Trigger warning, this post is about sexual harassment in LMA´s life and her novels.
Sometimes I wonder if my views on Little Women would have been different if I had read part 2 as a child not as a 17 year old. I had seen the 1994 film so I somewhat knew what was going to happen but all I now remember thinking that on my first read of the second book, Laurie (who I had liked quite a lot as a child) was an immature fuckboy and Amy (who I had had conflicted feelings as a child) was graceful mature and I was very impressed by her character arc (which sadly was not included in the 1994 film) and that it was Amy who was able to get through Laurie and tell him that you are hurting yourself and people around you with your behavior.
I think including Laurie´s character arc is key to everything. I have been very frustrated by the “choose your own narrative” of Greta Gerwig´s film. When I was watching the film I thought “this is great they actually show that Laurie is more immature than Fritz and Laurie is holding Jo back". Then I heard that many previous Jo and Laurie fans moved on to root Jo and Friedrich and then I also heard there is now a whole new generation of Jo and Laurie shippers who think they are super romantic in this film.
Nothing new under the sun.
32- year old Louisa May Alcott was working in Switzerland as a companion to a wealthy American woman called Anna Weld. There she met a Polish composer and soldier. 21-year old Ladislas Wisniewski. Ladislas had turberculosis and Louisa who was a caretaker by nature nursed him. He called him as his “Little Mama” and asked her to call him “Varjo” which was the name that his mother used to call him she called him “Laddie” which was a name that Louisa called all the young “lads”. He was very sweet and romantic bringing Louisa roses, he played music to her and they spent lot of time together talking about the future.
Then something strange happens. Louisa writes to her journal.
“Anna troubled about Laddie who was in a despairing state of mind I could not advice them to be happy as they desired, so everything went wrong and both worried”.
The previous diary markings suggest that Laddie had been flirtatious with Louisa and had even mentioned possible future together. Louisa had written that Anna Weld was whiny, needy, foolish “and didn´t have a clue about Goethe” (probably one of my favorite Louisa quotes). The tone of Louisa´s diary markings change. She begins to sympathize Anna and becomes more suspicious about Laddie.
When Louisa writes “could not advice them to be happy as they desired” what does she mean? Did Ladislas and Anna had suddenly become affectionate with one another? It is very unlikely because quite soon Ladislas announced that he was leaving and it seemed that Anna had asked him to leave.
Did Ladislas pressured Anna to have sex with him?
Notes from the time suggest that “he was overly-friendly with Miss Weld, which is why he had to leave the pension”.
Louisa had seen the signs and felt powerless not being able to go back to the way things were.
This reminds me the first part in Little Women when Laurie is cat-fishing Meg for "bit of a frolic" and Jo struggles to identify with Meg´s pain but then in second part in Little Women when Jo is four years older and Laurie began to harass her, now she knows how Meg was feeling when someone does not respect your boundaries.
In Little Women Laurie tries to kiss Jo in the first part, right after Beth has become sick Jo says no. In the second part, Jo travels to New York because Laurie´s actions are making her feel very uncomfortable. After Beth has passed away Laurie sends Jo another proposal, around the same time when he realizes that the has feelings for Amy. Is this actually a memory of Ladislas affection moving from Louisa to Anna?
Who could forget, Hannah describes Laurie as a "Weathercock".
Reflecting to Friedrich´s character, he never force himself to Jo and only is physically affectionate with her when he has her full consent.
At this point Louisa was not rich but poor as a church mouse. Anna Weld on the other hand was rich. Couple months later after her contract with Anna ended Louisa traveled to Paris where she spent a day with Ladislas and his friends.
Diary markings are censored with lines “couldn´t be” written (Shealy).
Was Ladislas Wisniewski a con artist like LMA biographer Harriet Reisen has suggested?
A year later after Louisa had returned home, her younger sister May met Ladislas in Paris and spent time with him.
This has made MANY Alcott scholars believe that Louisa and May had some sort of argument over Laddie, which is also seen in the strange triangle loop that the Little Women adaptations repeat over and over.
In the novel Little Women, both Amy and Jo are more mature than Laurie, when we move on from book 1 to book 2. Amy is four years younger than Laurie yet she is more mature than he is.
Louisa describes in her journals that Ladislas was always making pranks on others. There is a scene in LW where Laurie who is a very wealthy young man, gives stupid prank gifts for Meg and John, who really start their shared life with nothing. He is 23 year old behaving like a teen-ager.
