Uncanny as it is, Laurie´s character arc is missing from Little Women films between 1933 -2019.
It´s funny because it´s true.
Guten Tag Little Women fans!
Today´s comment shoutout goes to a fellow Finn. This is a quote from the blogger @loveformovingpictures
"Nowadays any kind of racism towards someone´s nationality should not exist, how is making fun of someone´s German accent any different than making fun of someone who is for example in the autism spectrum since in both cases person has no control over it. It seems that Gerwig uses all the possible excuses trying to convince the audience that Friedrich is not the right man for Jo, but that Laurie is a better option A decent director or someone who wants to adapt a story should be able to separate themselves from the feelings of the characters. Perhaps Gerwig hates Germans and German accents but she should have allowed Jo to have a different opinion since her character has existed over a hundred years and that she says that she is respecting Alcott by leaving Jo as a spinster or even suggests that Jo wants to be with Laurie, goes against that she makes fun of those qualities in a person, that Louisa May Alcott herself was attracted to.".
Earlier in this podcast we did an episode about Laurie being half Italian and having brown skin and what it meant in the 19th century America. It´s only fair that we discuss about Friedrich´s character as well and the fact that he comes from Germany and same ways as Laurie has never been played by a brown skin actor in a major adaptation, Friedrich has never been played by a German actor and for this I am joined by Little Women blogger Christina Scott.
I used to study German in school and when I was 17 I was in exchange in Berlin, of all cities and I remember that before I left I had re-read the Little Women series and I was so inspired by the part where Jo was learning German. It was my first time travelling alone abroad and I was like "if Jo, who is one of my heroes, can manage to study German I can manage to live abroad and speak German. That Jo wanted to study another language gave me confidence.
Then some years later when I went back to read Little Women again, I realized that the reason why Jo wanted to study German in the first place was because she was crushing on Friedrich, and then I just had to think that maybe somewhere in the back of her mind she was unconsciously thinking that she wants him to be a part of her life, because why else would she bother. One of the scenes I remember very vividly is the one when Friedrich comes to court Jo and Jo suggests that they perform a German song together and just the fact that Jo knows what his favorite song is, it shows how much not only how much she loves him, but how much she respects his culture.
I was really surprised that when I started to do research on Friedrich´s character I would come across some highly respected Alcott scholars (maybe not so respected after this episode comes out) who would have lots of hostility of Friedrich being German and having a German accent. It was such a huge contrast to all the other studied that I found that handled Louisa May Alcott´s admiration and love for German culture and literature, which were a lot more closer to the truth and then even just as recently as 2019 film tour Greta Gerwig was saying how much she was horrified that Jo would marry an old German guy who speaks with a terrible German accent and I´m like, first of all he is 39 years old, Gerwig herself is about the same age, so why you are calling him old and one of the first things that Jo says about Friedrich in the novel is that she found his accent very attractive and even calls it musical.
I would not call myself as a Germanophile same way as Louisa May Alcott was, but I think my fondness for German culture and history actually might have started from Friedrich´s character because I was always very fond of him, even as a child. If I think about the way American media portrays Germans it is mostly rather negative. In Europe relating to other cultures tends to be a lot more neutral, because it is a lot easier to travel between countries, and there is over 50 countries in Europe, so there is more exposure and in most countries you study at least 2 or 3 other languages in school. Here in Finland, we tend to take our free education system for granted but by the time when I was 13, that I could say something in three different languages, in English, German and Swedish in my case, that´s actually really impressive.
Germany as a country, they have worked a great deal with their past and in Germany, at least in Berlin, it´s illegal to make any references to Nazis or things of that sort and Hitler wasn´t even born in Germany. He was born in Austria and he actually had difficulties to get German nationality because he had such a long criminal record (I just watched a documentary about this).
So to me when a scholar or a film maker use Friedrich´s germaniness against them, it shows how little they know or care about Louisa May Alcott, because her favorite books came from Germany and if I quote Christine Doyle´s essay on this topic "when a large part of Americans discriminated German immigrants in Jo´s and Friedrich´s marriage Louisa May Alcott took her favorite elements from the German culture and combined that into American culture, promoting her ideas of a transnational family".
This is Small Umbrella in the rain Little Women Podcast "Where is the German Friedrich Bhaer?"
