Emily and I got together to talk about Laurie´s character arc and how it is missing from every-single-Little Women adaptation.
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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.
Think of you! I do not think of you; you are always before my soul -Goethe
Little Women Reflections
Poet Ezra Pound said that literature does not exist in a vacuum and semi-biographical novels are exactly that, semi-biographical. A work of fiction strongly influenced by events in an author's life. Writer Janet Manley describes Fritz Bhaer as a perfect mystery. A perfect crush. He is the perfect text: a space offering up multiple interpretations.
In this essay I explore Friedrich´s historical and cinematic evolution through gender studies. His and Jo´s relationship, and the development of their romance and how it correlated with Louisa May Alcott´s own life. Louisa´s adoration towards Germany and German culture. I will touch the fan culture and how certain themes that have been repeated in the movies affect to the way people see Jo and Friedrich and how some of these themes are different to the book´s narrative.
I´ll be using names Friedrich and Fritz simultaneously. For those of you who have not read the books, Fritz is the nickname Jo uses on her husband. For the American readers, here in Finland first Little Women book is published in two parts, so for me March trilogy is not a trilogy, it has four books. If you find me referring to Jo´s boys as the fourth book, this is the reason.
Writing in-depth character analysis of the male characters has it´s challenges, because they have way more subtle character arcs than the female characters. In many ways writing aboutLaurie was easier because I know something about his youth, but with Fritz I had to take much more creative approach; dig up my history books, all the LMA biographies I own, Finnish-German dictionary and take a time-trip to 19th century Berlin, New York and Concord.
This my friends, is everything you have ever wanted to know about Fritz Bhaer and more.
Louisa May Alcott and love for Germany
The key ingredient in understanding Friedrich´s character lies within Louisa May Alcott´s love for Germany, German people, German language, German philosophy and most importantly German literature. We might even refer Louisa May Alcott as a germanophile, a person who has a great interest towards German culture.
There are multiple references to Germany in Little Women:
On the very fist chapter of Little Women Jo wishes a copy of Undine and Sintram as a Christmas present. Undine and Sintram is a collection of Scandinavian and Germanic fables written by French-German author Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué. This book appears again in the last Little Women book, Jo´s boys.
Marches help the poor Hummel family who have immigrated from Germany. Beth and Marmee are especially close to them. Beth catches the scarlett fever which is terrible, but the Marches never blame the Hummel´s. Epidemic diseases were rather common back then and Louisa always writes about the Hummel´s with a great sympathy.
In the chapter "Camp Lawrence" John Brooke translates a German song for Meg and reads her parts from "Mary Stuart", a play that was written by German poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller.
On Meg´s and John´s wedding Laurie suggest that they dance like the Germans do.
When Jo stays in New York, her hostess in the boarding house is Mrs Kirk. "Kirk" is an anglicized last name from German word Kirche, meaning church.
What it comes to the 19th century German culture and the influences of German immigration into American culture March trilogy is consistently favorable towards it.
Goethe´s House in Frankfurt
One of Louisa´s favorite authors was the German poet Goethe and Goethe was one of the models for Friedrich´s character. In Little Women, on her grand-tour in Europe with aunt March, Amy visits Goethe´s house, writes home and tells about it. On her first trip to Europe Louisa herself made a pilgrimage to Goethe´s House.
Went to Wiesbaden first, a pleasant, gay place, full of people. Saw the gambling hall and people playing, the fine grounds and drives, and then went on to Frankfort. Here I saw and enjoyed a good deal. The statues of Goethe, Schiller, Faust, Gutenberg, and Schaeffer are in the squares. Goethe's house is a tall, plain building, with each story projecting over the lower, and a Dutch roof; a marble slab over the front door recording the date of Goethe's birth. I took a look at it and wanted to go in, as it was empty, but there was no time (Cheney, Louisa May Alcott, letters and journals).
The most obvious and most important German influence in Little Women is of course, the love of Jo´s life, Friedrich Bhaer.
A Man From Berlin
Little Women takes place in the feminine sphere which is one of the biggest reasons why I and millions of other readers love it. What it comes to the main three male characters Laurie, Fritz and John, Louisa did not write explicit background stories to any of them. To explore Friedrich´s character to get a better understanding of him, we need to explore Louisa, her personal life philosophy, values and of course love for Germany.
Friedrich is introduced quite early on in the second novel and Jo is curious about him the moment she sees him and she finds him to be a kindred spirit.
As I went downstairs soon after, I saw something I liked. The flights are very long in this tall house, and as I stood waiting at the head of the third one for a little servant girl to lumber up, I saw a gentleman come along behind her, take the heavy hod of coal out of her hand, carry it all the way up, put it down at a door near by, and walk away, saying, with a kind nod and a foreign accent, "It goes better so. The little back is too young to haf such heaviness."
Wasn't it good of him? I like such things, for as Father says, trifles show character. When I mentioned it to Mrs. K., that evening, she laughed, and said, "That must have been Professor Bhaer, he's always doing things of that sort."
Mrs. K. told me he was from Berlin, very learned and good, but poor as a church mouse, and gives lessons to support himself and two little orphan nephews whom he is educating here, according to the wishes of his sister, who married an American. Not a very romantic story, but it interested me, and I was glad to hear that Mrs. K. lends him her parlor for some of his scholars. There is a glass door between it and the nursery, and I mean to peep at him, and then I'll tell you how he looks. He's almost forty, so it's no harm, Marmee.
There is a bit of a debate about Friedrich´s age (wait until I get to the ages of all the actors!). Jo is 24 when she travels to New York. Fritz is about 16 years older than Jo, which would mean that Friedrich is 39 when they meet.
In Little Women musical Fritz is slightly younger. When he goes to court Jo we find out that he has just had his 35th birthday. In the book Friedrich returns to Jo´s life in late spring or in the summer, few months after Beth´s passing. We can make the assumption that Friedrich was born in the spring or in summer (real life Friedrich, Henry Thoreau was born in July).
