Lying to make money is one thing, but lie about your favorite character by erasing their arc is a whole new game.
WOHOO! My new video essay is here!! it´s all about Love and Sex in Little Women and 19th-century courtship. Louisa May Alcott and her relationship with real-life Friedrich and the real-life Laurie. An early Christmas gift to everyone who has been asking for more long-form content.
Little Women Podcast is HERE and going deep into Jo´s and Friedrich´s relationship in Little Women and HOW that correlated with Louisa May Alcott´s romantic affairs. This is the first part of the Friedrich series Emily and I are doing together. We hope you guys enjoy it. Thank you for your support Click video below to learn more!!!
Trigger warning, this post is about sexual harassment in LMA´s life and her novels.
Sometimes I wonder if my views on Little Women would have been different if I had read part 2 as a child not as a 17 year old. I had seen the 1994 film so I somewhat knew what was going to happen but all I now remember thinking that on my first read of the second book, Laurie (who I had liked quite a lot as a child) was an immature fuckboy and Amy (who I had had conflicted feelings as a child) was graceful mature and I was very impressed by her character arc (which sadly was not included in the 1994 film) and that it was Amy who was able to get through Laurie and tell him that you are hurting yourself and people around you with your behavior.
I think including Laurie´s character arc is key to everything. I have been very frustrated by the “choose your own narrative” of Greta Gerwig´s film. When I was watching the film I thought “this is great they actually show that Laurie is more immature than Fritz and Laurie is holding Jo back". Then I heard that many previous Jo and Laurie fans moved on to root Jo and Friedrich and then I also heard there is now a whole new generation of Jo and Laurie shippers who think they are super romantic in this film.
Nothing new under the sun.
32- year old Louisa May Alcott was working in Switzerland as a companion to a wealthy American woman called Anna Weld. There she met a Polish composer and soldier. 21-year old Ladislas Wisniewski. Ladislas had turberculosis and Louisa who was a caretaker by nature nursed him. He called him as his “Little Mama” and asked her to call him “Varjo” which was the name that his mother used to call him she called him “Laddie” which was a name that Louisa called all the young “lads”. He was very sweet and romantic bringing Louisa roses, he played music to her and they spent lot of time together talking about the future.
Then something strange happens. Louisa writes to her journal.
“Anna troubled about Laddie who was in a despairing state of mind I could not advice them to be happy as they desired, so everything went wrong and both worried”.
The previous diary markings suggest that Laddie had been flirtatious with Louisa and had even mentioned possible future together. Louisa had written that Anna Weld was whiny, needy, foolish “and didn´t have a clue about Goethe” (probably one of my favorite Louisa quotes). The tone of Louisa´s diary markings change. She begins to sympathize Anna and becomes more suspicious about Laddie.
When Louisa writes “could not advice them to be happy as they desired” what does she mean? Did Ladislas and Anna had suddenly become affectionate with one another? It is very unlikely because quite soon Ladislas announced that he was leaving and it seemed that Anna had asked him to leave.
Did Ladislas pressured Anna to have sex with him?
Notes from the time suggest that “he was overly-friendly with Miss Weld, which is why he had to leave the pension”.
Louisa had seen the signs and felt powerless not being able to go back to the way things were.
This reminds me the first part in Little Women when Laurie is cat-fishing Meg for "bit of a frolic" and Jo struggles to identify with Meg´s pain but then in second part in Little Women when Jo is four years older and Laurie began to harass her, now she knows how Meg was feeling when someone does not respect your boundaries.
In Little Women Laurie tries to kiss Jo in the first part, right after Beth has become sick Jo says no. In the second part, Jo travels to New York because Laurie´s actions are making her feel very uncomfortable. After Beth has passed away Laurie sends Jo another proposal, around the same time when he realizes that the has feelings for Amy. Is this actually a memory of Ladislas affection moving from Louisa to Anna?
Who could forget, Hannah describes Laurie as a "Weathercock".
Reflecting to Friedrich´s character, he never force himself to Jo and only is physically affectionate with her when he has her full consent.
At this point Louisa was not rich but poor as a church mouse. Anna Weld on the other hand was rich. Couple months later after her contract with Anna ended Louisa traveled to Paris where she spent a day with Ladislas and his friends.
Diary markings are censored with lines “couldn´t be” written (Shealy).
Was Ladislas Wisniewski a con artist like LMA biographer Harriet Reisen has suggested?
A year later after Louisa had returned home, her younger sister May met Ladislas in Paris and spent time with him.
This has made MANY Alcott scholars believe that Louisa and May had some sort of argument over Laddie, which is also seen in the strange triangle loop that the Little Women adaptations repeat over and over.
In the novel Little Women, both Amy and Jo are more mature than Laurie, when we move on from book 1 to book 2. Amy is four years younger than Laurie yet she is more mature than he is.
Louisa describes in her journals that Ladislas was always making pranks on others. There is a scene in LW where Laurie who is a very wealthy young man, gives stupid prank gifts for Meg and John, who really start their shared life with nothing. He is 23 year old behaving like a teen-ager.
When Jo says that she doesn´t approve flirting, Laurie who has just been flirting with bunch of girls says that he does not approve flirtatious girls either.
Reminds me the way in 1970 Little Women series, when Laurie forges letters to Meg in John´s name, the whole incident is framed to be Meg´s fault.
It seems that both Louisa and May got tired with Ladislas and that he wasn´t productive and preferred to live on other people´s wing.
There are bank notes that show that Louisa had asked her publisher to pay Ladislas 400 dollars in 1873. Which was a lot of money back then.
In her novel “only gossip prospers” writer Lorraine Tosiello suggests that Ladislas was blackmailing Louisa. Based to Louisa´s journal Ladislas had a family in 1873. Louisa supported many orphan organizations it is easy to imagine that she wanted to support his children.
In one of her letters to Louisa, May Alcott writes that Ladislas “never acknowledges his debt”.
Were they talking about the 400 dollars and if not that would mean that they had given him more money which he hadn´t paid back?
I once read that when May Alcott was living in Paris, she would sometimes get really frustrated by the Little Women fans who came to distract her and ask if there was a real-life Laurie. I used to think that May´s frustration was caused by the fact that Amy was already in the 19th century a character who divided opinions but in retrospective what if May was annoyed because she knew that the main model for the real-life Laurie was far from the book Laurie.
In her letters to Laddie and Alf Whitman who was another real-life Laurie (and he and May were very close friends) Louisa wrote that she wanted to capture the “nature of boyhood” into Laurie´s character.
It seems that Ladislas never lived up to Louisa´s expectations like Laurie never lived up to Jo´s.
In Little Women in one moment Laurie is thinking how fortunate he is having four sisters always on his side and showing good example. Then he thinks about going to gamble and that Meg and Jo would be disappointed with him, and then he thinks that no matter what he does, girls always forgive him
and he goes to gamble.
(Similar narrative is repeated in Jo´s boys when Nat is in Germany and tries to over come similar temptations).
Another thing that has also raised eyebrows was Ladislas quick recovery from tuberculosis. Was he faking it all along? Was he traveling around Europe targeting wealthy women? first Miss Weld and then Louisa, after she had become a multi-millionaire. Did he used Louisa´s sympathies for his supposed illness for his own advances. In Rose in Bloom, Alcott novel that appeared 10 years later after Little Women, Charlie who is another literal re-carnation of Ladislas, wants to marry Rose, not because of love, but because she is about inherit lots of money. Why was Ladislas in Anna Weld´s pension in the first place? who had invited him? Did he lured Miss Weld to invite him?
Ladislas called Louisa his "Little Mama". There are elements in this relationship that sound more parental than romantic, which is the case in Little Women as well, even though the book Laurie is few months older than Jo. For Jo he always remains as a boy and when he wants a relationship with her, it is not because he loves Jo but to escape his own demons, which he has refused to face.
A year after the publishing of Little Women, Louisa wrote an essay called "Happy women" where she writes:
"If love comes as it should come accept it in god´s name, If it does not come reject the shadow of it in God´s name for it can never satisfy the hungry heart"
Ladislas had took advantage of Louisa´s loneliness, and she was the one who had to pay the price. Letters to May reveal Laurie who was not who he said he was, and yet for the public Louisa could never tell the truth. When a woman gets played by a conman, there is lots of shame that comes with it.