Niina: One of the things I wanted to ask from you, we have this shared goal that we want a German actor to play professor Bhaer at some point. I have read quite a few stories from German readers and people who are German descendants who love Friedrich´s character, because he represents such a wonderful German character and I am not German. I did study German in school and I have been doing this research about Louisa May Alcott´s obsession with Germany and it´s in every single page in Little Women. How do you feel about that? why Hollywood doesn´t hire great German actors?
Christina: I don´t know if it was at first because of accessibility. It sort of started in it´s making at the late 1910s early 1920s. Talkies were very new in the 30s. I don´t know if this is very true but this is what I can imagine is that maybe at first when they were doing them, they didn´t have lots of German actors. They could barely get regular actors. They were pulling them from the stage and tried to show how to perform in front of the camera. I almost want to say that they probably didn´t get German actors because during that time there was the rise of Nazism and I feel like that stereotype has gone forward. For anyone who does not know I am of German descent. My grandmother on my dad´s side came over from Germany and she was in her early 20s or so, when she came over, the story was that she, and this just I think proves that not every German was horrible, like every-time someone associates Germany they go "Nazis" and it´s like "No". They lived in East Berlin and comparatively East Berlin was worse than West Berlin. People were trying to get into West Berlin and she and her family had to be smuggled into West Berlin because her father who would be my great-grandfather was the postmaster general and he was smuggling information between the Nazis and the Russians to the alleys and they´re like "okay we got to get you to the west to protect you".
It´s very difficult because I am German from my dad´s side, I´m few other things and on my mom´s side it´s Italian-Armenian.I feel like whenever someone asks you and if you say like "Oh I´m Italian" they´ll go "pasta, mafia!" or do funny stereotyping with an Italian accent but as soon as you say "I´m part German" they go like "were your family like Nazis?" It does immediately go to Nazis or someone bad and I feel that most of the time when you see Germans portrayed in the media it´s Nazis or the villain/ cold unapproachable person or I try to say it the nicest way possible, like weird fetish person that maybe borderline illegal, like that kind of weirdo and it´s like why? why all the time that?
So I really was robbed to find characters that felt were very pro-German that just were nice or normal and gave a positive image to Germany and I was like "really the only person that I could think of is Friedrich". He is really a genuinely good person and he is smart. He is respectful and it is such a shame because the things that I have read about Germany are like "wow you guys are great". There is a movie that Germans did that is from.. I want to say 1910s it´s called "Different from the others", that is way before anyone´s time being pro-gay, pro LGBT. That´s incredible. He also did another movie which was pro-abortion, where it is a woman´s choice if she wants to have a kid or not and there is nothing psychologically wrong with that, like that is incredibly progressive. Unfortunately the country has been so-overshadowed by what the Nazis have done and it´s like not every German person was a Nazi. Not everyone agreed with it. So over the years I felt little bit more over-protective of my German side because I feel like I lean to be more German. Friedrich for me, first of all, he is like my dream man. I want to be with someone like him and the fact that he is German, why not? and it just bothers me that now, now that we have a lot more accessibility to actors from all around the world why there isn´t more German actors playing the part and I am allowed to forgive what William Shatner and oh I´m forgetting his name?
Niina: Gabriel Byrne?
Christina: No, the BBC version one
Niina: Mark Stanley?
Christina: Yes. I can forgive those because even though they are American/British they are still putting on a German accent and totally not forgetting that the character is meant to be German. Whereas the Gerwig version you have a French man playing a German character with a very German name. It´s not even like you are trying to change it sort of to be "alright let´s try to include his nationality a bit more" but I am hearing a French accent saying that he is Friedrich Bhaer! Very German name! it´s so confusing and it´s just boggles my mind. On one hand her statement, and this can go into a whole can of worms, when she was like "well, you know, why not give Jo a handsome man to fall for because I am tired of seeing these attractive girls to fall for these unattractive guys" and it´s like, on one hand you are right in some cases, but that is not the point here, because one, again you didn´t read the book, Jo is not suppose to be conventionally attractive and then neither is Friedrich.
Niina: She is not giving me a good enough reason, for not hiring a German actor.
Christina: If you could see me my hands are just moving all over the place for frustration.
Christina: How...am I allowed to swear?
Christina: How in the hell do you sit there and go I need to find an attractive German actor...hmm...they don´t exist but Daniel Brühl is right there! He has been right there for so many years. How do you not see him? I just, I can´t believe it and there are other great German actors. He is the first one that comes to mind. How? Why? that is the thing that boggles me the most. As someone pointed out, they were like "well, as much as I do want them to be Friedrich, the way the Gerwig story comes out I would not have wanted them into that one".