If Fritz is almost forty after the American civil war this means that he was born sometimes between 1825-1826. Friedrich is very extroverted. He enjoys lively conversations, makes friends easily, sees beyond cultural boundaries, he is deeply religious, honest, cultured but also quite a romantic. It is not a coincidence that Friedrich is from Berlin, by the time Alcott wrote Little Women, Berlin was gaining more importance and would become the capital of the new German Empire in 1871 (Armknecht).
While being born and living in Berlin Fritz would have absorbed all that the city had to offer. Architecture, literature, philosophical circles, symposiums, markets and Biergartens. It is mentioned in the book that Fritz speaks several languages, and in the books he speaks French few times. Berlin was one of the most multi-cultural German cities in the 19th century and there was a large French-speaking immigrant population. Fact that Fritz speaks several languages indicates that he has done some traveling and is in that sense as much of a cosmopolitan as Amy and Laurie are.
We learn that Friedrich used to be a respected professor in Berlin and this only increases Jo´s interest towards him.
Jo valued goodness highly, but she also possessed a most feminine respect for intellect, and a little discovery which she made about the Professor added much to her regard for him. He never spoke of himself, and no one ever knew that in his native city he had been a man much honored and esteemed for learning and integrity, till a countryman came to see him. He never spoke of himself, and in a conversation with Miss Norton divulged the pleasing fact. From her Jo learned it, and liked it all the better because Mr. Bhaer had never told it. She felt proud to know that he was an honored Professor in Berlin, though only a poor language-master in America, and his homely, hard-working life was much beautified by the spice of romance which this discovery gave it.
It is very likely that Louisa had Humboldt´s university in her mind. During the time when Louisa did her first visit to Germany it was known as the university of Berlin (Universität zu Berlin). University was established in 1809, which makes it only fitting that Friedrich would have studied and worked as a professor there. University is known for producing some of the most well-known German thinkers and philosophers.
Friedrich´s Journey to America
We are not told a lot about Friedrich´s family. We find out that he had a sister, Minna, who married an American and on her death-bed she asked Fritz to take care of his nephews and raise them in America. It is not part of the canon, but I have read couple fan fics where Minna´s husband was an American journalist who abandoned his family and Minna was also quite possibly a journalist. This would explain why Friedrich does his best to look after the boys, wants to be a good role-model and someone who never abandons them. Book does imply that Friedrich and Minna were very close. This is a common narrative pattern in Louisa May Alcott´s novels. In Work story of experience protagonist´s love interest David, has lost the connection with his sister, and is filled with joy when he finds her. In Moods the character of Geoffrey Moore takes care of his ill sister until she passes away. A devoted Little Women reader might even notice that in Greta Gerwig´s film Friedrich says it is hard to lose a sister.
In the 19th century German immigrants were the second biggest group of immigrants in the US only surpassed by Irish immigrants. March family (and the Alcott´s in real life) were descendants of Irish immigrants. Between 1847-1855 German immigrants came to US in large numbers. Many came in the hopes of better way of life, others because of individual curiosity, economic hardships, political struggles or religious persecutions. Many escaped the crop failure and famine. When we first meet Friedrich we find out that he has been living in New York for five years, which means that he arrived in 1860. In the early 1860´s main transportation across the Atlantic was made with sails and the trip could last one to three months. This would mean that Fritz would have arrived with a sailing ship that was designed for a cargo carriage. These ships were quite hazardous and the accommodations were small and dark. The second wave of German immigrants arrived in the end of the 1860´s escaping the German wars.
Friedrich´s reasons for leaving his home country are family-related. There are couple occasions in Little Women that do give an impression that Fritz has faced oppression and discrimination and Jo does make a note to herself that he must have had a hard-life. It is not a coincidence that Jo and Friedrich meet in New York of all places. Many of the German immigrants moved into the cities in north, like New York, which already had established German communities. These communities were tight. When Friedrich comes to visit Jo in Concord the reader finds out that he has German friends there.
Louisa May Alcott´s transcendentalism
Louisa May Alcott was born into the New England´s transcendentalist movement. Transcendentalism was very much an American movement but it´s roots were within German philosophy and romanticism. Especially in the transnational ideas of Immanuel Kant and his new ethic of "universal hospitality". There are couple basic principles within transcendentalist philosophy; Human beings are inherently good and pure. Nature was the ultimate mediator and expression of god who was present all around. Self-reflection and being true to-one self was encouraged. From a very early age Louisa practiced self-reflection and observance and from her novels Little Women and Old Fashioned girl have biggest transcendentalist influences.
Little Women film from 1994 is one of the rare adaptations with clear references to transcendentalism. When Jo meets Fritz they talk about German philosophy. Jo mentions that her parents were part of "rather unusual circle in Concord" and she mentions that she adores Goethe. Friedrich quotes a poem from another transcendentalist, Walt Whitman and Jo joins him. Transcendentalist believed that it was through the observation and appreciation of nature that the human soul was enlightened. The idea of being true authentic self becomes part their conversation. Transcendentalist love for nature can be seen in the movie in the presence of flowers and plants in outdoors and indoors. Proposal scene in the movie and in the book takes place in nature and it correlates the way in the book Friedrich has kept Jo´s poem.
"Be worthy, love, and love will come," In the falling summer rain.
Louisa May Alcott was surrounded by the greatest thinkers of her time, Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emmerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Her father, Bronson Alcott, showed her an idealistic and ultimately unworkable version of the movement. Throughout Louisa’s childhood, Bronson pursued philosophical ideas by establishing the Temple School where he sought to teach children according to his transcendental ideas. Some of Bronson´s ideas were too radical for the parents and eventually he was forced to resign when he took a black child as a student. Soon after the closing of the Temple School, the family moved to a farmstead to establish a Utopian society called Fruitlands. There, they attempted to live off the land, follow a strict vegetarian diet, and more fully implement the ideas that Bronson deemed important. Fruitlands was a terrible failure. The Alcotts were subjected to backbreaking work but barely survived the winter. After a little less than a year on the homestead, they left Although Louisa had seen her father’s transcendentalist projects fail, she still believed in the philosophy as much as he did, and blamed the setbacks on poor planning and execution. In her books, she would correct his mistakes (Matteson).
