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.
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).
If she had seen his face when, safe in his own room, he looked at the picture of a severe and rigid young lady, with a good deal of hair, who appeared to be gazing darkly in futurity, it might have thrown some light upon the subject, especially when he turned off the gas, and kissed the picture in the dark. -Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Since anon asked me about the sex scene between Jo and Fritz in Little Men I ended up re-reading the whole book. Then I thought I would write a review about it and now it seems I might need to make a double review since when looking the sex scene I had to double read all Jo scenes, Friedrich scenes and Jo and Friedrich scenes and 90% of all my notes about Little Men, are about how amazing truly Fritz is.
You know how in Little Women Jo says, her friend Friedrich Bhaer was not only good, but great.
Just look at this scene how he is interacting with Nat, when he 100% beliefs that he stole Tommy´s money.
“I am very sorry Nat, but evidences are against you, and your old fault makes us more ready to doubt you than we should be if we could trust you as we do some f the boys who never fib. But mind my child, I do not charge you with this theft I shall not punish you for it till I am perfectly sure, nor ask anything more about it. I shall leave it you to settle with your own conscience. If you are guilty come to meet me at any hour of the day or night and confess it, and I will forgive and help you to amend. If you are innocent, the truth will appear sooner or later, and the instant it does, I will be the first to beg your pardon for doubting you, and will so gladly do my best to clear your character before us all”.
Nat has a history of “telling tall tales” so of course Fritz though it might have been Nat, but he doesn´t blame him or shout at him or abuse him at all.
He is so kind and gentle, and we don´t deserve him.
I also love the scene where Emil tells about the one time he got into trouble and he could´t even dare to look at his uncle´s sad face and remember how much he had done for him.
Hello Global community of Little Women fans.
Today´s comment shout out goes to @notafraidof-virginiawoolf who says the following:
Friedrich Bhaer is the only convincingly sexy man in literature I have decided.
That is some legitimate Fritz Bhaer appreciation. Friedrich, he is based on many men who Louisa May Alcott personally found attractive and one of them was Goethe.
From all the episodes I´ve done to this channel, the one about Louisa May Alcott´s love for Germany , it is probably the one I´v got most feedback. When people have contacted me and they´v wanted to discuss with me about Little Women, lot of people mention that particular episode or the articles I wrote about it and that it has helped them to understand Little Women and Friedrich´s and Jo´s relationship. It´s nice because I went through the same feelings when I was doing the research. Ever since I posted that episode and I mentioned the Goethe connections, I´v got people asking me if I could speak more about it and here we are.
Sources I have used to gather this information has mostly come from Meghan Armknecht´s excellent essay called "Jo marries Goethe, Professor Bhaer as the Goethean ideal in Louisa May Alcott´s Little Women" and Christine Doyle's amazing essay "Singing Mignon´s song, German culture and literature in Little Women". I have read lots of books and essays about Louisa May Alcott. Sometimes I feel that when the writer is talking about"Little Women" they are actually not speaking about the novel, but some of the movies. It can be very frustrating, and I think some of them don´t even realize they are doing that, but Christine Doyle, she has read the books and knows them very well. I can recommend her Louisa May Alcott studies.
I have also used Goethe as one of my sources. I read Sorrows of young Werther, who´s story is very similar to Laurie and his over-compelling emotional turbulent and Wilhelm Meister, book that has love stories that Louisa reprises in Little Women. These were Louisa´s favorite novels that she read multiple times during her life. She had the framework for the love stories build up years before she was asked to write Little Women. In her essay Megan Armknecht said that there has been not a lot research done between Little Women and Goethe´s novels. This is really unknown territory and it can completely change the way we think about Louisa May Alcott. Maybe after you have listened this episode you come to the same conclusion and start do your own research on this topic.
This episode is sponsored by Audible. From Audible you can find unlimited amount of books to read and you can get a free trial with the affiliate link, that you can find from the description.You can find books like Goethe´s Wilhelm Meister which I am going to open up a bit in this podcast and of course Little Women and it´s sequels, if you have not read it yet.
(Audible link https://amzn.to/3uFSyNf )
This is Small Umbrella In The Rain The Little Women Podcast - Jo Marries Goethe, Louisa May Alcott´s fascination to the German Poet.
Louisa May Alcott and the transnational family
Louisa May Alcott, great American writer was born in 1832. The same year great German writer and poet Goethe passed away.
Was that a sign?
Louisa became familiar with Goethe as a child. Thanks to her father Bronson, who had Goethe´s biography, in his small but selective library. By the end of her life, Louisa had managed to collect all American editions and some German editions of Goethe´s works and often send notes to her friends to let her know when new editions were available, so she could complete her Goethe collection.
This is what Alcott scholar Christine Doyle writes:
By the time Alcott wrote Jo´s Boys (which is the last Little Women book) in 1880s. She had spent a life time reading Goethe, and he was still clearly and consciously important to her. In 1876 and again in 1883, se had made attempts to collect as much of his work as possible. She wrote to her publisher Thomas Niles "Thanks for the Goethe book. I want everything that comes out about him" (Signing Mignon´s song, Doyle).
Louisa was actually born in to the first American town that was settled by German immigrants in 1683. This was Germantown in Pennsylvania. Louisa was born into a time when Americans started to consume German literature and there was somewhat a "German epidemic" in New England. This was also the time when American universities started to include German books into their collections and many of these educational reformers were transcendentalists, like the Alcott´s.
During those years German immigrants and German literature made a powerful impact on America. Quoting historian Russel Nye "Although Irish immigrants were the most numerous (Marches in Little Women, and Alcott´s in real life were descendants of Irish immigrants) Germans were close behind, numbering 1,3 million in 1860s, In addition to their Protestant heritage, which made the typical German immigrant far less suspect in America than the Irish Catholic, German immigrants were welcomed for their "socially sophisticated tradition" that included food, art and support for education.
The attitude towards immigrants varied depending on the location. Areas like New England where there was a long history of German immigration, people were naturally a lot more accepting, but this was not the case in many other places. In Little Women Jo points out the difficulties Friedrich has finding a job, because he is an outsider and speaks with broken English. We can assume that this is why the local universities do not wish to hire him, despite the fact that he was a teacher of philosophy in Germany. When Friedrich proposes Jo he says that he is going to move to the west and work as a teacher there and the two agree to wait and work for their shared future. This probably is a reference to Louisa´s love for philosopher Henry Thoreau, who to Louisa embodied the ideology of the west. West in the popular imagination refers into to the last frontier of American settlement.
Nye sums up; They (German immigrants) were "adaptable, ambitious and strongly patriotic".
Just such an immigrant is Friedrich Bhaer, whose character allows Alcott to acknowledge many of the positive aspects of German culture that the new immigrants embodied. Though a renowned professor in Berlin, Bhaer endures anonymity and poverty in America to honor his promise to his sister, who had married an American and wanted her two German-American sons to be raised there (Doyle).
Goethe Louisa´s literal idol
Goethe is still today a huge figure in Germany and in German speaking countries, one must read at least some of his works to get into the university they want. Lots of research has been done between the similarities in Louisa´s novel "A long fatal love chase" and Goethe´s Faust but the connections between Goethe´s writings and Little Women is just beginning.
Friedrich and Jo are both mixed characters. Louisa wrote Jo to be an idealized version of herself, therefore Jo also has elements from women who Louisa admired. Louisa wrote Friedrich to be her own ideal man, so Friedrich has elements of men who Louisa loved and admired, and Goethe was one of these men.
Friedrich as a character has striking similarities with Goethe, that go beyond their German background. When Jo writes letter home, she describes Friedrich for the first time.
"Mrs Kirk told me he was from Berlin. Very learned and good but poor as a church mouse".
