Little Women Podcast Transcript
Hello Little Women fans!
Today´s comment shout out goes to @justanavengersfan who says the following:
"Laurie is always a boy to Jo and when she speaks about Nat or Teddy as daughters, you can really see that she was never going to find Laurie attractive".
Jo in the books never finds Laurie attractive. Friedrich is her sexual awakening. There are quite a few scenes in Little Men and Jo´s Boys where Jo refers Nat and Laurie as "girly" or "daughters". I am surprised that not that many people discuss about this. I think it´s really fascinating. Even when Laurie is in his forties Jo always speaks about him in a very maternal tone, which doesn´t happen between Jo and Friedrich and Jo kinda sees Laurie as a personal success story, because he was the first boy that she adopted and that inspired Jo to start a school for boys. One of the things that a lot of people don´t seem to understand about Louisa, is that she was a very maternal person and she also loved the energy of young boys and very masculine men. Louisa was a paradox but do these qualities need to be exclusive?
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Some you may know that I didn´t read Little Women part 2, or Good Wives until I was a teen ager but I did read Little Women part 1 as a child. I still have my old copy which is a Finnish translation from 1940s. Here in Finland and in most European countries and I believe in most South-American countries as well Little Women used to be published as two separate books, when in the US it has been published as one book.
In the first part of Little Women Jo is 15, then part 2 it starts four years after the events of the first part and part 2 actually covers roughly 20 years of Jo´s life. I didn´t really pay attention to the adaptive attractiveness until I read the original English Little Women, which had not been white-washed by Louisa´s publisher. In the original text, Laurie, he has darker skin complex, big nose and there are lots of references to his Italian heritage. When I started to do more deeper research on Laurie´s character I re-read my Finnish versions, which were based on these "newer versions" where Laurie´s character was being romanticized. Many of these elements that made him more Italian were erased and it´s funny because I was looking at my copy of Good Wives. It has this cover illustration of Amy and Laurie. Laurie is actually a blonde and he could an actor from a Finnish film from the 50s. However I do not blame the illustrator because obviously that text was based on this, re-writing of Little Women.
In the original text same happens with Friedrich´s character. Louisa makes constant references on him being German and Jo loves that he is German, which is actually quite endearing. I am sure you can now find lots of different versions of this uncut original book which is great and the book that I have is Penguin classic Little Women based to the original book from 1867. That is the version I have used as a reference on this podcast. Every time when I have quoted something from Little Women.
This is small umbrella in the rain, Little Women podcast: Laurie and adaptive attractiveness.
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
However there are lots of problems with adaptive attractiveness in Little Women Louisa´s original description of the three characters: Jo, Laurie and Friedrich, 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 beautiful 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. Jo is not written to be beautiful so why did these readers thought that Louisa or Jo was beautiful? I have no idea.
Brown Skinned Laurie
Here is a quote from Jimena:
The importance of a dark skinned Laurie. A matter of representation
Louisa describes Laurie as
‘Curly black hair, brown skin, big black eyes, handsome nose, fine teeth, small hands and feet, taller than I[Jo] am…’
Yet in all adaptations, except the 80s anime, Laurie has been represented as a white character. It doesn’t surprise me that up until the 70s that was the case. However, the 2017 miniseries, 2018 modern adaptation and the 2019 movie make the same mistake: they whitewashed Laurie!
(I’m conflicted in using the word “mistake” cause that implies that they honestly didn’t know. But since they swear they love the book, then it seems more of a conscious decision.)
To me, it’s very worrying that almost no one discuss this in the media during the 2019 press tour.
But a brown skinned Laurie is not just about sticking to Louisa’s description of the character, it goes much deeper. It’s a matter of representation.
One problem that period drama set in Europe or the United States has is that there is little diversity, which makes sense cause they were slaving black people and discriminating everyone who wasn’t white and Christian. If today a show wants to add more variety into their cast, they normally have to race-bend characters or create a fantasy world, like Bridgerton. That or people of color get to play the servants or the poor people or the foreigners who appear in the background.
Yet, here we have an 1868 book, set the Civil War, that features a brown skinned character. And it’s not just a side character, he’s prominent, he’s part of the main characters. He has an arc as important as the main white family.
The fact that Laurie is brown skinned plays into his identity issues.
