. Laurie´s proposal has been traditionally abridged or the dialogue has been changed. In the adaptations it has been portrayed to be a romantic scene when in the books it is a conflict. Little Women is often a misunderstood book because it does something very unique and powerful. Laurie´s proposal was never about Jo. It was all about him
It is still all about him and he still wants Jo to feel guilty. Thank god for the grandfather (this is good parenting). Six moths later Amy meets Laurie in Europe and they have not met for four years. Amy finds him changed and different. She scolds him and his attitude but it comes from a good place because Amy knows that Laurie has potential to make most of his life and when she carefully asks what happened between him and Jo...
Still all about him. Not about Jo.
Amy´s lecture did Laurie good though of course he did not own it until long afterwards. Men seldom do for when women are the advisers. The lords of the creation wont take the advice until they have persuaded themselves that it is just what they intended to do. Then they act upon it and if it succeeds they give the weaker vessel half the credit of it. If it fails they generously give her the whole. Little Women chapter 41.
Amy´s words start to effect on Laurie yet in his mind Laurie thinks that Amy´s advice was unnecessary and that he had always meant to do something. Laurie´s biggest flaws are his pride and vanity but also his lack of ability to put himself to another person´s position and this is why his growth process is slow and painful. Still at this point Laurie doesn´t see women as individuals. He sees himself above them. In Vienna he starts to compose and opera which would harrow Jo´s soul and melt her heart. Once again it´s all about him but the opera doesn´t go that well. He wants to capture his romantic passion and all things that come to mind are Jo´s oddities, faults and freaks.
Romantic or creepy?
The moment when Laurie caught himself thinking the word "brotherly" and Jo it is almost like he sees himself as a character in an opera he is trying to compose. He immediately sends Jo a letter and proposes her again. Once again it is all about him and not about Jo. Proposing someone right after they have lost their sister is not a good idea. When Jo´s response arrives and she still says no Laurie feels relieved but instead of feeling bad for guilt tripping her for quite a long time he wants to cherish his memory as being tragic romantic hero. It is still all about him. Why was Laurie so obsessed and why he never listened to what Jo had to say and why he felt guilty when he started to develop romantic feelings towards Amy? since we know Jo never cared about him like that.
As being said there are no scenes in the books where Laurie is thinking Jo romantically or dreaming about a life with her. All his dreams are really about seeing himself as a romantic hero. Laurie feels guilty because his love for Jo is mainly gratitude. She invited him to be part of their family. Something that Laurie was always lacking. Thanks to the over the top ideas of masculinity he and Jo fed to each others Laurie didn´t learn to respect women.
We should not ignore Laurie´s background
It is easy to ignore the stories of the male characters in Little Women, because the four sisters are under a microscope. From the little that we know from Laurie´s background it would seem that when he was a child he was tossed from one boarding school to another and he did not have any stable parental figures or that he never spent enough time in one place to be able to establish such relationships. Quite early in the novel Laurie admits to Jo that he feels envious of the sisters bond to their mother.
Laurie´s and Jo´s relationship is characterised by childhood innocence. Jo represents the nurturing feminine presence Laurie was craving to have in his life at the same time Laurie is a brothernal figure for Jo who compliments her views on non-conformity (Ajedisith)
Jo and the March family become a refuge of stability to Laurie. It is only when he moves to Concord at the age of 15 for the first time he is surrounded by people who stick long enough to put boundaries and try to raise him. More than often Laurie was frustrated by Jo´s lectures but at the same he was depending on them.
Bettina Von Armin
Falling in love with the idea of love
Little Women is a semi-biographical novel. We can trace Laurie´s actions to Louisa. Same way as Laurie Louisa´s childhood was unstable and turbulent and the family moved very often. When Louisa was young she had a big crush to the family friend and next door neighbour philosopher Waldo Emmerson. Emmerson was also one of the many men who were inspirations to Friedrich´s character. More than often Emmerson saved Alcott´s from troubles and he became a symbol of stability for Louisa same way as Jo is for Laurie. Louisa became obsessed with German female writer and social activist Bettina von Armin and her book Goethes Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde (Goethe´s correspondence with a child). Which included love letters Bettina wrote to the poet Goethe.
Bettina represents herself as a lover. A role that is traditionally seen as more masculine (Kundera). Bettina was in love with the idea of love. Love as an emotion. Not as a love relation. In her letters she does not ask his opinions or share ideas with him.
"I turned myself into Bettina and made Emmerson my Goethe" - LMA
Laurie is not in love with Jo. He is in love with the idea of love. It is about putting up on a role and a narcissistic one for that when it hurts other people. Which is exactly what happened between Jo and Laurie and Bettina and Goethe. Let´s call Laurie´s behavior with it´s actual name, harrassment. When Louisa was an adult she did tell Emmerson how she had built this romantic fairytale scenario in her head. Emmerson himself had been completely unaware of it. Nevertheless they had very strong friendship throughout their lives (Reisen).
There is the famous Little Women passage to adulthood ritual. It basically means that a reader who has read the book as a child and romanticized Jo and Laurie and quite possibly watched the 1994 film more than once, reads the book as an adult and finds out that Laurie was very childish and he and Jo were very ill-matched and they move on to root Jo and Fritz or Amy and Laurie or both. We can also see it as a metaphor how a person develops a mildly delusional obsession over another. Especially young people can think that their life only has a meaning when they find a partner who´s only reason for existing is them but it is not healthy and not love. When you truly love someone you love them for what they truly are. Not the way you want to see yourself with them. In Little Women Laurie himself is the one character who goes through the Little Women passage of adulthood ritual. It is not until he goes through the process of self-growth and begins to see the women in his life as what they really are, he is truly able to love someone.
Friedrich´s proposal is complete opposite. He wants to tell her how he feels about her and let her decide. After Jo has left New York they have been writing letters to each others and when he comes to see Jo in Concord he hopes to see signs of love from Jo and when he reveals to her that he has gotten a job and he is going to the west Jo´s walls go down.
He gives Jo all the power and control and he lets her know that everything what she feels and thinks is important for him and he wants to make sure that she returns to his feelings and that their lives and goals work together. He is not even making a marriage proposal. He is asking if she could love him. In comparison to Laurie Friedrich´s screen portrayals are always closer to the books, even if most of his parts are left out because he is less romanticized character. He also acknowledges his flaws same way as Jo does. In terms of Friedrich´s narrative Little Women is also about identity but in his case it is not about forming identity but when he falls in love with Jo he reshapes his already existing identity.
Friedrich as Goethe
Louisa was a great admirer of German writer and poet Goethe. Lot of research has been made on Goethe´s influence on Louisa´s writings. For example long fatal love chase has many parallels with Goethe´s faust. But less research has been done between Goethe´s writings and Little Women. Goethe was one of Louisa´s favorite authors and she credited him to be the one author who has taught her the most about creating and understand characters. Her copy of Wilhelm Meister´s Apprenticeship was given to her by Waldo Emmerson (and Louisa filled it with scribbles and personal observations). In Little Women Friedrich gives Jo copy of Shakespeare´s work and through that Jo learns how much more there is to find out about storytelling. Fritz also encourages Jo to study people around her so that she becomes better at developing and creating characters. Goethe was one of the biggest inspirations for Friedrich´s character which brings Friedrich´s impact on Jo´s writing into a new light.
Laurie as the Goethean Protagonist
Trigger warning there will be mentions of suicides.
What it comes to Laurie´s character arc there are lots of themes that come straight from Goethe´s writings. Goethe´s first financially successful novel (and first German international best-seller) The sorrows of young Werther is a semi-biographical novel. Both protagonist young Werther and Goethe himself grew up privileged same way as Laurie. Werther´s love interest Charlotte is marrying another worthy man Albert. Werther makes Charlotte the only sole purpose of his living. He is not only miserable. He is proud of his misery. In fact he endorses it. As a result he commits a suicide. What kills Werther is not being disappointed in love. It has nothing to do with Charlotte. What kills him is the toxic self-centeredness. What is common with Werther and Laurie is that they are both extremely sensitive. Same way as Little Women the sorrows of young Werther has often been misread. Some readers endorsed and glamorised Werther´s suicide and when the book became vastly popular it started a wave of suicides of young people in Germany who tried to emulate the tragic end of their romantic hero.