It was after this that they moved to Concord, Massachusetts, where the transcendentalist movement started to take shape. Emmerson was good friend of Bronson and Louisa frequently borrowed books from Emmerson´s library and learned about nature from Thoreau. Margaret Fuller made an ever lasting impression on Louisa with her philosophy and feminist ideas. It was unusual for the time for mother work outside the home but Abba Alcott did. Bronson had determination to give his daughter a proper education, also unusual for the time. Abba had less interest towards the ideological side of transcendentalism but more in what practical tools transcendentalism offered. Alcott has mixed emotions about Transcendentalism. Intrigued and inspired by the ideal of self-reliance, she still knew from first-hand experience that ‘self-reliance really meant reliance on others and required the self-sacrifice of family members’” (Boyd). Louisa wanted to tie the two opposite knots of her parents ideas.
This drew her to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s theories and ideas, as they presented a more complete way of living out the transcendental philosophy. Her journals illustrate her love for his philosophies, calling him “the man who has helped me most by his life, his books, his society”. Emmerson´s philosophy on how good deeds bring happiness and satisfaction to one´s life deeply effected Louisa and her written works. Louisa was as well heavily effected by Goethe´s ideas of self-reliance. Topic of self-reliance is a constant theme in Little Women and essentially important when getting to know the characters.
As a German immigrant, Professor Bhaer understands and experiences hard work and struggle. He bares in mind the responsibility he has in caring for a woman if he is to marry. He is more grounded and stable than Laurie, whose idealized hopes of marriage remind me of Louisa’s own descriptions of her imprudent father (“…he was a man in a balloon, with his family holding the ropes trying to hold him down to Earth”) (Rhone)
In a minute a hand came down over the page, so that she could not draw, and Laurie's voice said, with a droll imitation of a penitent child, "I will be good, oh, I will be good!"
But Amy did not laugh, for she was in earnest, and tapping on the outspread hand with her pencil, said soberly, "Aren't you ashamed of a hand like that? It's as soft and white as a woman's, and looks as if it never did anything but wear Jouvin's best gloves and pick flowers for ladies" (Little Women, Chapter 39).
Amy being a working class girl she doesn´t have any problems reminding Laurie that he has not worked a day in his life.
Margaret Fuller was an American journalist, editor and a women´s rights activist. Fuller´s writings on love and marriage had a huge impact on Louisa. In her novel Dial Fuller expresses her almost gender neutral understanding between men and women. Fuller´s writings are considered the first American feminist writings, at the time when feminism as a concept and as a social movement did not exist yet. Louisa knew Margaret and greatly admired her and was deeply effected by her radical ideas about gender.
Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism. But, in fact, they are perpetually passing into one another. Fluid hardens to solid, solid rushes to fluid. There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.
Following transcendental idea of duality, Fuller sees Man including both sexes those being the two sides of the same entity. Fuller underlines the fact that we can not separate the well-being of either but what is good for one sex is, good for both, equality between sexes is beneficial for everyone. At the time these ideas were revolutionary.
Many Alcott scholars believe that the poor nutrition in Fruitlands might have effected on Louisa´s hormonal balance. Same way as Jo, Louisa was a tomboy. Louisa was very protective over her mother who she adored and her love for her family was fierce. From very early on she took the role of the provider or the way Jo describes herself as the"man of the house", some Alcott scholars believe that this was something that effected o Louisa´s gender confusion. Anna Alcott was 11 years older than her literal counterpart Meg March, when she married. Same way as Jo grieved Meg marrying, so did Louisa. Not because John, real and the fictional was a bad person but because it meant the change in the family dynamics. In the book Jo says that she´d rather marry Meg herself, which has led many to believe that Jo is a lesbian, but with Jo, there is no context for her fear because Jo´s childhood was quite safe and idyllic, where as Louisa´s was more unstable and turbulent, family went through a lot together. Louisa was upset when Anna announced that she was getting married. Anna was 28 and Louisa was 27 at the time. It happened only three weeks after they had lost their sister Lizzie, so Louisa´s wish to keep the family together and fear of loosing it is understandable.
If you do research on transcendentalist you´ll soon find out that there was a great deal of gender fluidly and I personally believe that Louisa May Alcott was gender fluid, but it is an assumption, not something I can prove. I would highly recommend Susan Bailey´s article on 19th century female relationships in Little Women. I also found an article of the 19th century male friendships and recommend to read that as well.
Adventures inside one´s head
We live in a culture in which it is common not to try and understand what the other says and means, in this case, the author, but to assume it is some preconceived idea or trope we have in our heads of something we hate, we love, or we want to think that we are. It is a pity that it is so, because when we erase the fragility and faults of characters, we deprive ourselves from seeing the reflection of our own in them, and learn and grow (@thatvermillionflycatcher). The several Little Women adaptations have participated to the confusion and caused misconceptions because the film makers have reflected their own ideas and desires to the characters.
Masculinity and femininity are social structures made of biological and cultural factors. Jo struggles to find a balance between the two during a time when the world between men and women was separated.
There is a stereotype that Jo is quite adventurous. Is she? She is quite adventurous inside her head and she is good at making up stories and likes acting. Writing is a safe escape to live vicariously because she can do that from a safe place. With Laurie she can live in boys world through his masculine energy. Jo likes to speak about sports and such but because of her gender she is prevented to join any teams.
