You are about to be spoiled with an in-depth analyzis on one of my all-time literal crushes Friedrich Bhaer. All Laurie-fans Auf Wiedersehen. You are allowed to stay if you behave well and respect other people´s opinions. As for those of you who are in #teambhaer willkommen und ich bin sehr froh das du hast mein blog gefunden. (Welcome and I am very glad that you have found your way to my blog).
If you are a fan of Louisa May Alcott´s works and you have ever spent some time in Little Women forums or literal blogs you are more than aware that what it comes pairing our heroine Jo March fans are pretty strickly devided into two groups those being #teambhaer and #teamlaurie and this debate has been going on for 150 years. I must confess I have been on the alcott online circles longer than I care to admit and those are not the only ships that have risen from the Little Women. There is a great deal of people who ship Amy and Laurie. There is a handful (maybe some thousands) of people who like the idea of Beth and Laurie being together (I don´t ship it but I find it intriguing) plus there are people who ship couples from the movie/tv adaptations and not from the books and vice versa and some do both. Last but not least there is a portion of Little Women fans who wish that Jo would have remained single. I used to have few of my toes in this team but after finishing my massive Friedrich research. I became convinced that Louisa planned Jo and Friedrich to get together since the beginning (there is a re-accruing character in her novels that I refer as the "Friedrich Bhaer archetype". recently had a Little Women marathon. I read two novels, one biography and watched 8 hours of film (still need to find my old copy of Little Men somewhere).
June Allyson and Rossano Brazzi as Jo and Friedrich in the 1949 film
I have an undying love for all things Jo and Friedrich and they´ve always been one of my favorite literal couples (this is hardcore bhaershipping folks). He is kind, loves books, speaks with a sexy accent and above all, loves Jo more than anything else in the world.
Winona Ryder and Gabriel Byrne as Jo and Friedrich in the 1994 film
My first introduction to little women was the beloved movie version from 1994 and I am not going to lie to you I was swooning over Gabriel Byrne (what can I say I love the academic types). I loved the film and it inspired me to read the book. I think I was about 12. I remember liking the book, especially the portrayal of sisterhood. (I´ve always been very close to my own sister).
Little part of my collection. Jo´s boys, Eight cousins, Little Men, An Old Fashioned Girl, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Rainbow Valley, Emily of New Moon, Anne of Green Gables...
Next round came when I was 17-18 and that is when I read Little Women, Good Wives, Little Men and Jo´s boys and I think for the next couple of years I read the first two books over and over again. In Finland the first book was published in 2 parts, those being Little Women and Good Wives (I believe it is the same in most part of Europe). So here I will reference the first book as Little Women and second book as Good wives. I am probably part of a minority here but for me Little Women does not work without the Good Wives and I think as a book I enjoyed it even more, yes there were still teachings of morality but the characters felt more mature and it made it easier for me to relate to them.
I am now in my thirties and I recently re-read the books all over again and they opened up in a whole new way. Lot of this has to do with the fact that I have spent lots of time studying the life of Louisa May Alcott and Mein Gott she is interesting. Also I think there are themes in good wives that can be difficult to understand if you read it in a very young age. Now I paid more attention to the social climate of the time, Jo´s and Friedrich´s dynamics and started to unwrap the mystery of the German professor.
Heart´s Dearest aka What Happens When You Fall In Love
In the book when Jo first time sees the professor he helps a servant maiden to carry a heavy hold of coal. Jo notices this and becomes very curious about him and it only grows when she sees him arranging his books. Already Friedrich has made quite an impression on Jo and he hasn´t even met her yet.
Louisa May Alcott never got married but I have no doubt that she did knew what it is like to fall in love with someone. Still today for me Jo´s and Friedrich´s courtship (even how unromantic it is) perfectly describes how it is like to fall in love with another person.
This is how Jo describes Friedrich in the beginning:
Professor Bhaer was there while he arranged his books. I took a good look at him. A regular German rather stout, with brown hair tumbled all over his head, bushy beard, droll nose, the kindest eyes I ever saw and a splendid big voice that does one´s ears good, after our sharp or slipshod American gabble. His clothes were rusty, his hands were large and he hadn´t a handsome feature in his face, except his beautiful teeth, yet I liked him, for he had fine head, his linen was spandy nice, and he looked like a gentleman.
Friedrich playing with little Tina completely melts my cynical heart every time.
Jo and Friedrich become very good friends in New York. They go to philosophical symposium where Friedrich gets into a debate and he is such a wonderful speaker that Jo get´s somewhat a spiritual orgasm (that´s the only way I can describe it). There is the New Year´s masquerade, disagreements on literal pursuits (I´ll get back to this). He is very humble and he works as a language teacher in America to provide education for his nephews. When Jo hears that Beth has become ill again and she is going back home she has very mixed feelings about Friedrich and Friedrich being the observing man he wonders if Jo has feelings for Laurie and by this point he has completely fallen in love with her but because he respects her he wont say a word and decides it is better to be her friend than to loose her.
Then Beth dies, Laurie has married Amy and Friedrich returns to Jo´s life and once again Jo observes him:
Mr. Bhaer´s face had lost the absent minded expression, and looked all alive with interest in the present moment -actually young and handsome, she thought.