Goethe was not poor as a church mouse . He actually came from an aristocratic background but Friedrich shares Goethe´s intellectualism and the book gives hints that if Fritz would have remained in Germany he would have risen in to great fame, because of his intellectualism.
In his native city he had been a man much honored and esteemed for learning and integrity. Jo felt proud to know that he was an honored professor in Berlin, though only a poor language master in America and his homely, hard working life, was much beautified by the spice of romance which this discovery gave it.
Goethe´s native city was not Berlin. He was from Weimar, but the two cities are only hundred miles away from each other in the same region.
Quote from Megan Armknecht:
By the time when Alcott wrote Little Women, Berlin was gaining more and more importance and would become the capital of the new German empire in 1871.
Goethe´s and Friedrich´s similar traits
There are similarities between Goethe´s and Friedrich´s personalities. Both were family men and loved children. Their characteristics include kindness and largeness of heart.
When Jo sees Fritz for the first time, he is helping a young servant girl to carry a heavy hold of cole.
In her letter home, Jo remarks the incident.
"Wasn´t it good of him? I like such things for as father says, trifles show character.
Friedrich loves kids and is very good with them. After his sister Minna passed away, he adopted his nephews Franz and Emil, and raised them as his own. For Jo, that Friedrich has children, especially boys, is actually something very attractive. Throughout the novel the narrator (Louisa) mentions how much Jo loves boys and hanging out with boys and boyish energy.
Jo loves to observe how Fritz interacts with children. When she is staying at New York, she spies on him and little Tina, who is the daughter of the French maid at the boarding house.
Jo writes; "Tina has lost her heart to Mr Bhaer and follows him about the house, like a dog, whenever he is at home, which delights him, as he is very fond of children".
Goethe biographer Herder writes that Goethe was a great child all his life. Eager to learn and willing to give whatever he had to make others happy. One of the things that Jo finds attractive in Friedrich´s character is the way he is always ready to look after people and himself. Which is in contradiction to Laurie´s behavior since for the most part of the novel, Laurie doesn´t know how to be an adult or how to look after himself and he expects that once they marry, Jo shall be his caretaker, not an equal partner, which is what Amy later becomes.
In Little Women Louisa hints that Friedrich´s father might have abandoned his family. This explains why Friedrich loves his sons and his nephews, and wants to be an exceptionally good father. He kissed his sleeping sons head remembering a father who left and never returned.
Goethe had a complicated relationship with his father. He didn´t approve his sons artistic endeavors, and this is a topic Goethe often handles in his novels. Young men often act out against the bourgeois lives of their parents. It is part of their rebellion.
Marriage based on love
Both Goethe and Louisa lived during a time period when marriages were based on economic factors and not the matters of the heart. Both writers encourage their readers to reject the economical factors and only to marry for love. This was a very radical idea of the time.
One of the books that Louisa found from her father´s library was Goethe´s WIlhelm Meister´s apprenticeship. Like Little Women, Wilhelm Meister is a Bildung´s roman. It was world´s first coming of age novel. Little Women and perhaps it´s most famous story-line, Jo rejecting Laurie for Friedrich, can be traced to Wilhelm Meister. Wilhelm starts out as a naive, and idealistic young man who has a passionate affair with the actress Marianne. Wilhelm loves theater and he struggles to balance his passion for the arts and the expectations his family has for him taking on the family business. He runs out with the theater company only to see how the theater world slowly consumes his soul with it´s ruthlessness. Then he meets Natalia, a woman very different to Marianne who helps him to gain back his self-worth.
For her 18th birthday Emerson gave Louisa a copy of Goethe´s Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship. This copy now in Houghton library at Harvard, is well-worn and marked with Alcott´s marginal comments, showing the care and attention with which she read Goethe´s novel” (Armknecht). In Little Women when Jo is staying in New York, Friedrich gives her a copy of Shakespeare´s novels as a Christmas gift and encourages her to study character. Louisa praised Emerson calling him as "her Goethe". Goethe was a literal inspiration for her and Emerson offered support and encouraged her to read and study character. Friedrich embodies them both and it makes sense that Louisa would give Jo a partner who not only supports Jo´s creative journey but is an essential part of it.
Louisa called both Goethe and Waldo Emerson as "god of my idolatry" Goethe became a a way for Louisa and Emerson to deepen their friendship through intellectual conversation, enriching both of their lives".
Many of the annotations in Louisa´s copy of Wilhelm Meister are associated with romance. For example, she underlined the heading of chapter nine of volume one, marking the passage where Wilhelm feels as though he is infused with "new life" as he falls deeply in love with his first love Mariane. Furthermore in volume three, chapter four, Louisa annotatted a scene where Wilhelm and Natalia talk in the garden about love. She penned in the word "beautiful" after their private conversation.
This sounds very similar to what happens between Amy and Laurie when they are in the garden at Vevey and Jo and Friedrich under the umbrella.
Quote from Christine Doyle´s Mignon´s song.
"The cultural level suggested by Friedrich´s profession and more specifically by his knowledge of Goethe also helps to validate the connection between him and Jo. Alcott had penned a quote from Margaret Fuller´s Woman in the 19th Century regarding Wilhelm Meister´s females connections, the note in Alcott´s handwriting on the back of flyleaf reads, "M Fuller says, As Meister grows in life and advances in wisdom, he becomes acquainted with women of more character moving from Mariana to Natalia, who expresses the Minerva side of things, Mignong the electrical lyrical cnnature. In this light it is possible to read Jo March´s transference of affection from Laurie to Friedrich as a form of "rising" due to her own growth and advancement in terms of character. Laurie is always a "boy" to Jo, but Friedrich is a man. Laurie possess charm and culture, Friedrich as we see, is cultured but also steady and well-grounded. He speaks both to her down-to-earth practicality and down-to-earth imagination. When he and Jo together reprise Mignon´s song after Friedrich´s surprise arrival at the March home later in the novel, it is a clear statement of the fitness of their union, a union of America with some of the best European culture, and for Friedrich, fulfillment of the American dream, he is much more than a "funny match" for Jo".
Wilhelm Meister, Jo moving from Laurie to Fritz, Laurie moving from Jo to Amy
Louisa read Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship first time as a child and it was a novel that she always went back to. The way Laurie is chasing Jo is very similar to what happens in another famous novel by Goethe "sorrows of young Werther". Louisa´s affection to Eliza Follen´s biography on her husband Charles and the love story between an American woman and a German immigrant is also reprise in Little Women in Jo´s and Friedrich´s characters. Another book that Louisa read in her early youth.This knowledge can change the course of Louisa May Alcott research, especially what it comes to Louisa´s own perceptions on Good Wives. Alcott scholar Daniel Shealy writes in his essay "Wedding Marches" "in the remaining correspondence between Louisa and her publisher Thomas Niles there are no indications that Niles would have had any say on the character relationships, the marriage decisions were all Alcott´s". Louisa had build the basis for the love stories in Little Women decades before she was asked by Niles to write a book for girls. Good Wives (Little Women part 2) was never an afterthought but an exploration between immature love versus mature love. Yes, some of that we can see in Louisa´s own love life in her relationships between young Ladislas Wisniewski (Laurie) and Henry David Thoreau (Friedrich), which is probably the reason why, Louisa later in life tried to detach herself and her own love life from the love life of her literal counterpart, because it became all too personal.
Geraldine Brooks declares: Another reason Alcott crafted the direction of Jo’s life in this way was because she seemed to want to marry but never did. It seems likely, however, that she did have at least two different love interests in her life. Perhaps Alcott decided to give Jo what she herself always wanted: marriage and a family.
After doing this research for few years now, I´ve come to the same conclusion. When I read Louisa´s letters from her later life, where she says she is happy for her sisters when she sees them flourishing in their marriages, she envies them and feels lonely and she believed that in her next life she would get the things she wanted but never could have, a safe and loving relationship and children of her own.