In the first book after Laurie pretended to be John Brooke and forged love letters and deeply hurt Meg (never included in movies) he asks Jo to go to Washington with him and surprise Mr Brooke. Jo is tempted by the idea, but she sees that such trip is Laurie´s way of getting away from his grandfather. Jo likes to dream but she knows that reality would be completely different, and Laurie never grows if he doesn´t learn from his mistakes.
There are certain elements within Jo that in the 19th century context and even today are considered traditionally "feminine" and some of the modern day readers like to ignore them. Louisa´s attempt however is not make certain habits in a person clearly masculine or feminine, but to blurry the lines. Jo is good at sewing, in fact she is a good dress-maker, likes to knit and mend clothes. Louisa herself liked sewing. We see all the girls sewing together in the beginning of the 1933 film and in the 1949 film Jo sews and knits. In the book Jo sees that Mr Bhaer is mending his own socks, and she is both surprised and impressed about it. She is impressed how self-reliant he is. Some readers have found it odd how Jo wants to start a school for boys. When Jo sees the hungry look in Laurie´s eyes when he looks at her family and she practically adopts him. Louisa in her personal life was devoted to charity work and she worked as a nurse in the civil war. Taking care of others was something that came naturally to her.
Gender fluidly continues in the sequels. Character of Nat is very sensitive, musical and a lot like Laurie. Dan is almost "too masculine" and doesn´t want to show his vulnerability. In Little Men Jo´s niece Daisy complains how boys won´t include her into their games and Jo privately thinks that in the house that is filled with boys the only girl is the most difficult to please. She gets Daisy a small toy stove and teaches her to cook while turning it into a play. This is not the 15 year old Jo who thinks that everyone should be like her, instead she supports Daisy´s individuality. Daisy´s femininity is balanced by Nan, who is another tomboy. Even her name is a mixture between Nat and Dan.
Jo doesn´t like to go parties or social events like Meg and Amy do. She rather stays at home and writes. Jo doesn´t fit well to Concord or to the traditional female role. She is allowed to be herself in her home. In the first book she does compare herself to Meg and the way she is treated differently for being traditionally feminine, same happens with Amy in the second book. Jealousy Jo sometimes feels is caused by the fact that sisters are better accepted than she because of her non-conformity, and this causes Jo feelings of isolation.
In Chapter Calls she rather speaks to pets and plays with the children of the house than talks with the adults. Jo makes the assumption that the aunts take her to Europe, even after when she has blurted to aunt Carol that she hates French, neither she seems to have put much effort to study languages, which would be quite important if she would have seriously wanted to go to Europe with the aunts. Jo dreams about the foreign, but if she was abroad, especially with people like aunt March who she had a difficult relationship, Jo would be rather homesick.
In New York Jo hesitates in the door of the Newspaper quite a while when she tries to sell her first story. She rather spends time with Friedrich than goes to seek new acquaintances and in her letters to Marmee and Beth she writes that she feels shy among strangers. This was also included in the 1994 film.
Meeting of the minds
To explore the development of Jo´s and Friedrich´s romantic relationship in the book, I am going to use historian Karen Lystra´s studies on 19th century romantic love and courtship as a comparison.
Three stages of 19th century courtship
(1) Love comes by a multitude of reasons (2) shared looks enact a mutual transaction of interior lives, and (3) this leads to an identification of selves, or mutual recognition of persons.
Love comes by a multitude of reasons
Jo spends quite a long time in New York, about 8 months. When she sees Fritz for the first time she is immediately attracted to him, in fact she checks him out multiple times during her first day at Mrs Kirke and she continues doing that throughout her stay.
when the parlor door opened and shut, and someone began to hum, Kennst Du Das Land, like a big bumblebee. It was dreadfully improper, I know, but I couldn't resist the temptation, and lifting one end of the curtain before the glass door, I peeped in. Professor Bhaer was there, and while he arranged his books, I took a good look at him. A regular German--rather stout, with brown hair tumbled all over his head, a bushy beard, good nose, the kindest eyes I ever saw, and a splendid big voice that does one's ears good, after our sharp or slipshod American gabble. His clothes were rusty, his hands were large, and he hadn't a really handsome feature in his face, except his beautiful teeth, yet I liked him, for he had a fine head, his linen was very nice, and he looked like a gentleman.
Based on Jo´s first impression on Fritz she seems to be completely enthralled by him. This is what Little Women fan, actress Melodie Ellison has to say about Jo and Friedrich;
I think part of why people act like Friedrich is not attractive is because of the well known Louisa May Alcott quote about intentionally making a funny match for Jo. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she didn’t quite mean that. Laurie was conventionally attractive. There are men in our current times that fall into that same category—men like Zac Efron, for example. If you were to ask me what I think of Zac Efron I’d tell you he’s handsome, but.... I’m not personally attracted to him. Like Jo, I prefer my men bearded and a little stout, but most importantly intelligent, hard working, and kind. I think folks who cant accept an older less hot version of the professor failed to understand his and Jo’s relationship. She respected him and he her, and for her that was the ultimate in sexiness.
When Jo writes her letter home she says that the letter is rather "Bhaery" and that she is always interested from "odd" people. We can interpret-ate this that Jo is fascinated by Friedrich´s eccentric-sim, and this is where Jo finds her kindred spirit because all her life she has considered herself as "odd" and "not fitting". One of the reasons why Jo´s and Laurie´s relationship can never be a relationship between equals is that Laurie was looking for a mother figure in Jo, and Friedrich being older and more mature than Laurie is a paradox of that.
I was in our parlor last evening when Mr. Bhaer came in with some newspapers for Mrs. Kirke. She wasn't there, but Minnie, who is a little old woman, introduced me very prettily. "This is Mamma's friend, Miss March."
"Yes, and she's jolly and we like her lots," added Kitty, who is and `enfant terrible'.
We both bowed, and then we laughed, for the prim introduction and the blunt addition were rather a comical contrast.