Bumping heads together while chasing a ball of yarn, young Demi making his own observations and the proposal in the rain still give me warm fuzzies. But that is the way it goes in real life. When you truly fall in love with someone you see them as the most handsome or the most beautiful person in the world and you will do anything for them.
Can we stop for a moment to the proposal under the umbrella. Kissing someone in the rain definitely is a tick to the romance box (and Jo is the one who makes the first move, very much like her). Setting is not nessecarily that romantic since they are carrying parcels and there are people passing by but then he shows the poem that brought him to her. Poem Jo wrote after Beth died. He recognized her initials and knew that she was sad and alone and decided to come and see her. In every single movie version Friedrich returns to Jo to bring her newly published book but I think the poem part works so much better and is much more romantic (in a story that doesn´t have that much romance). I was very glad that it was included to the 2017 series.
Perfect Match, Clarity and the silly professor archetype
Like many I used to be under the impression that Louisa was pressured by her editor to marry Jo but when I dived deeper into my research I actually found it was the opposite. Louisa publisher Thomas Niles would have preferred Louisa to marry Jo to Laurie, then he would have doubled his profits and it was also Niles who demanded changes to Laurie´s looks in later editions. During those times state of the German immigrants was not the greatest and having a German immigrant as a romantic lead was not to Niles liking.
Louisa was a germanophile and Friedrich is based on men she loved and admired and in all of her novels that included romantic plots, she always promotes the idea of marriage/relationship between equals. You can read more about that here.
When Louisa created Laurie, she gave Jo a brother that she wished she would have had and she never intended to marry them. Louisa was very much against girls marrying young (or for money).
There is inconstancy the way Friedrich is portrayed in the books. There is the Friedrich that I love, the endearing, passionate Friedrich, who makes his hair a mess when he is exited, man who is not afraid to show his feelings and he also feels that Jo is the one person in the world who he always must be honest with. Friedrich who had to leave his home country to support his orphan nephews and he is not one bit ashamed to play with kids and they like him because he treats them with equality and respect. He also has a serious side and he is more observing than the people around him may think. I love these small moments of clarity that he has filled with longing to somewhere (or to someone). If Friedrich and Jo would exist today he and the boys would join her on her book tours and he would not have any problems to come with her on women´s marches and other demonstrations. I´m pretty certain Marie Kondo would not be welcome to Plumfield since books especially spark joy for both of them and they probably spent great deal of time in the library during honeymoon...not.. reading.
Then there is Friedrich that falls into the archetype of a ”silly professor”. He wears thick reading glasses, speaks with a heavy German accent, is not very attractive and is absent minded. I think Louisa deliberately added these features. She even wrote to her uncle that she gets strange satisfaction from the horror that Jo´s pairing with Friedrich might cause to her young readers. I think she did regret falling into the silly professor trap since in the following sequels Friedrich is more established character and the silly features are gone. In the end the silliness of the character comes from the fact that Friedrich was the ideal man for Louisa but not her young readers and because Jo was Louisa´s alter-ego Friedrich is the perfect match for Jo. Many of Friedrich´s ”silly” qualities are completely based on stereotypes on foreigners and ageing, but really, for the modern audience there isn´t a joke there. Friedrich is German, speaks with an accent and wears reading glasses like millions of others. His being absent minded on the other hand falls into the silly professor trap and so is everyone referring him as old when he is in his late 30´s. but maybe that was considered old 150 years ago. Same with the ladies, if you were´t married before the age of 25 you were doomed to be a spinster.
All these "funny" features that Friedrich has, they come from one man. Louisa´s first and (based on my research) only love, Henry David Thoreau. Henry comes in literal disguises in all of Louisa´s novels. He wasn´t a very dashing looking man in real life and many of those features that some readers have found horrifying in Friedrich´s character, were things that Louisa was very found of.
How To Make Moral Philosophy Sexy
When I did this research to the psyche of Friedrich it was very interesting to see all the variations in the way my fellow bhaerians saw him. What it comes to Hollywood there has always been a bit of debate how handsome Friedrich should be or can he be handsome at all. This is of course very tricky since everyone has different views on what is handsome and sexy and what is not. When I read the books I quite often imagine Jo to look like Winona Ryder and Friedrich looks like Gabriel Byrne, so for me Friedrich is always handsome and apparently I am not the only one who imagines him to look like Byrne and based on my research readers have imagined him to look anything between Blake Sheldon to Timothy Dalton to Richard Gere (I do love Richard Gere but I can´t imagine him speaking with German accent). Then there are ladies who really love their men with beards (Louisa was one of them) and they are happy with the way he is described in the books. Because of completely selfish reason I do wish that Louisa would have written Friedrich to be more handsome simply because I think that him being poor, older than the woman he loves, an immigrant and someone who is made fun of because of his ”foreign oddities” is enough to make him (or anyone else) to feel uncertain about themselves at times. The question if Friedrich should be handsome or sexy feels out of place. Jo is not depicted to be very beautiful in the books but no one questions were extremely beautiful actresses like Katherine Hepburn and Winona Ryder too pretty to play Jo.