Louisa wrote Jo to be an idealized version of herself, and Jo has elements from many women who Louisa admired. In some ways Louisa is also Laurie. She had similar way to vent her emotions like Laurie does in the book, but Louisa´s Laurie grows, becomes an efficient member of society and even asks Jo to forgive him the way he behaved.
If Ladislas Wisniewski was a conman (and I am starting to believe that he was). His scam has been successful and has lasted over a century... and it´s still going.
Harassment is a common theme is LMA´s novels. Often the harasser dies and in their death bed asks the protagonist to forgive them or in Laurie´s case they actually begin to question their own behavior. That Little Women adaptations from 1917 to 2019, never include this and how uncomfortable his behavior is for Jo, truly is The Laurie problem and Louisa´s views on what a healthy relationship is is always relevant.
Wedding Marches by Daniel Shealy
Louisa May Alcott, Woman behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen
Only Gossip Prospers (historical context) by Lorraine Tosiello
Louisa May Alcott, life, letters and journals by Edna Cheney
(Check out the story of the real life Fritz as well)
Ready for some spicy Jo and Fritz content. I have been thinking about this a lot. Lot of people go against Friedrich´s character because of the feedback scene and when they read the book they see him as a bully because they have been influenced by the adaptations (1994, 2017 do it horribly) (based to the reactions to the 2019 film viewers either see Fritz as a good or the bad guy).
The part in the book where Jo feels that those sensational stories are really having a bad effect on her mental health has never been adapted.
100 years of Little Women adaptations, it´s not there.
Weekly Volcano is a caricature of a New York magazine called Frank Lesley´s Weekly illustrated Newspaper, which is a newspaper where Louisa May Alcott used to send her sensational stories and Mr Dashwood is a caricature of Mr Leslie himself. Louisa didn´t particularly like Mr Leslie same way as Jo doesn´t particularly care about Mr Dashwood.
When Jo goes to work to the magazine, she is hired because the previous “hack” has left the job for higher paying position. She becomes part of a machine. There is no room for individualism and her stories must follow the magazine´s policy no matter how much they contradict with her own values.
Mr Dashwood asks Jo to cut moralities away from her story. Jo doesn´t like the idea but agrees, Dashwood also asks Jo to make the story more thrilling which once again makes Jo feel very uncomfortable. Finally when Jo sees the finished product she hardly recognizes it to her own.
Imagine being Louisa. Writing thrilling tales was a way for her to vent her hyper-dramatic imagination at first, but same way as Jo, Louisa had her own code of morals. 19th century was both Christian and puritan, Louisa grew up in a home that supported humanitarian values, her mother for example being one of the first American social workers.
Throughout her life Louisa practiced self-reflection which is a part of transcendentalist philosophy. You stop for a moment to look at your actions outside yourself. Sensational story sequence was one of those moments. Should she write more shocking tales about rapists and predators, women and children being hurt? stories that encourage discriminating marginalized groups because those were stories that were selling, and those went against Louisa´s own values.
It is when Friedrich reminds Jo that the writer has either negative or a positive influence over her readership Jo realizes that, any work that she produces that goes against her own values can and will create harm.
The chapter is called “Friend” because Friedrich encourages Jo to take the ownership of her own work. She is no longer going to sacrifice her own integrity for a badly paid job writing content that does not bring her satisfaction.
You can see this reflected in Louisa, because she wanted to cut her ties to these sensational stories entirely.
Friedrich is not the villain, he is Jo´s hero, reminding her about her own capacities. Which is why Jo doesn´t snap at him or defend her sensational writings because that doens´t happen in the novel either.
If you want Jo to shout at someone in the adaptations, that should be the editor.
In our current times there are lots of young creative people who work in low paid jobs sacrificing their artistic skills to companies that have zero respect for them. Louisa knew what important lesson this was, which is why she captured it into Little Women
In one of her diary markings Louisa writes that her friend Emerson had said to her that she should write something that pleases herself. Stories that come from her heart, will be the most successful ones.
As we know, this was the case.
Thank you for reading and as always, if you enjoy my articles feel free to share them in your social media networks.
I made my first Laurie and Amy video :D Song is "Boys with emotions" by Felix Sandman.
Clips from Little Women 2019, 1933, 1994 and 1978 (Richard Gilliland is hands down my favourite "emotional" Laurie)
It took a while but here it is, transcript for the video essay.
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 influence 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 the spirit, I explore Frederic'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 as well and how certain themes that have been repeated in the movies again and again affect the way people see Jo and Friedrich. 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 deal of interest towards German culture. Make sure to give a like to this video and subscribe to my channel, Small Umbrella In The Rain, for in-depth Little Women content.
There are multiple references to Germany in Little Women. On the very first chapter of Little Women, Jo receives a copy of Undine and Sintram as a Christmas present. Undine and Sintram is a collection of Scandinavian and Germanic fables written by a French-German author, Friedrich de la Motte Foque.
Beth catches the scarlet fever, which is terrible, but the Marches never blame the Hummels. Epidemic disease were rather common back then, and Louisa always writes about the Hummels with a great sympathy.
In the chapter Camp Lawrence, John Brooke translates a German song for Meg, and reads her parts from Mary Stuart, which is a play that was written by German poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller. On Meg's and John's wedding, Laurie suggests that they dance like the Germans do.
When Jo stays in New York, her hostess in the boarding house, Mrs. Kirk. Kirk is an anglicized last name for German word Kirche, meaning church. When it comes to 19th century German culture and the influences of German immigration into American culture, Little Women saga is consistently favorable towards it.
Friedrich as Goethe
One of Louisa's favorite authors was the German poet Goethe. 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 and 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 to Frankfurt. 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.
The most obvious and most important German influence in Little Women is, of course, the love of Jo's life, Friedrich Bhaer. Little Women takes place in the feminine sphere, which is one of the biggest reasons why I and millions of other readers love it.
When it comes to main three male character, Laurie, Fritz, and John, Louisa did not write explicit backgrounds stories to any of them. To explore Friedrich's character and to get better understanding of him, we need to explore Louisa. Her personal life, philosophy, values, and of course her love for Germany.
Friedrich is introduced quite early on in the second novel, and Jo is curious about him from 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 her heavy load of coal out of her hand, carry it all the way up, put it down at a door nearby, and walk away. Saying with a kind note and a foreign accent, "It goes better so. The little back is too young to have 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 is 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 who he is educating here. According to the wishes of his sister, who married an American.
Man from Berlin
Not a very romantic story, but it interested me, and I was glad to hear that Mrs. lends him her parlor for some of this scholars. There's a glass door between it and the nursery, and I meant to peep at him and then I'll tell you how he looks. He's almost 40, so it's no harm, Marmee. Fritz is about 16 years older than Jo, which would mean that Friedrich is somewhere between 37 and 39 when they meet. There is a reason why Fritz is 16 years older than Jo. Louisa had a professor of her own and we'll get into that later on. 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 during the springtime, some months after Beth's passing.
If we compare the two, we can make an assumption that Fritz was born in the spring. If Fritz is almost 40 after the American Civil War, this means that he was born some time between 1825 and 1827.
Fritz is very extroverted. He enjoys lively conversations, makes friends easily, sees beyond cultural boundaries. He's 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. While being born and living Berlin, Fritz would have absorbed all that the city had to offer. Architecture, literature, churches, philosophy circles, symposiums, markets, and Biergartens.
It is mentioned in the book that Fritz speaks several languages, and in the books he speaks French a few times. Berlin was one of the most multicultural German cities in the 19th century, and there was a large French speaking immigrant population.
The 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 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, hardworking life was much beautified by the spice of romance which this discovery gave it.
Friedrich´s journey to America
It is very likely that Louisa had Humboldt University in her mind. During the time when Louisa did her first visit to Germany, it was known as the University of 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.
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 deathbed, 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 a couple fan fics where Minna's husband was an American journalists 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, the protagonist's love interest, David, has lost a connection with his sister. In Moods, the character of Jeffrey Moore takes care of his ill sister until she passes away. Of course, the loss of a sister is something that also bonds Jo and Fritz.
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 Alcotts in real life were descendants of Irish immigrants.