Just because the North was against slavery, doesn’t mean they weren’t deeply racist. As a matter of fact, Bronson Alcott got into a lot of trouble for offering education to white and black children in the same classroom.
For all the praise that Greta Gerwig’s movie got, I’m surprised very few people called her for including only a couple of black characters. There was one lady who barely had a line and another one at Meg’s wedding who is there just for background. That’s tokenism!
Even the modern adaptation which should have had no problem getting a diverse cast, chooses to cast Lucas Grabeel.
Then there’s the matter of his Italian heritage.
A couple of times, Laurie think about his Italian heritage and not in a good light. Actually his mother must have been the one who passes him his skin color. When he is in Valrosa with Amy, he think his Italian side brings out the superstition aspect in him. Italians have always had a negative stereotype in Western Europe and the United States. I don’t know how difficult must have been for Laurie to hear all these negative comments that attack his mother. This will also serve the discussion of immigrants in the XIX century America, alongside with Friedrich’s case.
Moreover, Italy is also a prominent Catholic country. A few articles I’ve read say that protestant America rejected Catholicism, even to the point of forbidding it. Let’s remember Aunt March’s French catholic maid who change her name from Estelle to Esther so that it would sound more American. This under the condition that the old lady wouldn’t ask her to change religions.
Even with all of these issues, he is in a position of power. He is the heir to one of Concord’s biggest fortunes. He gets to go to college. He is destined to run one of the greatest companies in Massachusetts. Amy even teased him because Fred was richer than him, like it was something that didn’t happen often. So his wealth must have been pretty big.
Returning to the March family, it will also serve to prove with their actions how anti racism they were, not just anti slavery. They included this boy as part of their family almost instantly. He becomes Jo’s best friend and Amy’s husband. It is in the book that a lot of mothers look at him as an attractive suitor for their daughters, but I’m sure some other inhabitants looked down at him for being Italian and brown-skinned.
So, my point is, representation matters.
Imagine how much this would mean for brown skinned boys, mixed race boys and parents of those kids to see this character properly cast.
(I’m curious, how many people knew that Laurie is supposed to be brown-skinned?)
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 it shows the characters through 1930´s lens. This happens with every Little Women film. They are always bound to their time. Both Jo and Laurie lack their aggressive outbursts they have in the books. Douglas 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.
Little Women fan Dana Parra has criticised Laurie´s casting choices.
"I think another issue I have with Gerwig´s film and really any film with fans that do this is how the cast are put upon these pedestals. There are fans of the fandom and there are fans of the actors and the director. I feel that Gerwig´s film suffers from fans that love either her or her work or the cast and know little about the original story and I feel Laurie is a prime example of having fans that love his actor and not the original character. Timothee Chalamet is a popular up and coming actor. I haven´t seen him in much, so I couldn´t tell you how good of an actor he is but I know he has a fan base and I know that fan base saw Little Women for him. Not just because they wanted to see the movie and we all do that with our favorite actors. When Jo refuses Laurie, because of this fan base you have to wonder are they mad Jo didn´t end up with Laurie or are they mad that Jo refused Timothee Chalamet because that is a huge difference and those are the fans that don´t care about the original story. They are just mad that their favorite didn´t get what they wanted. You could say the same with Peter Lawford too and Christian Bale because you know that the studios are going to try to put some heart-throb in to the role of Laurie to appeal to the love story or to make the movie into more of a love-story than a coming-of-age movie".
Here is a quote from blogger @thatvermillionflycatcher
Why Jo and Laurie don´t end up together or why our expectations of tropes set us up for disappointment
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 episode I will be talking 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 other hand is a set of attributes, behaviors 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, behaviors 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.
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 Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson. 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 families. 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. This is what Meg says:
"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. 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 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.
Should Laurie´s actions be censored
This is a quote from @Jodramamarch
"At the risk of alienating my fellow Louisa May Alcott enthusiasts and scholars one of my students has urged me to be thoughtful about the following. Would Theodore Laurie Lawrence be loaded for his actions and behavior by modern standards or would he be censored. I am always hesitant to evaluate actions of a literate characters written over a century ago through the lenses of the present but I do feel it is a question that merits discussion. I am deeply respectful of Louisa May Alcott. Her exceptional work and her remarkable life but the "boys will be boys" latitude that Laurie´s character is given strikes me as odious at several moments throughout Little Women".