Like their creator Jo and Fritz share their love for children. Already in the first novel Jo escaped the female society and ran out to play with boys. In New York Jo is more interested from the doings of Friedrich´s nephews Franz and Emil than her female charges Kitty and Minnie.
Love truly does come with multitude of reasons. The more time Jo spends in New York, more attractive Fritz becomes both physically and intellectually. When spring arrives she makes notice on the "pleasant curves about his mouth", "his eyes that were never cold or hard, his big hands that had a warm strong grasp, that was more expressive than words.
Jo´s favorite past time is reading and one can spot a great deal of references to 19th century world literature, especially German, from Little Women. Before Jo goes to New York she has been quite frustrated with the way Laurie is not interested from his studies, Jo can not attend university because of her gender. Friedrich sees Jo as his intellectual equal. 1994 film captures the meeting of the minds perfectly. Pbs series from 2017 is so far the only adaptation that has included the symposium (well..leaving the symposium) and there is another reference to transcendentalism when Fritz and Jo talk about Kant´s theories.
Symposium is important because the reader finds out that Jo´s and Friedrich´s morals go together. In the symposium Jo meets famous poets, writers and philosophers. Some who she has kept in high value but her opinions are about to change.
Her reverence for genius received a severe shock that night, and it took her some time to recover from the discovery that the great creatures were only men and women after all.
Turning as from a fallen idol, she made other discoveries which rapidly dispelled her romantic illusions. Imagine her dismay, on stealing a glance of timid admiration at the poet whose lines suggested an ethereal being fed on `spirit, fire, and dew', to behold him devouring his supper with an ardor which flushed his intellectual countenance
The great novelist vibrated between two decanters with the regularity of a pendulum, the famous divine flirted openly with one of the Madame de Staels of the age, who looked daggers at another Corinne, who was amiably satirizing her
specimen of the British nobility present happened to be the most ordinary man of the party.
Already in the first novel we find out that Jo doesn´t always enjoy the higher class social gatherings. Now that she is in the circles of writers, poets and intellectuals which is the world she longs to be part of, she is disappointed by her own illusions that she has created about that world.
Before the evening was half over, Jo felt so completely disillusioned, that she sat down in a corner to recover herself. Mr. Bhaer soon joined her, looking rather out of his element and presently several of the philosophers, each mounted on his hobby, came ambling up to hold an intellectual tournament in the recess.
Friedrich also seems to feel as he is in a wrong place. Jo becomes distressed when she is following the debate and one of the young philosophers puts intellect above God. After some hesitation Friedrich keeps his speech defending religion. This speech leaves an ever-lasting impression on Jo and I would even argue that this is when Jo starts to realize that her feelings for Friedrich are more than friendship.
She began to see that character is a better possession than money, rank, intellect, or beauty, and to feel that if greatness is what a wise man has defined it to be, `truth, reverence, and good will', then her friend friedrich Bhaer was not only good, but great.
Jo can handle feedback
Little Women is a Bildungsroman. Bildungsroman is a literally genre that originated from Germany. Goethe´s novel Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship was the first Bildungsroman and I shall make multiple references to Wilhelm Meister in this article because this novel had a deep significance to Louisa and a huge effect to the development of Little Women. English translation could be "coming of age" - novel. The focus of a Bildungsroman is in the moral and psychological development of the characters. Jo in the first book is filled with contradictions. She is childish and very immature at times but still more mature than Laurie. Jo´s two defining character features are her anger and her fear of change. In the first book Jo makes a conscious attempt to control her temper because it often leads her into troubles. It is natural that a person calms down a bit when they mature but still in the fourth book Jo´s boys, where Jo is in her 50´s reader finds out that she still at times struggles with her temper.
In movies and in all tv adaptations so far scene where Fritz expresses his opinions about sensational literature has been turned into a conflict. I guess it´s supposed to create more drama? but this is not the way things go in the book, because Jo already has labelled her sensational writings as rubbish way before she even thinks of traveling to New York. She has assured herself that her intentions are good because she would use the money to help her family. This inner conflict that Jo has, begins in chapter 27. Literary lessons.
In this chapter Jo attends to a lecture about pyramids. There she bumps into a young man who is reading a thrilling story written by Mrs. Nortbury. Jo is amused by boy´s admiration of the "trash", that is how she calls this type literature which emphasizes her wish to disdain herself from those stories, so Jo´s negative views towards sensational stories is clearly identified. When Jo hears how much Mrs Northbury makes with her "Stress and Thunder" tales Jo begins to change her mind and soon starts to write them herself.
"Stress and thunder" tales originate from Goethe. In German this genre is called "Sturm und Drang" Drang refers into deep emotional stress. Sturm und Drang was a movement in literature and music in the late 18th century Germany and was vastly influenced by Goethe´s writings and plays. There is a great emphasis on faith for the individual and the movement was highly influenced by Shakespeare. Goethe´s Sturm und Drang plays were about very masculine Teutonic heroes which is probably what fascinated Louisa as an author.
Jo´s first stories are poor attempts to capture the spirit of Sturm und Drang.
Her story was as full of desperation and despair as her limited acquaintance with those uncomfortable emotions enabled her to make it
Jo takes in consideration all the advice she gets from everyone around her, instead of seeking advice from someone who could help her to improve as a writer. She goes against her own judgement, when she knows that some of the advice she receives does not improve the story.
So, with Spartan firmness, the young authoress laid her first-born on her table, and chopped it up as ruthlessly as any ogre. In the hope of pleasing everyone, she took everyone's advice, and like the old man and his donkey in the fable suited nobody.
After submitting to bunch of magazines Jo writers her first novel which is a romance and it receives mixed reviews. Jo appreciates the feedback and learns from it.
Her family and friends administered comfort and commendation liberally. Yet it was a hard time for sensitive, high-spirited Jo, who meant so well and had apparently done so ill. But it did her good, for those whose opinion had real value gave her the criticism which is an author's best education, and when the first soreness was over, she could laugh at her poor little book, yet believe in it still, and feel herself the wiser and stronger for the buffeting she had received.