Between 1847 and 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 1860s, many 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 accommodation were small and dark. The second wave of German immigrants arrived in the end of the 1860s, escaping the German wars. Friedrich's reasons for leaving his home country are family related. There are a 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, and Friedrich comes to visit Jo in Concord, the reader finds out that he has German friends there. Louisa very intentionally included messages of social justice to her works. A lot of the details of Friedrich's backstory are not included in the movies and TV adaptations because of the screenwriters personal biases, xenophobia, and ignorance over the source material. Yes, this is going to be a video about Louisa May Alcott's inter-sectional feminism.
Louisa May Alcott was born into New England's transcendentalist movement. Transcendentalism was very much an American movement, but its roots were within German philosophy and romanticism. Especially in the transnational ideas of Immanuel Kant and his new ethic of universal hospitality. There are a couple basic principles within transcendentalist philosophy. Human beings are inherently good and pure. Nature was the ultimate mediator and expression of God was present all around. Self-reflection and being true to one's self was encouraged.
From a very early age, Louisa practice 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 a 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.
Transcendentalists believe 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 of their conversation. Transcendentalist love for nature can be seen in the movie in the presence of flowers and plants in the outdoors and indoors. Proposal scene in the movie 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 of love and love will come in the falling of summer rain. Louisa May Alcott was surrounded by the greatest thinkers of her time. Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. 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 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.It was after this that they moved to Concord, where the transcendentalist movement started to take shape. Emerson was good friend of Bronson and Louisa frequently borrowed books from Emerson's library and learned about nature from Henry David Thoreau.
Margaret Fuller made an everlasting impression on Louisa with her philosophy and feminist ideas. It was unusual for the time for mother to work outside the home, but Abba Alcott did. Bronson had determination to give his daughters 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. Louisa had mixed emotions about transcendentalism. Intrigued and inspired by the ideal of self-reliance, she still knew from firsthand experience that self-reliance really meant reliance on others and required the self-sacrifice of family members. Louisa wanted to tie the two opposite knots of her parents ideas. This drew her to Ralph Waldo Emerson's theories and ideas, as the represented a more complete way of living out of 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. Emerson's philosophy on how good deeds bring happiness and satisfaction to one's life deeply affected Louisa and her written works. Louisa was as well heavily affected by Goethe's ideas of self-reliance. Topic of self-reliance is a constant theme in Little Women and is essentially important when getting to know the characters.
Blogger Katie Rhone points out "As a German immigrant, Professor Bhaer understands and experiences hard work and struggle. He bears 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 description of her imprudent father." Quote, "He was a man in a balloon, with his family holding the ropes trying to hold him down to earth."
Here's a quote from Little Women.
"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 opposite 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."
Amy, being a working class girl, she doesn't have any problems reminding Laurie that he has not worked a day in his life.
Many Alcott scholars believe that the poor nutrition in Fruitlands might have affected on Louisa's hormonal balance. Same as Jo, Louisa was a tomboy. Louisa was very protective of 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.
Anna Alcott was 11 years older than her little counterpart, Meg March, when she married. Same way as Jo grieved Meg marrying, so did Louisa. Not because John, the real and the fictional one, 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, whereas 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 at the time and Louisa was 27. It happened only three weeks after they had lost their sister Lizzie. Louisa wished to keep the family together and fear of losing it is understandable. If you do research on transcendentalist, you will soon find out that there was a great deal of gender fluidity. I would highly recommend Susan Bailey's article on the 19th century female relationship in Little Women. I'll add the link to the description.
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, we love something, that 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. Masculinity and femininity are social structures made of biological and culture factors. Jo struggles to find a balance between the two, during the time that the world between man and woman was separated. There's a stereotype that Jo is quite adventurous. Is she? She's quite adventurous inside her head and she's 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 on boy's world through his masculine energy.
Jo likes to speak about sports and such, but because of her gender she's prevented to join any teams. In the first book, after Laurie pretended to be John Brooke and catfished Meg with letters and deeply hurt her, which is not never included in any movie adaptations, he asks Jo to go to Washington with him and surprise Mr. Brooke. Jo is tempted by the idea, but she sees that such a trip is Laurie's way of getting away from his grandfather.
Jo likes to dream but she knows that reality will be completely different, and Laurie never grows if he doesn't learn from his mistakes. Louisa's attempt, however, is not to make certain habits in a person clearly masculine or feminine, but to blur the lines. Jo is good at sewing and in fact she's a good dressmaker, 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 the 1949 film Jo sews and knits. In the book, Jo sees that Mr. Bhaer is mending his own socks and she's both surprised and impressed about it. She's 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, she practically adopts him. Louisa in her personal life was devoted to charity work and she worked as a nurse. Taking care of others was something that came naturally to her.
Gender fluidity 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 Nan and Dan.Jo doesn't like to go to parties or social events, like Meg and Amy do. She'd rather stays at home and writes. Jo doesn't fit well to Concord or the traditional female role. She's allowed to be herself in her home. She does compare herself to Meg and the way she's treated differently for being traditionally feminine.
Same happens with Amy in the second book. Jealousy Jo sometimes feels is caused by the fact that her sisters are better accepted than she is because of her nonconformity, and this causes Jo feelings of isolation. In chapter Calls, she rather speaks to pets and plays with the children of the house then 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 seemed 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 difficult relationship with, 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 see new acquaintances. And in her letters to Marmee and Beth, she writes that she feels shy among strangers.
Friedrich is based on several people in Louisa's life, and I have traced Friedrich to five different men and I intend to talk about all of them in these essays. I agree with many Alcott scholars that philosopher Henry David Thoreau was the real life Friedrich. I have made an entire video about his and Louisa's relationship. Check it out after you have finished this one.
I am now going to read you some passages from Little Women and Walter Harding's Thoreau biography.
Thoreau invited the Alcotts in for the Sunday dinner. Thoreau quickly realized that Alcott provided a very different intellectual fare than did even the most stimulating Concord farmer. The two found much in common to talk about and Alcott often read to Thoreau from his correspondence with his English disciples on theories of education. While the rest of the world was denouncing Bronson Alcott as an impractical dreamer, Thoreau was able to overlook his faults and foibles, of which there were unquestionably meany.
Little Women, chapter Surprises. Mr. Bhaer's face had lost the absentminded expression and looked all alive with interest in the present moment. Actually young and handsome, she thought, forgetting to compare him with Laurie as she usually did with strange men.
Then he seemed quite inspired, though the burial customs of the ancients, to which the conversation had strayed, might not be considered an exhilarating topic. Jo quite glowed with the triumph when Teddy got quenched in an argument, and thought to herself as she watched her father's absorbed face, how he would enjoy such a man as my professor to talk with every day.
This part reminded me the way Jo notices how Friedrich is helping the servant girl.
Even the household maids were delighted, for Thoreau was already ready and willing to mend what was broken, even before they would call them to his attention.
Henry appears in multiple disguises in Louisa's novels. He's Friedrich in Little Women, Dan Kean in Little Men and Jo's Boys, Adam Warwick in Moods, David in Work Story of Experience, and Mack in Rose In Bloom, just to name a few.
Many of Louisa's diary markings about Henry are censored. Still, 160 years ago people had right to their privacy.
Thank you for watching, guys. Next video is going to be all about the umbrella and the way Jo wishes that she would have someone to help her with her writings, much before she travels to New York. Make sure to tune back for it.
You can find my full Friedrich Bhaer research here.
The song is Small Umbrella in The Rain (sometimes known as the Jo´s and Friedrich´s song among fans) from Little Women Musical. Performed by John Hickok (Friedrich) and Sutton Foster (Jo).
Requested gift for Diane who has helped me immensely in my LMA research with all the sources she has provided.
Clips are from 1933, 1949, 1994, 2017, 2018 and 2019 Little Women adaptations.
Emily and I got together to talk about Laurie´s character arc and how it is missing from every-single-Little Women adaptation.
You can listen the podcast episode onSoundcloud
or watch this YouTube Video
Subscribe to Small Umbrella In The Rain — The Little Women Channel
For those of you who prefer to read, here is the transcription for you.
Hello friends and welcome to Small Umbrella In The Rain. A podcast series on all things Louisa May Alcott and Little Women. This is a special episode. A collaboration between me and booktuber Emiloid. Emily and I discovered that we have lots of similar opinions and thoughts about Little Women and our first conversation actually lasted four hours! We had so much fun that we are probably going to do more collaborations in the future. I hope you guys enjoy this. This is Small Umbrella In The Rain: The Laurie Problem.