"The children took especial interest in the love-story, and when poor Laurie was so obstinately refused by Jo, “they wept aloud, and refused to be comforted,” and in some instances were actually made ill by grief and excitement" (Cheney)
References to Goethe continue in Laurie´s proposal. After being rejected Laurie threats to take his life and puts enormous pressure on Jo. Same way as with the sorrows of young Werther a great deal of Little Women fans, especially younger ones, find these worrying threats passionate and romantic. Goethe´s book was widely misunderstood since he meant it as criticism and warning example towards life-consuming self-absorption.
"When I re-read the novel in my early twenties, I still technically thought Jo should have ended up with Laurie, but I started to feel uncomfortable about feeling that way. Wasn’t it weird, I thought, to feel that way when the character of Jo so explicitly rejected his proposal? Wasn’t it a bit like telling a dear friend she should date someone she wasn’t crazy about just because he had feelings for her and is *such a good guy*? I dismissed this though because a) death of the author, non-canonical pairings are a-ok, etc. and b) I have a moderate grasp on reality and I do recognize Jo is a fictional character, not my friend. But re-reading Little Women this month, I realized with mounting alarm that as a potential romantic partner for Jo, Laurie isn’t a good guy; he is, in fact, a Nice Guy™. […] The story of Laurie and Jo is not, as I had previously remembered, one of Jo *seeming* like she loves Laurie and making an out-of-left-field decision. It is very much in the field! Jo consistently indicates that she does not have feelings for Laurie, does not want him to flirt with her, and tries to prevent him from doing so every time he flirts with her. And he ignores her, again and again. But wait, there’s more! When Jo realizes that her very consistent attempts to communicate her disinterest are not working, she decides to move to New York for adventure and also to get away from Laurie. […] There may be some who would accuse me of selective reading. After all, Laurie isn’t a terrible person! […] To which I say: yes, but all of this can be true *and Laurie can simultaneously still be a terrible potential partner for Jo*. […] What I realized re-reading Little Women as a grown-ass adult is this: making Jo and Laurie perfect for each other wouldn’t just require a different ending, it would require an entirely different book. So, it’s been over twenty years in the making, but better late than never: Louisa May Alcott, I’m sorry. You were right.”
Maddie Rodgriguez, ‘Laurie Isn’t a Good Guy, He’s a Nice Guy™’ (bookriot.com)
Clip from German movie "Goethe in love"
Proof in the pudding:
As Goethe, when he had a joy or a grief, put it into a song, so Laurie resolved to embalm his love sorrow in music, and to compose a Requiem which should harrow up Jo's soul and melt the heart of every hearer.
Little Women, chapter 41
Wilhelm Meister´s Apprenticeship and Laurie´s redemption arc
Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship is a story about self-realisation. The story centers around Wilhelm who wants to escape empty, mundane, bourgeois life of a businessman. After a failed romance he joins into a theater company. In Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship and in many Goethe´s works in general have elements from Shakespeare´s plays. In fact in the novel´s dialogue there is a great deal of discussion about Shakespeare´s work and Wilhelm´s theater group also performs a production of Hamlet where Wilhelm plays the lead. Theater world is filled with seductions, love affairs and scandals. The more Wilhelm sees it the more he dislikes it and he realizes that he is not fitting for this type of lifestyle. What Wilhelm really needs is to figure out who he is, what he wants from life and how he should live. Both Werther and Wilhelm can be seen as failed genius. They are sensitive and artistic but they are not creatively productive enough. Laurie in this case is more similar to Wilhelm because unlike Werther Laurie goes through the process of self-discovery and like Wilhelm Laurie also becomes a husband and father (which brings long desired purpose to his life) and a contributing member of the society which is not something he was before.
Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship introduces the character of Mignon. Mignon was kidnapped as a child by bandits and Wilhelm saves her. They tour the country together with the theater group, go to picnics, flirt and joke with each others. Mignon has a constant longing to her homeland Italy. She falls in love with Wilhelm but he is in love with someone else. Eventually Mignon dies for longing (a common theme in Goethe´s works).
In Wilhelm Meister´s Apprenticeship there is also an important character called Friedrich and one of the female characters, Marina, also likes to cross-dress (same way as Jo does).
"It's genius simmering, perhaps. I'll let it simmer, and see what comes of it," he said, with a secret suspicion all the while that it wasn't genius, but something far more common. Whatever it was, it simmered to some purpose, for he grew more and more discontented with his desultory life, began to long for some real and earnest work to go at, soul and body, and finally came to the wise conclusion that everyone who loved music was not a composer. Returning from one of Mozart's grand operas, splendidly performed at the Royal Theatre, he looked over his own, played a few of the best parts, sat staring at the busts of Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and bach, who stared benignly back again. Then suddenly he tore up his music sheets, one by one, and as the last fluttered out of his hand, he said soberly to himself...
"She is right! Talent isn't genius, and you can't make it so. That music has taken the vanity out of my as Rome took it out of her, and I won't be a humbug any longer. Now what shall I do?"
The purest form of love is to love the full-reality of the other person.
She did not hear him cross the courtyard beyond, nor see him pause in the archway that led from the subterranean path into the garden. He stood a minute looking at her with new eyes, seeing what no one had ever seen before, the tender side of Amy's character. Everything about her mutely suggested love and sorrow, the blotted letters in her lap, the black ribbon that tied up her hair, the womanly pain and patience in her face, even the little ebony cross at her throat seemed pathetic to Laurie, for he had given it to her, and she wore it as her only ornament. If he had any doubts about the reception she would give him, they were set at rest the minute she looked up and saw him, for dropping everything, she ran to him, exclaiming in a tone of unmistakable love and longing...
Is it possible that anyone who has not been happy with the books have been looking both Laurie and Friedrich from completely wrong perspective?
"Throughout his many works, Goethe stresses love as the foundation of relationships, and he did so living in a culture where marriage matches were typically determined by economic factors. It was a radical position to take.
The difference between “You love me!” and “You love me?” The substitution of a question mark for an exclamation point “changes the meaning completely” (Gustafson).
There is a fine line between love and obsession and the philosophical and psychological exploration of the two is a common theme in Louisa May Alcott´s literal works.
Based to the fact that Louisa burned her journals which included all information of her romantic encounters and her intense need to protect her reputation does suggest that she put lots of thought and consideration to the true nature of love.
Amy (and Jo)
Little Women 2019, Florence Pugh as Amy
Amy is a character who divides people and many of Amy´s screen portrayals contribute to the Amy hate. Louisa loosely based Amy´s character to her younger sister May. When Louisa and May were young there was a great deal of rivalry between them. Both were very impulsive and temperamental and both loved attention. Louisa was more boyish and May was more feminine and like Amy she slept with a cloths peg in her nose when she was 12. Unlike Amy who in the book comes to the conclusion that she does not have the genius May embodied genius. She was a professional artist and her paintings were exhibited in Paris Salon and she even wrote and published a book for young female art students called "Studying art abroad and how to do it cheaply". Many readers have wondered why there isn´t that much Amy in the third book Little Men. May had asked Louisa not to write a lot about Amy. She was constantly bombarded by both Amy lovers and Amy haters which distracted her own artistic work. Louisa nearly ruined her sister´s artistic career by having the sister of her most famous literal protagonist marry the boy who the protagonist herself rejected.
Sibling rivalry is not a beautiful thing.
Same way as Jo and Amy in the books Louisa and May did became closer when they matured and learned to control their tempers. They even made trips to Europe together. There is a great deal of Louisa herself in Amy´s character. There were times when Louisa did consider marrying for money instead of love until her mother persuaded her otherwise.
Amy has been given a stamp of a social climber but she ain´t one.
Amy grows up in an environment where there isn´t a great deal of options for women. She believes that marrying well she could uplift her family away from poverty even if it would mean that she herself would not be the happiest person. Jo in the first book is a walking contradiction. She wants to be equal to men which is what gender equality and feminism is all about. She is also constantly making fun of her feminine sisters which is inherently anti-feminist. She makes fun of Meg because she wants to fit into the circles of Sally Moffat and other young ladies. She constantly mocks Amy when she uses fancy words and her desire to become a lady.