Jo does have internalized misogyny. She wants to be a man and identifies more with men, at least in the beginning of the novel and then slowly begins to find the balance between the masculine and the feminine. Other than her mother and her sisters she doesn´t seem to identify or enjoy the company of other women. In the end of the novel when Friedrich comes courting, the narrator says that Jo forgot to compare him to Laurie. Who had been her model of masculinity. When she gets into a relationship with Friedrich, she begins to treat other women with more respect because he does. Same happens with Laurie in his relationship with Amy. He becomes a lot more considerate of other people around him and he even apologizes to Jo in the end of the novel about the way he behaved towards her but that´s never in the films, because Laurie´s character arc has never been adapted.
Why Laurie´s physical features matter
When Jo and Laurie grow up, he takes a role that is almost overly masculine. He low-key tries to encourage her to flirt with him and then he threatens to kill himself if Jo does not marry him. This breaks Jo´s ideas of masculinity the way she knew it. In the book Jo travels to New York, because she gets anxiety to be alone with Laurie, nothing sweet or romantic about that. She even says to Marmee that she needs to leave because she doesn´t like him that way and then in New York she opens her heart to Friedrich and Laurie proposes after Jo has returned. In the movies Laurie proposes before she goes to New York. So you will never get the real reasons why Jo rejected him. She was in love with Friedrich.
When Louisa wrote Little Women, there was discrimination against both German and Italian immigrants. Laurie first becomes friends with the Marches who represent Louisa´s own transcendentalist philosophy of the transnational family but because Laurie comes from a wealthy family he does not face the same level of discrimination as Friedrich´s character does. There has been lots of criticism towards recent Little Women adaptations because they do not include the immigration themes and in some cases they even make fun of them.
Throughout the whole promotional tour of the 2019 film Greta Gerwig complained about Friedrich being German and speaking with a German accent. Louisa May Alcott adored everything that came from Germany and even studied German herself.
This is another quote from @thatvermillionflycatcher
Why Laurie´s physical features matter, how the film and tv adaptations of Little Women consistently ignore the fact that Laurie is described as tall and dark, brown skin with black eyes and black curly hair. It isn´t just about representation, though it is important, but who Laurie is as a character. Why he is the way he is and how his relationship with his grandfather is the way it is.
Laurie´s physical appearance tells us that he is half-Italian and that he looks Italian and Louisa May Alcott make a point emphazising that.
This is what Jo says in Little Women: how I wish I was going to college. You don´t look as if you like it?"
"I hate it! nothing but grinding or skylarking! and I don´t like the way fellows do either in this country".
"What do you like?"
"To live in Italy and to enjoy myself in my own way"
"That is why he has such handsome black eyes and pretty manners"
"Italians are always so nice", said Meg who was a little sentimental"
"He looked like an Italian. Was dressed like an English man and had an independent air of an American"
"For the Italian part of his nature, there was a touch of superstition"
"The pale roses Amy gave him, were the sort of Italian laid in their death hands, never in bridal wreaths and for moment he wondered if the omen was for Jo or himself".
"She watched him for a moment with artistic pleasure, thinking how like Italian he looked, as he laid basking in the sun with uncovered head and eyes full of sudden dreaminess. For he seemed to have forgotten her and fallen into a reverie".
An explanation to why this is so important can be found in Marmee´s explanation:
"Mother, why didn´t Mr Lawrence like to have Laurie play?" asked Jo who was in enquiring disposition. I am not sure but I think it is because his son, Laurie´s father married an Italian lady. A musician, which displeased the old man, who is very proud. The lady was good and lovely and accomplished but he did not like her and never saw his son after he married. They both died when Laurie was a little child and then his grandfather took him home. I fancy the boy who was born in Italy. Is not very strong and the old man is afraid of losing him which made him so careful, Laurie comes naturally by his love for music, for he is like his mother and I dare say his grandfather fears that he may want to be a musician. At any rate his skill reminds him of the woman he did not like and so he glowered as Jo said".