Emily: Hello I am Emily. I am also known as Emiloid. I run a booktube channel by the same name and I am also a big fan of Little Women the novel and also a great fan of discussing the adaptations as well.
Niina: I am Niina. Hello everyone and I am a blogger on YouTube and I have a channel called Small Umbrella In The Rain. I do gender studies on Little Women and been lately focusing mostly on the male characters.
Emily: I am relatively well-known for my channel for a review I did on the newest Little Women adaptation.
Niina: Which was a really good review.
Emily: To say the least. Openly critical of the film and Niina reach out to me because we have lot of the same perspectives on the book and the films. I am very honored. I am really flattered that you asked me because I had literally found your blog when I was preparing for my video.
Niina: So nice because it was a really big surprise for me how many people reached out after I published it. You always learn new things when people reach out to you like that. They share their views and it´s been a pleasure.
Emily: I had lots of people reaching out to me ”wow I am so grateful that you have reflected my views on this film” and it feels like they finally got presented. Before I even knew you I remember thinking about your blog post, ”wow this person agrees with me” because you really love professor Bhaer and this film did not have professor Bhaer in it, pretty much. You know, they didn´t have our professor Bhaer in it.
Niina: Yeah, where is our professor Bhaer?
Emily: where is this beautiful relationship?
Emily: Today you wanted to discuss Laurie.
Niina: Among other things, yes.
Emily: Yes, among other things.
Emily: So we are going to do one video on this channel. On Niina´s channel and then one video on my channel, where we will be discussing Jo and professor Bhaer but you will probably find that our discussions will go on different tangents.
Niina: Very likely.
Emily: We have lots of feelings about these adaptations and this book.
Emily: Alright, how about we start out talking about the Laurie model. By the way I literally just watched the 2017 series last night.
Niina: oh you did?
Emily: I think I agree with a lot what you said about it. I like what they expanded but the ending is very rushed.
Niina: It is. I felt that the writer should have had four episodes to do it properly.
Emily: Somehow they managed to expand on some things but somehow the ending was just really rushed. I was so surprised at the end.
Niina: It did not build enough for the two couples. That really bothered me.
Emily: They didn´t really thought through the whole process for Jo and professor Bhaer and suddenly the school is established and they don´t build up on that. It was a bit weird. You sent me a bunch of articles and blog posts about this subject and you clearly had done very deep dive into his character.
Niina: I think my biggest problem with all Laurie´s presentations in the films is that it never follows the book´s narrative. This is something that really reflects to the way people read Little Women. I find it very problematic to say the least.
Emily: I know I remember you said that basically Laurie has to go through a whole growth process in the book, I guess we should preface it by saying that lot of the adaptations idealize him. What you said in your blog post. He is kind of this young, pretty guy who is in love with Jo. We are supposed to feel bad for him but what the adaptations leave out is how immature he really is and actually how horrible he is sometimes.
Niina: One of my blog readers, they wrote a very eye -opening review about Little Women, how Jo and Laurie, the ideas that they feed to each others, they actually end up harming each others on a long run and that is something that people constantly ignore.
Emily: Yes! I think a big example is, remember when Laurie was like ”Ah I don´t want to go to university" and Jo is like just run away, you don´t have to go to the uni and Meg is like ”No, don´t tell Laurie, not to go to uni. You need to do it”. At that point I was like wow these two are not good influence on each other at all.
Niina: Laurie was that kind of character that he always did what he was told to do. He always wants to do what he is told not to do and he has this constant inner conflict because of it.
Emily: That is true. He kinda reminds me of bit of me, I don´t think he really appreciated lot of the privilege he had at the start because he is like ”I don´t like uni” because he is expected to fit into a certain mold in the society what he doesn´t really properly appreciate. He was a party boy in college and messes around and everything. He doesn´t really know how to be a productive member of society. He doesn´t really understand what that means.
Niina: When Jo gets older, it really starts to bother her, that he doesn´t take responsibility of himself. She is like a little mother for him. She is always taking care of him and it is quite sad, the way Jo feels bad that he has all these privileges that she doesn´t have.
Emily: He represents lot of the things that she can´t have but he really takes for granted. I think you might have pointed this out in your blog post but Jo is very much taking care of him because he is really looking for a mother. He really kind of falls in love with her, or he thinks, because he is really looking for this character who is going to nanny him.
Niina: People forget that Laurie is an orphan. He doesn´t really have a stable parental figure until Jo arrives.
Emily: He is always envying that really idyllic view of the March family. All the sisters and their relationship with Marmee and Marmee essentially becomes his secondary mother in away. I think you also pointed out, despite of craving this maternal figure in his life, he and Jo like to make fun of very feminine girls. They have really mutually negative forcing views on femininity and masculinity as well. I was surprised when I re-read the book and I was like wow! Laurie was actually …am I allowed to swear on your channel?
Niina: Go ahead.
Emily: He is a fuckboy.
Emily: He is really a fuckboy but then he turns around and talked bad about these girls to Jo and I am like Wow, this is exactly the kind of guy I would have tried to avoid back in uni. He is quite misogynistic. I wonder what you think because you pointed out that Jo is disappointed with Laurie but I think also Amy is as well. I think Amy even if she doesn´t have the same kind of relationship with Laurie also really steps in and is the one to say ”Hey, you are really not being productive person and you are really idle” and she taps his hand. She is like, your hands, they have never done days work and I´m wondering if you could talk about your view on Jo and why Jo is kind of his mother but isn´t able to build that kind of relationship with him that Amy is somehow able to come out. Give him the same kind of talk but then isn´t really his mother and is actually able to get through him.
Niina: There is a theory that Amy already had a crush on Laurie when she was 12. When I read the book like that it makes sense because there is the scene where Laurie goes to cheer her up when she is staying at aunt March and all that.
Niina: I always liked that chapter but when I read Little Women last time what I noticed was that Laurie always behaves a lot better with Amy than he does with Meg or with Jo. With Meg or with Jo he always seems to have this idea that he is somehow above them but that doesn´t really happen with Amy. It´s really interesting.
Emily: Do you think it is because they are both younger siblings of Jo and Meg and they kind of are able to reach some sort of equal footing that way?
Niina: They are all just very different people. There is that chapter where Laurie forges letters in John´s name and then he is catfishing Meg and then Jo wants Meg and Laurie to get together. To keep Laurie in the family. She doesn´t really see how harmful that is to Meg´s reputation and Laurie doesn´t see any kind of harmful elements in his actions.
Emily: He is just kind of having fun but it really is a mean joke to play at somebody. Especially when one of them involves his teacher, who he really does not appreciate enough.
Niina: He really takes Mr Brooke for granted.
Emily: I think I read this on your blog and this really resonated with me. He is also quite toxic towards Jo especially when he wants to be in a relationship with her. He is saying ”I am going to kill myself over you”.
Niina: There is lots of mental blackmailing and it´s quite hard to read sometimes.
Emily: I think you quoted somebody who said, Laurie is a ”nice guy”. He is one of those nice guys who expect to get what he wants because he is so nice to that person.
Niina: He doesn´t really see Jo as an actual person at that point. He wants to marry her because he is expected to marry someone. When there is that time period when he is in Vienna and he is trying to compose. It is like he doesn´t really care who he is going to marry or who is this romantic woman that he is composing these operas for. It doesn´t really matter at that point because he has this idea that this is what a man is supposed to be like.
Emily: I think he writes about how he has this phantom of a woman in his mind and it is not really vague. He is not really thinking about Jo´s characteristics or anything like that. He just have this sort of Goethean idea of a woman. What we know doesn´t resemble Jo at all.
Niina: It is this phantom princess who is waiting for a prince to arrive, from an opera or a ballet. It´s really not Jo March and it is really not Amy either but when he starts to have deeper feelings for Amy, this phantom it starts to look more and more like Amy. It is one of those things that is never included
in the adaptations.
Emily: I am surprised. You are absolutely correct. No one gives Laurie this arc. Nobody delves into his feelings about the March girls. People even cut out that kind of toxic behavior that he has.
Niina: It is really weird. Very odd.