How to become a true lady
In the books the events that lead into burning Jo´s manuscript begin much before any theater tickets. Amy´s behavior is childish because she is a child. Jo´s behavior is also childish because she is constantly making fun of Amy because she is so girly and Amy makes fun of Jo because she is so boyish. Only adaptation which shows arguments from both sides (and not just Amy making fun of Jo) is the modern Little Women adaptation from 2018. All Jo´s moral lesson have to do with her temper but also the fact that Jo can be very judgmental. All Amy´s lessons are about her vanity and popularity. In the beginning Amy´s desire to become a lady is away for her to get out of poverty but as she grows it becomes a tool for self-improvement and thanks to that Amy begins to control her temper beautifully. In an interview Gillian Armstrong who directed the 1994 film said that there should always be two actresses to play Amy. There are over 20 adaptations of Little Women and only two versions where child Amy has been played by a child actress. In most Little Women adaptations 12 year old Amy has been played by an adult woman.
Elise Jones as Amy, Little Women 2018
For some time now there has been a theory going on that Amy did have a crush on Laurie already as a child. I tried to read the book this way and I think it does work. It is an interpretation but it does give a deeper context to why did Amy burn Jo´s manuscript because a 12 year old does not necessary know how to handle their feelings in a mature way (especially if they have a crush to their big sister´s best friend). The 1994 film does have a sweet scene with young Amy and Laurie in the carriage together (and a promise of a kiss). 2018 and 2019 films go with this idea that Amy already had a crush on Laurie as a child.
Girl on Girl Hate
Great deal of hatred that Amy receives has been caused by the fact that Amy likes to be a girl. It is hate towards the feminine. Her movie and tv portrayals are rarely flattering. This is how Amy is introduced in the 1933 film (very different to the books).
Introduction is exactly the same in the 1949 film.
Jo and Amy are perfect mirrors of each others. Many ideas about the masculine that Jo used to cherish and admire were quite harmful. Amy´s early ideas about the feminine were not very realistic either. She connected femininity to very shallow things like being popular and the shape of her nose. Amy´s desire to become a lady was never fully supported in her immediate family and Jo especially was making fun of it. When Beth became ill and Amy went to live with aunt March aunt gave her the structure to become what she wanted. When Amy starts to approach becoming a lady in the terms of self-improvement largely thanks to Esther and aunt March in the process she learns to control her temper and becomes a kinder person.
Because Amy´s femininity has been so heavily demonized we never see her growth process in any adaptations. In the chapter Calls Amy and Jo go for a series of social calls which were part of woman´s role of the time. Jo despises these calls like she despises most of the female labor of the time. Jo tries to avoid speaking with the ladies and more than once she runs out to play with the boys. Amy loves Jo but she is hurt because Jo is making fun of something that is important for her. Jo doesn´t take any of the meetings seriously and her own insecurities also bring out her temper. When they go to visit aunt March and aunt Carol Jo dismisses them and puts herself above them. At the same time aunt Carol is wondering which girl gets to go to Europe and Amy makes a better impression. Calls has never been adapted into movies. Probably because it shows Jo in a bad light. Yet it would be important to adapt it because it does not only show how much Amy has matured but also how the conversations between Jo and Amy are more respectful even if they would disagree.
The 1994 film does not have any scenes from the calls and the viewer doesn´t get any explanation why Jo was not chosen. 1994 film also frames it to happen right after Jo has rejected Laurie which in the book happens much later on. Jo is very mad and jealous to Amy when she hears that she has not been chosen. She is way more mad at herself but she doesn´t want to admit it. This also parallels Jo´s and Laurie´s tempers because neither one of them liked to admit if their own actions hurt other people and rather put the blame on someone else. In the book Amy feels terrible for getting something that Jo so badly wanted and Jo did not want to show her her own disappointment but to be supportive which is a proof of sisterly love. Amy matured a great deal when she was in Europe. She became more graceful and more serious. Amy also loved aunt March more than anyone else in the family and truly enjoyed the company of her aunt.
Amy´s portrayal was a lot better in Greta Gerwig´s film but even that one has received lots of criticism for portraying young Amy as an immature brat, because an adult woman can not never play a 12-year old. I liked that in 2019 film it portrayed adult Jo´s and Amy´s relationship more realistically and supportive and yet in an earlier script of Greta Gerwig´s film after Jo found out about Amy´s and Laurie´s engagement she wanted to punch Amy. This diverses too much from the novel and I am glad that it wasn´t included. Even if the writers want to do good with laurie and amy they cant seem to escape their jo and laurie obsession and that is not in the book.
Book Jo never likes Laurie romantically. This triangle is repeated in all adaptations because we don´t see Laurie´s character arc, we fail to understand why Jo rejects him. In 2017 series Jo became really cross when she found out about their engagement. The 2018 film is probably the only one that shows that Laurie is clearly more of a brother to Jo, and yet there is a scene where Jo complains to Beth that Amy stole Laurie from her.
In the novel, even before Jo finds out that Amy and Laurie are engaged she says to Marmee that she thinks Amy and Laurie would be a good couple. Why this has not never been adapted?
Louisa partially based Laurie´s character to her Polish friend Ladislas Wisniewski. They met in Switzerland in 1865 when Louisa was working there and Ladislas was quite flirtatious with Louisa. A year later May Alcott lived in Paris at the same time with Ladislas "Laddie". This has made many Alcott scholars believe that there was some sort of rivalry between the sisters about this young man, but the letters between Louisa and May show that they both became quite tired with him and that he never took himself or life seriously.
In Little Women even though Amy is four years younger than Laurie, she is a lot more mature than he is and it is only thanks to Amy Laurie puts his act together.
Jo´s Masculine Trajectory
Some readers have struggled reading the part 2 because it portrays Jo in slightly less favorable light than in part 1. Jo has a heavy masculine trajectory. in part 1 she and Laurie are brothers. Jo wish that she could be soldier and fight in the war like her father. Amy is portrayed as an annoying little sisters, and that is how Jo sees her.
In part 2 it is now Jo who struggles to fit into the surrounding society. Amy who has more feminine trajectory is better accepted to the Concord´s society. When Jo was still living at home it was okay for her to behave like a boy and family didn´t see too much harm in it but when she grows this old model of masculinity does not suit her and neither she wants to conform to the traditional female role. This is why Friedrich´s character is important because he does not ask or want her to conform.
Amy sees the value of the feminine work, good societal status and all the wonderful things that prosper when you know how to make the best of it.
Jo´s feminist awakening
Loosing the trip to Europe became the first step in the terms of Jo´s feminist awakening. Jo realizes that her temper is out of control and the ideas of masculinity that she has been admiring are not working. In the first book Jo had difficulties to identify with Meg´s pain when Laurie forged those letters. In the beginning of the second book when Jo becomes the target of Laurie´s unwanted attention it is now that she begins to understand what it feels like when someone does not respect your boundaries. This is repeated in the fourth book Jo´s boys where Jo is in her 50´s and on a full feminist mode. She scolds some of the young male students who treat girls like objects. In Jo´s boys the characters of Nan and Tommy Bangs also echo Jo and Laurie. Nan studies to become a doctor and Tommy is also studying medicine but he isn´t that interest from it. He has anterior motifs. Jo is really annoyed by Tommy´s behavior. So when Tommy unexpectedly falls in love with someone completely different Jo is very pleased and Nan is also relieved.
From Amy Jo learns to value the feminine labor and not underestimate women.
Taking care of Beth brings out her nurturing side and it also makes her to examine her own life in a new light and loosing Beth beautifies the domestic tasks.
From Meg Jo learns that equally respectful relationship can be worth of pursuing.
Jo struggles to fit into the traditional feminine role. Friedrich does not fit into the traditional masculine role. But he doesn´t struggle with it. He is comfortable of being who he is. His intellectualism and philosophical background compliments Jo´s feminist views.
BBC Little Women series 1970 Janina Faye as Amy
Amy The Feminist
Amy´s desire to improve herself already exist in the first novel. When she doesn´t want to wear the ring aunt March has given to her and Marmee asks why Amy says it is going to be a reminder for her not to be too selfish.
What is also interesting is that in the first part of Little Women Laurie puts himself above Meg and Jo but he does not put himself above Amy. For example when Amy is writing her will Laurie does not dismiss or scoff her but instead is very supportive and sweet to her.
