Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy (and the boy next door)
There is no hate for any of the characters, please do not leave that to the comments either.
If you'd like to participate in constructive online conversations about this essay, please do leave comments and share it in your social media networks.
This article has been updated and fact-checked on September 2020
(Originally published in October 2019).
Original Description of Laurie
Theodore Laurie Lawrence is one of the most complicated characters in Little Women and his cultural and cinematic history is also complicated. More than often the Hollywood adaptations of the book changes our perspective of the characters. In the original book that was published in 1868 Laurie is both foreign and androgynous.
Laurie has brown skin, curly black hair, long nose, nice teeth, little hands and feet. He is the same size as Jo making him equal to her. When he asks Jo to dance he makes a little French bow.
For the 1880 edition of Little Women Louisa´s publisher demanded her to make changes for the books. Little Women was a huge hit and publishers want to make money. Now all Laurie´s foreign features were removed because they were not suitable for a romantic suitor. He became more handsome, no mention of the colour of his skin and he is taller than Jo, making him superior to her.
The problem with these changes was that LMA herself never meant Laurie to be a romantic suitor for Jo. Quoting her own words when she created Laurie she gave her alter-ego a brother that she never had. It is the 1880 version with more "masculine Laurie" that is familiar to most people. This description of him remained in the books nearly 100 years. When I read Little Women as a child my Finnish version did not have any mention of Laurie being androgynous neither there was any mentions about his skin colour. The translation I read had been made in 1920´s. Last Finnish translation of Little Women appeared in 2012 so that is when the Finnish readers got to read the original description of Laurie for the first time. Little Women has been translated into more than 50 languages. Many translations especially the older ones are abridged and entire chapters are missing.
Another very important part of Laurie is that he has androgynous looks. In the famous and beloved 1933 film version of Little Women Douglas Montgomery plays Laurie and he has very androgynous looks. He has quite feminine and soft features. Katherine Hepburn´s Jo is close to the book Jo. She is tall, with androgynous looks and sharp features and a strong way to carry herself. Little Women is a semi-biographical novel and Jo´s character is loosely based on Louisa herself and Louisa was a tomboy and not traditionally feminine.
Hollywood and Adaptive Attractiveness
What it comes to Little Women adaptations they are model examples of adaptive attractiveness. Adaptive attractiveness refers to the way Hollywood changes the appearance of a book character. Who in the story is described from anything from old to ugly from androgynous to plain looking is played by an attractive actor in a film version. As we learned the adaptive attractiveness of Laurie already started in the 19th century. In films/tv adaptations Jo, Laurie and Friedrich all go through adaptive attractiveness. This does not mean that beautiful actors can not play these characters or that we should stop watching these movies. Some of them are the best adaptations of Little Women. The reason for this is the same as Louisa´s publisher changing Laurie´s looks, to make money. Studios invest great deal of money to the films and the best way to make profit and get viewers is to hire attractive actors.
Problems With Adaptive Attractiveness and Little Women
Louisa´s original description of the three characters is a big part of the narrative. Adaptive attractiveness is deeply rooted idea in our culture. Starting from fairy-tales which follow the Hollywood narrative that love only belongs to the young and attractive. When Little Women appeared it became a massive hit and it made Louisa May Alcott a billionaire. When young girls came to visit Louisa they often left disappointed because they were expecting to see young and pretty Jo March. Instead they saw Louisa who was rather plain looking. Sometimes she even opened the door dressed up as a maid and she said to the young fans of Jo March that Miss Alcott was not at home. An effective way to get rid of fans.
Flipping Gender Stereotypes
Laurie in the books is a complex character with both good and bad qualities. He is an orphan living together with his distant grandfather. Laurie was an aspiring pianist. He had no problems becoming best friends with four girls next door. He put snow to Meg´s ankle, saved Amy from drowning and was Jo´s bff. That is what we usually see in the movies but in the books Laurie is much more complicated character. Louisa was ahead of her time. She refused to impose any gender stereotypes to any of her characters. In 19th century context Laurie and his love for music can be seen as a more effeminate trait. Even the way he is lonely in the big old mansion follows the narrative of the 19th century where young women were domesticated and shut down from the social life. In one of my favourite chapters in Little Women camp Lawrence Laurie is compared to a colt, a gun that can go off at any given minute. Colt also refers to an untamed horse. In the beginning of Little Women Jo is also referred to a colt.
No Temper For Laurie (Or For Jo)
In many ways the 1933 film is loyal to the books but (naturally) it shows the characters through 1930´s lens. Both Jo and Laurie lack their aggressive outbursts they have in the books. Dougla´s Montgomery´s Laurie and Peter Lawford´s Laurie from 1949 both have bit of a temper which is what you can see in the proposal scene but in all adaptations after them Laurie´s temper is missing. In the 1949 version Laurie played by Peter Lawford is one of the most idealized Laurie´s. He has run away from the school. Lied his age to get into army were he got wounded (we can´t see any wounds). He is also extremely kind and charming. Film does not either show Laurie´s and Amy´s time in Europe together.
Why Jo and Laurie don´t end up together
(Or why our expectations of tropes set us up for disappointment)
Quote from @thatvermillionflycatcher
We are used to seeing literature for women as romances or epic fantasy. Not that there is anything wrong with any of those genres. But this perspective sets us up expect and assume some things. For example we expect the main couple in the novel to be introduced to us in the first few chapters. Usually via some kind of meet-cute or meet-ugly.
But Little Women isn´t a romance novel. It features love and marriage but the romance is not the core of the story. We read chapter three where Jo and Laurie meet and we read it as meet-cute. It never crosses our mind to expect a meet-ugly between Laurie and Meg. For example because Meg is not the protagonist and Jo thinks of an arrangement between Meg and Laurie.
Little Women is a strange story if you think it as a romance. Because the protagonist marries a character that appears well into book two but this is not a problem because it is not a romance. Alternative reading is the adventure quest. The heroine is different. Has a new world view and engages in a quest to change her world but Jo isn´t a heroine in this way. If there are two defining characteristics of Jo´s character those are her anger and her fear of change. She doesn´t want Meg to marry Mr. Brooke not because she thinks that marriage is a constricting future for Meg because it would mean change in her family. Meg would no longer live with them. The family dynamics would be totally different and the mere idea terrifies Jo.
Jo´s quest doesn´t fail because there was no quest. Little Women isn´t an adventure novel either. It is as many people like to point out but frequently seem to overlook consequences of a semi-biographical novel. It is the life story of four sisters. A slice of life with everything it brings. Love and romance and some adventures. Yes but the simplicity of every day life. Pain, lost, friendship, family, work, talent and virtues.
Let´s talk about gender
In this essay I will be writing a great deal about men and women, masculine and feminine, male and female. So much that some of you might wonder what are my thoughts about gender in general. Gender is a spectrum and fluid spectrum for that. Some people fit to one point at the scale and that is fine. Some people are more fluid and that is fine as well. When I use the word "men" that refers to one particular demographic and they are not people with male parts, beards or beer bellies but simply people who identify as men. Same with women. Not just people with breasts and ability to give birth but people who identify as women. Femininity on the other hand is a set of attributes, behaviours and roles generally associated with girls and women. Femininity is made up of both socially defined and biologically created factors. Definition of masculinity is similar. Set of attributes, behaviours and roles generally associated with boys and men. Masculinity as well is made up of both socially defined and biologically created factors. Both males and females can exhibit both masculine and feminine traits. In Little Women especially Louisa May Alcott explored masculinity and femininity through social and cultural factors of her time and it is a very common theme in all of her works.
When Jo does find out that Meg does have romantic feelings towards Mr. Brooke Jo becomes angry and upset. She literally runs to her room and cries. She says Marmee that she would rather marry Meg herself than have her family torn apart. This has made many to believe that Jo is a lesbian. I personally believe it´s more about gender fluidly. Susan Bailey has an insightful article in her blog about 19th century female relationships reflected in Little Women. Also when Louisa´s sister Anna announced that she was getting married Anna was 28 and Louisa was 27 and it happened couple weeks after their sister Lizzie had passed away so Louisa´s wish to keep her family together is understandable. Couple years later Louisa wrote to her journal that it was a great blessing to their whole family, that Anna had married John Pratt, and that she became to love him like a brother. John Pratt, was model for John Brooke.
Louisa May Alcott was born in 29th of November 1831. Her mother Abigail was one of the first social workers in US. Her father Bronson was a religious reformer, educator and one of the leading figures in New England´s transcendentalist movement. Louisa had three sisters; Anna, Lizzie and May. From a very young age Louisa was introduced to the intellectual circles of the time. Likes of Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreu, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emmerson. Many Louisa´s family members and friends were abolitionists, suffragettes and women´s rights activists. Louisa´s farther was a controversial figure already during his life time but some of his more respectable aspects was that he wanted his daughters to have a proper education.
Marriage between Abba and Bronson was stormy and argumentative. Often Bronson would refuse to look for work and put his highly spiritual ideas before his own family. Bronson Alcott was a very controversial figure even during his own lifetime. Louisa´s childhood was way less idyllic than Jo´s. From very early on she started to support her family with her writings. In the 19th century context the role of the provider was seen more masculine. There were times when Alcott´s lived in extreme poverty. Louisa´s love and dedication for her mother Abba was fierce and protective. Same way as the Marches the Alcott´s went through hard time together and both Jo and Louisa were protective over their family. In the 19th century puberty began much later on than now days. Part of Louisa´s youth was also time spent in Fruitlands, a spiritual community based on transcendentalist ideas started by Alcott and John Slayne. Some of the rules in Fruitlands was to follow a strict vegetarian diet. Also coffee, tea, milk, alcoholic drinks and warm bath water were banned. Many Alcott scholars believe that the low nutrition might have also effected to Louisa´s hormonal balance.
Three different point of views
As much as we idolize Jo she was drowning into internalized misogyny. Jo and Laurie were brothers. They planned to ran away together, they had good time making pranks and they made fun of the feminine ladies who Laurie used to flirt with in college. One of the best examples of the internalized misogyny is chapter 21. Laurie makes mischief and Jo makes peace. You can read the whole chapter here.
In this chapter Laurie pretends to be his tutor John Brooke and he sends letters to Meg in his name, who he knows Brooke has feelings for.