Emily: You know how these days we are talking about Twilight. Twilight is so toxic because Edward stalks Bella and is so possessive and I am just like, well you know, here is this nice guy who is very toxic towards the person he wants to be with and is no better. It really bugles my mind. That even a grown-up reader could go back to this character and be like ”oh Laurie should have been with Jo” and I don´t know if you saw but I think they are even coming out a book called ”Jo and Laurie”.
Niina: I heard about it. I am not going to read it. It´s going to make me angry.
Niina: I know better!
Emily: I don´t want to read it either. If you want to write fan fiction, fine, but I can´t believe people are actually publishing this stuff.
Niina: It´s ridiculous.
Emily: Buy this narrative that they should have been together. I really can´t believe it.
Niina: What it comes to Louisa, the whole premise of Little Women was to write a book for girls about how to marry someone who you can actually live with for the rest of your life and she really does this very well when you think about it because she especially crafted Friedrich´s character for Jo and then he is based on men who Louisa was in love with.
Emily: As we pointed out before, we don´t have lots of full characterizations of Laurie in the films. I am wondering, did you expect the 2019 film to do a better with his character?
Niina: I read very early interviews of Greta Gerwig who talked about the way Jo and Laurie have this relationship that is not romantic and that gave me hope but then I read the movie guide for the new film and then she takes it back. I think she is a Jo and Laurie shipper. Which is why Laurie doesn´t have an arc. What I have seen in Little Women circles with some of the people who I have talked with and interviewed for my articles, is that there are lot of people now who think that Laurie is very immature in that film and they are glad that Jo ended up with the professor. So it is some kind of improvement but he is still a million times more idealized in that movie than he is in the book.
Emily: The really dreamy Timothee Chamalet.
Niina: He doesn´t have a character arc. They did a pretty good job with Amy in that movie.
Emily: Yes, yes.
Niina: But it doesn´t work without Laurie´s arc. That is the problem.
Emily: That is very true. I was hoping to discuss this with you. Despite my very critical review of the new film. I think they were doing okay with Amy and Laurie. For up until the Europe part because I think setting up their relationship is pretty good. I think I said before in my review. I didn´t like how they contrived that with Amy´s painting being the set up for that because I think that is actually a very awful scene that is supposed to be a scene or righteous anger and I didn´t like that it was made to be comical. I liked that they did some work on establishing their relationship beforehand. I´d be okay with this and in Europe they have that discussion. Amy gives him talk and then Amy also doesn´t want to play second to Jo. I was like okay, this was fine. But then you noticed how Laurie doesn´t have to do any work for Amy?
Niina: That´s true.
Emily: I always found this to be a very crucial part of their arc. Amy even encourages him to be a productive member of society but then he never does any of that. That aspect of their story is left hanging and just incomplete and then it´s back to Beth´s death to speed up their relationship instead of him actually putting work in, which really sat badly with me.
Niina: That is something that really bothered me in the film and that kind of reflected into Jo´s character because she was not given a character arch either.
Emily: She is not. I said in my review her arc is flat without professor Bhaer.
Niina: If we compare that to the 1994 film, Jo has a full arc there. That is the way it goes in the book.
Emily: Yes she does. Despite Laurie not having much of a characterization, maybe not much more in the 1994 film. I liked that they actually acknowledged that he went away to actually better himself before coming back to Amy.
Niina: It doesn´t really build up their relationship as much as the 2019 film but Laurie has some sort of arc in that movie.
Emily: Now that we are talking about the film. I think you said in your blog post we don´t get a sense of his temper and how he would clash with Jo which is why we don´t always buy that they would kill each other.
Niina: That is the same with all adaptations. Louisa makes a really big effort in the book. She describes that Laurie has a temper and that he has these violent outbursts and Jo has them as well.
Emily: You get this sense that Laurie is butting heads with Jo, what he kind of is, but he also clashes with her in other ways but they never really represent that. I think in 1994 Christian Bale is really wonderful for the character that they wrote but I guess a lot of people have accused the film of making that relationship with Amy creepy. Underdeveloped maybe, but I never found it creepy particularly.
Niina: I think it´s because Amy is 12 in the first part and Laurie is 16 but it´s just a four years age difference and they are not romantically together in that way but then people also say that Jo and Friedrich are creepy but Jo is 24 when they meet. I never saw that creepy.
Emily: They are both adults.
Niina: It was written in the 19th century. Most marriages were marriages with age gaps and Louisa had a thing for older guys.
Emily: Back then it was super common.
Niina: For most people there was an age gap in the marriages or in relationships in general.
Emily: Because families generally wanted their daughters to marry established gentlemen. Who already had a living and generally it would take time for a guy to actually establish his career and when he did at that point he would marry somebody. So it is not shocking at all that you would have age gaps like that.
Niina: If you think about some of the recent films. For example the new Emma. In the original Jane Austen´s Emma, Knightley´s and Emma´s age difference is 19 years. In the new film, Knightley´s actor is much younger looking. They do that nowadays. The male lead is hired to be a young-looking guy, even if the actor is actually a bit older in reality.
Emily: It´s funny you know, in the 2019 film they did that with professor Bhaer. They were not going to do the proper arc anyway but they made him younger too.
Niina: The actor is actually 36 so his age is really close to the book Fritz but he looks much younger. It´s just Hollywood the way it does it but then if I think about Amy and Laurie in the 1994 film, I don´t think it´s creepy but if you think about how people could actually avoid that why can´t they actually hire a 16-year-old guy to play Laurie but people are going to complain about everything, it doesn´t matter who we are going to cast to play Laurie.
Emily: In the 2019 film I felt that it had an issue with Florence Pugh looking older in all of her scenes when Laurie just looked young in all of his scenes.
Niina: The actors are the same age.
Emily: They are the same age. It´s just that, you could not quite buy Amy or Florence Pugh as a child and you could never buy Timothee Chamalet as an adult. Whatever their real-life age is. It just doesn´t work in the sense of that visual contrast. I mean people have pointed out to me that Christian Bale was only 20 when he played Laurie but he is able to transition from being a teenager into an adult. Sometimes you know, even if the real age matches, that is the thing about casting, you need certain people to pass of different ages. It is weird because I haven´t seen the 1933 film but I noticed that both 1949 and 1994 don´t pay that much attention to Amy´s and Laurie´s arc. In fact,I think 1949 less so. It is not even there.
Niina: No. There is this scene before Laurie goes to propose Jo and Amy is looking at Laurie with a sad expression on her face. I think that is the only scene with them together and then there is the end when they end up together. That is their arc. Laurie´s proposal is extremely romanticized in that film and it´s really romanticized in 1933 film and 1994 film. 2019 film did better but then it completely erased Friedrich´s character so it kind of sucks.
Emily: Laurie in the 1949 film. I recall his proposal being pretty angry and I think that was the only time we could ever really buy into his character having a temper.
Niina: It is the same in the 1933 film. Laurie has a bit of a temper in it but after that, t is just really flat in the next adaptations.
Emily: I have watched the proposal scene in the 1933 film with Katherine Hepburn. At least he has that line ”I can´t believe you, you don´t know what you want”. Jo in 1949 was probably my least favourite. She never really handles scenes like that with much sensitivity. I don´t recall her being very in-depth about emotions in it with Laurie. My problems with that film are that they had no balls to do at of things. Amy´s canning, they come up right against it and back down from it, remember that. When she gets her hand beaten for having limes. They have the teacher almost hit her hand and then he doesn´t do it.
Niina: I really like Elizabeth Taylor as Amy but the problem with that movie is that they make her the butt of the joke and I don´t like that because that is not something that the book does so it kind of brings out this Amy against Jo positioning again. It should´t be there. It romanticizes Laurie the same way as it does with Mr Bhaer´s character so it becomes Laurie versus Fritz and then Amy versus Jo and it´s just not the way the book goes. The book makes it very clear that Amy is really perfect for Laurie, and Fritz is perfect for Jo. I still haven´t seen an adaptation that does it the way the book does.
Emily: Yeah that´s true. I think they did professor Bhaer pretty well in 1949 film.
Niina: They actually build up that relationship pretty well.
Emily: I appreciated that.
Niina: He is Italian, but I´m going to overlook that.
Emily: We should probably save this for the professor Bhaer video.