Obviously I love Friedrich and I wish that Louisa would have spent way more time writing about him, his life in Berlin, Minna, his passed away sister, his nephews Franz and Emil and what was their reaction to Jo´s and Fritz engament, anything. Good wives feels unfinished, maybe it was difficult for Louisa to write about romance when she was not living one herself, who knows. Then there is the construction of the book. It is aimed for 9-10 year old girls and every chapter needs to have a moral teaching. How do you write about zizzling love affair of two academics who get turned on from books, great deal of hair, beards, accents and intellectual debates when you need to work in such limited frame?
Xenophobia and romanticing Laurie
When I read the good wives first time at the age of 17 the underlying xenophobia in the society was the last thing in my mind but person grows and develops through the years and unlike before it is something that I unfortunately have personal experience (living in abroad for the past 4 years).
There is a scene in one of Jo´s letters that caught my eye:
”The young men quiz him, it seems, call him Old Fritz, Lager Beer, Ursa Major and make all manners of jokes on his name. But he enjoys it like a boy, Mrs K. Says, and takes it so good naturedly that they all like him, in spit of his odd ways”.
This of course is the way Mrs Kirk sees Friedrich but I highly doubt that this is exactly how Friedrich feels about people making fun of him because jokes can hurt at times but it is his optimistic nature and confidence that make him ignore all that and he is also mature enough to know that young men make bad jokes (mostly because they are insecure). Louisa knew lots of immigrants and all her family and friends were underground abolitionist and many of her stories evolved around multi-racial and multi-national couples but once again maybe it is construction and the target group of the book that creates obstacles for deeper social exploration.
”Now don´t laugh at his horrid name; it isn´s pronounced either Bear or Beer , as people will say it, but something between the two, as only Germans can do it”.
Thank you Jo March. You are the best!
Good Wives is a radical book because it was probably first children´s book ever published that portrayed two multi-cultural marriages already 150 years ago (Fritz and Jo - German and American, Laurie and Amy - Italian-American and American).
I love this quote from Little Men.
“If I had not come to America… I never should have found my Jo. The hard times are very sweet now, and I bless Gott for all I seemed to lose, because I gained the blessing of my life.”
Before anyone throws stones at me I do love Laurie especially when he is played by Christian Bale but he is sometimes kind of an ass in the books and it does seem that one of the reasons why the Friedrich/Laurie debate is so heated has also racist roots. Laurie, even when he has an Italian mother is considered more American than German Friedrich. In the original book that was published in 1868 Laurie is both foreign and androgynous. He has brown skin (it could be #blacklaurie) curly black hair, long nose, nice teeth, little hands and feet and he is same size as Jo and when asks Jo to dance he makes a little French bow. When Louisa May Alcott was a little girl and she was foraging around woods she nearly drowned into a pond and was saved by a young black boy who worked in the near-by farm. In Little Women Amy nearly drowns and she is saved by Jo and Laurie. For the 1880 edition of Little Women Louisa´s publisher demanded her to make changes to the books. Little Women was a massive hit, but publishers want to make money. All foreign features of Laurie were removed because they are not suitable for a romantic suitor. Now he had handsome nose, fine teeth, no mention of his skin color and he is taller than Jo, making him superior to her. Story became more sentimental and also Marmee´s character got a make-over. She became much more gentle and idealised. For the recent editions of Little Women description of Laurie, the way Louisa intended it, has been restored.
The idolisation of Laurie constantly continues in tv and movie-adaptations. After watching 4 different versions I was rather appalled the way Hollywood versions again and again brushes off the flicky nature he has in the books. For example in the 1949 version Laurie played by Peter Lawford, is one of the most idolised Lauries on the screen. He has run away from school, lied about his age to join the army where he got wounded (not that you can see any wounds). Of course, he is also extremely kind and charming. This film version doesn´t either show his and Amy´s time in Europe, which is a shame since Peter Lawford has insane chemistry with Elizabeth Taylor who plays Amy. I like Laurie and the flicky, bit immature nature is part of his charm. From the 4 adaptations that I watched, so far only Christian Bale´s Laurie in 1994 film manages to the capture the good/bad Laurie that exists in the books but even in that version very harmful pranks that the teenage Laurie does are completely missing and the grown-up Lauries´s possessive behaviour.
Christian Bale as Laurie in the 1994 adaptation of Little Women
Toxic Masculinity in Little Women
After 150 years of the releasing of Little Women tender side of masculinity is finally a hot topic. With #metoo and #mentoo campaigns I think it is a great thing that we are questioning the cultural and traditional models of feminity and masculinity.
I recently re-read Little Woman and the character of the teen-age Laurie is a mixture of a charming young man and extremely immature brat. In chapter 21 Laurie makes michief and Jo makes peace Laurie is fed up being told what to do by his tutor John Brooke and he feels strongly that he is superior to him. Now, John Brooke is a kind, hardworking, poor man and 11 years older than 15 year old Laurie. Laurie knows about Brooke´s feelings towards Meg and he poses as his tutor by sending her love letters, all because he wants to show Brooke who is the boss. 17 year old Meg who also has feelings for Mr. Brooke politely responds to these letters. Jo finds out what is going on and together with Meg and Marmee they think how to proceed. In the end Laurie is scolded by Marmee and nearly scolded by his grandfather but Jo asks him to be gentle with him. Everyone swores not to tell anything to Mr Brooke. The worst part of this michief is that Laurie completely ignores Megs feelings. In fact he doesn´t think of her at all and she is the one who gets most hurt in the process. Even today this kind of intrusive behaviour would cause pain to any young woman yet Laurie pretty much gets away with it. He is still a hero for the March family because he saved Amy from drowning but because he is a man (and rich, young and handsome which give him many unfair advantages) he can freely ignore the feelings of the other sex.