The problem with Hollywood turning Laurie into the perfect boy next door is that in the minds of many that turns him into an award for sisters to fight over when that is not part of the books narrative. Amy is also a feminist but it is not straight-to-your face feminism to which Jo´s feminism eventually develops. For example Amy plans to open a charity that would help women to break into the male dominated art market. Both Amy and Jo were raised in the same politically aware home and both were encouraged to think outside the box.
When Laurie and Amy meet in Nice they have not met for four years and Laurie is impressed how much Amy has changed.
Amy was gratified, but of course didn't show it, and demurely answered, "Foreign life polishes one in spite of one's self. I study as well as play, and as for this"--with a little gesture toward her dress--"why, tulle is cheap, posies to be had for nothing, and I am used to making the most of my poor little things."
Amy rather regretted that last sentence, fearing it wasn't in good taste, but Laurie liked her better for it, and found himself both admiring and respecting the brave patience that made the most of opportunity, and the cheerful spirit that covered poverty with flowers. Amy did not know why he looked at her so kindly, now why he filled up her book with his own name, and devoted himself to her for the rest of the evening in the most delightful manner, but the impulse that wrought this agreeable change was the result of one of the new impressions which both of them were unconsciously giving and receiving.
Amy and Laurie spent a great deal of time together in the books. They went to picnics, dancing, sight seeing...and it has been always rushed in the films (or not shown at all).
Laurie is disappointed when he hears of Amy´s plans to marry wealthy Fred Vaughn and he reminds her of the Amy he once knew. Amy who valued love more than wealth. At the same Amy is disappointed by Laurie´s behavior. The way he dwells in self-pity and doesn´t even try to be useful. They both remind each other of something they had forgotten about themselves and that unleashes process of self-discovery in both characters and that has not been included to any previous Little Women movies.
BBC Amy x Laurie
In the BBC production from 1970 Stephen Turner´s Laurie actually has a temper and more complex personality. Adult Amy is played by Janina Faye and the dialogue of their time together is lifted straight from the novel. Same series completely butchers Jo and Friedrich. Why it is so difficult to find an adaptation that would treat both couples with respect? Janina Faye also plays the child Amy and every time when an adult woman plays a 12 year old Amy the arguments between Jo and Amy appear more as cat fights and not arguments between a 12 year old little sister and 15 year old big sister.
I have written about Amy and Laurie in the 1970 series more detailed in my previous posts.
Richard Gilliland as Laurie
In the 1978 series Richard Gilliland plays the part of Laurie. He does not look at all like the book Laurie but his personality is closer to the book Laurie than any of the film Laurie´s. He has a temper, insecurities and the series shows tricky relationship he has with his grandfather. Susan Dei´s Jo is the most feminine Jo in the history of Jo´s. She is extremely submissive around Laurie. We also get quite possibly world´s most entertaining Mr Bhaer in the form of William Shatner. Ann Dusenberry plays both child and adult Amy. Amy is taken bit too over-the top and Jo appears more as a saint compered to her. Series still manages to build a good base for Amy´s and Laurie´s relationship.
Amy and Laurie in Movies
In the 1933 film we get a full half-minute of Amy and Laurie in Europe together. Character arcs of neither one are included. In the 1949 film Amy and Laurie do not share any scenes together. They only appear together in film posters. Amy gets blamed on two things; stealing Laurie and stealing Jo´s trip to Europe. Movies have never adapted chapter calls and they just leave Amy and Laurie hanging. In 1933 and 1949 films aunt March and Amy just pop into New York to tell Jo that they are going to Europe and in both films Jo goes to New York after she has friend zoned Laurie and when she hears that Laurie has been in New York she is sad because he hasn´t come to see her (!?). In the book Jo went to New York because Laurie´s behavior made her feel uncomfortable!
Movie from 1994 is one of the most well-known Little Women adaptations. There are probably more people in the planet who have seen the film but have not read the books. Winona Ryder who plays Jo has great chemistry with both Christian Bale who plays Laurie and Gabriel Byrne who plays Friedrich. In an interview Robin Swicord who was one of the script writers of the 1994 film was asked about the sudden change in Amy´s character and she replied it is not until we get rid of the bitch-naming culture we can achieve equality. I do agree with this statement (and I know movies always have time restrictions) but the 1994 film doesn´t do many favours for Amy´s character because once again Amy´s character arc and Laurie´s character arc are completely missing. The film heavily idolizes Jo and romantisises Jo and Laurie. 1994 Laurie doesn´t have a temper so when Winona Ryder´s Jo says they would kill each others (if they would marry) it is hard to believe that because he doesn´t have a temper! Dialogue of the proposal is completely different than in the book. In the proposal scene Laurie has taken a job from his grandfather from London so that he and Jo could move there. The book Laurie is not at all interested from having a job and the main reason he is proposing Jo is that Jo could keep telling him what to do with his life. In the book it was Friedrich who had taken a job from another state so that he could provide a home and a future for Jo.
Scene where Laurie says he has always meant to marry a March girl has made many to believe that Amy is some kind of second prize but he does´t say anything like that in the books. In the 1994 film Jo writes to Laurie after Beth´s death and asks him to come back to Concord. Jo does not do this in the book. In the book Laurie sends Jo a letter right after Beth´s death and proposes her for the second time right after when he has realized that he has romantic feelings towards Amy.
Laurie had two real-life inspirations. First one was Louisa´s good friend Alf Whitman who she used to act with in the Concord dramatic union. When they met Whitman was 15 years old and Louisa was 25 and they remained friends through out their lives. Alf also knew May and the age difference between May and Alf was only 2 years and they were close friends. Based to the letter exchange between the two they both seemed to have rather care-free personalities same way as Amy and Laurie. Second inspiration for Laurie was a young man called Ladislas Wisniewski. Louisa met Ladislas in Switzerland where she was working as a companion to a wealthy woman called Anna Weld. Louisa was in her 30´s at the time. The age difference between Louisa and Ladislas was 13 years. Louisa gave him a nickname Laddie. Laddie was a military man from Poland and an aspiring pianist. There is very little information about Laddie. He has been described to be a flirtatious prankster and he was romancing Louisa but it would seem that Louisa´s feelings towards him were more maternal. Laddie used to call her as his little mama. Some time later May also met Laddie in Europe and he showed her around. Neither Louisa or May married Laddie or Alf. "Laddie" and "lad" were umbrella terms that Louisa used as nicknames for young boys and young men (Reisen). Ladislas was not the only laddie but he and Alf were the "laurie-laddie´s". I read some of the letters that Louisa had written for Laddie and Alf (Reisen) where she told them that she was going to immortalize them into Laurie´s character and the impression that I got was that in Laurie she wanted to capture the essence of youth and the essence of boyhood.
Coming of age novel
Little Women was a commission by Louisa´s publisher Thomas Niles to write a book for girls that would include morals and advice on good marriages. Louisa was´t sure if she herself could write such a book because she was´t used to writing children´s novels and she did´t really have experiences on young girls beside her sisters. As we know little women became a best seller. The structure of the book that Niles ordered was Bildungsroman. Bildungsroman is a literary genre that has it´s focus on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood. Louisa was more than familiar with this genre because Goethe´s Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship was the start of it. Therefore Little Women is a story of identity with romantic subplots.
Louisa was advocate for girls marrying for love and not for money and not marrying too young. All March sisters are over 21 when they get married. It is also possible that she planned Amy and Laurie to become an item quite early on. Amy knows that she wants to marry a rich man. Laurie is wealthy and Jo wants to keep Laurie in the family as her brother and May also knew both real-life Laurie´s. References to Germany already begin in the first chapter of Little Women, which foreshadows arrival of a German character. In fact March trilogy is constantly favorable towards German culture.
Like many I used to be under the false impression that Louisa was somehow forced to marry her characters and I deeply regret that I used to fall into this false narrative. Based on the letter exchange between Louisa and her publisher Thomas Niles marriages were all Louisa´s idea (Shealy) and the literature that Jo is consuming in the first part of Little Women supports this. 16-year old Jo is reading Wide Wide World by Susan Warner. The love story within Wide Wide World is almost identical with Jo´s and Friedrich´s romance. Friedrich´s mannerism all the way how he rumpled his hair and carried an umbrella come from philosopher Henry David Thoreau who Louisa loved all her life. Their age difference was the same as between Jo and Fritz, 16 years.