Laurie is an orphan who lost his parents at an early age. Mr. Laurence, who had cut ties with his son, learns that his son has died before they could get reconciled, and that he had a grandchild he had to take care of from then onwards. As he doesn’t know what to do, he keeps Laurie in Europe, attending school there. Laurie was practically an institutionalized child. Mr. Laurence finally hires a tutor for Laurie, and brings him home to live with him. By the start of the novel, they have really known each other for a very short time. Laurie wants to go back to Europe, to tread his roots, to be in the place to which he, by temper and looks, feels like he belongs to. Laurie’s appearance is a constant reminder that he doesn’t quite fit in Concord’s society, and this only changes when the Marches make him one of their own. That’s why he has a mother-son relationship with Marmee. That’s one of the reasons why he is so dejected when Jo refuses him. That’s why he is so lousy at college.
Mr. Laurence, on his side, is terrified of losing Laurie, the same way he lost both his children –both musically inclined, as was Laurie’s mother, of whom Laurie bears the resemblance– (and one can suppose, his wife) at a young age. It is no wonder that he doesn’t want Laurie to play or dedicate himself to music. It is only his story arc with Beth that helps him recover from his aversion to music, and it is under this light how important for him as a character is his offer to Laurie, after the failed proposal, to go to Europe with him, try his art and enjoy himself. Mr. Laurence wants to be there for his grandson and correct somehow what he didn’t do for his son. Laurie isn’t just a standard boy-next-door. He is a character in his own right that cannot be understood properly unless his background is taken into account, because it significantly shapes his temper and the way he relates to other characters in the novels. That’s why it is important for him to be played by an actor who has dark skin, black eyes and curly black hair.
To give you some context Louisa also emphasizes Friedrich being German:
“Being a German, he loved these simple domestic festivals, and encouraged them with all his heart, for they made home so pleasant that the boys did not care to go elsewhere for fun”
When Friedrich´s nephew Emil returns from his sea voyage: he “kissed all the women and shook hands with all the men except his uncle; him he embraced in the good old German style”.
“standing next to his father at the head of the table, folded his hands, reverently bent his curly head, and softly repeated a short grace in the devout German fashion, which Mr. Bhaer loved and taught his little son to honor”.
Thank you for listening. Take care and make good choices.
Hello and welcome back to our Little Women den.
Today´s comment shoutout goes to a-skirmish-of-wit-and-lit, who says:
I suppose you could argue that Laurie growing up wealthy is partly what contributed to him not valuing work. He never had to worry about not not having things or not being able to afford what he wanted. In that regard, his exposure to the Marches, and the March sisters in particular, was fortuitous because they helped to enlighten him.
Laurie's definitely not stupid. He's just more or less indifferent to academia. Not everyone is, and I like that Alcott sort of points that out with his character. Meanwhile, Jo lusts after learning. She feels like she can never know enough.
I have spoken about this before, but erasing Laurie´s growth as a character, erases everyone else´s growth as well, and if you do that, there is no story. Putting two female characters against one another is a very common Hollywood trope. Interestingly it is often brunette versus the blonde. Think about Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russel in Gentlemen prefer blondes, Elle Woods and Vivian Kensington in Legally Blonde.
Legally Blonde I must say is refreshing because it subverts that plot, but I think Warner Huntington III summed up the problem when saying that he wanted Jackie and not Marilyn.
People often praise Jo for being a tomboy and how she rejects femininity, but Jo´s idealization of the masculine has very toxic elements. Amy is a character who is more governed by her brain, where as Jo is in fact governed by her emotions, which is considered a feminine trait. In the novel Jo struggles to show her feelings because she considers that weak and "feminine". When father is wounded at the war she shouts her sisters not to cry. Couple years later Laurie says that she doesn't show emotions calls her out about it. Because Jo tries to shut down an important human part of herself, simply because she considers it feminine, is actually something that slowly eats her inside and contributes into her loneliness. This is why the umbrella chapter is so important because Friedrich says to Jo that it is okay to be vulnerable.
Amy does the opposite. She considers rational marriage with Fred Vaughn because it allows her to secure her family´s financial future. When Laurie reminds Amy that she is her mother´s daughter, and she simultaneously inspires Laurie to become a productive member of the society, Amy allows herself to listen to her heart and her own feelings and allowing herself to become more open and it is this inner work that the couples do in Little Women, that makes these relationships work.