Sentimental Language of Louisa May Alcott
Greta Gerwig has been very vocal how much she hates Friedrich´s character. I don´t know what her problem is but there is one thing that annoys me to no end. In every one of her interviews Gerwig has argued that Friedrich forces Jo to use the word "thou". I can´t even fathom how absurd this is.
When you study German one of the first things that you learn is that there are two ways to address a person. There is "Du" which is what you use with someone you are very close and then there is "Sie" that you use when you are discussing with someone who is not very close to you. In the 19th century when German literature was translated into English "Du" became "thou". When Friedrich and Jo call each other "Thou" it means that they want to be close to one another.
In the book it says that Jo thought that "thou" was a "lovely syllable". It sounds that Gerwig is just making excuses to spread hate speech about a fictional character and it doesn´t have any base on reality.
This is what Christine Doyle writes:
When Jo terms Friedrich´s request to use "thou" in addressing him "sentimental" (while privately thinking it is lovely), he says, "Sentimental? yes, thank Gott, we Germans believe in sentiment, and keep ourselves young mit it. Your English "you" sounds so cold. Friedrich in fact, retains his German accent throughout the March novels, occasionally dropping German words and phrases such as "Mein Sohn" and "Vaterland" into his speech despite his much imrpoved command of English (for example in Little Women Friedrich says "haf" but then Little Men and Jo´s boys he says "have"). Like Friedrich´s defense of religion, his sentimental language is significant in both cultural and literary context. Alcott seems here to be standing up for emotion in the face of staid New England culture".
Sorrows of young Werther, novel that first skyrocketed Goethe into great fame has been often used as an example of the over-sentimentality of the German Sturm und Drang movement. Louisa was heavily affected by the Sturm und Drang and in her youth she consumed and wrote these "Stress and thunder" tales. Despite of being more of a realistic novel, Little Women is written in sentimental language and this applies to all of Louisa´s novels, children´s books and the adult books. Friedrich is sentimental, but so is Louisa May Alcott.
Louisa´s real life crush, and possible lover Henry David Thoreau also always used "thou" in his love poems when addressing his loved one.
Jo describes Friedrich to look like a regular German. He has brown hair and a bushy beard. Kind blue eyes, big hands and big feet and he has kind tone is his voice "that does one´s ears good after our sharp or slipshod American gabble".
This description is similar to Friedrich Schiller´s first impression on Goethe:
"His appearance greatly lessened the idea I had conceived from hearsay of his imposing and handsome person. He is of middle height, and looks and walks stiff. His countenance is not open, but he has beaming eyes. The expression of his countenance is serious, at the same time that it is benevolent and kind. He has brown hair, and appears older than I should say he really is. His voice exceedingly pleasing, and his conversation flowing, lively and amusing. It is a pleasure to listen to him, and when he is in a happy mood, which he was on this occasion, he is fond of talking and takes and interests in what he says".
Friedrich´s looks and his somewhat stoic personality can also be traced back to Henry David Thoreau, but like Goethe, Henry as well opened up in a company, especially when the conversation was lively and interesting.
There I might with thee my beloved go
"First thing Jo hears from Bhaer is him singing "Kennst du das land" (do you know the land) to himself, the opening line of Mignon´s love song from Goethe´s Wilhelm Meister. Here again is literary intertextuality of Wilhlem Meister in Little Women. By having Bhaer sing Mignon´s song to himself. Alcott not only draws a direct connection between Bhaer and Goethe but also an emotional connection between herself and Goethe".
Louisa points out that both Jo and Friedrich are familiar with Wilhelm Meister. In the chapter surprises Friedrich comes to court Jo, and Jo asks him to perform Mignon´s song with her.
"Now we must finish with Mignon´s song, for Mr Bhaer sings that"
"You will sing with me, we´ll go excellenty well together?" he asked.
A pleasing fiction, by the way, for Jo had no more idea of music than a grasshopper, but she would have consented, if t he had proposed to sing a whole opera, and warbled away, blissfully regardless of time and tune. It didn´t much matter, for Mr Bhaer sang like a true German, heartily and well, and Jo soon subsided into a sublued hum, that she might listen to the mellow voice that seemed to sing for her alone.
"Know´s thou the land where the citron blooms"
Used to be the Professor´s favorite line, for "das land" meant Germany to him; but now he seemed to dwell, with peculiar warmth and melody, upon the words; -
"There, oh there might I with thee, Oh my beloved go"
and one listener was so thrilled by the tender invitation, that she longed to say she did know the land, and would joyfully depart thither, whenever he liked.
How did Jo knew that was his favorite line? they must have had deep one-to-one discussions about Goethe.
Here is a quote from Little Women fan Christina:
Maybe she noticed how a certain gleam come across his eyes as he sings the line. Maybe his lips turn upward into a smile when the lyric comes up, no matter how many times he sings it. Or maybe it was because of the warmth in his voice as he spoke of his home that Jo recognized as she speaks of her home.
But she notices. She notices all the little things of Friedrich, but had yet to have a reason why. But when she leaves New York and is alone after Beth’s death, she thinks of those little things and smiles to herself.
When he comes to her home, she thinks about that line. Home. He is home.
There is another way to interpretate this chapter. Mignon´s song is about departure and re-uniting with your loved one in the after life. Louisa believed that in the next life, she would meet her loved one again and then she would get the life that she had wanted. Maybe this scene was written about Henry, same way as the umbrella chapter. Henry had the same Goethe´s books as Louisa and he was also a good singer and when he would come to visit the Alcott´s, they sometimes sang together.
Quote from Megan Armknecht
Another parallel between Bhaer and Goethe is their philosopher, especially regarding the purposes of art and religion. Bhaer is very interested in Jo´s writing, encourages her to read Shakespeare, and helps explain his work to her. Bhaer gives her as a New Year´s present. Classic writers, such as Shakespeare were very important to Goethe, who read Shakespeare and often wrote about and criticized him in letters to Schiller.
As Jo reads Shakespeare, she not only begins to notice true, honest character more, but she also recognizes just how good Bhaer truly is. She discovers a "live hero", who interested her in spite of many human imperfections. Mr Bhaer, in one of their conversations, had advised her to study simple, true and lovely characters whenever she would found them, as good training for a writer; Jo took him at his word - fro she coolly turned round and studied him and finds him to be good and benevolent. In this way Bhaer´s love of the simple, honest and pure, mirror´s Goethe´s who remained ever in touch with the reality of things as revealed to the sense, but never blind to an ideal interpretations.
This is all in the text of Little Women. Friedrich encourages Jo to become a genuine writer. I have never understood people who say that Friedrich prevents Jo from writing, when in the book, he does the exact opposite, but the people who spread that type of false information, are usually Jo and Laurie fans.
Another quote from Armknecht:
"Bhaer is trying to help Jo to become a genuine writer instead of one who caters to the whims of the crowd. This is something that Goethe would have done. He disliked superficiality in people and in art and was through life frequently offended by the shallow pretensions, the false aims. He insists that a poem must be suggested by real life, and having herein a firm foundation".
This is particularly important information. When Louisa was in her twenties she wrote sensational stories to a New York magazine. Weekly Volcano in Little Women, is a caricature of this magazine. These stories are not Louisa´s best stories, and in Little Women, she describes how Jo has mental health problems because she feels powerless in the hands of the editor, who wants her to write stories that have shock value and when Jo looks for material she begins to have anxiety attacks. This is all in the text. It has never been adapted and that must affect to any anti-Friedrich statements people might have, because in the novel Friedrich comes to Jo´s help, when he sees how much she is struggling.