Friedrich as Laurie´s opposite
Friedrich´s character tells probably more about his creator than any other character in Little Women. We can even see Laurie and Fritz as different aspects of Jo/Louisa. Laurie is the masculine energy of youth and Fritz is the academia and the mature emotional intelligence. Differences between Jo and Laurie rise when they are called to conform. From the start Jo is represented as a strong minded person with high-level intellectual curiosity where as Laurie takes education for granted. He goes to college to full-fill his grandfather´s dreams and partially Jo´s dreams as well but not his own dreams. Once again this is not a character flaw he is just a different type of person. From a very young age Jo has high work ethics and she has been raised on a very politically aware household. Value of work and social justice are not things that Laurie is that much interested which can be easily explained with his background but we never see that in film and tv adaptations and they have never really shown Jo´s and Laurie´s differences because his character arc is never there, his flaws are downplayed and Amy suffers from the opposite reduction-ism.
Because we never see Laurie´s pranks and the proposal dialogue is always changed we never see how much later Laurie matures compared to the sisters. Jo is looking for love and acceptance and validation for her unique sense of individualism. With Friedrich´s character Louisa makes a bold statement on class and wealth and she subverted the social expectations of a romantic interest. Man who Jo falls in love with is a poor scholarly immigrant during the time when there was deeply rooted antagonism towards European immigrants. Louisa gave him feminine qualities that she herself appreciated in a man and many of the real-life Friedrich´s who Louisa was attracted to possessed them as well. Friedrich is enthralled by Jo´s intellectual curiosity and he is not threatened by it (unlike most men of the time were).
In New York Jo enters to the publishing world which is male-dominated. She blindly obeys the editors at the Weekly Volcano and her sensational story is cut to one-third of it´s original length. Jo herself is extremely ashamed of sensational writings and she is jaded by the experience. Some people find it consenting the way Friedrich helps Jo with her writing but he wants her to discover all the potential she has as a writer.
Friedrich is not criticizing Jo as a writer. He is criticizing the genre.
"Bhaer is trying to help Jo become a genuine writer instead of one who caters to the whims of the crowd. This is something Goethe would have done. He disliked superficiality in people and in art and “was through life frequently offended by the shallow pretensions, the false aims, of writers who, because they have some poetic sensibility and some gift of expression" (Megan Armknecht, Jo Marries Goethe, Dr Bhaer as Louisa May Alcott´s representation of the Goethean ideal in Little Women)
As a result Jo takes more critical view on her writings and feels more encouraged to try different aspects of storytelling and eventually she finds her own literal style. Louisa herself labeled her sensational writings as rubbish. I personally enjoy Louisa´s sensational stories as I enjoy Little Women as well..which she famously called moralistic babble. That we as readers enjoy something doesn´t mean that it was something the author highly appreciated. When Laurie proposes to Jo, Jo says that Laurie would hate her scribbling which gives an impression that Laurie isn´t that exited about Jo´s writing career.
Louisa was frustrated by the little girls who were obsessed with the idea of Jo marrying Laurie but based on the extensive research I have done on Friedrich´s character, Laurie perfectly captures the 19th century male ideal but in modern standards Friedrich is more feminist and progressive. He is respectful towards Jo, supports female education, is abolitionist, hardworking and loves Jo unconditionally. The resentment that Friedrich´s character received in the 19th century probably had more to do with discrimination towards the German immigrants during the time.
Louisa gave Friedrich great deal of characteristics that she appreciated in European men that she wished that more American men would posses (Showalter). Friedrich has very emphatic world view, a quality that is stereo-typically connected to women. He has desire to help those who have been marginalized and discriminated. Interest for the social justice is something he shares with Jo. Jo´s seek for adventure and validation stems out from personal level rather than tearing down the patriarchy. During her growing pains she herself put women down. Yet Jo learns and grows. When Jo falls in love with Fritz it is not that surprising that she is jittery and nervous around him because with Friedrich there is a constant physical awareness that she never experienced before.
Her internal battles are not either caused by the outside influences but fear of commitment. Friedrich goes through the same process. When Jo does fall in love it is not the feeling she is afraid but what people are going to say about her after she has been speaking about independence for a very long time. Her creator had similar problems. We are always more than eager to fight over the moralities of the female characters but what it comes to the male protagonists especially in Hollywood films men who are aggressive, broken, quick to violence are portrayed as desirable heroes and their possessive behaviour over women is over-looked. Hate that Friedrich sometimes receives comes from our own expectations of the masculine archetype which has been more than often coloured by the western media.
This is a quote from my Friedrich research, but it´s worth mentioning here as well.
"The cultural level suggested by Friedrich’s profession and more specifically by his knowledge of Goethe also helps to validate the connection between Friedrich and Jo. Teen-age Louisa had scribbled a quote from her copy of Margaret Fuller´s Woman in the Nineteenth Century regarding Wilhelm Meister’s female connections.
As Meister grows in life & advances in wisdom, he becomes acquainted with women of more & more character, rising from Mariana to Natalia who expresses the Minerva side of things, Mignon, the electrical, inspired lyrical nature . . .
"Passage represents Jo´s transference of affection from Laurie to Friedrich through her own growth and advancement in terms of character. Laurie is the fascination of her youth who will always be regarded with affection, but Friedrich has more character. Laurie is always a “boy” to Jo, but Friedrich is a man. Laurie possesses charm and culture; Friedrich, as we see, is cultured but also steady and well-grounded. He speaks both to her down-to-earth practicality and to her imagination (Doyle)
This similar transference can be seen in Laurie as well in the way he moves on from Jo to Amy. Laurie has to go through the personal transformation first before he can truly love another. Fact that Louisa was very fascinated by this transference from a young age shows that she probably planned the all the egalitarian romantic relationships in Little Women from the start. It´s a another narrative pattern that one can see in her literal works.
Nat and Daisy
Little Women and attraction
Laurie in the books is described to have androgynous and effeminate looks. Jo is also androgynous but she has sharper features. Jo in the books is never sexually attracted to Laurie, which makes it pretty crazy that so many adaptations have hired Jo´s and Laurie´s who have sexual chemistry. What Jo is attracted to is Laurie´s masculine energy and that in their childhood plays she doesn´t need to be a girl. Features that are traditionally seen more feminine that Laurie has, like his sensitivity bring out Jo´s nurturing side (something that came naturally to her). In New York when Jo meets Fritz she is really attracted to him and his masculine looks (he is more build like a viking). Gender fluidly continues in the sequels. In little men it is once again referred how Jo prefers more "manly" boys. Little Men also introduces the character of Nat who is compared to Laurie. Nat has more effeminate looks, he plays music and he is quite sensitive. In Jo´s boys Nat and Meg´s daughter Daisy are in love but both Meg and Jo are worried since they don´t think Nat is man enough to take care of Daisy because Nat is quite a dreamer and probably because of his effeminate looks. Jo however thinks that Daisy will be a good wife for Nat because she is steady and down-to-earth. When Nat returns from his trip to Europe and he is now more solidly built Meg and Jo give their approval. In Good Wives Jo wishes that Laurie could find himself a steady and a competent girl who could keep him grounded (sounds familiar?) The way Laurie was not used to making decisions also effected to the way Jo thought of herself. Which was something she wanted to change.
Slow and painful growth process
When Amy and Laurie are in Nice the role that Amy takes it is traditionally seen as more masculine. She is stern but not provocative. The adult Amy is quite a catch she is worldly and uses all the right words. She even gives Laurie good advice how he could win Jo´s love or at least gain her respect but most of all Amy wants Laurie to shape up his act for his own sake. At the same Laurie reminds Amy isn´t love better option than money. Amy´s lecture proves how much deliberately Laurie was feeding his heartache out of spite. She was right to lecture him and only one who got through him. Also to be noted Fred wanted to marry Amy despite of her being poor but because Amy was a true lady and Fred genuinely liked her. Yet the reason why Amy wanted to marry him was that she could take care of her family in her heart she knew that it was wrong for both Fred and her and Laurie reminded Amy to examine her own heart.
After leaving Nice Laurie went back to his grandfather. The relationship between the two has improved a great deal since he first moved to live with him but now it is even better because of the internal change that has started to happen inside Laurie.