She was quite right, for the mischief-loving lad no sooner suspected a mystery than he set himself to find it out, and led Jo a trying life of it. He wheedled, bribed, ridiculed, threatened, and scolded; affected indifference, that he might surprise the truth from her; declared her knew, then that he didn't care; and at last, by dint of perseverance, he satisfied himself that it concerned Meg and Mr. Brooke. Feeling indignant that he was not taken into his tutor's confidence, he set his wits to work to devise some proper retaliation for the slight.
Jo´s reactions throughout the chapter however has annoyed plenty of contemporary readers and so have Laurie´s actions.
Jo´s first reaction is to beat up Laurie and to defend Meg´s honor.
"Oh, the little villain! That's the way he meant to pay me for keeping my word to Mother. I'll give him a hearty scolding and bring him over to beg pardon," cried Jo, burning to execute immediate justice. But her mother held her back, saying, with a look she seldom wore...
Seeing Meg's usually gentle temper was roused and her pride hurt by this mischievous joke, Mrs. March soothed her by promises of entire silence and great discretion for the future. The instant Laurie's step was heard in the hall, Meg fled into the study, and Mrs. March received the culprit alone. Jo had not told him why he was wanted, fearing he wouldn't come, but he knew the minute he saw Mrs. March's face, and stood twirling his hat with a guilty air which convicted him at once. Jo was dismissed, but chose to march up and down the hall like a sentinel, having some fear that the prisoner might bolt. The sound of voices in the parlour rose and fell for half an hour, but what happened during that interview the girls never knew.
When they were called in, Laurie was standing by their mother with such a penitent face that Jo forgave him on the spot, but did not think it wise to betray the fact. Meg received his humble apology, and was much comforted by the assurance that Brooke knew nothing of the joke.
Jo stood aloof, meanwhile, trying to harden her heart against him, and succeeding only in priming up her face into an expression of entire disapprobation. Laurie looked at her once or twice, but as she showed no sign of relenting, he felt injured, and turned his back on her till the others were done with him, when he made her a low bow and walked off without a word.
As soon as he had gone, she wished she had been more forgiving, and when Meg and her mother went upstairs, she felt lonely and longed for Teddy. After resisting for some time, she yielded to the impulse, and armed with a book to return, went over to the big house.
When Laurie is scolded by Marmee Jo quickly forgives him and sees the whole thing only as a harmless prank. She has difficulties to understand how much Laurie´s mischief actually hurt her sister.
"If John doesn't know anything about this nonsense, don't tell him, and make Jo and Laurie hold their tongues. I won't be deceived and plagued and made a fool of. It's a shame!"
Meg is in an age that if this prank would have turned into a rumor it would have severely hurt Meg´s reputation and John´s as well. (Quote from @this-thrown-out-gentleman from an in-depth conversation we had about this chapter).
Meg´s response is very mature. Considering the time there is very little that Meg can do when something like this happens.
Back at the Lawrences Laurie is lectured by his grandfather.
"No, he would have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I'd have told my part of the scrape, if I could without bringing Meg in. As I couldn't, I held my tongue, and bore the scolding till the old gentleman collared me. Then I bolted, for fear I should forget myself."
"It wasn't nice, but he's sorry, I know, so go down and make up. I'll help you."
"Hanged if I do! I'm not going to be lectured and pummelled by everyone, just for a bit of a frolic. I was sorry about Meg, and begged pardon like a man, but I won't do it again, when I wasn't in the wrong."
"He didn't know that."
"He ought to trust me, and not act as if I was a baby! It's no use, Jo, he's got to learn that I'm able to take care of myself, and don't need anyone's apron string to hold on by."
Jo works as a mediator between Laurie and older Mr.Lawrence. After being forced to apologise to Meg Laurie is now expecting his grandfather apologising him for lecturing him without no reason. He refuses to see any faults in his own actions. Next moment he is asking Jo to go to Washington to see Mr. Brooke and Jo is tempted to go but she is mature enough to see that such trip is Laurie only trying to escape facing his grandfather.
There is of course an actual reason why Laurie´s and his grandfather´s relationship is difficult and why he is constantly looking for attention but that does not adjust his actions.
Mr. Laurence's ruddy face changed suddenly, and he sat down, with a troubled glance at the picture of a handsome man, which hung over his table. It was Laurie's father, who had run away in his youth, and married against the imperious old man's will. Jo fancied her remembered and regretted the past, and she wished she had held her tongue.
Why the feminine sister´s feelings are treated less valid?
One thing I have noticed while doing gender studies on Little Women characters and talking to fans across the world is that this chapter is more than often ignored and the focus isn´t on the prank but in Laurie´s and Jo´s conversation.
"Why didn´t Jo just agreed to go with Laurie to Washington and have fun?"
"Nothing bad happened as long as Jo is happy".
One fan I chatted with said "why care since no one as hurt".
What about Meg?
For many Meg seems to be a less valid person in the story than Jo is and Jo forgives Laurie so aren´t we ab-lied to forgive Laurie as well?
In her analysis of this very same chapter in Little Women 150 blog Jan Alberghene brings out many of the similar themes I have presented here.
No matter how much time Laurie spends with Jo, her sisters, or Marmee, Laurie lives in a man’s world. And so do the women, whether grown or “Little.”
Jo´s reaction can feel almost as violating as Laurie´s actions because Jo is the protagonist and even though she is participating to cover up Laurie´s behavior she does not question it (unlike Marmee and Meg do).
The idealization of both Jo and Laurie is so deeply rooted in our culture, this chapter has never been adapted into any of the movies. It would be important to include it. Chapter captures both Jo´s and Laurie´s fast mood changes and their parallel tempers. We also see that Meg is a very strong person (in this case more feminist than Jo who´s growth process is only beginning).
Only adaptation where Laurie makes mischief has been included is the obscure BBC series from the 1970. One can definitely tell that the series comes from the 70´s. Marmee´s first reaction when she sees the letters is to laugh. Which is very off-character. We don´t see Laurie being scolded neither by Marmee or his grandfather. Like in the book Jo does forgive him, when he mopes how difficult life he is living with his grandfather. Meg is portrayed as someone who is overly emotional and over-reacting. In this version John knows what is going on and he sees it as a harmless prank. Once again very off character.
The Book Laurie
What is most distressing in the adaptations is the lack of Laurie´s character arc and not showing him as a full person. In the book before Laurie moves to Concord he has been tossed around in Europe from one boarding school to another and then he moves to live with his grandfather and they have to build their relationship from the scratch. Older Mr.Lawrence had rejected the marriage of Laurie´s parents so since the beginning Laurie feels unwanted and this is why he becomes so attached to the Marches. He even calls Marmee his mother and that is why he is clinging on to Jo so much. Because of Jo´s idealization towards the masculine Laurie thought he could do anything and she would always forgive him. Hannah describes Laurie as a weathercock. He is a character with constant mood changes. He can be sensitive but he also has high temper. Which has never been shown in the films. He can be very inconsiderate towards other people´s feelings (same way as Jo) like during the time when he forged those letters and hurt Meg. Times when Laurie is sweet and caring are the times when he puts other people before him. Like during Beth´s illness and when he went to cheer up Amy when she was staying at aunt March.
There are times when Laurie is vain like a peacock. He likes nice clothes and keeping up good appearance which is something that Jo at times makes fun off. He can be funny but also very immature. He wants to break free from his grandfather´s obey dance but he is afraid to do that. Laurie is an orphan. Relationship with his grandfather is complicated. For older Mr Lawrence Laurie resembles both of the children he lost and this is why he doesn´t want to hear music because of the painful memories and I suppose self-blame. It is only with his encounters with Beth these wounds start to heal. Laurie doesn´t like school. He wants to go to Italy and be a composer and to re-connect with his roots, this is aspect of him that is hardly ever included in the adaptations. Laurie´s Italian roots are connected to his love for music, his temper and his brown skin.
Christian Bale´s Laurie is mischievous but none of the film versions have included any of Laurie´s immature pranks.
Laurie the composer
Only adaptations where Laurie actually plays the piano are series from the 70s and 2017 mini-series. What it comes to the movies it is Mr. Bhaer who is actually much more musical and Fritz does sing and plays music in the books. But it is strange that there are only couple adaptations where Laurie actually plays piano and after all Laurie is a composer. So far all film versions have had their focus on romanticizing Jo and Laurie instead of giving him a full-personality. They follow the Hollywood narrative that the only reason why Laurie exists is to be pretty and to be in love with Jo and he doesn´t have any other aspirations or inspirations outside that. The plot of the novel is unconventional because it flips the conventional romance trope, but when the adaptations try to do this while erasing Laurie´s arc they actually follow the conventional romance trope, and not the unconventional story that Louisa wrote.
Laurie the prankster
In the beginning of Good Wives when John and Meg move to their new home Laurie comes bringing gifts; knife cleaner that spoils all the knives, soap that takes the skin off one´s hands, sweeper that leaves all the dirt and bunch of other similar items. Each week when Laurie is on holiday from college he brings them random useless things. It can be a funny joke for the first couple of times but Laurie does it for months. It´s behavior you could expect from a teen-ager but not from a 21 year old. John and Meg are poor. Laurie is rich. He could give them something useful. None of Laurie´s pranks are never shown in the movies. Big part why Jo wanted to be more boyish and her being dismissive over feminine was about showing off. Laurie´s pranks were his way of showing off and to get attention.
Call to conform
It is when Laurie goes to college the gender expectations of the time start to have more bigger impact to Jo´s and Laurie´s behavior. Laurie is not very interested from his studies. He goes to college simply to please his grandfather. Laurie is more of a party-boy in college. That is not necessarily a character flaw. Quite many young people go to college to do just that still today. In college Laurie smokes, drinks, plays pool, flirts with girls, gets into fights (never shown in any adaptations) and Jo criticizes him for doing these things. Jo doesn´t want to do any of these things but she wishes she could have the liberty to do whatever she wants without being judged by the society. Jo was very aware of the unfairness of the situation. In the books Jo never likes Laurie romantically and his romantic interest only makes Jo feel uncomfortable. Not only does their dynamics change because Jo doesn´t want to fit into the traditional female role of the time but because Laurie fits into the traditional 19th century male role almost too well. Their relationship in their youth worked when there was more space for gender fluidly but it starts to fall apart when they are called to conform more. When Laurie develops a crush on Jo he breaks that brotherly bond and that shatters Jo´s ideas of masculinity the way she has come to know it. It has never been showed in movies. The closest example of this the way it is described in the books is the song Astonishing from Little Women musical.