In the good wives when Laurie falls for Jo he becomes vile, jealous and possessive. Jo refuses to respond to any of his romantic efforts and Laurie doesn´t take no for an answer and this constant pressure he causes for Jo is somewhat creepy. It is not easy for Jo either because they are good friends and she cares for him like a brother. Eventually situation gets so bad that Jo decides to go to New York and work as a governess. When he proposes her and she says no he is extremely aggressive and over-dramatic and now that I read the book again I became really mad at him since he proposed her again straight after Beth´s death (give the girl a break, she just lost her sister). This is especially troubling since at the same time he has realized that he has feelings for Amy as well. I start to like him again when he and Amy return from Europe and he apologizes Jo about his earlier behavior. I like this flicky nature of Laurie because it makes his character very interesting and more complex but it does bother me that most movie and tv adaptations completely ignore it. Being impulsive and having a temper are not necesssarily bad qualities but when Laurie´s actions harm both Meg and Jo it turns into toxic masculinity.
Peter Lawford and Liz Taylor as Amy and Laurie in the 1949 adaptation
Since each storyline has a moral, all Amy´s moral lessons have always something to do with her vanity and popularity. She has ambition to become a lady. Laurie has had everything handed over for him and he is quite unaware of his privileged position. He didn´t want to go to college (who doesn´t want to go to college!) and after he graduated he spent years drifting around spending his money. Laurie´s vanity is about getting attention and it is one of the reasons Jo turned him down, he would have been jealous or depreciative on her writing (unlike Friedrich who understand´s that Jo has the same passion for writing that he has for teaching). Laurie is a complex character and big part of that attention seeking comes from him being an orphan growing up with a distant grandfather and not really finding his place in the world. Laurie´s behaviour towards Amy when they meet in Europe is actually similar to his behavior towards Jo. When he heard about Amy´s possible engagement with Fred Vaughn he became jealous and possessive. Yet I think he and Amy make a great couple because they both matured when they were in Europe together and it was Amy who told him to get a job or to do something else useful in his life and that is when Laurie goes to work for his grandfather. In 1994 film Laurie goes to work to impress Jo but he doesn´t take the job too seriously until Amy scolds him about it.
Eric Stoltz and Trini Alvarado as John and Meg in the 1994 adaptation
Tender Masculinity in Little Women and in Pop-Culture
Friedrich is in this case a complete opposite to Laurie because he is only going to tell Jo how he feels when he is certain that she has feelings for him and when he knows that he can provide a home for her. Friedrich represents tender masculinity and probably one of the reasons why his character received such strong reaction when good wives was first published, was that 150 years ago society was thousand times more patriarchal what is now days and even though we live in the year 2019 tender masculinity is still questioned and made fun of. Good example from this is Gillette´s best man can be campaign which has been both praised and abused. Another example is Hollywood industry where tender masculinity is still frowned upon.
I did dig up some of my favorite examples of tender masculinity from books, tv and films.
Newt Scamander from the Harry Potter franchise played by Eddie Redmaine is an empathic introvert in the fantastic beasts and where to find them. Newt is a gentle soul, extremely sweet and kind, a true hufflepuff and a fan-favorite. Yet his character received lots of backlash from the critics for being ”overly-good” and ”being too-simple”. Producers tried to ”fix” this for the sequel, the crimes of Grindewald by surrounding him with other characters that possesed more masculine traits and we all know how that turned out. Come to think of it I think Friedrich is Ravenclaw/Hufflepuff and Jo is Ravenclaw/Slytherin.
Another very kind man from the Harry Potter franchise is Remus Lupin. Remus is one of the most empathic and complex characters in the Harry Potter universe. Because he is a werewolf and therefore and outsider, it is his ”outsiderness” that makes him very compassionate. He even feels compassion for Snape, who both Harry and Sirius hate. When Lupin and Tonks get married and have a baby it is a constant battle for him because he is afraid that the werewolf in him would hurt them.
I would also like to mention every single man in the fellowhip of the ring (yes, I mostly read fantasy and 19th century girl books). Everyone of them represent tender masculinity. They respect each others and their fair maidens. Aragorn and Faramir are some of the kindest men in literature, yet no one ever questions their masculinity or manhood because they are also fearsome warriors. Samvais and all the hobbits are tender and kind by their nature. Even the wizard Gandalf wants to use his power only for good.
In Rick Riordan´s Percy Jackson/Heroes of Olympus books there are some tender, mild-tempered demi-gods such as Beckendorf, Jason Grace and Frank Zhang. Frank is the son of Mars, the Roman god of war, so you might think that he is very aggressive and war-mongering. Frank is actually a Chinese-Canadian teenager with lactose-intolerance and with wonderful fighting skills..he can also turn into a dragon..or any other animal. He is also extremely kind, compassionate and a very loyal boyfriend to Hazel. As far as fandom goes, guys that are more impulsive and who at times fall into toxic masculinity type of behaviour (and let´s face it, are described to be conventionally good looking), such as Percy Jackson, Nico di Angelo and Leo Waldez tend to be more popular.