Emily: I like it when the adaptations build up that relationship. I guess some people will argue and say. Oh, you can´t really develop some of these scenes because or run-time. Because there isn´t really time to do these things but I feel like there is not really an excuse sometimes. When you have the really incomplete arcs for everybody. The 2019 film tried to do this with Meg´s arc, dealing with poverty in her marriage, but then they just kind of slapped on a happy ending on that and they were just like we are not going to explore it. We are not going to have any sort of conclusion.
Niina: It was left half-developed but I think that happens a lot with Meg´s character.
Emily: In the beginning,I liked that they were trying to do something with her. They ended up not really properly deal with her in a way that I would like. First of all Emma Watson, as we´ve discussed can´t carry on that kind of quiet strength that Meg has. When you bring something like a marital issue, a serious marital issue, I don´t think you should be like ”Oh I am just going to sell it! Get rid of the silk” you didn´t make the issue go away.
Niina: There was an older version of the script. One of the older versions where her melt-down was included but it wasn´t added into the movie and I heard that it was because of Emma Watson´s performance and that James Norton had to carry out many of the scenes. It goes back to the casting I guess.
Emily: We discussed this before, casting Emma Watson was very much based on her other accomplishments other than acting. Because she plays the same character in every film she is in. I do admire her as an activist but I have not been impressed with her since Harry Potter. Having recently watched the 2017 film..mini-series. Did you think they did any better with Laurie´s arc or no? Because I don't think he really put in much work either. What did you think?
Niina: I think he was very idealized in that version once again. He is a very melancholic character there. Laurie in the books, he can be very uplifting and very funny sometimes.
Emily: As I said, his interactions with Amy, they were able to build up that relationship a bit more. They acknowledged his musical side. Which is an improvement? I think they tried to get in some of his clashes with Jo. When their characters bummed up their heads sometimes. I think they do a bit of that. When he ends up with Amy and they come together. We don´t see Amy getting him to put his life in order. I feel again, that is such an important part of their story. Amy is the one to get him to be a productive person.
Niina: Amy´s portrayal in that series it is really a villainization. It was once again putting Amy against Jo. For once they adapted my favourite chapter, which is Calls. She gets to go to Europe and Jo doesn´t get to go to Europe because Jo is actually really rude towards aunt March.
Niina. In that particular version, it was framed that we should admire Jo for being rude to aunt March and Jo is like a feminist hero because of that and then Amy is quite happy that Jo doesn´t get to go. Then in the book, it is the opposite. Amy is really horrified by Jo´s actions and she feels ashamed by it. It is not something that she is secretly glad about and when she finds out that she is chosen and Jo is not chosen. She is really sad for Jo. She really feels bad for her. I think 2019 film had that part done much better.
Emily: Jo and Amy rivalry, the problems I had with 2017 I had similar issues with 2019 where I felt like Amy and Jo were somehow in competition over Laurie, which I don´t like that dynamic.
Niina: That doesn´t happen in the book because Jo never wants to be with Laurie romantically. She is very clear about it since the beginning.
Emily: The only reason she would ever consider accepting Laurie is that´s because she was lonely and that was really the only reason. I think in 2017 when I saw Jo is like ”oh she is engaged to Laurie what! And I was like ”No” they are not supposed to be in competition over this guy. That is not how it works.
Niina: It really has to do a lot with the scriptwriter and how they feel about the characters because I read an interview from Heidi Thomas who wrote that show and she was not a big fan of Amy. So you can really see how that reflects in the film. Jo doesn´t really have an arc and Amy doesn´t really have an arc. It´s all just a mess.
Emily: I did feel some of the weaknesses in the writing. I don´t know if it is the issue with that actress who plays Jo but sometimes she can´t always pass off Jo´s lines in a believable way. I liked other aspects of that series. The civil war. They included a lot of elements of that which I appreciated. There is a lot more of Marmee and their father.
Niina: That was something that I really liked about it and they developed their characters a bit more and it was a new take so it was refreshing.
Emily: I am always a fan of a strong Marmee because Marmee has to deal with so much. She has to mother the four girls. She is kind of a secondary mother to Laurie. She has to give him addressing down at some point and she has to run a household that is financially struggling. So you need a very substantial Marmee and I love what they did with her in that mini-series. That´s an issue I had with 2019 film. She is so overly happy about everything.
Niina: It was a bit strange and they didn´t really put that much effort to show the struggles that were going on. In the opening of the film, I think there was a quote from Louisa ”I write happy stories because of my tragic life” or something like that. You don´t really see any of that tragic life. That was something that bothered me because you see that in Little Women, the book itself.
Emily: I know, the whole point of Little Women is about people getting over their struggles and to find happiness despite the unhappiness. That is why I don´t like the framing device of the 2019 film. ”Oh well the childhood was so simple and warm and happy and now this dark time and adulthood is so complicated” I am just like ”No, it wasn´t that happy even when they were kids. They were poor and they had to struggle. They had to work very hard from a young age. It was not that simple. It is very pessimistic too because the whole point is that you are supposed to build up into adulthood and you know to find your happiness there as well. That thematic bent on it I did not agree with it at all.
Niina: What it comes to Amy´s character and her relationship with Laurie, the dilemma against Amy´s character is that some people say she is really vain, or that she marries for money, but then if you actually read the book, she says that she wants to marry…what was the name of the rich guy she was dating?
Emily: Fred Vaughn
Niina: Fred Vaughn! Because she wants to provide a good life for her family. So she is thinking it is some kind of a sacrifice that she must make. That she is not going to marry for love but marry for convenience.
Emily: I don´t think she loves the idea of marrying for money. She always has her family in mind. I think the book burning incident sends a t of people against Amy and I think that incident always makes Amy seem like an anti-Jo in away but she is also a kid at that point. Later on, we are supposed to see her become this really mature person and eventually is able to set the guy she marries stray, so she does marry for love and it works out very well for her. She is incredibly mature character. She has a sense of social graces. She actually genuinely cares about Jo.
Niina: Yes, she does.
Emily: 2019 film really keeps setting up Amy and Jo even with their artistic pursues. Did you notice that? Amy being like ”I am always in the shadow of Jo” implying that even artistically she is in competition with her.
Niina: If you read the first part of Little Women before the whole book burning accident Jo is really making fun of Amy constantly and she is bullying her. There is a whole episode of Jo being a mean big sister. It is pretty normal what it comes to siblings that you fight with them. Especially when you are younger and they both have high tempers. It is when Amy wants to become a lady. She starts to work on her flaws. She starts to control herself. She sees that she can be better and then the whole premise of Little Women is that all the sisters want to improve themselves somehow. With Jo, her biggest issue is her anger and she is very aware of that and Amy thinks that it is her vanity that is the problem. If you actually read the book. She is not really a vain person. It´s in her head.
Emily: The vanity is more about her desire to fit into certain circles of society.
Niina: They are a very poor family and Meg has the same problem, that she wants to fit into society. To the world of the young girls. Then she thinks it is vain for her wanting to do that because she comes from a different social class but the Marches they used to be part of the higher social class and they fell down. Meg is the one who still remembers what it was like.
Emily: It really hits harder for her because she remembers the days when her family was still living comfortably.
Niina: It is not wrong for her for wanting to be that again but she makes it a big deal for herself and that is quite sad but I think it also has a t to do with 19th century Christian morals and all that. We can´t really fully understand that because we live in 2020.
Emily: It is hard for us now to really identify with that Christian perspective that novel really has because when I read it this time around ”wow there is a lot of Christianity in this book”. They structured their entire lives around these ideals. Of course, can understand why they would now try to tone it down in the adaptations but I am not really a fan how they totally wash that out because that played such a big part in how they viewed their labour in life.
Niina: It also explains at of the things that people struggle nowadays to understand in Little Women. I think it would be important to talk about it more.
Emily: I think so. I think that the Christianity, transcendentalism aspect of the story is very important and I liked that the 1994 film actually acknowledged that intellectual circle that they were part of.
Niina: That´s one of my favourite things about that film.
Emily: They got lots of nice historical, context in that film. The philosophical discussion I love it. But definitely Christianity it´s such a huge thing and why Little Women is also such fundamentally American novel is that ideal. You work hard and things will be okay.
Niina: That´s a very important part of American literature in general.
Emily: You can really understand our current ideals about personal responsibility, personal development when you really delve into this book and it plays out with all the characters. About being able to grow up and become productive and give back. I think, you know, people are always so upset about Jo not becoming a famous writer. You know she finds joy in being productive.