In Chapter 34 when Jo enters to the publishing world in New York she enters to a world that is male dominated. Her sensational story is cut from third of it´s original length. Jo is frustrated the way Mr Dashwood wants to cut out all the morals away from the story and the morals are what Jo wishes to keep, eventually Jo agrees to these alternations to be made.
Despite of her "masculine shield" Jo is quite emotional internally even though she doesn´t like to show it and writing thrilling tales becomes distressing.
She was living in bad society, and imaginary though it was, its influence affected her, for she was feeding heart and fancy on dangerous and unsubstantial food, and was fast brushing the innocent bloom from her nature by a premature acquaintance with the darker side of life, which comes soon enough to all of us.
Fritz knows that Jo writes and he is curious about it but Jo is ashamed of her writings. She is adamant about using a pseudonym and she doesn´t tell anyone at home what she is doing and neither she has showed her stories to Fritz. Friedrich never criticizes Jo as a writer, he is criticizing the genre. Friedrich is honest. He wants Jo to take herself seriously as a writer. The book Jo does not shout or argue with Fritz unlike the movie Jo does, because Friedrich expresses what Jo has been thinking all along. She knew that her stories weren´t that good.
As a result Jo burns her trashy novels. Then the book Jo tries to write for children, it doesn´t feel right. Then she writes stories that only have moralities, that does not feel right either. She jumps from one literal genre to another.
Friedrich does turn out to be indeed a friend, like the title of the chapter suggests. He encourages Jo to study real-life people so she can develop her characters and as a Christmas gift he gives her a set of Shakespeare´s novels. Goethe, Louisa´s idol. would have had similar thoughts towards sensational stories that Friedrich had.
"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)
Louisa credited Goethe being the one author who has taught me the most about creating and understanding characters
In the 1994 film, Jo argues with Fritz about her writings. Film kinda portrays Jo as an ultra-feminist, when Jo says too bad her writings are not good enough for Friedrich´s high morals. This is complete opposite to the book Jo because the book Jo and Fritz, have always shared the same morals.
Some viewers of the 1994 film have taken Jo´s side on the argument undoubtedly because of it´s "ultra-feminism" but in reality Louisa herself stopped writing sensational stories when her children´s novels became more popular. 1994 film is historically accurate in that sense that Friedrich has connections to the publishing world and in the 19th century an unknown writer, especially a woman, needed a man to represent them.
Here is a quote from a person who joined #TeamBhaer after becoming acquaintance with Friedrich for the first time through Greta Gerwig´s film and they got inspired to read the book.
Never read nor watched Little Women before this, but I am so phenomenally fond of Friedrich. Just. In general. But this is coming from someone who watched 2019 first and had no context prior to this! As a writer/cinema-saavy person, I was made aware of the Gerwig’s cinematic parallelism of past and present during my watch, and I could tell that there must have been something taken out of the equation as a means to balance out Gerwig’s vision. Yet, I took fondly to the man who was basically void of existence mid-movie, purely on the fact that Gerwig’s method of narrative essentialism still had me appreciate his weight? In the same way 2019 Jo summarized the entirety of her loneliness in a single sweep (as I later found out she dedicated an entire chapter to such somber chills), I found that Friedrich’s ‘clean sweep’ came down to lines that could be easily overlooked if one came for acting instead of script: “But do you have anyone to take you seriously? To talk about your work? He was essentially the one meant to simply see her. That in a single line Greta Gerwig had ‘essentiallized’ his character. This correlates with the book Fritz.
Of course, as I’ve actually admitted 2019 Friedrich was my first version of Friedrich, and he still managed to catch my attention for all he was worth– it was nice reading book two and finding out that Alcott wrote him in as a worthy addition (rather than a cop out, as I’ve had the misfortune to read criticisms as of late.) Fleshed him out so thoroughly that I was shocked at all that anyone would argue otherwise (@defaultyhero)
This makes me wonder why Greta has spend so much time and energy bashing the book Friedrich while promoting her film. With just that simple line he is established as someone worthy of Jo´s love, it´s not something that Laurie would do. Jo has desire to improve, but at the same she doesn´t want to admit that the other person was right. Gerwig´s film has it´s focus how much Jo has discomforts with change, and the feedback scene doesn´t promote the ultra-feminism but Jo comes out more childish. She yells she never speaks to him again and it is not something that the book Jo would do. Unfortunately Greta Gerwig being dismissive on Friedrich´s character erases Jo´s growth as a person. The argument does show the differences in Jo´s and Friedrich´s temperaments and same happens in the 2018 adaptation. 2017 pbs series also plays the "ultra-feminist" card when Jo defends her sensational writings and calls out poor Fritz, and like in the 1994 he apologizes, but because Gerwig´s Jo shouts at Friedrich (which never happens in the novel) she has given Jo and Laurie shippers and those who want J to be a spinster an excuse to hate his character.
My favorite Fritz-gives-Jo-feedback-in-the-movies goes to Rossano Brazzi in the 1949 film. Somehow he manages to be stern and sincere at the same time. Scene happens right after Jo has been told that she can´t go to Europe (which in the book happens much earlier) so she is quite upset and when Fritz sees this he runs to comfort her and keeps an uplifting and encouraging speech that Jo should write from her heart.
The Attic web-series is inspired by Little Women. Not a big budget show but I thought it was very clever the way it turned Weekly Volcano into a Buzzfeed type of website. Bhaer who is a student at NYU is doing a world a favor. Sites like Buzzfeed or in this case Weekly Volcano steels content from independent bloggers and youtubers at the same while destroying our last remaining brain cells (am I salty? as a blogger and a content creator, yes).