When Louisa wrote these sensational stories, she was not very experienced with the darker side of life and struggled with lot of these themes that she was requested to write about. It makes sense that she looked up to her literal hero, Goethe and take his advice that a good story, should have a real-life foundation and this is how Jo in Little Women moves on from writing trash to write successful realism thanks to Friedrich, and Louisa did the same thanks to Goethe.
There are times when Goethe´s and Friedrich´s values separate. One of these are their views on religion. Goethe´s views on religion are often described as vague where as Friedrich in Little Women, is very religious. Louisa was a very spiritual person herself and her religious views were rather eclectic, but the base of her beliefs were in her protestant upbringing.
In Little Women Jo and Friedrich attend a symposium. There Jo listens one of the young philosophers speaking about atheist world view, and this makes Jo quite upset.
"It dawned upon her gradually, that the world was being picked to pieces, and put together on new, and according to the talkers, on infinitely better principles than before; that religion was in a fair way to be reasoned into nothingness, and intellect was to be the only God. Jo knew nothing about philosophy or metaphysics of any sort, but a curious excitement, half pleasurable, half painful, came over her, as she listened with a sense of being turned adrift into time and space, like a young balloon out on a holiday".
"He bore it as long as he could; but when he was appealed to for an opinion, he blazed up with honest indignation, and defended religion with all the eloquence of truth - an eloquence which made his broken English musical, and his plain face beautiful. H had a hard fight, for the wise men argued well; but he didn´t know when he was beaten, and stood to his colors like a man. Somehow, as he talked, the world got right again to Jo; the old beliefs that had lasted so long, seemed better than the new. God was not a blind force, and immortality was not a pretty fable, but a blessed fact. Jo felt as if she had solid ground under her feet again; and when Mr Bhaer paused, out talked, but not one whit convinced, Jo wanted to clap her hands and thank him.
She did neither, but she remembered this scene, and gave the Professor her hearthiest respect, for she knew it cost him an effort to speak out then and there, because his conscience would not let him to be silent. She began to see that character is a better possession than money, rank, intellect or beauty, and to feel that if greatness is what a wise man has defined it to be "truth, reverence and good will" then her friend Friedrich Bhaer, was not only good but great".
In this case Friedrich is in fact, much more closer to the American philosophers like Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who Louisa had often heard keeping speeches about religion. Despite the fact that the transcendentalists adored German culture and writings they were highly suspicious of German philosophers because they did not always share their religious views.
I know quite a few Little Women fans, who absolutely love the symposium scene. It is their favorite Jo and Friedrich moment. She says that "he was not only good, but great" Friedrich is no longer a crush for Jo. It becomes something a lot more serious. Jo remembered his passionate speech for the rest of her life. She even wants to clap when he stops talking. Friedrich, he managed to move something inside her. I have mentioned this in my articles before, one of the reasons why I always adored Jo and Friedrich love story and story line, is because it is one of the most realistic descriptions in literature, how it actually feels like to fall in love to another person and Louisa wrote from her experience.
Jo was attracted to Friedrich from the moment she met him. There is a build up in the novel how her crush and her curiosity about him deepens.
"He was poor, yet always appeared to be giving something away. a stranger yet everyone was his friend, no longer young, but as happy hearted as a boy, plain and odd, yet his face looked beautiful to many and his oddities, were freely forgiven for his sake. Jo often watched him, trying to discover the charm, and at last decided that it was benevolence which worked the miracle. If he had any sorrow "it sad with it´s head under it´s wing" and he turned only his sunny side to the world".
This what is said about Goethe´s personality: "Goethe was always an optimist, despite of the many setbacks he had had during his life. He often wanted to uplift others and bring as much success to others as to himself. Goethe believed that creativity was a gift, but only way to true success was through hard work and resilience. Goethe was emotional and vulnerable and yet he could be a light of the party. Sometimes he was generous to a fault, but always honest and loyal to those he cared about the most.
I personally really like the idea that Louisa gave Jo a husband and a partner that was inspired by Goethe. It makes a lot of sense that Friedrich who helps Jo to reach the next stages of her writing career was based on Louisa´s favorite writer, and that there are elements in Friedrich´s personality we can trace to Goethe.
I hope you enjoyed listening to this. Take care and make good choices. Bye.
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, 150 years Penguin edition,
Sorrows of young Werter, Johann W. Goethe, 1787, Book Beat
Singing Mignon´s Song, Christine Doyle, John Hopkin´s university press, Children literature volume 31, 2003
"Jo marries Goethe, Dr Bhaer as the Goethean ideal in Louisa May Alcott´s Little Women", Megan Armknecht
Goethe in our time, Sarah Colvin, BBC Radio 4, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003c1c8
"This is less a question than an observation a huge part of what is disappointing about lot of these adaptations including the Greta Gerwig one, is that it´s 2020 now and folks don´t want to talk about the fact that a huge part of the Bhaer-hate stems from fat-phobia and honestly, that brilliant, goofy, nerdy people don´t make romantic leads and I´m pretty sure Louisa May Alcott would agree. I always imagined someone maybe with Sean Astin´s build playing the part".
This next thing I am going to say is legitimate. You can find Louisa May Alcott novels so you can check this out. In every single Louisa May Alcott novel, where the Louisa type of protagonist falls in love or marries, the romantic partners, they always look the same. They all have the same body type. They are all tall and heavily build. One of Friedrich´s models was the German poet Goethe and if you look at pictures of Goethe, he is this middle-aged man with broad-shoulders and very tall and you know, heavily build and all Louisa May Alcott´s romantic heroes look like that. Some of the have beards, some of the don´t and surprisingly many of them speak with German accents. John Suhre who was a German soldier who Louisa nursed in the war. He was tall and a bit stout, with a brown beard. Louisa wrote into her diary that she found him very handsome and attractive. Adam in Moods and David in Work, the female protagonist is always fixated to their looks and their "manliness" and when Friedrich becomes Jo´s sexual awakening she pays attention to his big hands and to his big feet and she is really lusty over him.
In Jo´s boys when Dan comes back to Plumfield, he has grown a beard. For those of you who have not read Jo´s boys, Dan was one of Jo´s and Friedrich´s students. When he comes back he asks Jo if he should shave the beard or not and Jo is like "don´t do that. It makes you look so manly and handsome" and it is so funny because both Friedrich and Dan are based on Henry Thoreau. Mac in Rose in Bloom, he also has the same body type. He is blonde and he is younger. In Eight Cousins where he is a pre-teen he is described to be a bit "chubby", but then in Rose in Bloom, Mac has a huge growth spurt and suddenly he is taller and he has broad shoulders and Rose, surprise, begins to see him more attractive.
All these men are described to have blue eyes, which is an interesting detail since Henry Thoreau had blue eyes. In away Louisa, she was attracted to the alpha-male. Her ideal man always looks very masculine but they are all very gentle by nature. To Louisa man being heavily build meant that they were big and strong, and they can take care of themselves and other people. People like Greta Gerwig complaining about body type. It is very shallow. People can hire conventionally good looking actors to play Fritz like Rossano Brazzi and Louis Garrel, but it never erases the problem that Jo is never attracted to Laurie, and Laurie´s looks, and the way his and Jo´s relationship has these toxic elements, it´s always missing and all that explains why Jo dumps him in the first place.
Alpha-male for Louisa was also someone who could support their writing, which is what Friedrich does. He encourages her to find her own writing style. There is also some criticism over skinny-looking guys in Little Women. Nat and Laurie are skinny and pretty, more effeminate and the narrator has occasionally criticisms about their "overly-emotional nature", like Laurie. Laurie is often overly-dramatic and Nat is more of a daydreamer, they both are very sensitive. Which raises an interesting question if part of that is about narrator´s dislike about femininity because in the novel, one of Jo´s more masculine qualities is that she denies her own vulnerability which is why I think her arc with Friedrich was so important because the more she tried to deny her vulnerability, the more she felt lost and with Friedrich she could find the balance.