When he looked about him for another and a less intractable damsel to immortalize in melody, memory produced one with the most obliging readiness. This phantom wore many faces, but it always had golden hair, was enveloped in a diaphanous cloud, and floated airily before his mind's eye in a pleasing chaos of roses, peacocks, white ponies, and blue ribbons. He did not give the complacent wraith any name, but he took her for his heroine and grew quite fond of her, as well he might, for he gifted her with every gift and grace under the sun, and escorted her, unscathed, through trials which would have annihilated any mortal woman.
Laurie goes to Vienna to compose but as being said it does not go that well and it is easier for Laurie to give up the idea of Jo being the lead of his great operetta than giving up the idea of himself as a romantic hero. Now the phantom that looks like Amy has become part of Laurie´s fantasy projection but this time Laurie himself breaks this bubble.
He comes to the conclusion that he does not posses the genius. He goes through the same process that Amy did. He has talent but he lacks vision. Largely thanks to Amy´s candidness Laurie grows a great deal during this winter. One way of reading Laurie´s time in Vienna is to see it as a rite of becoming independent. He comes to the conclusion that he needs a real earnest job which he had never wanted to do before and that is when Laurie goes to work for his grandfather. 100 years of Little Women adaptations. Not once have they included Laurie´s growth process and his time in Vienna.
More film and tv Laurie´s
In the pbs series from 2017 Laurie was played by Jonah Hauer-King. Series received very mixed reviews from the fans. In an interview the screen writer Heidi Thomas said she never understood Jo´s chose of husbands. I don´t know... what about doing some research. This definitely explains why Laurie´s flaws are (once again) downplayed and why he doesn´t have a character arc. Series also tried very hard to make Amy an unlikable character. Friedrich Bhaer who for once looks like he jumped straight out from the book pages gets very little screen time. Both Jo x Fritz and Amy x Laurie relationships are left underdeveloped.
We need to stop pampering Laurie and let him grow like the book Laurie does.
Little Women film from 2018 is set to the modern day. Film builds a good base for Jo and professor and it also builds a good base for Meg´s and John´s relationship. 12 year old Amy is played by Elise Jones and adult Amy by Taylor Murphy and Laurie by Lucas Grabeel. Having two Amy´s is wonderful because it brings more nuances to Amy´s and Jo´s relationship (and is truthful to the books). Film once again portrays Laurie as a flawless character and does not include redemption arc he has with Amy. We see young Amy having a crush on Laurie but we don´t see them bonding as adults.
No wonder people have had hard time to get behind this pairing. Laurie´s flaws have been downplayed and Amy´s flaws have been highlighted. During this personal growth process Laurie is forced to ask some real questions about himself. Questions that he had been afraid to ask; who he is and what he wants from life. When Amy´s letter arrives where she tells Laurie she has rejected Fred´s proposal something moves inside Laurie´s heart. Films have cut it short but Amy and Laurie spent a great deal of time writing to each others and after Beth´s passing Laurie traveled to Vevey to be with Amy.
I personally always saw Amy and Laurie as a good couple. I believe Amy enjoyed Laurie´s fun loving nature and he was able to connect with Amy on a deeper level and that he realized that Amy´s bubbly personality was healthier for him than Jo (who in many way would have been toxic for him as a partner) and Amy did not scoff Laurie about the perks of his position but simply pushed him to be better. There is no power play in Amy´s and Laurie´s relationship. She filled his desire to be the swashbuckling romantic hero but Laurie no longer sees women in his life as shallow dream spirits. For most of his life Laurie felt like he was lacking purpose. Amy and Laurie became a philanthropist couple who helped those with musical and artistic talents to reach their full-potential and they pushed each others to reach their full-potential. Amy can continue creating her own art without the financial pressure and already in the beginning of good wives we saw that she had a natural talent for organizing events. Modern day Amy could be a gallerist or an art director. Amy´s and Laurie´s relationship entirely parallels with Jo´s and Friedrich´s relationship and John´s and Meg´s relationship there is space for growth and the other person pushes you to be better. When Laurie falls in love with Amy he tries to rationalize it but it is not something one can really rationalize. One could already see hints from that before Laurie went to Vienna there were times when they were quite bashful around each others. By the end of Good Wives Laurie has become full-partner with Amy´s charity enterprises.
“He had rather imagined that the denouement would take place in the chateau garden by moonlight, and in the most graceful and decorous manner, but it turned out exactly the reverse, for the matter was settled on the lake, at noonday, in a few blunt words. They had been floating about all the morning, from gloomy St. Gingolf to sunny Montreux, with the Alps of the Savoy on one side, Mont St. Bernard and the Dent du Midi on the other, pretty Vevey in the valley, and Lausanne upon the hill beyond, a cloudless blue sky overhead, and the bluer lake below, dotted with the picturesque boats that looked like white-winged gulls. They had been talking of Bonnivard, as they glided past Chillon, and of Rousseau, as they looked up at Clarens, where he wrote his Heloise. Neither had read it, but they knew it was a love story, and each privately wondered if it was half as interesting as their own.”
When Laurie does apologies to Jo his earlier behavior now he does take the responsibility of his previous actions. Jo is delighted by these turns of events and now they can rebuild their friendship on honesty. Laurie gets lots of leeway in the films. Way more than he does in the books. Amy and Meg are more than often demonized for liking pretty things and are being called materialistic. Laurie was a fashion lover. He liked nice clothes and keeping up good appearance (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that). He did spent money on useless things but he is not questioned for that same way as the girls do (Amy and Meg are poor) Laurie was a wealthy young man. Problems rise when reader heavily identifies to Jo´s character and the films so far have brushed off Jo a lot. The book does favor Jo a bit, after all it is a semi-biographical novel but it does not sugar-coat her either. In all aspects Amy is Jo´s parallel and the reason why they fought so much as kids was because they were so similar. Never forget Jo was amazed by the grace and classiness that both Meg and Amy possessed and she admired it. To certain extend the one-dimensional treatment of the characters in adaptations has created rather narrow minded approach to all other sisters except Jo and to some extend this has also happened with Laurie and Fritz as well.
Amy x Laurie 2019
Little Women is a story about identity. When adapting a novel you can´t erase a character arc of one character without effecting to the whole story. Amy is not a bitch and Laurie is not an award. When I type Amy March to google I get headlines like "Amy March was a total bitch" "Why we like to dislike Amy March". I know it sounds like I have roasted all adaptations. There are things that I like in all adaptations. I am very aware that it is only now that it is possible to make a Little Women adaptation that handles the gender fluidly themes of the novel and that movies always have time restrictions. The only way to get rid of Fritz/Laurie debate and Jo versus Amy debate is to include Laurie´s character arc.
I had very high hopes for Greta Gerwig´s film and I greatly enjoyed Florence Pugh´s performance as Amy. Film build their romance quite nicely but once again Laurie´s character arc was entirely missing. Timothee Chamalet does great emotional roles, he could have pulled off Laurie´s character with it´s full complexity. In Little Women 2019 film guide Gerwig said that "Jo and Laurie could be a great couple if they wanted to". Louisa May Alcott wrote to her journal about Ladislas Wisniewski the words "couldn´t be". She never intended Jo to end up with Laurie.
The open narration of Gerwig´s film has created three types of interpretations.
1. There is now a whole new generation who see Jo and Laurie as the ultimately romantic couple.
2. The second group is people who praise this adaptation for erasing the romantic sub-plots, and this has been part of the film´s promotion. The correspondence between Louisa and her publisher Thomas Niles shows that Louisa was the one who came up with the marriages. When Little Women became popular Louisa and her publisher turned Louisa into a brand. She became the "children´s friend". It is always quote strange when people say that Louisa didn´t care about romances. There was a real life Laurie and there was a real-life Friedrich but because she had her reputation to protect, she tried to keep these relationships hidden and even detach herself from Jo´s character. Yet, you can read about Louisa´s romantic endeavors from every single Louisa May Alcott biography and her personal journals and letters. This brand that was built around Louisa, she herself struggled with it a lot. It evolved into person worship cult. Louisa lived in a time when most marriages were based on economical reasons. She was part of a movement that promoted marriage based on love as the first priority and this was something she promoted in all of her novels.
3. There are people who loved both Amy and Laurie and Jo and Friedrich in this film, and now there is a whole new generation of Little Women fans who think that Laurie was more immature compared to Friedrich and he was better off with Amy.