Laurie´s behaviour becomes more obsessive and as a result Jo travels to New York to work as a governess and there she meets Friedrich. The movies have swapped the timeline so that Jo travels to New York after she has rejected Laurie´s proposal when in the book proposal happens after Jo has returned to Concord. When Jo meets Friedrich in New York he is not only her sexual awakening but Friedrich´s masculinity it collapses the male-female binary Jo knows. When Jo meets Friedrich the narrator says that for the first time Jo did not compare a man to Laurie. Up until to that point Laurie has been her ideal of masculinity but those old models have failed her miserably and then she meets a man who provides her a new definition of masculinity. Which does not demand Jo to change or to be traditionally feminine. Which is what Laurie´s model of masculinity did.
Two very different proposals
Lot of the relationship between Jo and Laurie was based on mutually reinforcing ideas of toxic masculinity. Eventually this turned out against both of them. In Jo´s case it made her to loose the trip to Europe and in Laurie´s case it brought out his temper and more possessive behavior. The best example why Jo rejected Laurie´s proposal and why she did fell in love with Friedrich is to examine the two proposals. When Laurie proposes to Jo he says he loves her because Jo has always been so good to him. He doesn´t love her because of her personality or her ambitions. Jo had a tendency to mother Laurie and we can probably explain this with the fact that the young men who were inspirations for Laurie´s character were much younger than Louisa. Being maternal figure was something that came naturally to Jo. In away March´s adopted Laurie to be part of their family unit. That Jo sees Laurie as her brother makes perfect sense and sisters often become pseudo-mother figures to their brothers. In movies we only see Laurie´s pain but we never see the pressure he puts on Jo or how uncomfortable his actions make her feel. When we read the book and see Laurie´s character through the movie´s lens it perpetuates the idea that the controlling behavior he has in the books doesn´t matter and it is a sign of love. Yet the book Laurie is not in love with Jo. He is in love with the idea of love. Laurie´s story and his character arc in Little Women it is not about Amy or Jo. It´s a story how Laurie becomes a man.
I´v tried to show it you but you wouldn´t let me. Now I am going to make you hear and give me an answer for I can´t go on any longer.
"But girls are so queer you never know what they mean. They say no when they mean yes, and drive a man out of his wits just for the fun of it"'
Laurie seems to be thinking that Jo would fall in love with him because that is what girls do. Laurie has said similar things as a teen ager. Things like "someday I´ll get you Jo" which is quite a possessive thing for a 15 year old boy to say and it highlights how much the two have fed each others with harmful stereotypes about gender roles. Now that they are adults Jo feels the need to leave this toxic cycle. Not just because of her own sake but also Laurie´s sake and it is toxic because up until to that point Laurie has been told what to do by Jo, John Brooke or by his grandfather. Laurie wants to keep the status quo of their relationship so that he does not need to grow and take the responsibility of himself or his own actions. Laurie was not used to making decisions. Marrying Jo is an easy escape of his life remaining the same rather than different as it is meant to be. This type of chase is not something that Jo likes or enjoys. It makes her feel incredibly uncomfortable.
Most adaptations have also chosen the easy escape by not showing the slow and painful work of the personal transformation that Laurie does go through in the books. If we now take a look at the narrative of the second book. There are no glimpses inside to Laurie´s head where he would be thinking about Jo or dreaming about future with her. When Jo leaves New York we do get a glimpse inside Friedrich´s mind and he does admit to himself that he is indeed in love with her and he wonders what life with Jo would be like. Laurie´s actions in most part of the second book don´t make any sense because Laurie´s mind is a complete mess.
Almost like the lack of Laurie´s inner thoughts the book is telling us that Laurie hasn´t thought things through. This is another contrast between Laurie´s shallow idealized dreaminess and Friedrich´s deeply grounded reality (@this-thrown-out-gentleman).
Jo is honest with Laurie. She sees that if she would marry him their arguments would escalate to violence. Laurie´s relationship to Jo is more codependent.
Laurie wants to keep the status quo of their toxic relationship and it is toxic because up until to that point Laurie had been used to do by Jo, John Brooke or his grandfather. He wasn´t used to making decisions (@renee561)
When Jo rejects Laurie we should be on Jo´s side. Yet in 90% of Little Women adaptions Laurie´s character arc is missing. He doesn´t have a temper (or character arc) in 1933, 1949, 1994, 2018 and 2019 films. Series from 1950 and 2017. Little Women musical and or in Japanese anime.
Little Women costumes written by @this-thrown-out-gentleman
Jo and Laurie in 1994 and 2017 versions. Jo has her hair down in the proposal scene and her dress has a softer look to it making her look more feminine than usual.
It´s an obvious effort to make the scene look more romantic but Greta Gerwig´s version assuming it is also the proposal scene is really interesting because with Jo´s hair up she looks more adult and instead of a flowy dress she is wearing a jacket and a tie. You can see exactly what they mean with switching the gender roles in this photo. Her hair is still perfectly waved blowing in the wind but it is Laurie who looks soft with the velvet waistcoat and the flowy white sleeves and the unbuttoned collar. This really works because Laurie is the vulnerable one in this scene. He is the romantic who gets his heart broken and Jo is the stronger emotionally mature one. I get why previous versions really want to make Jo pretty for this scene but having her look masculine and most importantly grown up makes a lot of sense for the characters here.
Trying to threat someone you say you love is never a good idea. Instead of seeing any fault in his own actions Laurie blames it on someone else and he wants Jo to feel guilty for rejecting him. Then he guilt trips her even more by saying that she will marry someone and that she will be a silly woman by going back on her word of never marrying. Jo has a brilliant response but Laurie doesn´t want to hear it.
Then Laurie threatens to go to the devil and behaves like a 19th century brat boy. Laurie´s proposal has been traditionally abridged or the dialogue has been changed. In the adaptations it has been portrayed to be a romantic scene when in the books it is a conflict. Little Women is often a misunderstood book because it does something very unique and powerful. Laurie´s proposal was never about Jo. It was all about him
It is still all about him and he still wants Jo to feel guilty. Thank god for the grandfather (this is good parenting). Six moths later Amy meets Laurie in Europe and they have not met for four years. Amy finds him changed and different. She scolds him and his attitude but it comes from a good place because Amy knows that Laurie has potential to make most of his life and when she carefully asks what happened between him and Jo...
Still all about him. Not about Jo.
Amy´s lecture did Laurie good though of course he did not own it until long afterwards. Men seldom do for when women are the advisers. The lords of the creation wont take the advice until they have persuaded themselves that it is just what they intended to do. Then they act upon it and if it succeeds they give the weaker vessel half the credit of it. If it fails they generously give her the whole. Little Women chapter 41.
Amy´s words start to effect on Laurie yet in his mind Laurie thinks that Amy´s advice was unnecessary and that he had always meant to do something. Laurie´s biggest flaws are his pride and vanity but also his lack of ability to put himself to another person´s position and this is why his growth process is slow and painful. Still at this point Laurie doesn´t see women as individuals. He sees himself above them. In Vienna he starts to compose and opera which would harrow Jo´s soul and melt her heart. Once again it´s all about him but the opera doesn´t go that well. He wants to capture his romantic passion and all things that come to mind are Jo´s oddities, faults and freaks.
Romantic or creepy?
The moment when Laurie caught himself thinking the word "brotherly" and Jo it is almost like he sees himself as a character in an opera he is trying to compose. He immediately sends Jo a letter and proposes her again. Once again it is all about him and not about Jo. Proposing someone right after they have lost their sister is not a good idea. When Jo´s response arrives and she still says no Laurie feels relieved but instead of feeling bad for guilt tripping her for quite a long time he wants to cherish his memory as being tragic romantic hero. It is still all about him. Why was Laurie so obsessed and why he never listened to what Jo had to say and why he felt guilty when he started to develop romantic feelings towards Amy? since we know Jo never cared about him like that.
As being said there are no scenes in the books where Laurie is thinking Jo romantically or dreaming about a life with her. All his dreams are really about seeing himself as a romantic hero. Laurie feels guilty because his love for Jo is mainly gratitude. She invited him to be part of their family. Something that Laurie was always lacking. Thanks to the over the top ideas of masculinity he and Jo fed to each others Laurie didn´t learn to respect women.
We should not ignore Laurie´s background
It is easy to ignore the stories of the male characters in Little Women, because the four sisters are under a microscope. From the little that we know from Laurie´s background it would seem that when he was a child he was tossed from one boarding school to another and he did not have any stable parental figures or that he never spent enough time in one place to be able to establish such relationships. Quite early in the novel Laurie admits to Jo that he feels envious of the sisters bond to their mother.
Laurie´s and Jo´s relationship is characterised by childhood innocence. Jo represents the nurturing feminine presence Laurie was craving to have in his life at the same time Laurie is a brothernal figure for Jo who compliments her views on non-conformity (Ajedisith)
Jo and the March family become a refuge of stability to Laurie. It is only when he moves to Concord at the age of 15 for the first time he is surrounded by people who stick long enough to put boundaries and try to raise him. More than often Laurie was frustrated by Jo´s lectures but at the same he was depending on them.
Bettina Von Armin
Falling in love with the idea of love
Little Women is a semi-biographical novel. We can trace Laurie´s actions to Louisa. Same way as Laurie Louisa´s childhood was unstable and turbulent and the family moved very often. When Louisa was young she had a big crush to the family friend and next door neighbour philosopher Waldo Emmerson. Emmerson was also one of the many men who were inspirations to Friedrich´s character. More than often Emmerson saved Alcott´s from troubles and he became a symbol of stability for Louisa same way as Jo is for Laurie. Louisa became obsessed with German female writer and social activist Bettina von Armin and her book Goethes Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde (Goethe´s correspondence with a child). Which included love letters Bettina wrote to the poet Goethe.