Greta Gerwig makes Jo´s editor a hero (when Louisa May Alcott really hated him)
This is a quote from Gerwig´s interview. I almost dropped the book while reading it. I was like, “Of course this is her book.” And it’s certainly not because Jo marries Professor Bhaer. That’s not why we love her and that’s not why women who wanted to be writers have flocked to her. Not in the hopes of meeting an older German professor who gives them scathing feedback. Who doesn’t like what they’re doing. And makes Jo use the word “thou.” Once again this made me convinced that she actually hasn´t read Little Women, because what is she talking about? The time when Jo is in New York is based to the time when Louisa was in her 20s and she wrote sensational stories to a New York magazine. Louisa did not like her editor Frank Lesley. In Little Women Mr Dahswood is a caricature of Frank Lesley. Weekly Volcano is a caricature of that magazine where Louisa worked. In Greta Gerwig´s Little Women, not only is Mr Dashwood helping Jo publish her sensational stories, but he is the one who helps her to publish Little Women and tells Jo to marry off her heroine. If you want to look a villain in Little Women, it´s actually Mr Dashwood, Not Friedrich, because Mr Dashwood is the one who wants Jo to write stories without moralities. In the chapter Louisa also writes that Jo is, expensable and if she quits, it is easy to find somebody to replace her. Louisa´s and her publisher Thomas Niles, were friends in real life and their letters have been published. You can read them online. He never asks her to marry off any of the character. They discuss about branding. The spinster aunt Louisa, the way she is going to marketed to the public, especially for children.
Friedrich in the novel he helps Jo to find her potential as a writer and here we have Greta Gerwig, who has said that she is Jo March. Well if she is Jo March how come she doesn´t know such basic things from Jo, like the fact that she had a mental breakdown when her publisher asked her to write themes that she felt uncomfortable. This also happened to Louisa. She left the magazine because of the disagreements that she had with Mr Lesley. This is a quote from Little Women: She was living in bad society, and imaginary though it was, its influence affected her, for she was feeding heart and fancy on dangerous and unsubstantial food, and was fast brushing the innocent bloom from her nature by a premature acquaintance with the darker side of life, which comes soon enough to all of us.
Quote from Little Women fan Jimena: I was expecting Bhaer to be this mean, judgemental man who criticized Jo unfairly. I was expecting their confrontation scene (which made very uncomfortable while watching the movie). English is not my first language, so when I was reading the chapter where she has psychological distress for writing sensational stories, it confused me. And then of course, she and Bhaer never fight! Moreover, he was right. And when he arrives at Concord, I was incredibly surprised at how much I loved him".
Jo and Friedrich don´t argue in the book. They argue in the series from the 70s, 1994 film, 2017 series and the 2019 film. The thing that people like Greta Gerwig are mad about, saying that Friedrich is some kind of a bully, it doesn´t happen in the novel at all. They themself actualize that, and she had the opportunity to follow the novel but she didn´t. Moreover why would Louisa marry her literal alter ego to someone who doesn´t support her. The name of the chapter is literally "Friend".
Writing from the heart
Here is another quote from chapter 27 literary lessons:
"that's just it. I've been fussing over the thing so long, I really don't know whether it's good, bad, or indifferent. It will be a great help to have cool, impartial persons take a look at it, and tell me what they think of it."
The whole chapter is about how Jo learns to define her craft from the feedback she receives, way before she meets Friedrich, and it foreshadows the arrival of Friedrich´s character. There is a longing to find a person who can not only give her constructive criticism but also encourage her to explore her capacity as a story teller. The 2018 film did pretty good job by making Bhaer Jo´s editor and a professor of literature, and so far it is only film where Jo listens and embraces the feedback she receives same way as the book Jo does.
Louisa was always a creature of moods; and it was a great relief to work off certain feelings by the safe vent of imaginary persons and scenes in a story. She had no one to guide or criticize her; and the fact that these gambols of fancy brought the much-needed money, and were, as she truly called them, "pot boilers," certainly did not discourage her from indulging in them. She is probably right in calling most of them "trash and rubbish," for she was yet an unformed girl, and had not studied herself or life very deeply; but her own severe condemnation of them in "Little Women" might give a false idea. The stories are never coarse or immoral. Yet, she unquestionably recognized that she was not doing the best work of which she was capable; and she looked forward still to the books she was to write, as well as the fortune she was to make. She did not like any reference to these sensational stories in after life, although she sometimes re-used plots or incidents in them; and she was very unwilling to have them republished (Cheney)
I have read some of Louisa´s sensational stories that she wrote under pseudonym. I have enjoyed them and I agree with Cheney that they are not as horrible as Louisa framed them to be and if you ask me, even in those pot-boiler stories there is always a moral, usually within warning examples but mine and Cheney´s perspective is a modern perspective. We see those stories today as harmless, because that kind of sensationalism is no-longer shocking to us, but in the 19th century context they were extremely shocking. Louisa wrote about murderers, lunatics, racial conflicts, cheating wives, obsessive husbands and drug users. Back when Little Women was published, it was actually considered too liberal in comparison to other children´s literature available, so it is easy to imagine why Louisa wanted to disdain herself from the sensationalism.
Both Jo and Fritz are extensions of their creator, sensational story episodes in Little Women seems to be more about the inner reflections of Louisa May Alcott´s views about her own writings than anything else. One of my perceptive blog-readers pointed out that Friedrich´s views on religion would probably effect on his views on sensational stories, perhaps Louisa, who was deeply religious herself had similar thoughts.
There has been lots of unnecessary stereotyping made towards Friedrich´s character. I will point out some of them, partly because they are truly ridiculous but also because they show how long journey we have to understand Louisa May Alcott´s world view.
In one supposedly "feminist" study that I read, the author pointed out that Bhaer having Shakespeare, Milton, Plato and Homer in addition to his German Bible in his bookshelf represent the way Jo is now a captive of the male power.
Apparently if a fictional male character who happens to be a teacher of philosophy has books about philosophy in his bookshelf that must make him a sexist. In most "feminist" studies Friedrich is demonized because of his sex which is a juxtaposition for celebrating Jo who has such huge admiration for the masculine.