There was an earlier version of the script that followed the novel more. Friedrich was German and the end was not written to be mockery towards romantic love. It also handled the immigration themes with the seriousness it deserved. It seems that these changes were made to maximize the films profit.
I always thought it was beautiful the way Louisa created these two complimentary relationships. Jo and Fritz share the same umbrella. Amy and Laurie row the boat together. In a typical Alcottian style it highlights the equality in a relationship.
Summer 2019 I was on a design fair in London and I saw this young man there. He looked like a dancer. He had golden copper skin tone and curly black hair. He was quite thin and had a very dreamy expression. I though he looked like Laurie from Little Women.
Every little women fan has their own Little Women narrative. Here in Finland book 1 and book 2 have been usually published separately (I think the newest ones have the two first books combined). I read the first book when I was 12 but I didn´t read Good Wives until I was 17. As a child I really liked Laurie. I didn´t like Jo that much. She had to grow on me. I like all the romantic sub-plots in Little Women. It´s actually one of the rare books where I am very pleased with the canon pairings. But the heart core of it is the bond between the sisters and it became an important book in the terms of shaping my own identity so when I entered to the online circles many years ago it was quite a shock how much hate there was towards all other characters except Jo and Laurie. I don´t think that was the author´s intention. On my next read I had really hard time liking Laurie. I hated the way he treated both Meg and Jo but I had a tendency to heavily identify with the female characters (I am not the first or the last person who has done that). When I read the book later as an adult I started to like Laurie again when I started to pay more attention to the growth process of the characters. Me and Laurie have come a full circle.
I want to give a shout out to the Attic series. They´v done better job developing Amy and Laurie than many of the Hollywood adaptations.
Jo and Laurie stayed in a teen age mindset. The problem was not only their tempers but they were enabling each others good qualities. After Laurie forged those letters and hurt Meg and he asked Jo to run away with him. There is no project for the future. It was just another way to escape and not face consequences of his actions. It is uncanny how many people romanticize it (knowing that it happened just after he nearly ruined Meg´s and John´s chances). In the chapter castles in the air Laurie is moping how much he hates the future his grandfather has planned for him. Jo tells him just to sail away with one of his ships, play music and be a composer. Laurie was used to do what other people told him so he might have done it but Jo´s advice was pretty terrible because Laurie wasn´t capable to look after himself. Meg was the voice of reason and reminded Laurie how much his grandfather loves him. Jo was very blunt person and Laurie highly sensitive which can be a toxic combination. Fight me if you dare Amy was way more healthier for him (and Fritz much better for Jo because he was direct but much calmer person) Laurie thought he could earn Jo´s hand by graduating college and even that he did very lazily. Jo had already opened herself to the idea of loving Fritz which is why she defended him when Laurie proposed. Little Women is incredibly nuanced story. It has lots of characters. It is difficult to turn it into a film. I would like to see an adaptation someday that would handle Amy´s and Laurie´s struggles with infertility and their interactions with their daughter Bess.
You can read my in-depth meta on Friedrich´s character here.
Only way to fully show the nuanced character arcs would be a series. I still wont´give up hope that there are group of talented people who believe that all of Little Women is worth of adapting and make that reality.
Special thanks to Angela, Sam, John, @ajesidth, @renee561, @sylphinthevaleofarryn, @thatvermillionflycatcher and @this-thrown-out-gentleman from thought provoking and enlightening discussions.
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, Penguin Classics edition with Elaine Showalter´s introduction
Life lessons from Goethe by Adan Kirch, New Yorker, 2016 issue
Stella: A Play for Lovers (1776) (2018) English translation of Goethe's novel (Peter Land and Susan Gustafson)
Immortality, Milan Kundera, 1988
Louisa May Alcott, The woman behind little women by Harriet Reisen
Louisa May Alcott, her life, letters and journals by Ednah Cheney
Did the real Amy March get together with the real life laurie letters between May Alcott and Alf Whitman (Louisa May Alcott is my passion)
J.W Goethe, Sorrows of young Werther, Finnish translation (nuoren Wertherin kärsimykset) Translation by Markku Mannila, otava, 1992
Goethe´s correspondence with a child, Bettina Von Armin, 1837
Goethe and Bettina (from Goethetc)
Check out my Little Women meta:
Little Women 1970 Amy and Laurie Romance
We Germans Believe in Sentiment
Friedrich Bhaer Aesthetics
Equal Marriage Lost in Translation
Jo, Friedrich and the weekly volcano press aka what it takes to become a great writer
Jo, the adamant
Little Women 1933
Best Jo and Fritz fanfics you´ve ever read
Quest of Friedrich Bhaer and why my inner Jo loves him
He was attractive as a genial fire
Little Men and Tender Parenthood
Little Women symbolism of the umbrella
Thoughts on #TeamLaurie and #TeamBhaer
I think I was about 17 when I read Little Men for the first time. It did not make that huge impression on me as Good Wives did but I still enjoyed it as I have enjoyed all Alcott´s books. It was about 10 years ago since I had read the book last time I didn´t really remembered all the things that had happened in it. This was the first time I read the book in English and either in the past the Finnish version I read was shortened a lot or maybe I have simply grown up more as a person and more easily pick nuisances from the story since I discovered so many new things from this read.
My old Finnish copy of Little Men sadly seems to be lost for the ages so in the spring I ordered an English version to myself.
Jo and Fritz are living their juggling/traffic years since their kids are small and the school is finally doing well. I love Jo in Little Men because she is such a multi-tasker. She runs the house, takes care about 20 kids and continues writing and Fritz supports his wive´s writing career and takes care of teaching. School is ran with feminist values and each child is treated as an individual. Mixture of boys and girls makes the gender roles more blurry and children's aspirations are supported.
But what if aunt March would not have left Plumfield for Jo?
I don´t think that a life where Fritz would go to work each day to teach somewhere else and Jo would stay at home writing and hanging out with Franz and Emil would have been suitable for either one of them on a long run. Jo maybe more introverted but she needed life around her and she and Fritz also shared love for academics. Jo´s nature also needed challenges and those became inspirations to her stories. Definitely Plumfield would have become reality one way or another.
Jo and Fritz would have stayed in Concord close to Jo´s family and saved money for that. Fritz would have worked as a teacher in a local school and Jo would have continued writing and if necessary she would have taken another job as well (Louisa May Alcott did work as a teacher and as a nurse at one point).
When I read Little Men for the first time my favourite character was actually Nat. It was probably because Little Men is told from perspective of three people; Jo, Fritz and Nat but now that I read the book again I still cared about him but he wasn´t my focus and I came to the realisation that the reason why I used to love Nat back in the days was the same reason why I used to like young Laurie much more when I was 12 when I read Little Women for the first time. It was some kind of mixture of pity and maternal feelings because they were both orphans who liked to play music and had had a hard life.
When I re-read Little Women some years later my take on Laurie was completely different because young Laurie can be great but he can also be very irritating. Nat was never as intrusive as Laurie was but Nat was bit like Pinocchio in Collodi´s fairy-tale. When there came times when he had to choose the right from wrong Nat would often choose the wrong even when he knew that it was wrong. Luckily the more time he spends in Plumfield he starts to see how self-harming that kind of behaviour can be.
Little Rob became my new favourite character. He is freaking adorable and I love that he is a chatterbox. Mini-Friedrich who inherited his fathers optimistic life attitude and Jo´s curious nature. Little Men also introduced the character of Dan and I found his relationship with Jo really interesting because they are very similar. Both are observers. Another reference to tender masculinity is Little Ted´s affection to Dan. Dan is more quiet, more of a grumpy teen-ager and at least in the beginning he tries very hard to hide his vulnerability and it is with his interactions with Ted when his kind nature comes out and that is the quality in him that Jo and Fritz wish to support. Dan and Nat also become very good friends and Nat is extremely sensitive. I think he might even be hsp (which is probably why I still relate myself to him) for Nat it is difficult to censor or hide his emotions. Another famous highly sensitive person in Little Women universe is of course Beth.