Bettina represents herself as a lover. A role that is traditionally seen as more masculine (Kundera). Bettina was in love with the idea of love. Love as an emotion. Not as a love relation. In her letters she does not ask his opinions or share ideas with him.
"I turned myself into Bettina and made Emmerson my Goethe" - LMA
Laurie is not in love with Jo. He is in love with the idea of love. It is about putting up on a role and a narcissistic one for that when it hurts other people. Which is exactly what happened between Jo and Laurie and Bettina and Goethe. Let´s call Laurie´s behavior with it´s actual name, harrassment. When Louisa was an adult she did tell Emmerson how she had built this romantic fairytale scenario in her head. Emmerson himself had been completely unaware of it. Nevertheless they had very strong friendship throughout their lives (Reisen).
There is the famous Little Women passage to adulthood ritual. It basically means that a reader who has read the book as a child and romanticized Jo and Laurie and quite possibly watched the 1994 film more than once, reads the book as an adult and finds out that Laurie was very childish and he and Jo were very ill-matched and they move on to root Jo and Fritz or Amy and Laurie or both. We can also see it as a metaphor how a person develops a mildly delusional obsession over another. Especially young people can think that their life only has a meaning when they find a partner who´s only reason for existing is them but it is not healthy and not love. When you truly love someone you love them for what they truly are. Not the way you want to see yourself with them. In Little Women Laurie himself is the one character who goes through the Little Women passage of adulthood ritual. It is not until he goes through the process of self-growth and begins to see the women in his life as what they really are, he is truly able to love someone.
Friedrich´s proposal is complete opposite. He wants to tell her how he feels about her and let her decide. After Jo has left New York they have been writing letters to each others and when he comes to see Jo in Concord he hopes to see signs of love from Jo and when he reveals to her that he has gotten a job and he is going to the west Jo´s walls go down.
He gives Jo all the power and control and he lets her know that everything what she feels and thinks is important for him and he wants to make sure that she returns to his feelings and that their lives and goals work together. He is not even making a marriage proposal. He is asking if she could love him. In comparison to Laurie Friedrich´s screen portrayals are always closer to the books, even if most of his parts are left out because he is less romanticized character. He also acknowledges his flaws same way as Jo does. In terms of Friedrich´s narrative Little Women is also about identity but in his case it is not about forming identity but when he falls in love with Jo he reshapes his already existing identity.
Friedrich as Goethe
Louisa was a great admirer of German writer and poet Goethe. Lot of research has been made on Goethe´s influence on Louisa´s writings. For example long fatal love chase has many parallels with Goethe´s faust. But less research has been done between Goethe´s writings and Little Women. Goethe was one of Louisa´s favorite authors and she credited him to be the one author who has taught her the most about creating and understand characters. Her copy of Wilhelm Meister´s Apprenticeship was given to her by Waldo Emmerson (and Louisa filled it with scribbles and personal observations). In Little Women Friedrich gives Jo copy of Shakespeare´s work and through that Jo learns how much more there is to find out about storytelling. Fritz also encourages Jo to study people around her so that she becomes better at developing and creating characters. Goethe was one of the biggest inspirations for Friedrich´s character.
Laurie as the Goethean Protagonist
Trigger warning there will be mentions of suicides.
What it comes to Laurie´s character arc there are lots of themes that come straight from Goethe´s writings. Goethe´s first financially successful novel (and first German international best-seller) The sorrows of young Werther is a semi-biographical novel. Both protagonist young Werther and Goethe himself grew up privileged same way as Laurie. Werther´s love interest Charlotte is marrying another worthy man Albert. Werther makes Charlotte the only sole purpose of his living. He is not only miserable. He is proud of his misery. In fact he endorses it. As a result he commits a suicide. What kills Werther is not being disappointed in love. It has nothing to do with Charlotte. What kills him is the toxic self-centeredness. What is common with Werther and Laurie is that they are both extremely sensitive. Same way as Little Women the sorrows of young Werther has often been misread. Some readers endorsed and glamorised Werther´s suicide and when the book became vastly popular it started a wave of suicides of young people in Germany who tried to emulate the tragic end of their romantic hero.
"The children took especial interest in the love-story, and when poor Laurie was so obstinately refused by Jo, “they wept aloud, and refused to be comforted,” and in some instances were actually made ill by grief and excitement" (Cheney)
References to Goethe continue in Laurie´s proposal. After being rejected Laurie threats to take his life and puts enormous pressure on Jo. Same way as with the sorrows of young Werther a great deal of Little Women fans, especially younger ones, find these worrying threats passionate and romantic. Goethe´s book was widely misunderstood since he meant it as criticism and warning example towards life-consuming self-absorption.
"When I re-read the novel in my early twenties, I still technically thought Jo should have ended up with Laurie, but I started to feel uncomfortable about feeling that way. Wasn’t it weird, I thought, to feel that way when the character of Jo so explicitly rejected his proposal? Wasn’t it a bit like telling a dear friend she should date someone she wasn’t crazy about just because he had feelings for her and is *such a good guy*? I dismissed this though because a) death of the author, non-canonical pairings are a-ok, etc. and b) I have a moderate grasp on reality and I do recognize Jo is a fictional character, not my friend. But re-reading Little Women this month, I realized with mounting alarm that as a potential romantic partner for Jo, Laurie isn’t a good guy; he is, in fact, a Nice Guy™. […] The story of Laurie and Jo is not, as I had previously remembered, one of Jo *seeming* like she loves Laurie and making an out-of-left-field decision. It is very much in the field! Jo consistently indicates that she does not have feelings for Laurie, does not want him to flirt with her, and tries to prevent him from doing so every time he flirts with her. And he ignores her, again and again. But wait, there’s more! When Jo realizes that her very consistent attempts to communicate her disinterest are not working, she decides to move to New York for adventure and also to get away from Laurie. […] There may be some who would accuse me of selective reading. After all, Laurie isn’t a terrible person! […] To which I say: yes, but all of this can be true *and Laurie can simultaneously still be a terrible potential partner for Jo*. […] What I realized re-reading Little Women as a grown-ass adult is this: making Jo and Laurie perfect for each other wouldn’t just require a different ending, it would require an entirely different book. So, it’s been over twenty years in the making, but better late than never: Louisa May Alcott, I’m sorry. You were right.”
Maddie Rodgriguez, ‘Laurie Isn’t a Good Guy, He’s a Nice Guy™’ (bookriot.com)
Clip from German movie "Goethe in love"
Proof in the pudding:
As Goethe, when he had a joy or a grief, put it into a song, so Laurie resolved to embalm his love sorrow in music, and to compose a Requiem which should harrow up Jo's soul and melt the heart of every hearer.
Little Women, chapter 41
Wilhelm Meister´s Apprenticeship and Laurie´s redemption arc
Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship is a story about self-realisation. The story centers around Wilhelm who wants to escape empty, mundane, bourgeois life of a businessman. After a failed romance he joins into a theater company. In Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship and in many Goethe´s works in general have elements from Shakespeare´s plays. In fact in the novel´s dialogue there is a great deal of discussion about Shakespeare´s work and Wilhelm´s theater group also performs a production of Hamlet where Wilhelm plays the lead. Theater world is filled with seductions, love affairs and scandals. The more Wilhelm sees it the more he dislikes it and he realizes that he is not fitting for this type of lifestyle. What Wilhelm really needs is to figure out who he is, what he wants from life and how he should live. Both Werther and Wilhelm can be seen as failed genius. They are sensitive and artistic but they are not creatively productive enough. Laurie in this case is more similar to Wilhelm because unlike Werther Laurie goes through the process of self-discovery and like Wilhelm Laurie also becomes a husband and father (which brings long desired purpose to his life) and a contributing member of the society which is not something he was before.
Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship introduces the character of Mignon. Mignon was kidnapped as a child by bandits and Wilhelm saves her. They tour the country together with the theater group, go to picnics, flirt and joke with each others. Mignon has a constant longing to her homeland Italy. She falls in love with Wilhelm but he is in love with someone else. Eventually Mignon dies for longing (a common theme in Goethe´s works).
In Wilhelm Meister´s Apprenticeship there is also an important character called Friedrich and one of the female characters, Marina, also likes to cross-dress (same way as Jo does).
"It's genius simmering, perhaps. I'll let it simmer, and see what comes of it," he said, with a secret suspicion all the while that it wasn't genius, but something far more common. Whatever it was, it simmered to some purpose, for he grew more and more discontented with his desultory life, began to long for some real and earnest work to go at, soul and body, and finally came to the wise conclusion that everyone who loved music was not a composer. Returning from one of Mozart's grand operas, splendidly performed at the Royal Theatre, he looked over his own, played a few of the best parts, sat staring at the busts of Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and bach, who stared benignly back again. Then suddenly he tore up his music sheets, one by one, and as the last fluttered out of his hand, he said soberly to himself...
"She is right! Talent isn't genius, and you can't make it so. That music has taken the vanity out of my as Rome took it out of her, and I won't be a humbug any longer. Now what shall I do?"
The purest form of love is to love the full-reality of the other person.
She did not hear him cross the courtyard beyond, nor see him pause in the archway that led from the subterranean path into the garden. He stood a minute looking at her with new eyes, seeing what no one had ever seen before, the tender side of Amy's character. Everything about her mutely suggested love and sorrow, the blotted letters in her lap, the black ribbon that tied up her hair, the womanly pain and patience in her face, even the little ebony cross at her throat seemed pathetic to Laurie, for he had given it to her, and she wore it as her only ornament. If he had any doubts about the reception she would give him, they were set at rest the minute she looked up and saw him, for dropping everything, she ran to him, exclaiming in a tone of unmistakable love and longing...
Is it possible that anyone who has not been happy with the books have been looking both Laurie and Friedrich from completely wrong perspective?
"Throughout his many works, Goethe stresses love as the foundation of relationships, and he did so living in a culture where marriage matches were typically determined by economic factors. It was a radical position to take.
The difference between “You love me!” and “You love me?” The substitution of a question mark for an exclamation point “changes the meaning completely” (Gustafson).
There is a fine line between love and obsession and the philosophical and psychological exploration of the two is a common theme in Louisa May Alcott´s literal works.