In her excellent article German literature and culture in March Trilogy - Christine Doyle points out that throughout the book series Friedrich´s character represents the positive aspects of the German culture that the new immigrants embodied.
Well-read and well educated—Friedrich´s shelf contains volumes of Shakespeare, Milton, Plato, and Homer in addition to his German Bible—he is nevertheless remarkably unpretentious, darning his own socks, for example. He is deeply religious, standing up for the importance of religion at the gathering of intellectuals he and Jo attend. This is a particularly important detail since, unlike the working-class German immigrants, the German intelligentsia were highly suspect for their “godlessness,” and it is actually against proponents of Kant’s and Hegel’s intellectualism that Friedrich launches his defense of religion. Even the great supporters of German literature, the Transcendentalists, sometimes found it difficult to come to terms with what they read as immorality and even atheism among the German writers (Doyle).
In 1933, 1949 and the 1994 films Fritz tells Jo that she can do much better than the sensational stories. Pbs series from 2017 is the only recent adaptation so far that doesn`t pay much attention on Fritz encouraging Jo with her writing. In an interview script writer Heidi Thomas said that she never understood why Jo married a man who disapproved her writings? Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan have said the same (Little Women 2019 movie guide). The books narrative is completely opposite to this strange view. Friedrich encourages Jo to write from her heart and study characters. He wants Jo to take herself seriously as a writer. People over-identifying with Jo is very problematic, because while doing they become selective readers and unfortunately the interpretation of Little Women and Jo and Fritz as characters greatly suffer from this.
Here is quote from Jo´s boys.
'I hope the day will go well with thee, my dearest,' answered her husband, and smoothing the worried lines out of her forehead with his good-bye kiss, the excellent man marched away, both pockets full of books, an old umbrella in one hand, and a bag of stones for the geology class in the other.
'If all literary women had such thoughtful angels for husbands, they would live longer and write more"
"I wish people would understand that they don't actually understand these characters better than the author. Only Louisa May Alcott knew what was best for them, what went through their "minds" etc. It's not really possible to see them as entities completely separate from the author. So if she decided on Jo falling for Fritz, thats' whats best for Jo, period. And I say this also because some people say stuff like 'the characters are way more complicated that the author wanted them to be or are their own thing' and like, don't they know what a fictional character is?" - Little Women fan, Clarisa Olguin
Sense of longing
When Little Women part 2 appeared it wasn´t viewed as a children´s novel but it was more suitable for teen agers. In fact Little Women 2 was quite risque because of Jo´s sexual awakening. Anyone who has done any research on Louisa May Alcott´s life knows that she had a crush on Waldo Emerson and was in love with Henry David Thoreau. Both were transcendentalist philosophers.
Sometimes the movies have been criticized for focusing too much on the romance. Robin Swicord who wrote the screenplay to the 1994 film said that because Louisa herself didn´t care that much about adding all the moralities, she wrote the script the way she imagined Louisa would have wrote a story if it was meant for more mature audience and not for children.
If you are like me and you have watched a fair amount of movies with Gabriel Byrne in them you probably don´t mind smooching in the opera scene and after having read some of LMA´s more spicy stories that even include sexual undertones, very often between older men and younger women (just saying) I understand what Swicord means. It could have been something that Louisa had written, but at the same it is out of character for both Jo and Fritz because Little Women is not that kind of book.
First looks begin when Jo enters to the boarding house. Both Jo and Fritz are interested from each others doings and well..spy on each others. Jo originally intended to stay in New York way longer but when news from Beth arrived she had to shorten her stay. When Jo is telling Fritz and the children that she is leaving she is exited of the idea of introducing Fritz to her family, then she remembers the unsolved matters between her and Laurie, the attraction she feels for Fritz makes matters even more confusing, she flushes and feels the need of hiding her face. In the following evening we get a glimpse to Friedrich´s mind.
That night, he searches about the room “as if in search of something he can not find.
Reader finds out that Fritz has been thinking of Jo for a great deal, and he wonders what life with Jo would be like. This is something that for example, Laurie in the book, never thinks or dream about. But for Friedrich it is something much bigger. He is missing a place where he can belong to. Narrator mentions that Friedrich has Heimweh, he is homesick. But it is not just about Friedrich missing Germany (and he does sometimes) but he dreams about being a part of a family, he misses having an actual home. As an immigrant, Fritz is part of two worlds, but he does not wholly belong to either.
In German romanticism there is a concept called Heimwech nach dem Frendre which freely translated means longing for the foreign. Longing for the foreign is something that pops up in Jo´s writings. Her stories take place in faraway countries and her heroes have exotic names and they speak with accents. It is more about dreaming adventures than living them.
Louis Garrel captures the dynamics between the two perfectly.
“He is from a world that she desires, the world of books and intellectuals. He is a teacher. He is from Europe, and I think she can dream about the world he comes from. Sometimes when two people meet, suddenly something happens. There is no explanation. It´s passionate and very deep relationship between them”
There are lots of indications in the book that Jo wants love and a family, even at the same time when she wants to be a famous author. Friedrich´s isolation is a topic that hasn´t never really been explored in the adaptations. 1949 film is the only adaptation, where Friedrich is sometimes lonely. The book Fritz is in a quite desperate situation. For the past five years he has been working in job that he is not very exited about and his nephews are his only immediate family. When he moved to the States he had to leave a steady job and all his friends behind. Jo is breath of fresh air for him and because of her Friedrich starts to dream again. Dreams about a life outside these walls. Song How I am from Little Women musical captures Friedrich´s feelings of longing and his passionate nature. Song is about fear of rejection which is something that the book Friedrich is experiencing.
Shared looks enact a mutual transaction
Pronounced as Nee-na.
Artist, illustrator, writer, watercolorist and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
Love fandoms AOGG and Little Women (prefers books over the films). Louisa May Alcott researcher.
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