Unfortunately the adaptations rarely pay any attention to this. There are people who have not read the novel, have only seen the films, and they don´t understand why the couples end up together. This is because the adaptations, never bother to show what actually happens between these people in the novel.
Another quote from There are people who have not read the novel, have only seen the films, and they don´t understand why the couples end up together. This is because the adaptations, never bother to show what actually happens between these people in the novel.
Maybe Louisa was more of a romantic than people sometimes give her credit for?
After reading about Louisa´s relationships between the real life Friedrich´s and Laurie´s I´d say she definitely was. Louisa was a transcendentalist and one of the methods that the transcendentalists used was so called self-scanning, which basically means trying to understand and analyze the feelings and the experiences that you are going through. Louisa practiced this throughout her life, and she put lots of consideration to the true meaning of love. When Louisa grew most marriages that she saw were unhappy marriages because they were arranged marriages.
Louisa herself answers this question about the equality within marriage rather beautifully and her own wishes from marriage seem to have remained the same throughout her life.
“You have given your idol a heart, but no head. … I would have her humble, though self-reliant, gentle, though strong; man’s companion, not his plaything; able and willing to face storms, as well as sun shines, and share life’s burdens, as they come. Let me advise you to take head as pilot, for you may find, as I have done, that the voyage of life is not quite a pleasant trip” “I would not be above you as I now am, nor yet below, like poor Amelia in the garden. But here where every woman should be, at her husband’s side, walking together through life’s light and shadow".
Here she is actually echoing both Amy and Jo, in the matters of the heart one should combine both head and the feelings. This episode is sponsored by Audible. I am currently reading the biography of Charles Follen. This is a book that Louisa May Alcott read at the age of 12. Get this, it is a story about Eliza who was an American female writer and Charles who was a German immigrant, a philosopher and an abolitionist. Here we have prototypes of Jo and Friedrich. It gets even better. Charles full name was Karl Theodore Christian Friedrich Follen.
His names were Theodore and Friedrich! that is more than just a coincidence. Charles was a good friend of Louisa´s uncle, Samuel May and Louisa actually met him few years before this book was published, and he seemed to have left quite a big impression on Louisa.
I have said this before, but Jo is not only based on Louisa, but also ladies she admired like Eliza Follen, who indeed married a kind hearted German immigrant. I will make an episode about Eliza and Charles in the future. You can get 30 day free trial to Audible and listen and read as many books as your heart desire, with the affiliate link you can find from the description. But now onto Amy.
This is Small Umbrella In The Rain Little Women Podcast: Amy and Jo, two sides of the same coin.
May Alcott Nieriker
Louisa loosely based Amy´s character to her younger sister May. 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".
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 often called May as the baby of the family, and since she was the youngest and often got her way, which annoyed young Louisa.
Amy in the novel is shorter than Jo. She has a button nose and heart shaped face. May and Louisa looked more similar. They were tall and handsome women, with the exception that May was blonde and a lot more feminine. Louisa´s father Louisa had dark brown hair, gray eyes. She spent a lot of time outside. She was often quite tanned, which was not considered very attractive in the 19th century and she had a high temper. Knowing this, it is easy to understand why she would envy May.
Bronson Alcott, he believed to the idea of an ideal man and that this ideal person would have blonder hair, blue eyes and angelic nature. Bronson was also an abolitionist. He was an active member in the underground railway and the Alcott hid black slaves in their home and he lost his teaching position because he took a black child to his school (which also happens in Little Women). Now you´ll ask, isn't that contradicting? and it absolutely is. The transcendentalists, they had varying opinions on slavery. For example Emerson was often vague with his stance on the topic where as Henry Thoreau was a very active in the abolitionist movement, which you can also see in Little Women when Jo and Friedrich take black children to their school, and Friedrich is largely based on Henry.
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.
here 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. In Little Women it is actually Amy who says that "I have learned to sail my own ship and I am not afraid of storms". The trip that Amy takes with aunt March in Europe, is actually based on Louisa´s own experiences in Europe. It is very sad and ironic that there are people who say that Amy stole Jo´s trip, when that trip was actually based on Louisa´s trip.
Jo is not written to look pretty
Louisa had lots of insecurities about her looks and she often compared herself to her sisters, May especially. When Little Women became very popular and fans started to visit Louisa´s home, they were often disappointed when they saw her, because for some reason they always imagined Jo March to be very pretty and young.