Christina: and I think that´s fair because that would have been a total disservice to him and the character.
Niina: We need a long series, with Daniel Brühl as professor Bhaer or a movie with sequels.
Christina: I´ll take it whether it is time period canon or modern day because I am just one of those people, that I like to day dream and think what would I do if I was ever given the chance to make my own version. I have it all planned out and he would definitely be one of the actors and in my version it would be like a miniseries and set into the modern day but pretty much the section with him would be all just German Friedrich. It would be practically nothing else. I think it is a shame, that you know in general Hollywood doesn´t do much with foreign actors because there are so many wonderful foreign actors and so underutilized I feel. I get it when some people are asking "what would a German be doing in America at this time? or "how could you make me believe this?" and I´m like well, that is the magic of movies. You can stretch your belief for a little bit or writes can be a little bit smarter and make it work but yeah it´s such a shame. In some movies I am like "Oh this actor is going to be in it. I remember them from this movie" and it´s like "Oh they are only in it like 5 minutes, that´s hmm..that´s a shame". They sit there and stay and America is suppose to be the land of everybody where immigrants can come over and it´s like, it seems just ..unamerican. Why there can´t be a German living in New York city? what´s wrong with that? I know quite a few British actors who are living in LA like Ben Barnes and Dan Stevens. They´v made a home in America and few other actors in other places. It would work! it would make sense. It is not totally crazy. I had gotten into the "Alienist" with Daniel Brühl obviously, and it makes sense, you know if someone was like "how could they be born in America but still have an accent?" well his character is raised in a home, where his parents are German-Hungarian and he was raised with being taught German and if that was pretty much what you spoke for most of the time, you would grow to have that accent. I think there are ways to utilize foreign actors in American media. I just don´t think that they are smart enough how to use it outside of German = Nazi. Italian = Mafia. Let´s be little bit smarter and better about that.
Niina: There are so many stereotypes about different European nationalities that are so outdated and old fashioned. It´s really a shame. If I think about a Finnish character in a Hollywood film, they just hire us to be vikings. When I lived in Germany many years ago, I do remember thinking that Germans are very family-oriented and very welcoming and I always connected that to Friedrich´s character. Louisa May Alcott she traveled in Germany and she was a full-hearten germanophile. This would really horrify her because she loved Germany and then we get stuff like "Emily in Paris" where you are not honoring the French culture, you are making fun of it. It is so disrespectful. I hope that somebody out there is going to listen our rants and that we will get more sophisticated versions of Little Women, hopefully with Daniel Brühl or other great German actors.
Christina: I think between him and Amy they are the most poorly interpretad characters in media, because I feel like they are the most hated. All the time I hear "how could Amy do that? that was so awful?" like thinking of the burning of the manuscript and it´s like, for one thing, again I blame this on most of the media. You have like 21 year old something actress playing the part that should be a 12 year old, so it comes across more mean-spirited. Especially with the Gerwig´s version, when she very calmly says "what was I suppose to do" "I didn´t have anything else that would make you upset?" I´m sorry but that is too sophisticated of an answer for a 12 year old to say and again coming from a mouth of a 20-something year old. I can´t believe it. It is poorly interpretive, again when you have versions that try to be more Jo and Laurie oriented and yet, add Friedrich in. It almost feels like they are trying to make it "he is stealing Jo away" or "Amy stole Laurie away". I don´t think most people know that the book when it was first published it came out in two separate parts. There wasn´t going to be a second part but it was supposed to end when Meg get´s married but people always seem like "but they made her to have Jo being married, like the publisher made her do it".
Niina: Which is actually not true.