From my all time tv-crushes Leo Wyatt from Charmed definitely represents tender masculinity. Leo has many traits that could be considered ”feminine”. He is extremely kind, nurturing (well..he is an angel) and isn´t afraid to show his feelings. He is wonderful father and he only uses violence when his family is being threatened. Leo is extremely affectionate and adores Piper. I actually think that Jo´s and Friedrich´s dynamics is very similar to Piper and Leo. Piper with her highly active and sometimes neurotic behavior is balanced by Leo´s loving, caring, down-to-earth nature.
I found myself binge watching this broadway clip. These two singer/actors are amazing!!
In most Little women adaptations Friedrich is both good-tempered and affectionate. In the book there is almost a Shakespearean element in him when he likes to use word ”thou” over ”you” and he likes it when things are a bit sentimental and romantic. Friedrich has the most empathic world view and he especially appreciates those who are discriminated and marginazed same way as he is. There are other characters in Little Women who also posses tender masculinity. One of them is Meg´s husband John Brooke. He accompanied Mrs March on her journey when her husband was wounded and worked hard to build a home for Meg. John is a shy man with a very good heart.
There are certain elements that combine all these men. They are all quite modest and never show off or brag with their talents. Neither they make grand gestures to highlight their own importance. The masculinity that we have been conditioned by the media the way it is presented in films and literature tends to praise men that are quick to action, violence, hide their vulnerability and we easily forgive their aggression, immature behaviour and arrogance. Often the leading man is autonomous, good looking and their possessive behaviour over women is over-looked.
One of my favorite scenes in the Good Wives is the part where old Mr.Laurence wants to comfort his grandson and asks him to travel to Europe with him. Despite of their arguments Laurie loves his grandfather. Mr Laurence is a bit flicky like his grandson. He can be very angry and moody at times but he has a tender heart and I love his friendship with Beth.
Tender masculinity in a patriarchal culture is still often treated as a joke and men who show their feelings are considered more weak because empathy and protectiveness are considered to be feminine traits which automatically leads into unfair power structures between genders. Tender masculinity is not an identity of perfection. Often it is a sign of maturity but one does go through a journey to get into that place. It´s a work-of process.
I wish that there will be more books and movies coming up in the future that center more around the positive and tender masculinity. Stories where men treat women as equals and are not ashamed to show their emotions and I strongly believe this was Louisa´s message as well.
Finding your voice
One of the more controversial parts of Friedrich´s character in the books is the paternal tone he takes on Jo´s sensational writing (there we have the toxic masculinity trap once again). In New York Jo starts to write sensational stories that are being published under pseudonum. She keeps telling herself they are not harmful, yet dark side of the human nature that she is exploring is making her rather distressed. Friedrich sees one of these magazines and expresses his opinion about them. He knows that Jo writes but he hasn´t seen her writings and he wonders if she is ashamed of her own work. Jo is offended but later on when she goes through her sensational stories she starts to wonder should she write for herself or because of the money. I personally prefer the film/tv versions where Friedrich apologizes and they have heart-to-heart but in away I also like this scene in the books because it shows that usually such mild-tempered Friedrich can get mad about certain things (like children seeing grotesque illustrations). When I first time read this chapter I did have mixed feelings about it but now I agree with both of them. I´ve done some client work illustrations that have paid the bills but I have not always enjoyed making them and neither have they improved me and challenged me as an artist. Wouldn´t it be better to find that own artistic or literal style and get hired because of that talent that makes you stand out from all the rest. When we think about the people who are the creative masters in their fields what they do is, they focus on their strengths.
Friedrich works here as a narrative tool for Jo to find her true voice as a writer. After she stops writing the sensational stories she moves on to the opposite end, and she writes stories that are nothing else than lessons of morality. It doesn´t work and then she moves on to write stories for children. That doesn´t feel right either so she decides to stop writing for a while. Friedrich advice her to observe people around her to make her character more vivid and as a result Jo starts to observe Friedrich (without him knowing of course). Finally after Beth´s death, Jo starts to write realism and that is when she finally finds her own voice as a writer. Louisa went through a similar arch but much earlier than Jo. Louisa herself also wrote sensational stories under a pseudonym. This whole chapter can be interpreted as Louisa´s own journey in the terms of her writing. Later on she said that the those sensational stories weren´t that great but like for Jo they were another literal experiment. Neither Louisa enjoyed writing moralistic stories for children (like Little Women). She preferred writing realism for adults.
This scene is one of the many moral lessons in Little Women, write from your heart and you´ll get the best result.
Though I do not enjoy writing moral tales for the young, I do it because it pays well - L. M.A
Men in touch with their feelings
There is a scene in Jo´s boys where Friedrich hugs his sons
”not ashamed to express by gesture or by word the fatherly emotions an American would have compressed into a slap on the shoulder and a brief ”all right”.