Imagine your fans coming to meet you and be disappointed when they see you. Louisa was very tall. She was taller than most men. According to her niece Lulu, Louisa always had sort of masculine air around her. She was not very graceful and that she had a very low voice, like a man. In the end of her life Louisa was very ill, due to mercury poisoning, so it is very likely that the illness also affected to her appearance.
Amy in the novel is written to be someone who is a very visual person. She likes to make things pretty around her. Jo is written to be the opposite. Someone who doesn't care that much about looks or appearance.
Laurie in the book is written to be pretty, but the way he treats Jo is far from pretty. Friedrich is written to be unconventionally attractive, but he treats Jo well. He loves her. Henry, in fact he occasionally criticized very femininity that was fueled by consumerism. Women who spent a lot of time and money to their appearance. It is easy to see why Louisa had deep feelings for him. In Little Women Jo is horrified with the ideas that she should go to a ball or go for social calls because they require her being more feminine. Friedrich is written to be unconventionally attractive because Jo is unconventionally attractive. Being beautified by love is a big part of their romance.
Same way Laurie is written to be conventionally attractive, because that way he appeals to Amy´s sense of beauty.
What often happens in Little Women films is that the filmmakers gush how pretty Laurie is and then they explain Jo rejecting Laurie by saying that Jo must be gay or ace, because it is so difficult for them to understand that Louisa May Alcott or Jo in the novel was not somebody who cared that much about conventionally good looking guys. The entire promotion of 2019 film was based on that. Laurie´s creepy behavior towards Jo is constantly being erased in the adaptations and his storyline with Amy.
In the books the events that lead into burning Jo´s manuscript begin much before any theater tickets. I will read you an article from the blog contagiousgrace. I will put a link to the sources if you want to leave her a comment.
I just saw where someone said that Amy deserved to die in the ice because burning Jo’s manuscript was basically the same as killing Jo.
And I call bull.
First off, the moment we start prizing the created thing over creation (ie. People) whether that’s in our literature or in real life, then I believe we’ve missed the point of art. So jot that down.
Second, Bronson Alcott, Louisa’s father, had this belief that people could be perfected. That you were born a blank slate and with careful correction and guidance, you could stay that way. His first daughter supported that theory. She was compliant and thoughtful and quiet and sweet. Theory proven.
Or so he thought. When Louisa came along, she was wild and rebellious and utterly imperfect from the start, shattering his theory. He adjusted. He came to believe that if you just work hard enough and diligently enough, you can perfect yourself. This was the kind of moral philosophy Louisa grew up with. Personally, I see it as insufficient and utterly imperfect. BUT it has some merits/truths wrapped up in it, the primary one being that 1) people can change for the better.
The start of Little Women–the book–includes Marmee gifting each of her daughters with a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegorical tale about all the obstacles and temptations and struggles that a man passes through in life in the pursuit of God. And Marmee challenges her girls to pick up their burdens and embark on their own journeys. Each of them have different sins and struggles that are their burdens.
For Jo, that is her pride and temper. For Amy, it’s her pride and envy.
In this one situation, Amy burning the manuscript and Jo letting Amy fall through the ice–both of their greatest sins are on full display and both see the very real potential consequences of their sin. Amy doesn’t lose her sister’s love because she falls through the ice and Jo gets a chance to realize that her anger and unwillingness to forgive could have cost, not just her relationship with her sister, but her sister, altogether. They literally and figuratively survive it all. They get grace. And in that grace, they grow.
Consequences of bad choices have to be experienced/seen in some way to generate growth. This is true both in life and in storytelling.
And in this way, Alcott illustrates the two ideas at the core of her thesis: People can grow and be better but they can only become the best versions of themselves. The ideal woman is not just a quiet woman who stays home and cares for her children and sews her family’s clothes. Nor is the ideal woman a writer who supports her family through her talent. Nor is she a great artist. She can be all of those things or none of those things–she must simply be good while being herself. To divorce yourself from yourself is to divorce yourself from who you were made to be. Meg’s personality and dreams are Meg’s personality and dreams for a reason. Jo trying to live Meg’s life wouldn’t have made her a better person. And so on and so on with each sister–just as little Louisa could not be little Anna. All four women grow to become the people they were meant to be, and while doing that they also become better morally.
