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