Remaining notes of Louisa´s own romantic encounters and her intense need to protect her reputation does suggest that she put lots of thought and consideration to the true nature of love. Louisa May Alcott also lived during a time period when romantic love became the basis of marriage when before that marriage was based on economical factors and based to Louisa´s novels and journal markings it seems that she herself at some points in her life had similar wishes about marriage.
Amy (and Jo)
Little Women 2019, Florence Pugh as Amy
Amy is a character who divides people and many of Amy´s screen portrayals contribute to the Amy hate. Louisa loosely based Amy´s character to her younger sister May. When Louisa and May were young there was a great deal of rivalry between them. Both were very impulsive and temperamental and both loved attention. Louisa was more boyish and May was more feminine and like Amy she slept with a cloths peg in her nose when she was 12. Unlike Amy who in the book comes to the conclusion that she does not have the genius May embodied genius. She was a professional artist and her paintings were exhibited in Paris Salon and she even wrote and published a book for young female art students called "Studying art abroad and how to do it cheaply". Many readers have wondered why there isn´t that much Amy in the third book Little Men. May had asked Louisa not to write a lot about Amy. She was constantly bombarded by both Amy lovers and Amy haters which distracted her own artistic work. Louisa nearly ruined her sister´s artistic career by having the sister of her most famous literal protagonist marry the boy who the protagonist herself rejected.
Sibling rivalry is not a beautiful thing.
Same way as Jo and Amy in the books Louisa and May did became closer when they matured and learned to control their tempers. They even made trips to Europe together. There is a great deal of Louisa herself in Amy´s character. There were times when Louisa did consider marrying for money instead of love until her mother persuaded her otherwise.
Amy has been given a stamp of a social climber but she ain´t one.
Amy grows up in an environment where there isn´t a great deal of options for women. She believes that marrying well she could uplift her family away from poverty even if it would mean that she herself would not be the happiest person. Jo in the first book is a walking contradiction. She wants to be equal to men which is what gender equality and feminism is all about. She is also constantly making fun of her feminine sisters which is inherently anti-feminist. She makes fun of Meg because she wants to fit into the circles of Sally Moffat and other young ladies. She constantly mocks Amy when she uses fancy words and her desire to become a lady.
How to become a true lady
In the books the events that lead into burning Jo´s manuscript begin much before any theater tickets. Amy´s behavior is childish because she is a child. Jo´s behavior is also childish because she is constantly making fun of Amy because she is so girly and Amy makes fun of Jo because she is so boyish. Only adaptation which shows arguments from both sides (and not just Amy making fun of Jo) is the modern Little Women adaptation from 2018. All Jo´s moral lesson have to do with her temper but also the fact that Jo can be very judgmental. All Amy´s lessons are about her vanity and popularity. In the beginning Amy´s desire to become a lady is away for her to get out of poverty but as she grows it becomes a tool for self-improvement and thanks to that Amy begins to control her temper beautifully. In an interview Gillian Armstrong who directed the 1994 film said that there should always be two actresses to play Amy. There are over 20 adaptations of Little Women and only two versions where child Amy has been played by a child actress. In most Little Women adaptations 12 year old Amy has been played by an adult woman.
Elise Jones as Amy, Little Women 2018
For some time now there has been a theory going on that Amy did have a crush on Laurie already as a child. I tried to read the book this way and I think it does work. It is an interpretation but it does give a deeper context to why did Amy burn Jo´s manuscript because a 12 year old does not necessary know how to handle their feelings in a mature way (especially if they have a crush to their big sister´s best friend). The 1994 film does have a sweet scene with young Amy and Laurie in the carriage together (and a promise of a kiss). 2018 and 2019 films go with this idea that Amy already had a crush on Laurie as a child.
Girl on Girl Hate
Great deal of hatred that Amy receives has been caused by the fact that Amy likes to be a girl. It is hate towards the feminine. Her movie and tv portrayals are rarely flattering. This is how Amy is introduced in the 1933 film (very different to the books).
Introduction is exactly the same in the 1949 film.
Jo and Amy are perfect mirrors of each others. Many ideas about the masculine that Jo used to cherish and admire were quite harmful. Amy´s early ideas about the feminine were not very realistic either. She connected femininity to very shallow things like being popular and the shape of her nose. Amy´s desire to become a lady was never fully supported in her immediate family and Jo especially was making fun of it. When Beth became ill and Amy went to live with aunt March aunt gave her the structure to become what she wanted. When Amy starts to approach becoming a lady in the terms of self-improvement largely thanks to Esther and aunt March in the process she learns to control her temper and becomes a kinder person.
Because Amy´s femininity has been so heavily demonized we never see her growth process in any adaptations. In the chapter Calls Amy and Jo go for a series of social calls which were part of woman´s role of the time. Jo despises these calls like she despises most of the female labor of the time. Jo tries to avoid speaking with the ladies and more than once she runs out to play with the boys. Amy loves Jo but she is hurt because Jo is making fun of something that is important for her. Jo doesn´t take any of the meetings seriously and her own insecurities also bring out her temper. When they go to visit aunt March and aunt Carol Jo dismisses them and puts herself above them. At the same time aunt Carol is wondering which girl gets to go to Europe and Amy makes a better impression. Calls has never been adapted into movies. Probably because it shows Jo in a bad light. Yet it would be important to adapt it because it does not only show how much Amy has matured but also how the conversations between Jo and Amy are more respectful even if they would disagree.
The 1994 film does not have any scenes from the calls and the viewer doesn´t get any explanation why Jo was not chosen. 1994 film also frames it to happen right after Jo has rejected Laurie which in the book happens much later on. Jo is very mad and jealous to Amy when she hears that she has not been chosen. She is way more mad at herself but she doesn´t want to admit it. This also parallels Jo´s and Laurie´s tempers because neither one of them liked to admit if their own actions hurt other people and rather put the blame on someone else. In the book Amy feels terrible for getting something that Jo so badly wanted and Jo did not want to show her her own disappointment but to be supportive which is a proof of sisterly love. Amy matured a great deal when she was in Europe. She became more graceful and more serious. Amy also loved aunt March more than anyone else in the family and truly enjoyed the company of her aunt.
Amy´s portrayal was a lot better in Greta Gerwig´s film but even that one has received lots of criticism for portraying young Amy as an immature brat, because an adult woman can not never play a 12-year old. I liked that in 2019 film it portrayed adult Jo´s and Amy´s relationship more realistically and supportive and yet in an earlier script of Greta Gerwig´s film after Jo found out about Amy´s and Laurie´s engagement she wanted to punch Amy. This diverses too much from the novel and I am glad that it wasn´t included. Even if the writers want to do good with laurie and amy they cant seem to escape their jo and laurie obsession and that is not in the book.
Book Jo never likes Laurie romantically. This triangle is repeated in all adaptations because we don´t see Laurie´s character arc, we fail to understand why Jo rejects him. In 2017 series Jo became really cross when she found out about their engagement. The 2018 film is probably the only one that shows that Laurie is clearly more of a brother to Jo, and yet there is a scene where Jo complains to Beth that Amy stole Laurie from her.
In the novel, even before Jo finds out that Amy and Laurie are engaged she says to Marmee that she thinks Amy and Laurie would be a good couple. Why this has not never been adapted?
Louisa partially based Laurie´s character to her Polish friend Ladislas Wisniewski. They met in Switzerland in 1865 when Louisa was working there and Ladislas was quite flirtatious with Louisa. A year later May Alcott lived in Paris at the same time with Ladislas "Laddie". This has made many Alcott scholars believe that there was some sort of rivalry between the sisters about this young man, but the letters between Louisa and May show that they both became quite tired with him and that he never took himself or life very seriously.
In Little Women even though Amy is four years younger than Laurie, she is a lot more mature than he is and it is only thanks to Amy Laurie puts his act together.
Jo´s Masculine Trajectory
Some readers have struggled reading the part 2 because it portrays Jo in slightly less favorable light than in part 1. Jo has a heavy masculine trajectory. in part 1 she and Laurie are brothers. Jo wishes that she could be soldier and fight in the war like her father. Amy is portrayed as an annoying little sisters, and that is how Jo sees her.
In part 2 it is now Jo who struggles to fit into the surrounding society. Amy who has more feminine trajectory is better accepted to the Concord´s society. When Jo was still living at home it was okay for her to behave like a boy and family didn´t see too much harm in it but when she grows this old model of masculinity does not suit her and neither she wants to conform to the traditional female role. This is why Friedrich´s character is important because he does not ask or want her to conform. Because of her looks Jo sometimes feels herself as a freak. Friedrich tells her it is okay to be clumsy and unconventional and still be worth of loving.
Amy sees the value of the feminine work, good societal status and all the wonderful things that prosper when you know how to make the best of it.
Jo´s feminist awakening
Loosing the trip to Europe became the first step in the terms of Jo´s feminist awakening. Jo realizes that her temper is out of control and the ideas of masculinity that she has been admiring are not working. In the first book Jo had difficulties to identify with Meg´s pain when Laurie forged those letters. In the beginning of the second book when Jo becomes the target of Laurie´s unwanted attention it is now that she begins to understand what it feels like when someone does not respect your boundaries. This is repeated in the fourth book Jo´s boys where Jo is in her 50´s and on a full feminist mode. She scolds some of the young male students who treat girls like objects. In Jo´s boys the characters of Nan and Tommy Bangs also echo Jo and Laurie. Nan studies to become a doctor and Tommy is also studying medicine but he isn´t that interest from it. He has anterior motifs. Jo is really annoyed by Tommy´s behavior. So when Tommy unexpectedly falls in love with someone completely different Jo is very pleased and Nan is also relieved.
From Amy Jo learns to value the feminine labor and not underestimate women.
Taking care of Beth brings out her nurturing side and it also makes her to examine her own life in a new light and loosing Beth beautifies the domestic tasks.
From Meg Jo learns that equally respectful relationship can be worth of pursuing.
Jo struggles to fit into the traditional feminine role. Friedrich does not fit into the traditional masculine role. But he doesn´t struggle with it. He is comfortable of being who he is. His intellectualism and philosophical background compliments Jo´s feminist views.