Daisy has not changed a bit from the way she was in Good Wives. She is very similar to her mother and Daisy is a very active character. She makes things happen. Amy´s and Laurie´s daughter Bess is as pretty as her parents but she is so young she doesn´t really have a developed personality yet but she is as graceful as her mother
During the years between Good Wives and Little Men Amy suffered multiple miscarriages, which must have had it´s effect on Laurie as well. Yet because these are children´s books there is no deeper explorations to the characters emotional world of what it is like to loose a child but if the "children book" was not the structure of the book and Louisa would have had more liberties I believe many would have different views on Amy and Laurie. Imagine how it would be like to be part of as tight-knit family as Bhaers-Brooks-Marches-Lawrences are and to see your sisters and your friends becoming mothers and fathers. If I remember right Meg and John were married about 2 years before Meg got pregnant and Jo and Fritz after the first year.
As much as I love Little Men my biggest criticism is that there isn´t enough Amy in it. I recently found out that Louisa´s sister May Alcott who was the main inspiration for Amy´s character asked Louisa not to write that much about Amy because she was constantly bombarded by both Amy lovers and Amy haters and that distracted her own artistic work. Little Men is a great book but it is unbalanced because there isn´t so much Amy yet May´s request for Louisa not to write so much about Amy was completely valid.
Good Wives is one of my favourite books of all time and Laurie is a complete mess in it and Amy is the only person who gets through him (and the only one who he listens). In this house we stand for Amy March. Especially during his party boy phase Laurie was in many ways very selfish character and largely thanks to the positive influence from Amy he starts to take responsibility from himself for the very first time. There were years that were very hard on both Laurie and Amy because of their struggles of having a child so in Little Men when Laurie does help with some of the students (mainly with Nat´s music) he has gotten into the same level as John Brooke and Friedrich, Who in the terms of Little Women were the only two male characters that were always able to look after themselves and other people. Because of the losses that he and Amy have gone through he does not take children for granted and the philanthropist work that he and Amy do gives him the feeling of purpose which is something that Laurie was lacking for the most part in his youth. I love both Amy´s and Laurie´s interactions with their daughter.
Then there is the parallels between Beth and Bess. Beth was described as an angel child and after multiple miscarriages when Amy finally gives birth to a baby girl it´s a blessing and they named her after her angelic aunt. It also parallels with Laurie´s journey the way it took forever for him to come in terms with himself and finally getting a family of his own. There is a scene in Jo´s boys where Emil gives Amy a necklace with Madonna and a child and tells how it reminded him of the time of Bess birth which highlights all of that.
If you are a fellow Amy/Laurie fan check the 1970 BBC adaptation it´s the most accurate screen adaptation of their relationship.
There was a small scene that I think speaks a great deal. After the death of John Brooke Fritz talks to Demi and the boys about John and tells how both he and Laurie looked up to him when they became parents. This an interaction that I would have loved to read more about and when I think of my uncomforts with Laurie´s character is that the Hollywood portrayal of him is 100 % inaccurate. After my least read of Jo´s boys I realised how perfectly Laurie and Amy are mirroring Nat and Daisy. Both Meg and Jo are worried that Nat because he is so very effeminate and sensitive can´t provide for Daisy but then Jo also thinks that Nat would need a strong woman like Daisy to bring him back to reality. This is exactly what happened with Jo and Laurie. Because Laurie was sensitive, very unaware of his own privileged position and constantly drifting without a direction first Jo wished that Meg would marry him, then she wished that Beth would marry him and then she thought that Laurie and Amy would make a great couple and they did since Amy was the only one who Laurie actually listened.
Laurie and Amy 2019 I am nervous and exited to see them
My Little Women marathon is still continuing and I must say I have become more critical towards Hollywood´s adaptive attractiveness. Laurie in the books is very delicate and effeminate and Jo has more "masculine" features and she has very masculine trajectory. Of course she loves Laurie as a brother but she is not attracted to him because he has such "effiminate" looks but then she is really fixated on Fritz since he has such clear "masculine" looks. I always found it cute and quite funny how obviously thirsty she is for him in New York and he is completely unaware of it. Films in many ways ignore this by hiring more masculine/handsome Lauries, feminine Jo´s and tones down Jo´s "masculinity" but it´s Hollywood and the gender fluidly has become more understood subject just more recently. This is also why it is very difficult to turn Little Women into screen like the way it is in the books.
Gender fluidly continues in the character of Nan who is a tomboy and someone who Jo sees herself in. Nan is delightful and her desire to become a nurse is supported by everyone. There are so many characters in this book I am probably forgetting some of them. I absolutely love the relationship between Jo and Franz. Franz´s brother Emil is more hot-heated but Franz is more mild-tempered like his uncle and he wants to become a teacher and I am pretty convinced that Franz was Jo´s favorite because he was so much like Fritz. Because Fritz was the one who raised his nephews he is much more than just an uncle but somewhere between an uncle and a father. When Jo and Fritz marry Jo became the boys aunt but for Franz she is more of a mother and I can´t really think of a better step-mom for Emil than Jo since Jo also knew how to be strict if needed. You don´t really see it that that much in Little Men but definitely in Jo´s boys where the Bhaers-Marches-Lawrences-Brookes all become together as a community to raise children.
The lesson that I took from this book is that Little Women is about childhood and the beginning in the terms of shaping ones identity, Good Wives is about entering to the world of adulthood and finding meaningful work and true love (and learning to love oneself as well), Little Men is largely about parenthood and like all Little Women books it constantly breaks the 19th century gender stereotypes.
I think that having children and becoming a mother did frighten Jo since she was so used to her autonomy and I think (no one can ever change my mind about this) Louisa was a genius when she gave Jo a partner who was as found of kids as Jo was but who also had experience raising them. Fritz is a very attentive parent. In Little Men he is always holding little Ted or he is playing with Rob. Jo does manage to combine love, family and career but person like Jo can only do that when she is with a partner like Fritz who tells her to slow down if she is going too fast and who believes in her and gives her confidence to be herself.
In Good Wives there is a scene where Fritz is wondering what it would be like to be in a relationship with Jo and start a family with her. Sadly it is Friedrich´s love for children what is used against him when people criticise his character and it is ignored how much Jo actually loves children in the books, boys especially. Men can dream about having a family as much as women. We should not take the scene out of it´s context. It happens when Fritz is feeling rather lonely and is missing his home country and even though he has friends in New York he is an outsider and what are the odds? he meets Jo (who has always felt herself as an outsider) and falls in love with her and she is very found of him and in the book Jo is also much more interested of the doings of Franz and Emil than her two female charges Kittie and Minny which once again shows Jo´s love and affection towards male over female and there is a scene in Little Men where Jo wants to cheer up Daisy and she is thinking to herself how in the house that is filled with boys the only girl is sometimes the most difficult to please which shows how hard it sometimes still is for Jo to understand the world of the feminine. But Jo loves Daisy and the adult Jo who has grown out from the teen age-Jo who scoffed and made fun of the more feminine girls let´s Daisy to be herself and supports her in terms of finding her own identity.
I love everything about the way Louisa describes Jo´s and Fritz´s marriage in Little Men but then again I am one of those who in general love the way Louisa writes about love and romance was it then Fritz thinking what an amazing woman Jo is and how lucky he is and Jo always feeling her neurotic all over the place nature calming down when he is there or Amy and Laurie rowing the same both together enjoying each others company or Meg and John happily getting married in the most tupsy-turvey wedding.
I might be the only person in the world who has come into this conclusion but ever since I read Little Men for the first time I´v believed that John Brooke was Friedrich´s best friend in Concord. Both Fritz and Jo are really upset when John dies since they both liked him a lot and there is a scene where Jo is comforting Fritz and it is said that they were good friends. In many ways it makes perfect sense. John was very kind and sweet man but also a bit shy and many times more introverted people enjoy the company of more extroverted people like Fritz (Jo and Fritz are also a good example of this but I see Jo more as an ambivert than an introvert) John also spoke German and in many ways he and Fritz had similar values; strong work ethics, both had worked as teachers, they were close to each others age. It is Victorian bromance and I am totally shipping it.
But my favorite part in this book is the fact that Jo and Fritz have a dog called Christopher Columbus.
Check out my other Little Women articles:
Little Women: Symbolism of the umbrella
Little Women: Equal Marriage Lost in Translation
Quest of Friedrich Bhaer, Tender Masculinity in Little Women
Little Women 1970 Amy and Laurie Romance
Little Women 1933
Thoughts on #TeamLaurie and #TeamBhaer
Little Women 2019 Trailer (Long Rant)
For the Amy/Laurie Shippers,
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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