In some ways Louisa connected men being skinny with non-productivity. In Jo´s boys Meg and Jo don´t want Daisy to marry Nat, because they think he is such a daydreamer. Then he travels to Germany to study music and when he comes back to Concord he is more heavily-build. It´s really funny because Meg and Jo are like wow, he looks much better now. I don´t personally share Louisa´s views about skinny guys not being productive but maybe it was based on her own experiences since Julian Hawthorne and Laddie Wisniewski who were real-life Laurie´s. They were pretty but they weren´t always very productive and didn´t really live up to Louisa´s standards. In Finland we have this expression, uusavuton, which means an adult, who doesn´t know how to be an adult, and Laurie and Nat, they are these type of characters. They need strong female guides, like Amy or Daisy to inspire them to grow and to take control over their lives.
To Louisa the alpha-male is a man who combines the masculine and the feminine energy together in a balance, and effectively. Strong but kind, confident but humble. I don´t really know any other writer who has such a clear idea what her ideal man is like. It has a lot to do with taste, but I think Louisa´s love for "masculine men" who were also intellectuals was connected to her own values. She was drawn to men who possessed tender masculinity. I read once that Louisa gave Friedrich elements of European men that she wished that more American men would have. I think there might be some truth to that. I grew up watching lots of Scandinavian film productions, like Astrid Lingren adaptations and there is lots of male characters that look very masculine, or physically strong male characters, but they are passionate and romantic with their partners and they love their kids. So if you know someone who complains about Friedrich´s looks, Louisa wrote Friedrich to be her own ideal man, so if someone has problems with that. They don´t really understand the author.
When Louisa was asked to write little women, she hesitated because her closest friends were all boys, and then her sisters. Knowing Louisa´s love for men and boys and masculinity, it makes a lot of sense that men who she was attracted to also looked that way. There has been lots of research on Louisa´s identification with masculinity and yes, there is a lot of that in Little Women, but in a lot of ways Jo is also a very feminine character, in the way she reads romance novels and when she falls in love, she dreams about marriage and starting a family and she is very maternal, which is something that came naturally to her.
You can watch the full q and a here.
Emily: We also talked a little bit about how Jo and professor establish sort of this common language between them in the way they talk with each other because of the use of "thou" and "you" and "us". I guess for me it is like what we´v discussed is that he doesn´t want to hold her in distance. It is almost like a pet-name for them to have a common language with each other but also establishing that they are the ones closest to each other. Which is great. I don´t think it is that extreme in German, in the actual language of German, among friends you say "du" and then for like, let´s say professional relations, your boss or with someone you don´t really know or don´t really see, so then when you establish sort of rapport with them, you´ll say "du". It is not quite as extreme as Fritz takes it in Little Women. Louisa was not a native German speaker. She was kind of doing her own thing with language which, you know, I don´t have a problem with.
Niina: In German and in Russian I think, you know they use a lot of formal language which is not that common in English, or here in Finland. But then in the 19th century I would imagine that it was even more important for the Germans to use "Sie" and "Du" so there was a bigger difference.
Emily: Yeah probably.
Niina: So when Louisa was travelling in Germany. She must have been using "Sie" a lot, when she was talking to people. Yeah I think in that relationship between Jo and Friedrich, "Thou" it becomes more of a pet name. Then it is interesting because when you read poems from Henry Thoreau or Goethe they are always using the word "thou". Makes you wonder if that was something that happened between Louisa and Henry, but that´s all speculation.
Emily: Yeah, we can´t know for sure but it is an interesting quirk. I think we also forget sort of the more antiquated nature of language at that time. I think we try so hard to modernize Little Women and bring it to our own time that I think we forget that it is very much a product of it´s time and is very much colored by history. Which I think people forget factors a lot in the events in the book that actually colors it.
Niina: It annoyed me a lot how Greta Gerwig was complaining how he is using the word "thou" and like I am reading Little Women when I´m 17 and I´m thinking it´s actually really romantic, but then again I was studying German back then. Then again also the translations, like I´v got this old Finnish translation of Little Women and the part where he calls Jo "Professorin, it is translated to "Professor´s little wife".
Emily: Oh no!
Niina: And then in German it means a female professor!
Emily: Female professor!
Niina: Female professor. He is giving her this title that she is his equal. I can imagine someone, a Finnish person reading Little Women, that poor translation from the 50´s and go "Oh Friedrich is such a sexist" and then in the original he is a feminist! Okay. I am pretty sure that the person who translated that didn´t speak a word of German. To my copy I corrected the German words there. I hope that the new translations are better but that was something.
Emily: I know this is a severe misunderstanding of that word. The thing is it is so cute when he calls her "Professorin" Even though he is older than her. He sees her also as a professor and on his level, even though on paper they don´t start out that way. I really can´t understand how people can´t get behind this relationship.
Niina: A part of me hopes that they will make a Little Women adaptation where they clearly show that Friedrich is German and maybe also include parts of him living in Germany. That would be nice and it was important to Louisa that he was German
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aWhy Friedrich is poor/ Little Women explained
One of the things that I come across over and over again as someone who studies Little Women, is that a lot of people don´t understand why Louisa May Alcott married Jo to a man who was poor. This question is followed by mentioning Laurie´s wealth. Even Little Women script writers have asked this, which always surprises me.
What if I would tell you that Louisa marrying Jo to a poor character who Jo loves and not to a rich character who she is not in love with is one of the most feminist aspects of Little Women.
Louisa May Alcott was born into New England´s transcendentalist movement. Transcendentalism was religious philosophical movement that was based on German philosophy. One of the main thesis of the transcendentalism was the importance of self-reliance. A belief that a person should be able to take care of themselves and others. Rooted to the idea that no matter the circumstances you were born into, you can still make something of yourself. Leave a mark to this world.
One of Louisa´s favorite writers was the German poet Goethe. Goethe was born into great wealth, which eventually led him to a quest to find himself. In away being born as a rich man caused emptiness. Some readers might notice that this is down to a T, Laurie´s character arc in the book, but it has never been adapted.
Goethe finds writing to be his calling and he recommends work as the best remedy for the broken heart. In Little Women when Laurie is in Vienna after he has been rejected by Jo and has been lectured by Amy, he is writing an opera which would ”harrow Jo´s soul and melt her heart” but he just keeps seeing Jo in her most unflattering ways and Jo is replaced by a beautiful ghost that looks like Amy and Laurie sees himself as a romantic prince.
He is flirting with this ghost for a while but then he stops and for the first time in his life Laurie realizes that what he is doing is silly, and he remembers Amy´s words. She took his hand and said that it was white and soft as a woman, and had never done any real work. Only picked flowers for ladies and wore Jouvin´s best gloves.
As a result of this Laurie goes to work for his grandfather. Laurie´s character arc in Little Women is not about Amy or Jo. Laurie´s character arc is about how Laurie becomes a man. In Louisa May Alcott´s world the only acceptable wealthy people are the philanthropists. Marches are friends with older Mr Lawrence not because he is rich but because he uses his wealth to do good. Laurie gets his redemption arc because Amy gets him to support his philanthropist projects.
Self reliance was a big part of Goethe´s philosophy but if we go back into the history of Germany and many other European countries that were protestant, and this is a big part of American history as well, one part of spirituality was the idea that work is beautified by faith and that work, even the most mundane work has a higher meaning. We live in a very secular world but understanding the Christian aspect of the novel can make it easier to understand it.
Transcendentalism has a mixed reputation these days. Unfortunately a lot of that has been spread by the Little Women film makers, who say it is preachy and anti-feminist. It is very ironic because the transcendentalists were an important part of the first wave of feminism because they believed that women had the right to work. Louisa, her sisters May, Anna and Lizzie, they were all working girls, Louisa´s mother Abba was one of the first American social workers.