Jo stubbornness and anger and pride transforms her into a determined, loving, and sacrificial woman who has honed her talents for the good of others as much as, if not more than, herself.
Amy’s envy and pride and obsession with appearance transform into humility and integrity and loving the people around her in a way that makes them more beautiful versions of themselves. This is long-winded and probably making less and less sense so I will end with point #3
3) Don’t come for Amy. She’s my girl.
In the Little Women group that I am part of. There was discussion on the portrayal of this scene in the 2019 film. I will read that to you as well.
Rewatching Little Women . . . and I’m annoyed at Jo March.
Was Amy burning her journal/book/etc a shitty thing to do? Yes, it was, and as a writer myself, I’m not excusing it. If someone destroyed all my writing, I’d be very mad, too. Would I physically attack them over it, though? No. I would not.
Jo is also annoying me in that when they neglect to inform Amy that Beth is sick, Jo says, “Amy has always had a talent for getting out of the hard things in life.” Sorry, what?
- Amy gets attacked by you
- Amy gets hit by her teacher
- Amy has to be without her father
- Amy gets sent away from her family when Beth is first sick
- Amy nearly drowns
- Amy deals with her family neglecting to inform her that her sister is sick
How is that Amy getting out of the hard things in life? Plus, how is it Amy’s fault for not being told that her sister is sick?
Not to mention Amy also had to miss her SISTER’s funeral because no one had informed/prepared her beforehand that Beth was sick. Also, Jo SAW Amy coming to ice skate with her and Laurie and neglected to warn her about the very thing that led her to nearly drown. We saw Laurie warn Jo.
Here is the answer.
In regards to Jo attacking Amy, Jo was notorious for having a terrible temper and the event on the ice rink is what made Jo realize her mistake in overreacting and not controlling herself. The fact that her sister nearly died because of her made Jo want to become a better person and learn how to better communicate with people. This is probably why it felt like Jo was such a terrible person throughout the movie, because the lesson didn’t stick.
The way Jo treated Amy after the ice skating incident was one of my biggest complaints with the movie. No where in the book did Jo continue to harbor harsh feelings towards Amy or ever felt that Amy got out of things. If anything, Jo was more disappointed in herself for not being what Aunt March wanted in a companion, was happy for Amy and Laurie being married because she knew they were perfect for each other. It constantly felt as though Gerwig was pitting Jo and Amy against each other for no other reason than to make you want to like Jo more, but the characterization of Jo in the movie is just God awful.
I am not sure what Gerwig was trying to achieve with adding unnecessary conflict between these two instead of showing their character growth within themselves and in their relationship with each other.
I have heard people saying that Louisa somehow made a 180 degree with Amy´s character when she started to write the Little Women part 2. I disagree with this because in the first part of novel Jo´s flaws are very much out there and her temper is very much out there. In part 2 when sisters actually start to get more close with one-another, that is a natural part of life, and also something that happened in reality. Louisa and May did grew more closer as they mature and they started to understand each other better.
Amy´s behavior as a child was childish because she was 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.
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). I have heard some people complaining that Amy´s and Laurie´s relationship is creepy in the 1994 film. Maybe this comes from the people who remember him transitioning to from a teen to an adult in the film, but Christian Bale was 19 when he played Laurie. 2019 film on the other hand has been criticized that Timothee Chalamet does not go through the transition so he never looks as an adult in the movie, and if I remember right he was 24 during filming. 2018 and 2019 films go with this idea that Amy already had a crush on Laurie as a child. Kristen Dunst has later revealed that when she played Amy in the 1994 film, she had a big crush on Christian Bale. Art imitates life.
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.
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. In the 1933 film and in the 1949 films Amy is first introduces standing in the middle of the class room holding a sign, which says "I should be ashamed of myself".
In the book Amy is introduced together with her sisters before Christmas when father is at the war. Introduction is sweet and does not make a mockery of her or anyone else.
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 2019 film, we once again do not see Jo putting herself above the aunts and losing the trip to Europe. Instead we only see Meryl Streep telling Jo that she is not coming. Film also tries to pin point Jo´s and aunt March´s similarities by portraying aunt March as a happy spinster who only cares about money, when in the novel aunt March is a widow, and sad and unhappy because she had lost her child and her husband who she dearly loved.