BBC Little Women series 1970 Janina Faye as Amy
Amy The Feminist
Amy´s desire to improve herself already exist in the first novel. When she doesn´t want to wear the ring aunt March has given to her and when Marmee asks why Amy says it is going to be a reminder for her not to be too selfish.
What is also interesting is that in the first part of Little Women Laurie puts himself above Meg and Jo but he does not put himself above Amy. For example when Amy is writing her will Laurie does not dismiss or scoff her but instead is very supportive and sweet to her.
The problem with Hollywood turning Laurie into the perfect boy next door is that in the minds of many that turns him into an award for sisters to fight over when that is not part of the books narrative. Amy is also a feminist but it is not straight-to-your face feminism to which Jo´s feminism eventually develops. For example Amy plans to open a charity that would help women to break into the male dominated art market. Both Amy and Jo were raised in the same politically aware home and both were encouraged to think outside the box.
When Laurie and Amy meet in Nice they have not met for four years and Laurie is impressed how much Amy has changed.
Amy was gratified, but of course didn't show it, and demurely answered, "Foreign life polishes one in spite of one's self. I study as well as play, and as for this"--with a little gesture toward her dress--"why, tulle is cheap, posies to be had for nothing, and I am used to making the most of my poor little things."
Amy rather regretted that last sentence, fearing it wasn't in good taste, but Laurie liked her better for it, and found himself both admiring and respecting the brave patience that made the most of opportunity, and the cheerful spirit that covered poverty with flowers. Amy did not know why he looked at her so kindly, now why he filled up her book with his own name, and devoted himself to her for the rest of the evening in the most delightful manner, but the impulse that wrought this agreeable change was the result of one of the new impressions which both of them were unconsciously giving and receiving.
Amy and Laurie spent a great deal of time together in the books. They went to picnics, dancing, sight seeing...and it has been always rushed in the films (or not shown at all).
Laurie is disappointed when he hears of Amy´s plans to marry wealthy Fred Vaughn and he reminds her of the Amy he once knew. Amy who valued love more than wealth. At the same Amy is disappointed by Laurie´s behavior. The way he dwells in self-pity and doesn´t even try to be useful. They both remind each other of something they had forgotten about themselves and that unleashes process of self-discovery in both characters and that has not been included to any previous Little Women movies.
BBC Amy x Laurie
In the BBC production from 1970 Stephen Turner´s Laurie actually has a temper and more complex personality. Adult Amy is played by Janina Faye and the dialogue of their time together is lifted straight from the novel. Same series completely butchers Jo and Friedrich. Why it is so difficult to find an adaptation that would treat both couples with respect? Janina Faye also plays the child Amy and every time when an adult woman plays a 12 year old Amy the arguments between Jo and Amy appear more as cat fights and not arguments between a 12 year old little sister and 15 year old big sister.
I have written about Amy and Laurie in the 1970 series more detailed in my previous posts.
Richard Gilliland as Laurie
In the 1978 series Richard Gilliland plays the part of Laurie. He does not look at all like the book Laurie but his personality is closer to the book Laurie than any of the film Laurie´s. He has a temper, insecurities and the series shows tricky relationship he has with his grandfather. Susan Dei´s Jo is the most feminine Jo in the history of Jo´s. She is extremely submissive around Laurie. We also get quite possibly world´s most entertaining Mr Bhaer in the form of William Shatner. Ann Dusenberry plays both child and adult Amy. Amy is taken bit too over-the top and Jo appears more as a saint compered to her. Series still manages to build a good base for Amy´s and Laurie´s relationship.
Amy and Laurie in Movies
In the 1933 film we get a full half-minute of Amy and Laurie in Europe together. Character arcs of neither one are included. In the 1949 film Amy and Laurie do not share any scenes together. They only appear together in film posters. Amy gets blamed on two things; stealing Laurie and stealing Jo´s trip to Europe. Movies have never adapted chapter calls and they just leave Amy and Laurie hanging. In 1933 and 1949 films aunt March and Amy just pop into New York to tell Jo that they are going to Europe and in both films Jo goes to New York after she has friend zoned Laurie and when she hears that Laurie has been in New York she is sad because he hasn´t come to see her (!?). In the book Jo went to New York because Laurie´s behavior made her feel uncomfortable!
Movie from 1994 is one of the most well-known Little Women adaptations. There are probably more people in the planet who have seen the film but have not read the books. Winona Ryder who plays Jo has great chemistry with both Christian Bale who plays Laurie and Gabriel Byrne who plays Friedrich. In an interview Robin Swicord who was one of the script writers of the 1994 film was asked about the sudden change in Amy´s character and she replied it is not until we get rid of the bitch-naming culture we can achieve equality. I do agree with this statement (and I know movies always have time restrictions) but the 1994 film doesn´t do many favours for Amy´s character because once again Amy´s character arc and Laurie´s character arc are completely missing. The film heavily idolizes Jo and romantisises Jo and Laurie. 1994 Laurie doesn´t have a temper so when Winona Ryder´s Jo says they would kill each others (if they would marry) it is hard to believe that because he doesn´t have a temper! Exact the same thing happens in Greta Gerwig´s film. Laurie doesn´t have a temper. Dialogue of the proposal is completely different than in the book. In the proposal scene Laurie has taken a job from his grandfather from London so that he and Jo could move there. The book Laurie is not at all interested from having a job and the main reason he is proposing Jo is that Jo could keep telling him what to do with his life. In the book it was Friedrich who had taken a job from another state so that he could provide a home and a future for Jo. This part is missing from every single film version.
Scene where Laurie says he has always meant to marry a March girl has made many to believe that Amy is some kind of second prize but he does´t say anything like that in the books. In the 1994 film Jo writes to Laurie after Beth´s death and asks him to come back to Concord. Jo does not do this in the book. In the book Laurie sends Jo a letter right after Beth´s death and proposes her for the second time right after when he has realized that he has romantic feelings towards Amy.
Laurie had two real-life inspirations. First one was Louisa´s good friend Alf Whitman who she used to act with in the Concord dramatic union. When they met Whitman was 15 years old and Louisa was 25 and they remained friends through out their lives. Alf also knew May and the age difference between May and Alf was only 2 years and they were close friends. Based to the letter exchange between the two they both seemed to have rather care-free personalities same way as Amy and Laurie. Second inspiration for Laurie was a young man called Ladislas Wisniewski. Louisa met Ladislas in Switzerland where she was working as a companion to a wealthy woman called Anna Weld. Louisa was in her 30´s at the time. The age difference between Louisa and Ladislas was 13 years. Louisa gave him a nickname Laddie. Laddie was a military man from Poland and an aspiring pianist. There is very little information about Laddie. He has been described to be a flirtatious prankster and he was romancing Louisa but it would seem that Louisa´s feelings towards him were more maternal. Laddie used to call her as his little mama. Some time later May also met Laddie in Europe and he showed her around. Neither Louisa or May married Laddie or Alf. "Laddie" and "lad" were umbrella terms that Louisa used as nicknames for young boys and young men (Reisen). Ladislas was not the only laddie but he and Alf were the "laurie-laddie´s". I read some of the letters that Louisa had written for Laddie and Alf (Reisen) where she told them that she was going to immortalize them into Laurie´s character and in Laurie she wanted to capture the essence of youth and the essence of boyhood.
Coming of age novel
Little Women was a commission by Louisa´s publisher Thomas Niles to write a book for girls that would include morals and advice on good marriages. Louisa was´t sure if she herself could write such a book because she was´t used to writing children´s novels and she did´t really have experiences on young girls beside her sisters. As we know little women became a best seller. The structure of the book that Niles ordered was Bildungsroman. Bildungsroman is a literary genre that has it´s focus on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood. Louisa was more than familiar with this genre because Goethe´s Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship was the start of it. Therefore Little Women is a story of identity with romantic subplots.
Louisa was advocate for girls marrying for love and not for money and not marrying too young. All March sisters are over 21 when they get married. It seems that Louisa planned both Jo and Friedrich and Amy and Laurie to end up together already when she was a teen ager (hear me out). Amy knows that she wants to marry a rich man. Laurie is wealthy and Jo wants to keep Laurie in the family as her brother and May also knew both real-life Laurie´s. References to Germany already begin in the first chapter of Little Women, which foreshadows arrival of a German character. In fact March trilogy is constantly favorable towards German culture.
Based on the letter exchange between Louisa and her publisher Thomas Niles marriages were all Louisa´s idea (Shealy) and the literature that Jo is consuming in the first part of Little Women supports this. 16-year old Jo is reading Wide Wide World by Susan Warner. The love story within Wide Wide World is almost identical with Jo´s and Friedrich´s romance. Friedrich´s mannerism all the way how he rumpled his hair and carried an umbrella come from philosopher Henry David Thoreau who Louisa loved all her life. Their age difference was the same as between Jo and Fritz, 16 years. Wide Wide World appeared when Louisa was 18. She had the habit of self inserting herself to the novels she read. It seems that she saw herself and Henry in the characters of the wide wide worlds. In another one of Louisa´s favorite novels, Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship Wilhelm is pursuing Marina, who is the Jo type of character of the story but he eventually falls in love with Natalia, who is the Amy type of character and who actually inspires Wilhelm to take his life seriously and take responsibility of himself. Louisa had large collection of Goethe´s novels. She had been reading them since childhood. Looks like the basis of the two couples already existed way before Little Women.
Friedrich as Laurie´s opposite
Friedrich´s character tells probably more about his creator than any other character in Little Women. We can even see Laurie and Fritz as different aspects of Jo/Louisa. Laurie is the masculine energy of youth and Fritz is the academia and the mature emotional intelligence. Differences between Jo and Laurie rise when they are called to conform. From the start Jo is represented as a strong minded person with high-level intellectual curiosity where as Laurie takes education for granted. He goes to college to full-fill his grandfather´s dreams and partially Jo´s dreams as well but not his own dreams. Once again this is not a character flaw he is just a different type of person. From a very young age Jo has high work ethics and she has been raised on a very politically aware household. Value of work and social justice are not things that Laurie is that much interested which can be easily explained with his background but we never see that in film and tv adaptations and they have never really shown Jo´s and Laurie´s differences because his character arc is never there, his flaws are downplayed and Amy suffers from the opposite reduction-ism.