In Little Women the Marchs´s they used to be on a higher place in the society. In the novel aunt March is the sister of Jo´s father and her husband died and they had a child together, and she died as well. That would make any person bitter. So aunt March is wealthy but she is not happy.
Jo describes uncle March being one of her favorite people. He was kind and he liked to play with kids and that he had a great library. Uncle March actually sounds a lot like Friedrich.
Why did Greta Gerwig decided that it was a great idea to make aunt March a rich spinster who never wanted to marry (where did she get the money, film doesn´t explain that, who is she related to?) Reminds my what Little Women fan- Melodie Ellison said ”Greta Gerwig decided to put herself above everyone else, Louisa May Alcott included".
The Marches they used to have more money but when their father allowed a black child to enter his school , he lost his position and that is when the Marches became poor. In reality the Alcott´s were poorer than the Marches.
Jo is never romantically interested about Laurie in the novel, and in part 2 Jo is actually criticizing Laurie because he doesn´t take his education seriously,and this is a big deal for Jo because she would like to study and go to university. When Jo returns after an eventful year in New York and Laurie proposes her, she sees that he is still not at all interested to find a job. He basically tells her (Jo) to be the one who tells him what to do with his life. It is not Jo´s job to raise him.
One of the re-occurring themes in Little Women is that Laurie is constantly unaware that he is privileged. One example is chapter ”Laurie makes mischief and Jo makes peace” where he is 15 and was pretending to be his tutor John Brooke and send Meg letters in his name.
There was already a rumour going on that Meg and Laurie were an item, and that Marmee was trying to marry Meg to Laurie. This started in the chapter ”Meg goes to vanity fair”. Of course Marmee hated this rumor and so did Meg, but Laurie seemed to be completely unaware of this and that he nearly ruined Meg´s reputations and his tutors reputation.
There are lot of this type of instances in Little Women. In part 2 Laurie is often questioned for buying nice clothes and then he gives worthless gifts to his friends.
Friedrich and Jo are on the same social level, they are both poor and they what it is like to be poor. Jo´s family were not rich, but they were living quite comfortably before. Friedrich had the same experience. In Berlin he was a respected professor. He would get his monthly paycheck. He lived alone so his expenses were less. Then his sister got ill. He moved to New York to take care of her. She died and he adopted his nephews. Now he can only find a job as a language tutor.
What Jo falls in love with in Friedrich is that he is self-reliant and hardworking and that he supports Jo and her desire to work and make her own money. In the chapter friend which is terribly adapted in most adaptations, Friedrich sees that Jo is struggling to write for Weekly Volcano. The stories that she was asked to write forced her to look material that caused her depression and anxiety.
One of the methods that the transcendentalists used as a method to ”transcend” was that they ”scanned” themselves. They would look at the situation from multiple different angles and see if there was something that needed to be changed. Louisa did this all her life. In Little Women Amy, Jo, Laurie and Friedrich they all have these moments of clarity.
When Friedrich tells Jo that the sensational stories can corrupt person´s mind, Jo agrees with him because these sensational stories have been already corrupting her mind. Louisa did the same as Jo, she wrote sensational stories and then she had a moment of clarity. We could compare this to a person who is working for a company. Payment is small, they get not appreciation and they are asked to produce content that goes against their own values.
Friedrich helps Jo to see all that and by doing that she gets her self worth back. Her writing also improves because after this Friedrich gives Jo a set of Shakespeare´s novels and Jo begins to search her own literal style.
The Amazing thing is that Jo does exactly the same to Friedrich. Fritz is described to be very friendly, extroverted person but the narrator also mentions that he feels quite isolated. He is not in a place in his life where he would like to be. He is in a job that doesn´t give him professional satisfaction. The narrator (Louisa) mentions that he dreams about falling in love and starting a family. He loves his nephews but he is also painfully aware that it would be difficult to find a person who would accept the boys to their life as well. Louisa also points out that Friedrich has experienced discrimination for being German and that makes it difficult for him to find a job.
The best adaptation that shows this is Little Women musical. It even has a line where Friedrich tells Jo that ever since he started to fall for her his students told him that he is much happier and smiles all the time. In the novel it is the night before Jo is leaving. Fritz gets his moment of clarity ”Oh my god. I´m so in love with this woman. What should I do”.
The reason why Jo goes back home is not because they argue like in the films. It´s because Beth gets ill and Friedrich lost a sister. He knows what that is like. Jo does the same to Friedrich what he has done for her. She inspires him to take life by the balls. He starts to look for another job so he could provide both Jo and his nephews and when Jo accepts his proposal and they begin to turn Plumfield into a school Jo returns him his previous status as a professor and he simultaneously supports her career as a writer.
This is how Jo addressed her family about her plans: “Now, my dear people," continued Jo earnestly, "just understand that this isn't a new idea of mine, but a long cherished plan. Before my Fritz came, I used to think how, when I'd made my fortune, and no-one needed me at home, I'd hire a big house, and pick up some poor, forlorn little lads who hadn't any mothers, and take care of them, and make life jolly for them before it was too late. I see so many going to ruin for want of help at the right minute, I love so to do anything for them, I seem to feel their wants, and sympathize with their troubles, and oh, I should so like to be a mother to them! …I told my plan to Fritz once, and he said it was just what he would like, and agreed to try it when we got rich. Bless his dear heart, he's been doing it all his life – helping poor boys, I mean, not getting rich, that he'll never be. Money doesn't stay in his pocket long enough to lay up any. But now, thanks to my good old aunt, who loved me better than I ever deserved, I'm rich, at least I feel so, and we can live at Plumfield perfectly well, if we have a flourishing school. It's just the place for boys, the house is big, and the furniture strong and plain. There's plenty of room for dozens inside, and splendid grounds outside. They could help in the garden and orchard. Such work is healthy, isn't it, sir? Then Fritz could train and teach in his own way, and Father will help him. I can feed and nurse and pet and scold them, and Mother will be my stand-by. I've always longed for lots of boys, and never had enough, now I can fill the house full and revel in the little dears to my heart's content. Think what luxury – Plumfield my own, and a wilderness of boys to enjoy it with me."’
Philosopher Waldo Emerson was Louisa’s friend and neighbor; I will read you a quote from his book Self-Reliance: ‘What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.’
What Waldo is saying there is that trusting your own instincts is always the best path to take, and it is also the more difficult one, because there are always people who try to convince you to go against what you know is right.
Here is a quote from Louisa’s early novel The Lady and the Woman, where she discusses her ideas of marriage. Eligible Edward Windsor claims that the style of woman he most admires are those who ‘claim our protection and support, giving us in return affection and obedience, beautiful and tender creatures submissive to our will, confident in our judgment and lenient to our faults, to be cherished in sunshine and sheltered in storms.’
Kate Loring, a young woman of 24, with no pretensions to beauty, who has raised her four orphaned brothers, replies ‘You have given your idol a heart but no head; I would have her humble though self-reliant, gentle, man’s companion not his plaything, able and willing to face storms as well as sunshine, and to share life’s burdens as they come.’ Louisa was part of the women’s movement that developed into the first wave of feminism. Whilst the moving power of this movement was to encourage people to marry for love instead of money, most marriages of the time were because of financial reasons. In Little Woman Marmee says to the sisters that she would rather see them married to poor men and be happy than unhappily to rich men. All the marriages in Little Women, in one way or another, are wrapped around this idea that love is connected to self-reliance. It is a very Christian idea of marriage, the idea that you build something better together with your significant other. I usually try to avoid politics and religion in all of my podcasts, but because Louisa May Alcott was a Christian and it had a big impact on her work, this is one of the things where I make an exception.