Christina: Right. Some fans may have written to Alcott saying like "Can´t Jo marry Laurie" but there was no pressure to get Jo in general, married and I love that Alcott was like "I will not marry Jo to Laurie to please anybody" and it´s like, yes, you go girl! and they act like as if Friedrich was a last minute addition. Again I think that because people don´t know it´s publishing history, that they think "Oh it was just one book" and then the publisher was like "well you need to have Jo marrying off someone" and then "alright this guy". No! and again I feel like it is disservice to Alcott to say that she just threw Jo with this guy and it´s like "No!" she just didn´t throw Jo to this guy. It is not like he appeared in the last 10 pages and is like "Oh yeah then love and marriage" No! she develops a good and a full-long relationship between these two characters and it rose to become love in which how the novel ends but it is amazing how people just tear that and I think it´s because they see something on the internet that someone writes an article that says "oh what a shame that Jo couldn´t be the independent writer like Alcott originally wanted". That is not the full picture and people just kind of ledge on to that. You got to dig little deeper or at least have someone that is willing to go a little bit deeper such as you and myself that will put it out there for everyone to be like "Oh I didn´t know that. Now all that makes sense". When people say stuff like that, you really don´t seem to have respect for the characters but not for it´s author either.
Niina: I think it has a lot to do with what you said earlier about Jo´s loneliness or that she feels that she is going to be weaker when she wants romance or love or family for herself. She is afraid that it is going to make her look weaker in the eyes of others. This is actually mentioned in Little Women in the "Under the umbrella" chapter. The narrator says that Jo was afraid that she is going to loose her reputation if she reveals to the world that she is like the other girls. That she wants to have family and marriage and she wants to fall in love. What I have studied Louisa´s life, she was incredibly lonely, especially after Henry died and then she had this fling with Laddie Wisniewski, he was one of the real-life Laurie´s. That didn´t turn out very well but then she could not tell that to the public, because she was afraid that people were going to see her weaker. She was always really annoyed when people pitied her because she was a spinster. That has a lot to do with the way the story in Little Women goes because she wrote Jo´s and Friedrich´s relationship to be a wish fulfillment and I always say this in this podcast, because I think that is very true, when you read her diaries and she writes how lonely she is and how she envies her sisters marriages and I think it was actually quite nasty for Louisa to say that her publisher forced her to marry Jo, because Louisa and her publisher Thomas Niles were very good friends and he never asked her to marry her characters and he didn´t give her instructions about the characters. So it was actually Louisa trying to protect her own reputation.
Christina: I do definitely agree with you to that idea of wish fulfillment. You know they always say it´s better to be alone than to be with someone and feel lonely. So I can see why she would be like "don´t pity me because I am a spinster. I´d rather be alone than be with someone who would make me feel lonely", but yeah like you said, it is a wish fulfillment and I think it takes a whole other level of understanding of Jo´s and Friedrich´s relationship when you know that. Not until hearing and seeing your work that I realized "Oh there was a real life Friedrich and Oh my goodness, there is an age gap that is the same as Alcott and Thoreau and Jo and Friedrich and so much of the description of Friedrich is based on Thoreau". I never knew those things but now that I know I´m like oh it really is, like you said, it was her way of being with someone she wants to be with and I think for most writers, I personally feel this way, some of the things that I write it´s like, I wish I could do those things. I wish I could meet someone like that or to be that type of person. So it is really not surprising when I hear that for someone like Alcott who has been told by people that she is not conventionally attractive.
Niina: It´s really wild that her fans actually said that to her face. "Oh you are not as pretty as Jo".
Christina: If we truly 100% believe that Jo is the author´s avatar they are supposed to be the same. It´s funny that back then people said that Alcott is not attractive and I would look at her picture and I´m like "Oh what? she was very attractive and I think people don´t understand that when they think of things. It´s like in the earlier podcast when you said that the actress who plays Jo in modern day version in 2018 one they are like "she is not enough pretty to be with Friedrich" and I´m like for one I think that actress is attractive but also like you are missing the point.
Niina: They said the same to Katherine Hepburn that she was too boyish and Jo is written to be boyish.
Christina: Right and I think people don´t fully understand that it is also depending on the time period because someone made parallels to Jo and Lizzie Bennett. They always say that Lizzie is not attractive. I remember when I got my mom to watch the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice and we were listening how Mrs Bennett was saying "Oh Jane is the prettiest of my daughters" and my mom was like "I think Lizzie is quite pretty" and I´m like "yeah, but you got to remember that back then the typical norm of what is pretty is to be fair skinned, fair haired, blue eyed, be on the lighter tone of things rather than the sort of darker hair, darker eyed or even darker skinned. I think that people don´t always understand what we would think as attractive now was not attractive back then. In regardless, whether they really are attractive or not, but it is amazing how some fans would be like "they are too pretty to play this part" and others be like "they are not pretty enough to play this" and it´s past the point of the story being that it is meant to be about these two people who have good chemistry together and they make it work. One of my teachers when I was in collegE, I think it was Cleopatra and Anthony she had seed in a play or something of that kind and she was like "I couldn´t believe it because the actors were not attractive at all" and I was like "does that matter?". That was probably one of those moments I was slowly realizing that I was a demisexual, what does that matter? shouldn´t it be what the chemistry between the two people are? but it is amazing how people are so focused on what is physically attractive that somehow equals to romantic attraction versus being like how two people connect that leads to romantic attraction.