When Jo says that she doesn´t approve flirting, Laurie who has just been flirting with bunch of girls says that he does not approve flirtatious girls either.
Reminds me the way in 1970 Little Women series, when Laurie forges letters to Meg in John´s name, the whole incident is framed to be Meg´s fault.
It seems that both Louisa and May got tired with Ladislas and that he wasn´t productive and preferred to live on other people´s wing.
There are bank notes that show that Louisa had asked her publisher to pay Ladislas 400 dollars in 1873. Which was a lot of money back then.
In her novel “only gossip prospers” writer Lorraine Tosiello suggests that Ladislas was blackmailing Louisa. Based to Louisa´s journal Ladislas had a family in 1873. Louisa supported many orphan organizations it is easy to imagine that she wanted to support his children.
In one of her letters to Louisa, May Alcott writes that Ladislas “never acknowledges his debt”.
Were they talking about the 400 dollars and if not that would mean that they had given him more money which he hadn´t paid back?
I once read that when May Alcott was living in Paris, she would sometimes get really frustrated by the Little Women fans who came to distract her and ask if there was a real-life Laurie. I used to think that May´s frustration was caused by the fact that Amy was already in the 19th century a character who divided opinions but in retrospective what if May was annoyed because she knew that the main model for the real-life Laurie was far from the book Laurie.
In her letters to Laddie and Alf Whitman who was another real-life Laurie (and he and May were very close friends) Louisa wrote that she wanted to capture the “nature of boyhood” into Laurie´s character.
It seems that Ladislas never lived up to Louisa´s expectations like Laurie never lived up to Jo´s.
In Little Women in one moment Laurie is thinking how fortunate he is having four sisters always on his side and showing good example. Then he thinks about going to gamble and that Meg and Jo would be disappointed with him, and then he thinks that no matter what he does, girls always forgive him
and he goes to gamble.
(Similar narrative is repeated in Jo´s boys when Nat is in Germany and tries to over come similar temptations).
Another thing that has also raised eyebrows was Ladislas quick recovery from tuberculosis. Was he faking it all along? Was he traveling around Europe targeting wealthy women? first Miss Weld and then Louisa, after she had become a multi-millionaire. Did he used Louisa´s sympathies for his supposed illness for his own advances. In Rose in Bloom, Alcott novel that appeared 10 years later after Little Women, Charlie who is another literal re-carnation of Ladislas, wants to marry Rose, not because of love, but because she is about inherit lots of money. Why was Ladislas in Anna Weld´s pension in the first place? who had invited him? Did he lured Miss Weld to invite him?
Ladislas called Louisa his "Little Mama". There are elements in this relationship that sound more parental than romantic, which is the case in Little Women as well, even though the book Laurie is few months older than Jo. For Jo he always remains as a boy and when he wants a relationship with her, it is not because he loves Jo but to escape his own demons, which he has refused to face.
A year after the publishing of Little Women, Louisa wrote an essay called "Happy women" where she writes:
"If love comes as it should come accept it in god´s name, If it does not come reject the shadow of it in God´s name for it can never satisfy the hungry heart"
Ladislas had took advantage of Louisa´s loneliness, and she was the one who had to pay the price. Letters to May reveal Laurie who was not who he said he was, and yet for the public Louisa could never tell the truth. When a woman gets played by a conman, there is lots of shame that comes with it.
Louisa wrote Jo to be an idealized version of herself, and Jo has elements from many women who Louisa admired. In some ways Louisa is also Laurie. She had similar way to vent her emotions like Laurie does in the book, but Louisa´s Laurie grows, becomes an efficient member of society and even asks Jo to forgive him the way he behaved.
If Ladislas Wisniewski was a conman (and I am starting to believe that he was). His scam has been successful and has lasted over a century... and it´s still going.
Harassment is a common theme is LMA´s novels. Often the harasser dies and in their death bed asks the protagonist to forgive them or in Laurie´s case they actually begin to question their own behavior. That Little Women adaptations from 1917 to 2019, never include this and how uncomfortable his behavior is for Jo, truly is The Laurie problem and Louisa´s views on what a healthy relationship is is always relevant.
Wedding Marches by Daniel Shealy
Louisa May Alcott, Woman behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen
Only Gossip Prospers (historical context) by Lorraine Tosiello
Louisa May Alcott, life, letters and journals by Edna Cheney
(Check out the story of the real life Fritz as well)
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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