When Louisa was in her early 20s, she considered marrying for money to help out her family; in Little Women this element is given to Amy, and a lot of people think that this makes Amy a social climber: I don’t think that was Louisa’s intention. In the book Amy considers marrying Fred Vaughan because she wants to lift her family away from poverty. She’s not thrilled about the idea; she sees it as her duty. Sometimes I wonder if the people who criticize Amy for marrying Laurie, who is rich but not as rich as Fred but still wealthy – would they be as quick to criticize Jo if she had married Laurie? The cause of the whole argument is the lack of Laurie’s character arc in the adaptations.
In the nineteenth century, despite the desire to work, women’s work areas were limited. There was some factory work, but often women would work as maids or governesses or tutors. Amy writes in her letters that if the artistic career doesn’t take off, one of the options is to come back home to Concord and work as an art teacher.
Both Jo and Amy had very similar ideas about wanting to become wealthy, for the wrong reasons. Marrying a rich man, and to support your family that way, seems almost too easy, but in the long run that kind of thing could ruin your life. Jo thought that writing sensational stories would be easy money, and almost cost her her mental health. Amy’s moment of clarity comes when Laurie reminds her that she should not sacrifice her own happiness, and that her family would definitely not support that kind of decision, and the truth is that Amy is reminded of her values and the way she was raised.
I have talked about Laddie Wisniewski who was one of the models for Laurie. Louisa met Laddie in Switzerland, when she was working there. It is still a bit unclear why he was there in the first place – maybe he was taking care of his health. According to Louisa, he had tuberculosis and she was nursing him; he was very flirtatious with Louisa, then he allegedly proposed to Louisa’s employer, [? 19.52 Anna Weld?], who did not react well, and Laddie was kicked out of the premises. Anna Weld was a very wealthy woman, which has led some Alcott scholars to speculate that Ladislas was after her money.
For the angry Laurie fans, who are listening to this, I think the part of Laurie chasing Jo is what comes from this encounter with Laddie Wisniewski, and the rest of it probably comes from Goethe, but continues after the publication of Little Women. Louisa’s publisher had sent a check to Laddie Wisniewski; Louisa and Ladislas had not met each other after they had met in Europe. Why was Louisa giving him money? These are all theories. Ladislas had got married, and he had children, and he needed the money to support them; Louisa loved kids, and she was happy to help. Second scenario: he was blackmailing money from Louisa, threatening to go to the press and tell about their time together in Europe; Laddie was 10-11 years younger than Louisa, and that would have been quite a scandal. I don’t know which scenario is the truth, but I do know that Louisa’s sister May also knew Laddie and they had actually lived in Paris at the same time; but May wasn’t a huge fan of him, and it seems that Louisa got fed up with him as well. They described him as boring, and said that he never paid back his debts for money that Louisa gave him. Maybe May had also given him money that he never paid back.
Whilst the biggest crime that the adaptations do is to make it seem that Amy and Jo are always arguing over Laurie, in the book Jo never wants him, and Amy doesn’t want him either when he is being lazy and unproductive. In an article called ‘Happy Women’ which Louisa wrote about a year after Little Women was published, Louisa writes that accepting a false idea of love just because you are lonely is self-deceiving. Isn’t this what happens in Little Women? Jo considers Laurie’s proposal because she is lonely; perhaps the reason why Louisa rejected Laddie Wisniewski was because she was still in love with Henry Thoreau.
Henry, like all the Transcendentalists, believed in self-reliance; I think the best way to describe Henry’s relationship with money is that he was a minimalist; he also came from the working class – his father had a pencil factory where Henry worked from time to time. He was also a teacher and occasionally a gardener, a hunter and a naturalist – and a writer; and of course Henry was a Transcendentalist philosopher like Friedrich. In Little Women’s saga Henry is constantly present, specially in Little Men where Louisa describes his love for simplicity, when she writes about Friedrich’s love for the natural world.
In the 19th century some religious organizations considered the Transcendentalists heretic, because they almost had a pantheistic belief that Nature was the most perfect expression of God. One of my observant book-readers said that it really was based on someone who Louisa was in love with, and that explains why Louisa was frustrated by the fans who were demanding that she married Jo to Laurie.
Louisa never really liked Little Women; she considered it as one of her worst novels. I think the observant book-reader is right that Louisa wrote a lot about herself, and therefore the success of Little Women would create very conflicted feelings. I and my friend Emily talked about this in our ‘Laurie’ episode; in the 19th century Laurie was a super-popular character, and perhaps one part of that popularity was because he was wealthy. Every time that Louisa was asked about the real-life Laurie, she would always speak very highly about Laddie to the public; but then in her private letters she was not so happy with him.
So why is Friedrich poor? He is poor because he is Jo’s equal, and therefore they shared their similar views on self-reliance and can build their life together. This is what Louisa writes in the ‘Umbrella’ chapter; Friedrich says “I could not find the heart to take you from that so happy home until I could haf a prospect of one to gif you, after much time, perhaps, and hard work. How could I ask you to gif up so much for a poor old fellow, who has no fortune but a little learning?" "I'm glad you are poor. I couldn't bear a rich husband," said Jo decidedly, adding in a softer tone, "Don't fear poverty. I've known it long enough to lose my dread and be happy working for those I love, and don't call yourself old – forty is the prime of life. I couldn't help loving you if you were seventy!"
n Jo´s boys, which is the last little women book, Jo and Friedrich are making out, and he is seventy!
The book that was Louisa’s personal favorite was ‘Moods’, a story that she began to write when she was 17, and she revisited it several times during her life. If you want to read about Louisa’s love life and relationships, ‘Moods’ is pretty explicit, and Jo’s and Friedrich’s age difference in the book is 16 years, which is also Louisa and Henry’s age difference. When it comes to the adaptations, they don’t usually pay much attention to wealth and class; Laurie’s missing character arc is a prime example of that.
That Fritz is poor or not is often pretty vague – same with him being an immigrant, for example in Greta Gerwig’s film there was an earlier script where Friedrich was written to be German and Jo’s father gives a speech about the USA being built upon immigrants, which is true, but then in the final script, and then in the final film, Friedrich is vaguely European and the part about immigrants was turned into a joke. The only film where Friedrich is clearly poor is the 1994 film. Gabriel Byrne´s clothes; in the film they look really nice but they don’t look new. The 1978 series is the only adaptation which shows that Friedrich is applying for jobs after Jo has returned to Concord, and there is a scene where he gets the job and he is building courage to travel to Concord and tell about it to Jo. But the musical is probably the best when it shows that not only does Fritz has a good effect on Jo and her writing, but she has a positive effect on him and his life, in a wider sense.
I will read you a quote from Henry’s poem called ‘Friendship’:
When under kindred shape, like loves and hates
And a kindred nature,
Proclaim us to be mates,
Exposed to equal fates
And each may other help, and service do,
Drawing Love's bands more tight,
Service he ne'er shall rue
While one and one make two,
And two are one;
In such case only doth man fully prove
Fully as man can do,
What power there is in Love
His inmost soul to move
Based on Louisa´s diary markings from the time when she was in her early 20s, it would seem that one of her dreams was to start a school with Henry, where she would be the boys’ mother and he would be the teacher. Henry passed away in 1862; quite soon after that, Louisa registered to work as a nurse in the war; we can fairly say that these events are connected. The idea of school reappears in Little Women. One of Louisa’s friends, Elizabeth Powell and her husband, seem to have been models for Jo and Friedrich; like Jo and Fritz, they even had two sons together. Elizabeth also became one of the first female deans of a university.