I come from a country where the traditional role of men is not to show your feelings and especially fathers used to be somewhat distant to their children and I have seen this behavioral pattern breaking slowly but firmly (which I am very glad). There is great difference in each culture the way we interract with each others. Both Russians and Swedes are more affectionate than Finns. Same with germans and French versus the British.
Friedrich is very warm, calm and affectionate and I think he is perfect for Jo who is a bit shy but also very impulsive. They share love for learning and academics, both are interested from the workings of the mind. He possesses all the feminine attributes that she appreciates in a man and he loves her spirit and enthusiasm. Based on their companionship and similar views about the equality in marriage and in a relationship, they could work excellently as a romantic/erotic/passionate component. There is some wonderful growth in both characters from the time they meet in New York and when they reunite in Concord but Louisa tries very hard to strip away all the romantic elements. This is very frustrating for a reader because there is so much potential! My guess is that it was difficult for Louisa to write about them as adult women knowing her readership and even in the sequals she focuses more on child characters.
There is nothing "little" in Jo March
I am going to offer an interesting take on Jo March, a theory that is supported by quite many LW fans and Alcott scholars, that is Jo becomes in touch with her sexuality rather late. In the 19th century puberty began much later compared to nowdays but Jo´s development is behind even to her peers. When she meets Friedrich it´s the first time she is sexually attracted to another person. Many readers were put off the way Friedrich is described in the books but Jo is drawn to him. She likes his kind nature, intelligence and his looks. When she writes letters to her family she can´t shut up. All letters are about Friedrich. She has a crush on him. When Friedrich starts courting Jo and she responds to his feelings she acknowledges that Friedrich doesn´t want her to change and loves her the way she is. Jo is always a bit tupsy-turvey and so is he. Louisa added lots of feminism to her books and one of the prime examples of that is Jo making a choise to be with someone who she loves. Even the title of the book "Little Women" describes the transition of girls becoming women. But there is nothing little in Jo and that is why we love her.
Very modern marriage
I always felt that falling in love with Friedrich and marrying him were something that Jo would do because she wasn´t never going to settle to do something conventional and a marriage with a poor, foreign philosophy professor who was older than her was definitely unconventional and they both have immense respect for each other and agree to work hard to build their future together. When Jo agrees to Friedrich´s proposal he gives her title of professorin making her equal to him (in America women were allowed to attend lectures and exams at universities but they were not allowed to graduate or matriculate until 1920´s). To me Jo still remains a better female role-model than my other literal heroine Anne Shirley. When Anne marries Gilbert she completely throws away all her literal pursuits and ambitions and becomes a devoted wife and a mother. This has always bothered me since, like Friedrich, Gilbert was always very supportive on his wife´s writing career. Jo manages to combine work and family. She continues writing while running the school and by the fourth book she starts to gain fame as an author. I would not have minded if Jo would have remained as unmarried bohemian writer, but since I love Friedrich in my world they would have met in a symposium or a debate and had a passionate love affair (damn these fictional boyfriends! I can´t get enough of them).
Friedrich, the German Puzzle, Great loves of Louisa May Alcott
Both Friedrich and Laurie are based on several different men in Louisa May Alcott´s life. One of the biggest inspirations for Friedrich was Louisa´s first love, philosopher and a poet, Henry Thoreau. I was quite surprised when I read description about Thoreu because it sounded word to word to Jo´s first impression about Friedrich. Thoreu was an eccentric, kind, bohemian. He had unconventional teaching methods taking his students to nature to observe things around them. Based on everything what I have read about Louisa it seems that Thoreu was her first love (like Friedrich is to Jo) and she loved him throughout her life. That if they ever had a physical relationship is unclear (Thoreau was married). Another inspiration for Friedrich was philosopher Ralph Waldo Emmerson and the protective-aspect of Friedrich comes from him. He was a good friend and a neighbor of Louisa´s family and often saved them from debt and stopped Louisa´s father, Bronson pursuing some of his craziest ideas. One more inspiration for Friedrich was German poet and romantic writer Goethe. In one of her novels called the Moods Louisa´s alter ego is young Sylvia. She is married to Geoffrey Moore (Emmerson) yet she is in love with an attracted to Adam Warwick (Thoreau). Louisa published and re-wrote Moods over a period more than twenty-years.
Third part of Friedrich comes Ladislas ”Laddie” Wisniewski and as you can probably guess from the name, Laddie also worked as one of the inspirations for Laurie. 33 year old Louisa met Laddie while she was working as an companion for a lady called Anna Weld. Louisa travelled around Europe with Miss Weld and she met 21- year old Ladislas in Switzerland. Laddie was a military man and an aspiring pianist. They became good friends and it is possible that they had a fling or a little romance. It seems that Laddie was bit of a playboy and there was some kind of confrontation between him, Louisa and Anna Weld. There are attributes in Friedrich that come straight from Laddie. Those are his politeness, him being European and less but not least, him speaking with a sexy accent. Some people find it cringe that Friedrich teaches German to Jo. Apparently Laddie taught Polish for Louisa and she helped him with English and she felt sexual attraction to her intellectual friends like Thoreu. Perhaps we should move away from the teacher-student relationship to more realistic one, to the fact that Jo and Friedrich are most of all friends who are curious about each others and maybe those lessons were an excellent excuse to spend more time together.