Niina: Yeah, well that is the Laurie fans. Well..many of them. That is not really a reason to be with somebody. Only if you just want to hook up. Jo doesn´t want to hook up with him.
Christina: In one of my post that I made years ago about why Jo shouldn´t be with Laurie I made a mention of, how almost hypocritical it is that people say these things about Jo and Friedrich but there are a lot of parallels between situations, not fully, but it looks like it from the outside, of Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester. People make comments like "the age gap is not right" or "they are not attractive, how could they fall in love" and it´s like.. well there is an age gap between Jane and Mr Rochester and in the novel, only one of them seems to be conventionally attractive. Many of those same people will go "Oh I love Jane and Rochester" they were so romantic and it´s like "pardon me" it´s amazing how people can choose between what they want to like and what they don´t want to like.
Niina: When I was doing research on Henry David Thoreau and I came to this part where it was mentioned that Henry didn´t like traditional women or that he had resentment to overly feminine women I was like "damn Louisa would have been perfect for him". There is speculation that they had an affair. I don´t know if that is true but he would have been perfect for her at least in that sense, because she wasn´t traditional and she also kind of rejected some parts of femininity. Henry and Louisa, I was so happy when I found out about all the real life Friedrich´s and the real life Laurie´s because it made me feel so validated.
Niina: Little Women made a lot more sense when I found out about it. Especially the story about Laddie, because I think one of the reasons why Louisa liked to hang out with him, it´s almost like she always wanted to have somebody there that she could take care of. Was it then her sister, or when she worked in the war as a nurse, and then she took care of Laddie because he had tuberculosis. You can see that Louisa had this very maternal side that she liked to take care of people".
That was our chat today. Christina and I will continue our discussion next week. This episode was sponsored by Skillshare, so if you would like the get a free month to learn new creative skills online, you can even learn to speak German or some other language. The link is in the description. Thank you so much for listening. Take care and make good choices. Bye.
There are two things that I can´t live without.
- My morning tea
- Fritz Bhaer Research
It´s actually in Little Women part 2, when Jo has learned to gain control her temper better, which is not the case with Laurie.
There is a reason for everything.
Sometimes when I have done basic google research on Louisa May Alcott I´ve got these very much over-simplified results saying that she only cared about money and had dollar signs in her eyes, which really does not align with Louisa´s own thoughts that she has written in her journals or the way her characters have relationship towards money in her books.
Louisa saw money as a necessity, but at the same time she is incredibly critical to the wealthy people who have no respect for the poor.
When Louisa became a millionaire in her late thirties thanks to Little Women, she was grateful about it but in her journals she writes how lonely she is and envies her sisters marriages and griefs that she didn´t have a family of her own. Money did not make her happy. Neither Jo would have been happy had she married Laurie.
Importance of self-reliance in Little Women and how Jo and Friedrich embody values that Louisa May Alcott deemed important in a marital relationship.
My friend Melodie said that Louisa was not married because of choice. Sometimes life doesn´t go the way you want it to go. She is sad and bitter when she envies her sisters marriages and sees them being supported by their respective spouses.
Another friend of mine (hi Lorraine) said that when the men you adore, idolize and you fall for them, when you are young, that sets such a high standard, it´s difficult to find someone to replace it. Later in life she never stopped looking for the person who could fill those shoes.
In Little Women Jo says to Friedrich, you are my first love and that makes you the best.
oh I love this quote so much
“In Louisa May Alcott´s cosmopolitan circles the response to the global changes was not to privilege the near and familiar by excluding or demonizing the “other” but value “the other” and work towards connection. Louisa bypassed her own English-puritan inheritance entirely. Jo falls in love with a poor German philosopher, from an Anglo-American perspective such a choice has seemed bizarre but from a transnational perspective, it makes perfect sense” (Walls: Louisa May Alcott cosmopolitan family).