Niina: She does become a famous writer but people just don´t read the sequels.
Niina: She is very famous in Jo´s Boys. She is so famous she is really annoyed by her fame. When do we get Jo´s boys adapted?
Emily: I confess to not reading Jo´s Boys but I have read summaries of the book and people are like ”oh she doesn´t become famous” and I´m like, she does become famous in Jo´s boys.
Niina: It took Louisa a long time to become a famous writer. It´s the same with Jo. It doesn´t happen in one night. It takes work.
Emily: It does! Art is work. Jo, he had to go through a lot failures to get into that point. Art is hard. I know that to be true. I feel like we are heading into Jo discussion now.
Niina: Okay, back to Laurie.
Emily: Back to Laurie!
Niina: In the book when he is in Vienna, he really goes through that process of self-discovery, self-growth and self-understanding. I have this thing when I read Little Women I always get really frustrated by Laurie because I don´t understand his character, his actions and it is not until there is that chapter when he is in Vienna I start to understand who he actually is. It´s really interesting and it happens after Amy´s lecture. She is the first one he actually listens and I think the difference between Amy and Jo is that Laurie took Jo for granted. He doesn´t take Amy for granted. I don´t think Laurie was even in love with Jo. He was in love with the idea of being in love. He was afraid to grow as a person so he was clinging on to Jo so that he doesn´t need to grow and so that he doesn´t need to take responsibility for his life. Amy actually tells Laurie the truth. This is the way it is and you need to do something about it. In away Amy´s character is similar to Friedrich, in that sense, Friedrich tells Jo the truth. This is the way it is. You can improve yourself or you can stay at the same level you have been. This is what is missing in the adaptations. That whole sequence of Laurie in Vienna and the way he actually decides to be useful for the society. Do a favour for himself. He is about 24 at that point. He has been living in a bubble for most of his life. Very privileged, young, aristocrat life. I just love that scene when Amy and Laurie are rowing the boat together and that has never been adapted either.
Emily: I feel like it is so important to his story because lots of young people could probably identify with that now. A lot of people come from that privileged circle and they have these dreams that may take a little bit longer to process. ”I am just going to be an artist” you know. ”I am just going to live this bohemian life” and then it´s like ”oh well I didn´t really contribute anything and these are all just fantasies. Naturally, am just going to get into work now”. It is funny in our culture because I don´t know if I am wrong but I feel that lot of us really want that ideal ”oh no be an artist, follow your dreams”. For some people, t is only talking and what they really need to do is to get a job”
Niina: He doesn´t even really know how to be an artist. He hasn´t really done that work-in-process that it takes to get into that level that he wants to be.
Emily: He hasn´t worked on his art the same way as even Jo has because Jo gets that it is work.
Niina: It is the same with Amy when she comes to the realization that she is not going to be a great artist. She continues doing art but then at the same time she combines that with her other passions, like charity work and supporting young artists. She finds a different way to approach her passions.
Emily: I found a recent YouTuber who reviewed the new film and they were almost like ”oh I didn´t like that in the book, that everyone is just married”
Niina: What a misunderstanding!
Emily: Not married in the exclusion of everything else. I mean sometimes it´s just a reality for people. Sometimes they can´t make it so sometimes they need to channel their passions in different ways. That is the reality of life. That is what Louisa May Alcott understood.
Niina: That is what I like about Little Women is that you can have it all. You can have a good career and you can have a relationship with a person that respects you. It´s such a win-win situation really.
Emily: I can not for the life of me understand why people find that unsatisfactory. It is even a promise for people who don´t even feel like they could find someone that they could marry. Even if you would feel like couldn´t be with anyone. Then you can find somebody. It is something that I don´t think the 2019 film really understood. I think they really wanted to push that whole independent woman narrative and I just really don´t like what that film seems to misunderstand about that book. They at least did a ce job with Amy and her speech about marriage being an economic proposition. That´s a pretty good scene actually. That´s a scene I didn´t hate.
Niina: In the 19th-century marriage was an economical proposition. It was really interesting when I did my research on Louisa and especially on Friedrich´s character. She was part of the movement, where it became more important than love and romance was part of marriage and not just money. That is something that Louisa is promoting in all of her novels. That is something that people are not aware these days. We don´t like to bother ourselves with historical facts about the author but there is lots of misunderstandings about Louisa as a person that is reflected in the way we read Little Women. It´s been really interesting to do research about her.
Emily: She is a real feminist in a t of ways and I think people have these very contradictory ideas about her and I don´t know if it is because Little Women has been around so long that our interpretations are changeable in a t of ways because we are like ”oh she was a feminist” I think they kind of understand that but then ”oh no but Louisa would have been on board with these other notions now, she didn´t really want marriage she forced her characters into it”. They want to force Little Women to conform to their own modern narrative when you really can not do that. That is the problem, in the adaptation if you do that.
Niina: This idea that Louisa was forced to marry her characters, it is really the opposite. She puts lots of effort to explain why these marriages work and why it should be this way. These character arcs they are really beautifully crafted in the book and the way these characters, the way they complement each other and it is really the same in all of her novels. I have been reading quite many of Louisa´s novels recently and I always surprised the way she does that. It is something that she is really into.
Emily: Jo´s story really doesn´t work, I mean none of them really work essentially without their partnerships, not because they are nothing without their partnerships but because being able to share a life with somebody, she saw that as being able to achieve harmony in your life. To be able to form your own circle, your own family.
Niina: In many ways that fits with the transcendentalist idea of romance. There is this quote from Louisa, well not a quote, but something she had highlighted from her favourite book, how the character evolves, person transcends with another person. She is very fond of this idea.
Emily: That is a very Christian idea, to form a union with the person that you marry. It is not that you are not your own person, just that you build something better with another person, that is bigger than both of you.
Niina: I think that was something that was a very radical idea in the 19th century and nowadays we take that for granted.
Emily: It is a real shame that so much of Little Women has been worked overtime by our modernizing world. Like I said before, we seem to have the desire to form Little Women into our modern world, into our modern ideals when really we are just restoring the work.
Niina: It is difficult to understand Little Women if we don´t know the historical context of it.
Emily: That´s very true. I really admire adaptations that try to put the story into its historical context. I think that context is everything. You might have heard me criticizing the costuming in the new film, for instance, they are like ”we are trying to make it sort of you know pseudo-modern and we are trying to make it relatable and we are trying to do this and that to make it more relatable to the audience” and I´m just like ”are you saying that you need to strip away that context in order to make it relatable. Are you saying we can´t relate to Civil War? Or anything from that era? Is that what you are saying?” That seems very condescending.
Niina: It takes away from the story itself when we are being distracted by the modernism in away or post-modernism in this case. Or the post-modern ideas which are not part of the story itself.
Emily: We touched a bit the Amy rivalry with Jo. You felt that they had kind of villainization of Amy in the 2017 show. They expanded her character a bit more in 2019. How do you feel about how they expanded Amy´s character and that rivalry? Because I think they really lean into it remember when Jo is flashing back to Amy falling in the lake and she burned the book and she is like ”oh Amy finds a way to get out of easy situations, get out of hard situations” which took me back because it was like ”No, she was called to be with aunt March, she was travelling with aunt March. In that other situation, ´d say, she was very ashamed of what she did and she almost died. I don´t understand where you are coming from when you say that she gets out of situations.
Niina: That is a very weird way to look at Amy. In the book, she feels humiliation. She really regrets some of the things that she does. Jo also regrets things that she has said to Amy. Jo regrets some of her behaviour patterns. But I think that the 2019 film did okay in that sense it showed that Jo and Amy were sides of the same coin. They are very similar and when they realize that they are actually very similar they become much closer. That is an improvement what it comes to Jo and Amy and understanding their relationship. One of the biggest problems in all the adaptations is really idealizing Jo a lot and not really see her as a full character. Really as a human being who actually does regret sometimes the things that she says. Things that she does.
Emily: She is very flawed.
Niina: Yeah, she is very aware that she is flawed. We live in this culture where we are supposed to idealize people who are adamant and don´t want to change or are rude or aggressive. That´s just not the way Little Women is written to be. Jo sees that her actions are harming other people and that is one of the reasons why she doesn´t want to be with Laurie or hang out with him on the second part because she sees that they are feeding each other with these toxic ideas.