Bad tongues say that Friedrich is based on Louisa´s father Bronson Alcott. If Friedrich is one thing, he is the anti-Bronson. Bronson Alcott was a reverend and one of the leaders of the transcendentalist movement. His high level spirituality was toxic for his family. Often he refused to find work and would focus on his writings and theosophical ideas while his family was starving. Quoting Emerson ”wife, children, and friends are less to him than the great ideas he is seeking to realise”. This is something that Friedrich would never do. If you´v read the books you´ll know that Friedrich is the very definition of a family man (in the most positive sense of the word). Another thing that he and Jo have in common.
Louisa´s parents marriage was filled with arguing. She idolized her mother Abba but she also recognized the unbalanced power structure in her parents marriage. This is why Louisa was very sceptical about marriage but since she felt obligied to marry off all the March girls she gave them all happy and serene marriages. Louisa had love/hate relationship with her father and that is why Jo´s father is absent for most part of the books. Louisa did respect her father as a teacher more than as a husband and a father and some of Friedrich´s teaching methods come from him (and from Thoreau as well). Very little is known about Louisa May Alcott´s lovelife. She burned and cencored many of her diaries. Some people suspect that she was a lesbian, asexual, bi or gender-fluid. Gender-fluid makes the most sense. Same way as Jo, young Louisa was very unconscious about her body and often wished that she could be a boy but we will probably never know the truth.
Let´s Talk About The Age Gap
Many times when people debate if Jo and Friedrich belong together they bring out the age gap. I think this is the worst argument of the bunch. The age gap is about 15 years. I know president couples with age gaps four times as big (no pun intended). In many Louisa´s stories there is an age gap between the lovers and this is also a theme in Little Women, March sisters are all married to men older than they. Laurie is four years older than Amy, John is nine years older than Meg. It does seem that Louisa only could feel comfortable with men that were older, or younger than her. Emmerson was 29 years older than Louisa. Thoreu was 15 years older and Laddie was 13 years younger. Louisa was always very careful about her reputation so it does seem that she gave Jo the relationship she didn´t get and based on everything I have read about Louisa, this equal relationship that Jo has with Friedrich was something that Louisa would have wanted but maybe men like Fritz did not exists during those times.
Personally, I think what it comes to romance in Little Women, books and in real life, everything goes as long as everyone are over 18.
Screen - Friedrich´s
In the name of research I watched four different little women adaptations. There are many more but I chose these four since they are most familiar for the modern audience.
Let´s Just Forget About This Friedrich -Friedrich
In the 1933 film version of Little Woman Friedrich was played by Hungarian actor Paul Lukas. Unfortunately Friedrich Bhaer in this version falls straight into the silly professor-archetype trap. He looks like he is closer to 60 than 40 and accent sounds rather comical. There is no chemistry between him and Katherine Hepburn´s Jo. I do give credit for this film because it shows bit more of Jo´s time in New York, something that most adaptations tend to ignore. Yes, he is kind but also completely lacks the respect that Friedrich of the book has for Jo. This guy even asks Jo if he could write to her father and ask him for something (like her hand). Friedrich of the book would never speak to a man such as this. Both Friedrich and Laurie appear quite comical for the modern audiences. Laurie played Douglas Montgomery looks and acts like a 30´s dreamboat and yet again the complex personality that Laurie has in the books is completely missing but at least he is more androgyny's than most screen Lauries which is a big part of Laurie´s description in the books but often ignored in the films.
I Want To Marry This Friedrich
Friedrich in the 1949 version is played by Italian actor Rossano Brazzi and by the gods and goddesses I think I am in love with him. This film is packed with very handsome men and Rossano Brazzi is the most handsome of them all and one of the many faults of this film is that he is maybe 10 minutes on the screen.
My favorite scene is the part where he plays piano and translates a German song to Jo. I love the part when they first meet in the stairs and he is playing with the children. He is handsome and sexy even with his messy hair and glasses. There is something extremely sincere in Rossano´s performance. He captures Friedrich´s kind and caring nature with very settle movements and facial expressions just in the ways he looks at Jo and talks to her. Sometimes his accent slips from German to Italian but from all the Friedrich´s on this list, he is most convincing as someone who speaks English as their second language. There is also wonderful chemistry between him and June Allison who plays Jo. Rossano is probably the most dreamiest Friedrich of them all.
Louisa May Alcott`s Friedrich
In the pbs 2017 adaptation of Little Women Friedrich is played by English actor Mark Stanley. If you have read this post this far you might have noticed that I prefer my Friedrich beardless... I think I need to make an exception since this guy rocks the beard. He looks exactly like Louisa May Alcott described Friedrich to look like. He is not too old or too young, he has a bushy beard and he even has the kind eyes that Jo loves. This adaptation does the same mistake that most adaptations do. This wonderful Louisa May Alcott´s Friedrich is on the screen only 5-10 minutes!