Because we never see Laurie´s pranks and the proposal dialogue is always changed we never see how much later Laurie matures compared to the sisters. Jo is looking for love and acceptance and validation for her unique sense of individualism. With Friedrich´s character Louisa makes a bold statement on class and wealth and she subverted the social expectations of a romantic interest. Man who Jo falls in love with is a poor scholarly immigrant during the time when there was deeply rooted antagonism towards European immigrants. Louisa gave him feminine qualities that she herself appreciated in a man and many of the real-life Friedrich´s who Louisa was attracted to possessed them as well. Friedrich is enthralled by Jo´s intellectual curiosity and he is not threatened by it (unlike most men of the time were).
In New York Jo enters to the publishing world which is male-dominated. She blindly obeys the editors at the Weekly Volcano and her sensational story is cut to one-third of it´s original length. Jo herself is extremely ashamed of sensational writings and she is jaded by the experience. Some people find it consenting the way Friedrich helps Jo with her writing but he wants her to discover all the potential she has as a writer.
Friedrich is not criticizing Jo as a writer. He is criticizing the genre.
"Bhaer is trying to help Jo become a genuine writer instead of one who caters to the whims of the crowd. This is something Goethe would have done. He disliked superficiality in people and in art and “was through life frequently offended by the shallow pretensions, the false aims, of writers who, because they have some poetic sensibility and some gift of expression" (Megan Armknecht, Jo Marries Goethe, Dr Bhaer as Louisa May Alcott´s representation of the Goethean ideal in Little Women)
As a result Jo takes more critical view on her writings and feels more encouraged to try different aspects of storytelling and eventually she finds her own literal style. Louisa herself labeled her sensational writings as rubbish. That we as readers enjoy something doesn´t mean that it was something the author highly appreciated. When Laurie proposes to Jo, Jo says that Laurie would hate her scribbling which gives an impression that Laurie isn´t that exited about Jo´s writing career.
Louisa was frustrated by the little girls who were obsessed with the idea of Jo marrying Laurie but based on the extensive research I have done on Friedrich´s character, Laurie perfectly captures the 19th century male ideal but in modern standards Friedrich is more feminist and progressive. He is respectful towards Jo, supports female education, is abolitionist, hardworking and loves Jo unconditionally. The resentment that Friedrich´s character received in the 19th century (and still today from some sad people) seems to stem out from xenophobia. In the 19th century German immigrants were widely discriminated.
Louisa gave Friedrich great deal of characteristics that she appreciated in European men that she wished that more American men would posses (Showalter). Friedrich has very emphatic world view, a quality that is stereo-typically connected to women. He has desire to help those who have been marginalized and discriminated. Interest for the social justice is something he shares with Jo. Jo´s seek for adventure and validation stems out from personal level rather than tearing down the patriarchy. During her growing pains she herself put women down. Yet Jo learns and grows. When Jo falls in love with Fritz it is not that surprising that she is jittery and nervous around him because with Friedrich there is a constant physical awareness that she never experienced before.
Her internal battles are not either caused by the outside influences but fear of commitment. Friedrich goes through the same process. When Jo does fall in love it is not the feeling she is afraid but what people are going to say about her after she has been speaking about independence. Her creator had similar problems. We are always more than eager to fight over the moralities of the female characters but what it comes to the male protagonists especially in Hollywood films men who are aggressive, broken, quick to violence are portrayed as desirable heroes and their possessive behaviour over women is over-looked. Hate that Friedrich sometimes receives comes from our own expectations of the masculine archetype which has been more than often coloured by the western media.
This is a quote from my Friedrich research, but it´s worth mentioning here as well.
"The cultural level suggested by Friedrich’s profession and more specifically by his knowledge of Goethe also helps to validate the connection between Friedrich and Jo. Teen-age Louisa had scribbled a quote from her copy of Margaret Fuller´s Woman in the Nineteenth Century regarding Wilhelm Meister’s female connections.
As Meister grows in life & advances in wisdom, he becomes acquainted with women of more & more character, rising from Mariana to Natalia who expresses the Minerva side of things, Mignon, the electrical, inspired lyrical nature . . .
"Passage represents Jo´s transference of affection from Laurie to Friedrich through her own growth and advancement in terms of character. Laurie is the fascination of her youth who will always be regarded with affection, but Friedrich has more character. Laurie is always a “boy” to Jo, but Friedrich is a man. Laurie possesses charm and culture; Friedrich, as we see, is cultured but also steady and well-grounded. He speaks both to her down-to-earth practicality and to her imagination (Doyle)
This similar transference can be seen in Laurie as well in the way he moves on from Jo to Amy. Laurie has to go through the personal transformation first before he can truly love another. Fact that Louisa was very fascinated by this transference from a young age shows that she probably planned the all the egalitarian romantic relationships in Little Women from the start. It´s a another narrative pattern that one can see in her literal works.
Nat and Daisy
Little Women and attraction
Laurie in the books is described to have androgynous and effeminate looks. Jo is also androgynous but she has sharper features. Jo in the books is never sexually attracted to Laurie, which makes it pretty crazy that so many adaptations have hired Jo´s and Laurie´s who have sexual chemistry. What Jo is attracted to is Laurie´s masculine energy and that in their childhood plays she doesn´t need to be a girl. Features that are traditionally seen more feminine that Laurie has, like his sensitivity bring out Jo´s nurturing side (something that came naturally to her). In New York when Jo meets Fritz she is really attracted to him and his masculine looks (he is more build like a viking). Gender fluidly continues in the sequels. In little men it is once again referred how Jo prefers more "manly" boys. Little Men also introduces the character of Nat who is compared to Laurie. Nat has more effeminate looks, he plays music and he is quite sensitive. In Jo´s boys Nat and Meg´s daughter Daisy are in love but both Meg and Jo are worried since they don´t think Nat is man enough to take care of Daisy because Nat is quite a dreamer and probably because of his effeminate looks. Jo however thinks that Daisy will be a good wife for Nat because she is steady and down-to-earth. When Nat returns from his trip to Europe and he is now more solidly built Meg and Jo give their approval. In Good Wives Jo wishes that Laurie could find himself a steady and a competent girl who could keep him grounded (sounds familiar?) The way Laurie was not used to making decisions also effected to the way Jo thought of herself. Which was something she wanted to change.
Slow and painful growth process
When Amy and Laurie are in Nice the role that Amy takes it is traditionally seen as more masculine. She is stern but not provocative. The adult Amy is quite a catch she is worldly and uses all the right words. She even gives Laurie good advice how he could win Jo´s love or at least gain her respect but most of all Amy wants Laurie to shape up his act for his own sake. At the same Laurie reminds Amy isn´t love better option than money. Amy´s lecture proves how much deliberately Laurie was feeding his heartache out of spite. She was right to lecture him and only one who got through him. Also to be noted Fred wanted to marry Amy despite of her being poor but because Amy was a true lady and Fred genuinely liked her. Yet the reason why Amy wanted to marry him was that she could take care of her family in her heart she knew that it was wrong for both Fred and her and Laurie reminded Amy to examine her own heart.
After leaving Nice Laurie went back to his grandfather. The relationship between the two has improved a great deal since he first moved to live with him but now it is even better because of the internal change that has started to happen inside Laurie.
When he looked about him for another and a less intractable damsel to immortalize in melody, memory produced one with the most obliging readiness. This phantom wore many faces, but it always had golden hair, was enveloped in a diaphanous cloud, and floated airily before his mind's eye in a pleasing chaos of roses, peacocks, white ponies, and blue ribbons. He did not give the complacent wraith any name, but he took her for his heroine and grew quite fond of her, as well he might, for he gifted her with every gift and grace under the sun, and escorted her, unscathed, through trials which would have annihilated any mortal woman.
Laurie goes to Vienna to compose but as being said it does not go that well and it is easier for Laurie to give up the idea of Jo being the lead of his great operetta than giving up the idea of himself as a romantic hero. Now the phantom that looks like Amy has become part of Laurie´s fantasy projection but this time Laurie himself breaks this bubble.
He comes to the conclusion that he does not posses the genius. He goes through the same process that Amy did. He has talent but he lacks vision. Largely thanks to Amy´s candidness Laurie grows a great deal during this winter. One way of reading Laurie´s time in Vienna is to see it as a rite of becoming independent. He comes to the conclusion that he needs a real earnest job which he had never wanted to do before and that is when Laurie goes to work for his grandfather. 100 years of Little Women adaptations. Not once have they included Laurie´s growth process and his time in Vienna.
More film and tv Laurie´s
In the pbs series from 2017 Laurie was played by Jonah Hauer-King. Series received very mixed reviews from the fans. In an interview the screen writer Heidi Thomas said she never understood Jo´s chose of husbands. I don´t know... what about doing some research. This definitely explains why Laurie´s flaws are (once again) downplayed and why he doesn´t have a character arc. Series also tried very hard to make Amy an unlikable character. Friedrich Bhaer who for once looks like he jumped straight out from the book pages gets very little screen time. Both Jo x Fritz and Amy x Laurie relationships are left underdeveloped.
We need to stop pampering Laurie and let him grow like the book Laurie does.
Little Women film from 2018 is set to the modern day. Film builds a good base for Jo and professor and it also builds a good base for Meg´s and John´s relationship. 12 year old Amy is played by Elise Jones and adult Amy by Taylor Murphy and Laurie by Lucas Grabeel. Having two Amy´s is wonderful because it brings more nuances to Amy´s and Jo´s relationship (and is truthful to the books). Film once again portrays Laurie as a flawless character and does not include redemption arc he has with Amy. We see young Amy having a crush on Laurie but we don´t see them bonding as adults.
No wonder people have had hard time to get behind this pairing. Laurie´s flaws have been downplayed and Amy´s flaws have been highlighted. During this personal growth process Laurie is forced to ask some real questions about himself. Questions that he had been afraid to ask; who he is and what he wants from life. When Amy´s letter arrives where she tells Laurie she has rejected Fred´s proposal something moves inside Laurie´s heart. Films have cut it short but Amy and Laurie spent a great deal of time writing to each others and after Beth´s passing Laurie traveled to Vevey to be with Amy.