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.
There are a lot of things I could say about Jo loosing her trip to Europe and people blaming that on Amy. Once again, that entire narrative is entirely constructed by the film makers, and I think I will make a separate episode where I discuss about it.
Amy´s portrayal was 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 should not play a 12-year old. 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 diverges too much from the novel. Even when the writers say they want to do a good with laurie and amy they cant seem to escape their Jo and Laurie obsession.
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 Amy´s and Laurie´s 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 says to Beth that Amy stole Laurie from her. None of this is in the novel. The whole reason why Jo traveled to New York, was because Laurie was harassing her and she was actually scared to spend time alone with him.
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. The call him "boring" and say that he does not take his life or work very seriously.
Julian Hawthorne was the next door neighbour of the Alcotts. It seems that he had a crush on May, but May was 6 years older than Julian. After the publication of Little Women, Julian apparently spread a rumor that he had been the model for Laurie. However this is not somehting that Louisa ever confirmed. Julian was not very interested in school or work and he came from a rather comfortable family setting and May had tried to encourage him to study and make his family proud.
Alf Whitman, was one of the real life Laurie´s and friend of the Alcott sisters. Alf was 5 years younger than Louisa but only 2 years younger than May. Alf and May were very close and when May moved to Europe they continued writing letters to one another, but when Alf was younger and the sisters connected with him through their theater hobby, young Alf was drifting and quite lost with his future plans and both May and Louisa tried to encourage him to study and to be more productive.
In the novel, Laurie is not a price that the two sisters are fighting over. In the novel both Jo and Amy are frustrated that he is wasting his life away. He only goes to school to please his grandfather and he does not want to work. There is literally a chapter in the novel called "Lazy Lawrence". Both Amy and Jo are working class girls and Laurie is rich and in the novel there are scenes where he says that he does not understand why Jo wants to write and why it is so important for her to make her own money.
No matter how hard Jo tries, she can´t get through Laurie, probably because Jo´s relationship to Laurie was very maternal. Jo wanted to go to university, and Laurie took his education for granted. All the models for Friedrich were one way or another connected to education. Louisa herself was an advocate for female education and in her journals from the time when Louisa was in her 20s she wrote about her future wishes of starting a school, possibly running that together with Henry.
Then we have all these real life Laurie´s who I believe were smart young men but for some reason were not interested working or studying. Some of them, like Alf, did decide to be a useful member of the society and made the sisters proud. In the novel Laurie is not stupid. It is mentioned in the novel that he graduates with honors in Latin, and Amy is especially proud of him, but Laurie is lazy.
"Do you think Jo would despise me as you do?"
"Yes, if she saw you now. She hates lazy people. Why don´t you do something splendid, and make her love you+"
"I did my best, but it was no use."
"Graduating well you mean? That was no more than you ought to have done, for your grandfather´s sake. It would have been shameful to fail after spending so much time and money, when everyone knew you could do well".
This scene reveals that Laurie did not go to university for the sake of studying. Book also describes how in the uni Laurie is a party-boy, he flirts and gets into troubles.
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.
The 2019 film includes Laurie saying Amy that she should not marry Fred for the sake of money, but the film does not show Laurie doing any work for Amy. Laurie doesn´t have any kind of growth process. In one of her interviews Greta Gerwig said that Laurie wants Jo to step into the adult world. Laurie in the book is the one who does not want to grow and the only reason he wants to marry Jo is that he wouldn´t need to take any responsibility on his life.
This is what Laurie says in the book, after he has fully internalized everything that Amy has said to him.
"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?"
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. If a readers reads too much to Jo, they see Amy as an annoying little sisters, because 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. When Laurie proposed to Jo, he expected her to give up writing and became a socialite, and be something that Jo wasn´t. This is why Friedrich´s character is important because he does not ask or want Jo to conform. Because Jo looks very different and more masculine than other women, she felt she could not find anyone to love. If I quote my podcaster pal Emily, Little Women as a book was also written to offer hope to those who feel that they are never going to find love.
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 part of the novel Jo had difficulties to identify with Meg´s pain when Laurie forged letters in the name of his tutor. 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.
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.
Thank you so much for
Take care and make good choices.