Emily: I don´t know how much young adult fiction you read but it is a common trend to have this female protagonist, you even see that in Star Wars where we have this female character who can do no wrong. Is very spunky and we are supposed to admire that. I think our culture has become a bit adverse to what we are trying to get off from Little Women. Jo is supposed to soften out. She is trying to not harm people with her behavior and it is a good thing for her because she becomes a more compassionate person. That is what becoming more tender means. That is how her father puts it. She has become a more tender person because she is just are a compassionate individual. That is also what happens with Amy as well. She also wants to be a productive person. She also gets to understand that all these things you get in life, you have to work for them as well.
Niina: Amy is very compassionate and she is a very kind person. I really like that in the books. She cares about other people.
Emily: You noticed even when Fred Vaughn asked her to marry him, she is like ”it´s not fair for either of us”. She has to think herself and this other guy and, it wouldn´t be kind to either of them. I really respect her character a lot.
Niina: I think Amy was really the one in the family who really loved aunt March. They really ruined aunt March for me in the 2019 adaptation because she was way too kind in it. It is Amy who makes her a bit softer in the book. Meryl Streep is great don´t get me wrong but aunt March is a tough person to get along with.
Emily: She is a very tough lady. She is a very crusty lady because she has lived alone for a while. Her kid died. Her husband died. She has got a little bit bitter over the years. You can´t really blame her and Jo was like ”oh I am just so done with this gig, reading to this lady” Amy is the only one who is really able to properly connect to aunt March. Aunt March in her heart she loves these girls. She loves them all.
Niina: She does. She loves her nephew as well but she is not impressed by his way of being.
Emily: Sometimes when she was like ”oh you made this really awful decision I can´t believe it” sometimes I feel that way about other people in my life ”oh I can´t believe you did that in your life what are you doing?”
Niina: She is quite relatable in the end.
Emily: Yeah she is really relatable. I mean isn´t that what adulthood is eventually, relating to aunt March.
Niina: The part of her losing her child, I didn´t realise that until last time I read the book. Somehow it had slipped off. I had a talk about in Louisa May Alcott group on Facebook with some people and we were all thinking about what was the back story of aunt March and this child and her husband.
Niina: That would make a really interesting story for someone to write. It seemed that they had a very loving relationship based on the book, it must have made her bitter to lose it.
Emily: Somebody write the aunt March book. She is that sort of person you need to come to her level and when you do, she´ll be nice to you. She will do things for you. Amy is really capable of doing that. She doesn´t even take aunt Marches belongings. Aunt March gives her a turquoise ring. She is like ”I am not going to always wear it, it wasn´t just for the material possessions that I worked hard”. I think they wasted Meryl Streep in the 2019 film. They did not do enough of her at all. I think her job was to be like ”well you know as a woman you are supposed to marry well” and that was it for her character. There is a lot more dimensionality I like, that other adaptation add that on.
Niina: I love her in the 1994 film. She is one of my favourite characters. Very much like in the book.
Emily: You have to have that kind of element of toughness and also those nuances as well. I love Angela Landsbury as her in 2017 series.
Niina: She was very good.
Emily: She is very good.
Niina: I liked the way that version developed her relationship with Jo.
Emily: That final scene between the two of them.
Niina: It didn´t really do that well with Amy and aunt March because it didn´t do that well with Amy but there is always something that seems to be missing.
Emily: Little Women, it is so hard to adapt, so hard to get all these elements.
Niina: There are elements that I like in all adaptations and there are things that I don´t like in all the adaptations.
Emily: That is true. I am so critical about the 2019 film and there are things that I like in it, referring to comments on my video ”why did you hate it? Why did you say that?” ”well I did like this aspect of the film like I didn´t like these ten other things”.
Niina: We are talking about a book that was written 150 years ago. We are allowed to be critical about the adaptations and we are allowed to talk about the things that are missing, like Laurie´s arc.
Emily: We should.
Niina: Things don´t move forward if we don´t talk about these things and the way we approach the book.
Emily: I think we should have these discussions. To some extend a lot of people are too afraid to talk about against the 2019 film because I got that sense from a lot of my comments ”I didn´t like this all that much but I couldn´t really validate why I didn´t like it until I saw your video” and so many people were so up and arms against when I criticized it and I´m just like ”well if you are really that upset with me then go find these other people that talk other ways”. I even appreciate it when people talk about some aspect that in the 1994 film that doesn´t work as well which I also acknowledge. You are adapting 500+ page book there are things you are not going to get. I get that Amy and Laurie's relationship isn´t that developed and I would have liked it if Meg would have had more screen time after she got married. I do appreciate those things.
Niina: Laurie is connected to all of this.
Emily: He is a side-character but he plays different roles to different people.
Niina: When I started to do my research on Laurie´s character specifically I began to understand him better when I started to pay more attention to the way he has this emotional turmoil because when I was younger I used to be very much the same. I wish that we would see that more in the adaptations because that is the part that is always missing and people misunderstand it because they see that something romantic. We don´t see Laurie´s struggles. He is really a creep sometimes. If we would see that we wouldn´t have the TeamBhaer/TeamLaurie debate. Especially if you are hardcore TeamBhaer like you and I are if you really like Amy as well and you actually have read the book many many many times. It just puzzles my mind how people can misunderstand the book so terribly.
Emily: I feel that even the fans of the book who have also read it many times still have this view on Laurie and these characters which still feels such a surface level interpretation of the book.
Niina: Feels like they haven´t really paid that much attention to what they have read. That´s all in the book and they still don´t seem to understand it. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to do an in-depth study on Laurie and Friedrich as well. It really surprised me that it was really difficult to find unbiased views on Laurie that weren´t about Jo or Amy but Laurie himself as a character, his actions and his behaviour.
Emily: In a sense, we are no better when people first read ”Young Werther” by Goethe. People looked at Werther and were like ”Oh my God, we should all die suicide for love and I think Goethe was ”No, don´t do that, this was not about that”.
Niina: Yeah, he was criticizing himself and his own behavior as a young person. For those of you who are new here. Louisa based Laurie´s character arc to young Werther which is Goethe´s novel from the 18th century Germany. Just a little side note, and Friedrich is based on Goethe on one-level. We will get into that.
Emily: Yes. In the other video. I read Werther in German. It´s a lovely read but you also see some of the ridiculousness of that kind of romantic vision because he really relates to these big storms, these thunderstorms. It signifies his emotional events and it really makes fun of that and people at the time didn´t get that and people also don´t seem to get that now.
Niina: It is very harmful when suicide is being romanticized in general or trying to blackmail someone for ”romantic” reasons that are really harmful and that is something that is still not recognized fully enough.
Emily: Like I said before if we are criticizing that behavior in books now, in fiction that is coming out now, then why can´t we change the way that we see this character. I wonder if people decide how they see him because of the films.
Niina: I´v been thinking about this a lot. The films they tend to include the same scenes. Then there are those scenes that are being dismissed. Laurie, he is idealized and romanticized. His flaws are downgraded and with Amy, it is the opposite.
Emily: Which is why some people get angry when they get together. You are missing all that nice context. I think really Little Women needs a proper show. Not even just a mini-series. We need a show. Otherwise you don´t pick up on all these really great scenes that add dimensions to these characters. I really liked that exploration you did based on Goethe because I hadn´t really seen that character that way before. More discussions like these need to happen.
Niina: I just love this. This is great.
Emily: I am having a lot of fun.
Niina: Next people who are going to adapt Little Women, have a good listen of these talks we are having.
Emily: I hope so. I really hope so.
Niina: Both me and Emily are definitely available to be consultants on these matters and we know people who can help you more.
Emily: Hollywood needs to head us up. That´s our discussion on Laurie and Amy also on different films as well. Of course we went on different tangents on different characters because all these things are connected. I hope you enjoyed our discussion of Laurie.
Niina: Thank you for listening guys.
Emily: Thank you.
I wanted to do this for ages and I finally did it! Jo and Fritz dancing and the song is called "Tanz mit mir" (dance with me) from my favorite German band Faun. Clips from 2019 Little Women.
There was a real-life Friedrich Bhaer. In fact, you can find him from all Louisa May Alcott´s writings. Read my full- research cultural and historical evolution of Fritz Bhaer.
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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