I personally always saw Amy and Laurie as a good couple. I believe Amy enjoyed Laurie´s fun loving nature and he was able to connect with Amy on a deeper level and that he realized that Amy´s bubbly personality was healthier for him than Jo (who in many way would have been toxic for him as a partner) and Amy did not scoff Laurie about the perks of his position but simply pushed him to be better. There is no power play in Amy´s and Laurie´s relationship. She filled his desire to be the swashbuckling romantic hero but Laurie no longer sees women in his life as shallow dream spirits. For most of his life Laurie felt like he was lacking purpose. Amy and Laurie became a philanthropist couple who helped those with musical and artistic talents to reach their full-potential and they pushed each others to reach their full-potential. Amy can continue creating her own art without the financial pressure and already in the beginning of good wives we saw that she had a natural talent for organizing events. Modern day Amy could be a gallerist or an art director. Amy´s and Laurie´s relationship entirely parallels with Jo´s and Friedrich´s relationship and John´s and Meg´s relationship there is space for growth and the other person pushes you to be better. When Laurie falls in love with Amy he tries to rationalize it but it is not something one can really rationalize. One could already see hints from that before Laurie went to Vienna there were times when they were quite bashful around each others. By the end of Good Wives Laurie has become full-partner with Amy´s charity enterprises.
“He had rather imagined that the denouement would take place in the chateau garden by moonlight, and in the most graceful and decorous manner, but it turned out exactly the reverse, for the matter was settled on the lake, at noonday, in a few blunt words. They had been floating about all the morning, from gloomy St. Gingolf to sunny Montreux, with the Alps of the Savoy on one side, Mont St. Bernard and the Dent du Midi on the other, pretty Vevey in the valley, and Lausanne upon the hill beyond, a cloudless blue sky overhead, and the bluer lake below, dotted with the picturesque boats that looked like white-winged gulls. They had been talking of Bonnivard, as they glided past Chillon, and of Rousseau, as they looked up at Clarens, where he wrote his Heloise. Neither had read it, but they knew it was a love story, and each privately wondered if it was half as interesting as their own.”
When Laurie does apologies to Jo his earlier behavior now he does take the responsibility of his previous actions. Jo is delighted by these turns of events and now they can rebuild their friendship on honesty. Laurie gets lots of leeway in the films. Way more than he does in the books. Amy and Meg are more than often demonized for liking pretty things and are being called materialistic. Laurie was a fashion lover. He liked nice clothes and keeping up good appearance (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that). He did spent money on useless things but he is not questioned for that same way as the girls do (Amy and Meg are poor) Laurie was a wealthy young man. Problems rise when reader heavily identifies to Jo´s character and the films so far have brushed off Jo a lot. The book does favor Jo a bit, after all it is a semi-biographical novel but it does not sugar-coat her either. In all aspects Amy is Jo´s parallel and the reason why they fought so much as kids was because they were so similar. Never forget Jo was amazed by the grace and classiness that both Meg and Amy possessed and she admired it. To certain extend the one-dimensional treatment of the characters in adaptations has created rather narrow minded approach to all other sisters except Jo and to some extend this has also happened with Laurie and Fritz as well.
Amy x Laurie 2019
Little Women is a story about identity. When adapting a novel you can´t erase a character arc of one character without effecting to the whole story. Amy is not a bitch and Laurie is not an award. When I type Amy March to google I get headlines like "Amy March was a total bitch" "Why we like to dislike Amy March". I know it sounds like I have roasted all adaptations. There are things that I like in all adaptations. I am very aware that it is only now that it is possible to make a Little Women adaptation that handles the gender fluidly themes of the novel and that movies always have time restrictions. The only way to get rid of Fritz/Laurie debate and Jo versus Amy debate is to include Laurie´s character arc.
I had very high hopes for Greta Gerwig´s film and I greatly enjoyed Florence Pugh´s performance as Amy. Film build their romance quite nicely but once again Laurie´s character arc was entirely missing. Timothee Chamalet does great emotional roles, he could have pulled off Laurie´s character with it´s full complexity. In Little Women 2019 film guide Gerwig said that "Jo and Laurie could be a great couple if they wanted to". Louisa May Alcott wrote to her journal about Ladislas Wisniewski the words "couldn´t be". She never intended Jo to end up with Laurie.
The open narration of Gerwig´s film has created three types of interpretations.
1. There is now a whole new generation who see Jo and Laurie as the ultimately romantic couple.
2. The second group is people who praise this adaptation for erasing the romantic sub-plots, and this has been part of the film´s promotion. The correspondence between Louisa and her publisher Thomas Niles shows that Louisa was the one who came up with the marriages. When Little Women became popular Louisa and her publisher turned Louisa into a brand. She became the "children´s friend". It is always quote strange when people say that Louisa didn´t care about romances. There was a real life Laurie and there was a real-life Friedrich but because she had her reputation to protect, she tried to keep these relationships hidden and even detach herself from Jo´s character. Yet, you can read about Louisa´s romantic endeavors from every single Louisa May Alcott biography and her personal journals and letters. This brand that was built around Louisa, she herself struggled with it a lot. It evolved into person worship cult. Louisa lived in a time when most marriages were based on economical reasons. She was part of a movement that promoted marriage based on love as the first priority and this was something she promoted in all of her novels.
3. There are people who loved both Amy and Laurie and Jo and Friedrich in this film, and now there is a whole new generation of Little Women fans who think that Laurie was more immature compared to Friedrich and he was better off with Amy.
There was an earlier version of the script that followed the novel more. Friedrich was German and the end was not written to be mockery towards romantic love. It also handled the immigration themes with the seriousness it deserved. It seems that these changes were made to maximize the films profit. Greta Gerwig herself is in a relationship with a partner 14 year older than them, so why she makes fun of Jo´s and Friedrich´s relationship.
I always thought it was beautiful the way Louisa created these two complimentary relationships. Jo and Fritz share the same umbrella. Amy and Laurie row the boat together. In a typical Alcottian style it highlights the equality in a relationship.
Summer 2019 I was on a design fair in London and I saw this young man there. He looked like a dancer. He had golden copper skin tone and curly black hair. He was quite thin and had a very dreamy expression. I though he looked like Laurie from Little Women.
Every little women fan has their own Little Women narrative. Here in Finland book 1 and book 2 have been usually published separately (I think the newest ones have the two first books combined). I read the first book when I was 12 but I didn´t read Good Wives until I was 17. As a child I really liked Laurie. I didn´t like Jo that much. She had to grow on me. I like all the romantic sub-plots in Little Women. It´s actually one of the rare books where I am very pleased with the canon pairings. But the heart core of it is the bond between the sisters and it became an important book in the terms of shaping my own identity so when I entered to the online circles many years ago it was quite a shock how much hate there was towards all other characters except Jo and Laurie. I don´t think that was the author´s intention. On my next read I had really hard time liking Laurie. I hated the way he treated both Meg and Jo but I had a tendency to heavily identify with the female characters (I am not the first or the last person who has done that). When I read the book later as an adult I started to like Laurie again when I started to pay more attention to the growth process of the characters. Me and Laurie have come a full circle.
I want to give a shout out to the Attic series. They´v done better job developing Amy and Laurie than many of the Hollywood adaptations.
Jo and Laurie stayed in a teen age mindset. The problem was not only their tempers but they were enabling each others good qualities. After Laurie forged those letters and hurt Meg and he asked Jo to run away with him. There is no project for the future. It was just another way to escape and not face consequences of his actions. It is uncanny how many people romanticize it (knowing that it happened just after he nearly ruined Meg´s and John´s chances). In the chapter castles in the air Laurie is moping how much he hates the future his grandfather has planned for him. Jo tells him just to sail away with one of his ships, play music and be a composer. Laurie was used to do what other people told him so he might have done it but Jo´s advice was pretty terrible because Laurie wasn´t capable to look after himself. Meg was the voice of reason and reminded Laurie how much his grandfather loves him. Jo was very blunt person and Laurie highly sensitive which can be a toxic combination. Fight me if you dare Amy was way more healthier for him (and Fritz much better for Jo because he was direct but much calmer person) Laurie thought he could earn Jo´s hand by graduating college and even that he did very lazily. Jo had already opened herself to the idea of loving Fritz which is why she defended him when Laurie proposed. Little Women is incredibly nuanced story. It has lots of characters. It is difficult to turn it into a film. I would like to see an adaptation someday that would handle Amy´s and Laurie´s struggles with infertility and their interactions with their daughter Bess.
You can read my in-depth meta on Friedrich´s character here.
Only way to fully show the nuanced character arcs would be a series. I still wont´give up hope that there are group of talented people who believe that all of Little Women is worth of adapting and make that reality.
Special thanks to Angela, Sam, John, @ajesidth, @renee561, @sylphinthevaleofarryn, @thatvermillionflycatcher and @this-thrown-out-gentleman from thought provoking and enlightening discussions.
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, Penguin Classics edition with Elaine Showalter´s introduction
Life lessons from Goethe by Adan Kirch, New Yorker, 2016 issue
Stella: A Play for Lovers (1776) (2018) English translation of Goethe's novel (Peter Land and Susan Gustafson)
Immortality, Milan Kundera, 1988
Louisa May Alcott, The woman behind little women by Harriet Reisen
Louisa May Alcott, her life, letters and journals by Ednah Cheney
Did the real Amy March get together with the real life laurie letters between May Alcott and Alf Whitman (Louisa May Alcott is my passion)
J.W Goethe, Sorrows of young Werther, Finnish translation (nuoren Wertherin kärsimykset) Translation by Markku Mannila, otava, 1992
Goethe´s correspondence with a child, Bettina Von Armin, 1837
Goethe and Bettina (from Goethetc)
Check out my Little Women meta:
Little Women 1970 Amy and Laurie Romance
We Germans Believe in Sentiment
Friedrich Bhaer Aesthetics
Equal Marriage Lost in Translation
Jo, Friedrich and the weekly volcano press aka what it takes to become a great writer
Jo, the adamant
Little Women 1933
Best Jo and Fritz fanfics you´ve ever read
Quest of Friedrich Bhaer and why my inner Jo loves him
He was attractive as a genial fire
Little Men and Tender Parenthood
Little Women symbolism of the umbrella
Thoughts on #TeamLaurie and #TeamBhaer
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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