Many Little Women fans criticized this series for being rushed and it is true. Jo´s time in New York goes so fast I have hard time to appreciate all the little things that have been added. There is the symposium (or leaving the symposium), Friedrich is playing with the children. Kitty, Minnie and Little Tina are there. How wonderful that they added Franz and Emil. Could I get a Little Women adaptation that shows more interraction between Tina and Friedrich? Honestly it´s one of the sweetest parts in the book! Also I have not yet come across movie or tv adaptation where Friedrich tells Jo about his sister and the boys (who´s father abandoned them) and they are the reason why he moved to America in the first place. I do love this Friedrich but he is once again over-shadowed by Laurie who in this adaptation is idolized for 2 and half episodes and the cringy behavior he has in the books is once again completely missing. Since this is a tv series the makers could have done such a wonderful job developing Friedrich´s story and his and Jo´s relationship. I mean, they make him look just like in the books but the character is still ignored.
One of the things that this adaptation does right is that it is the poem that brings him to her. I also liked the part where Amy tells Jo that ”everyone likes him” (I definitely do).
Your Heart Understood Mine Friedrich
From now on Gabriel has to share his place as my number one Friedrich with Mark Stanley and Rossano Brazzi. But I still think that Friedrich in the 1994 film is most established from all film Friedrichs. This is one of the rare adaptations which shows the gradual development of Jo´s and Friedrich´s relationship. It is more mature and more suitable for the modern audience than what it is in the books (thank goodness). I have seen this film so many times I can even quote the song he translates to Jo in the opera. As much I enjoy the romantic scenes (this adaptation ticks all those boxes) I also like the part where they first meet and end up talking about books and philosophy but my favorite part is the one where they are in the boarding house and the young men are talking about women´s right to vote and they all ignore Jo who is the only woman in the room. All except Friedrich who asks her to express her opinion and Jo says that women should be allowed to vote not because they are more moral creatures than men but because they are human beings and equal to them.
Louisa May Alcott, an early suffragette, would approve.
When Gabriel Byrne heard that Gillian Armstrong was going to make Little Women he asked to read for the part of the professor and when he came to the audition he was the only man who had actually read Little Women. His mother used to read it to him and his siblings when they were young and he loved the book. (Yes, I am still swooning) and of course then there´s this. I guess some actors are just made for certain roles.
I just recently found out that there is going to be a new film version of Little Women coming up in December 2019. French actor Louis Garrel is Friedrich, Saoirse Ronan is Jo and Meryl Streep is aunt March! It´s better be good!
Jo and Fritz Fandom
Reading the books again and watching all these adaptations (three of them I had never seen before) has actually made me love Friedrich even more. In these four different adaptations Friedrich has been played by Hungarian, Italian, Irish and English actors. I do find it interesting that Friedrich hasn´t ever been played by a German actor or even someone who is a native German speaker but then again I haven´t watched all other Little Women tv-adaptations (there are so many of them) so I might be wrong here.
This was the first time that I read Little Women and Good Wives in English and I did not know that Friedrich´s accent was literally written into the books. In the Finnish translation it is only implied that he speaks with a German accent. I studied German for years so I never had difficulties to imagine it. Another surprise for me was that some English speakers call him Fredrick and not as Friedrich, since they can not pronounce German. Fredrick or Friedrich I love him just the same... but hey one can always call him Fritz <3
As I told in the beginning I have spent lots of time in my life in Alcott forums (when I was younger livejournal was a thing!) and there are some lovely Jo and Fritz fanfics. You won´t find tons of them but about 90 % of Jo and Friedrich fanfiction is actually very well-written. If any Jo/Fritz shippers and fanfic writers are reading this, someone who loves and understands these two characters should write a book about them and give more depth to the story. I´d totally buy it. Heck, I´ll promote it.
Here are few of my all-time favorite Jo/Friedrich fan-fics.
Magic of the girl pirates
How do you say
In sickness and health
These are R-Rated
The ecstasy to guess
The Bridal Tour
For Good Ends
(I would recommend to read these in this order ;) )
For the hardcore Jo and Fritz shippers I can recommend anything from Middlemarch, Littlerumbird, OzQueen and Laura Schiller.
There is also a group in Tumbrl called "Under the umbrella" completely dedicated to fans of Jo and Fritz.
Check out all my articles about Little Women:
Evolution of Laurie
Jo, Friedrich and the weekly volcano press aka what it takes to become a great writer
Jo, the adamant
Small umbrella in the rain 2019
Little Women 1970 Amy and Laurie Romance
We Germans Believe in Sentiment
Friedrich Bhaer Aesthetics
Equal Marriage Lost in Translation
Only Gossip Prospers Book Review
Little Women 2019 Trailer (Long Rant)
Little Women 1933
Best Jo and Fritz fanfics you´ve ever read
He was attractive as a genial fire
Little Men and Tender Parenthood
Little Women symbolism of the umbrella
Thoughts on #TeamLaurie and #TeamBhaer
I would love to hear your thoughts. Who´s your favorite screen Friedrich? do you like him more in the books than in the films? or maybe you are like me and think that they all compliment each other. Do you have more examples of tender masculinity in movies and literature that I could add to my list?
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, Penguin Classics edition with Elaine Showalter introduction
Louisa May Alcott, The woman behind little women by Harriet Reisen
Why the Cult of Jo March and Little Women Endures
Pronounced as Nee-na.
Artist, illustrator, writer, watercolorist and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
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