Another model for Jo and Fritz were a couple who Louisa greatly admired, Eliza and Charles Follen. Now Charles Follen was a German immigrant; he was really good friends with Louisa’s uncle, Samuel May, and one of the early figures of Transcendentalism. Charles died in an accident, and Eliza wrote a book about him and their marriage. You don’t only see this couple’s influence on Little Women, but also in countless other Louisa May Alcott novels.
Louisa had the habit of inserting herself and people she knew into the books that she wrote. Charles was almost a legendary figure among the Transcendentalists; Louisa basically grew up hearing stories about him. Charles was a hardcore Abolitionist, a revolutionist educator, and he was from – you guessed it – Berlin. Charles was a political refugee. When I now read Little Women, a part of me believes that Friedrich was a political refugee who was fighting against the oppressors. May I tell you, Little Women fans who like to spend their time meditating on Friedrich’s character (like yours truly) are often interested in the different philosophical movements of the past.
I have a few friends who sometimes talk about Friedrich’s childhood and his past relationships before he met Jo. If we think about Henry Thoreau and then Charles Follen – I don’t know if they ever met, but Henry would have known about him because all Transcendentalists knew about Charles Follen. They were both intellectuals, but they both had a rebellious side and a very strong sense of social justice; both Amy and Jo grew up in a family where both parents were always happy to help the poor, and both sisters knew what it was like to be poor. Laurie can never be Jo’s partner because he doesn’t have the mental capacity to support her writing career; it doesn’t mean that Laurie is stupid – it’s just not something that he’s interested in or that he knows a lot about. He is not very grounded, so he can’t really run a school with Jo, but everything works out great for him as Amy is very grounded. When Jo sees him [Friedrich] for the first time, he’s helping this little servant girl, who is carrying a heavy bucket of coal. One of the better parts of the 2017 series is the line where Fritz says that it pains his heart to see a child suffer. Beside their love of books and Goethe and philosophy, Jo and Friedrich also share similar views on anti-slavery and child labor, and also on education, and when we think about all these people who Louisa inserted into Jo’s and Friedrich’s characters – Charles, Eliza, Henry, Louisa herself – they are all connected by this level of rebellion-ism and their refusal to conform to the regulations of society. How amazing is that! Thank you for listening.
Wide Wide World appeared around the time when Louisa May Alcott began to write Moods, one of her personal favourite novels which (once again) described her love for philosopher Henry Thoreau.
Little Women: Louisa May Alcott´s Views On Romantic Love (Umbrella Chapter Analyzed)
Three stages of 19th century courtship
Welcome to a deep dive in the world of Louisa may Alcott. Everything I share in these video essays is based on multiple studies made by Alcott scholars. You can find all the links from the description. To explore the development of Jo´s and Friedrich´s romantic relationship in the book I am going to use historian Karen Lystra´s studies from the 19th century romantic love and courtship as a comparison. There are three stages of 19th century courtship 1. Love comes by multitude of reasons 2. Shared looks enact mutual transaction of interior lives. This leads to identification of selves and mutual recognition of persons.
Jo´s sexual awakening
Jo spends quite a long time in New York, about 8 months. When she sees Friedrich for the first time she is immediately attracted to him. In fact, she checks him out multiple times during her stay at Mrs Kirk.
"When the parlor door opened and shut someone began to hum ”Kennst du das land” like a big bumblebee it was dreadfully improper I know, but I could´t resist the temptation and lifting one end of the curtain before the glass door I peeped in. Professor Bhaer was there and while he arranged his books, I took a good look at him. A regular German, rather stout, with brown hair stumbled all over his head, bushy beard, good nose, the kindest eyes I ever saw, and a splendid big voice that does one´s ears good after our sharp or slipshered American gabble. His clothes were rusty, his hands were large, and he hadn´t a really handsome feature in his face. Except his beautiful teeth yet I liked him. For he had a fine head, his linen was very nice and he looked like a gentleman".
Based on Jo´s first impression on Friedrich she seems to be completely enthralled by him. This is what Little Women fan Melodie Ellison has to say about Friedrich´s looks
”I think part of why people act like Friedrich is not attractive is because of the well known Louisa May Alcott quote about intentionally making a funny match for Jo. ”I wouldn´t be at all surprised if she didn´t quite mean that. Laurie was conventionally attractive. There are men in our current times, that fall in to the same category. Men like Zac Efron. For example if you were to ask me what i think of Zac Efron I´´ll tell you that he is handsome but I am not personally attracted to him. Like Jo I prefer my men bearded and a little stout but most importantly intelligent, hardworking and kind. I think folks who can´t accept an older less hot version of professor fail to understand his and Jo´s relationship. She respected him and he her and for her that was the ultimate sexiness”.
One of the biggest misconceptions about little women is that Jo is only based on Louisa. Louisa wrote Jo to be an idealized version of herself and there are elements in Jo that come from women who Louisa admired. I would argue that Louisa´s friend Elizabeth Powell was the true model for the 15 year old Jo. Based to the letter exchange between Elizabeth and Louisa, Elizabeth wasn´t too keen on the idea of marriage which is understandable since she was only 16. Elizabeth did fell in love and married 10 years later and it would seem that she continued being a model for Jo. First for Jo March and then for Jo Bhaer. Her life was still very similar to the book Jo.
Louisa was complete opposite. Louisa had a huge crush on her father´s best friend philosopher Waldo Emerson. Louisa wrote love letters to him but she never sent them and she used to sit under his window siniging Migon´s song. Mignon´s song is a song from Goethe´s novel, Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship. Which was one of Louisa´s favorite books. Emerson was one of the many models for Friedrich. Main model was philosopher Henry Thoreau who merited Louisa´s life long affection. When Jo meets Friedrich for the first time he is singing Mignon´s song.
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When Jo writes her letter home she says that the letter is rather ”bhaery” and that she is always interested from odd people. We can interpret this that Jo is fascinated by Friedrich´s eccentric-ism and this is where Jo finds her kindred spirit because all of her life she has considered herself as odd and not fitting.
One of the reasons why Jo´s and Laurie´s relationship, can never be a relationship between equals was that Laurie was looking for a mother figure in Jo, and Friedrich being older and more mature than Laurie is a paradox of that.
”I was in our parkour last evening and Mr. Bhaer came in. With some newspapers for Mrs. Kirk, she wasn´t there, but Minnie who is a little old woman, introduced me very prettily.
”This is Mama´s friend Miss March”
”Yes, and she is jolly and we like her lots” added Kitty, who is an ”enfant térrible”.
We both bowed and then we laughed, for the prim introduction and the blunt addition were a rather comical contrast.
Like their creator, Jo and Friedrich share their love for children. Already in the first novel, Jo escaped the female society and ran out to play with boys. In New York Jo is more interested from the doings of Franz and Emil, than her female-charges, Kitty and Minnie.
The more time Jo spends in New York, more attractive Friedrich becomes, both physically and intellectually.
When spring arrives, she makes notice on the ”pleasant curves around his mouth”, ”his eyes that were never cold or hard”, ”his big hands that had a warm, long grasp that was more expressive than words”.
Symposium / Mutual Interests
Before Jo goes to New York she has been quite frustrated from the way Laurie is not interested from his studies. Jo can not attend university because of her gender. Friedrich sees Jo as his intellectual equal. 1994 film captures the meeting of the minds perfectly. BPS series is so far the only adaptation that has included symposium, leaving the symposium. There is another reference to transcendentalism when Friedrich and Jo talk about Kant´s theories.
In the book Friedrich and Jo attend a symposium together. It is very important part in the books because the reader finds out that Jo´s and Friedrich´s morals go together. In the symposium Jo meets famous poets, writers and philosophers. Some who she has put on a pedestal but her opinions are about to change.
”Her reverence for genius received a severe shock that night and it took sometime for her to recover from the discovery that the great creatures were only men and women after all. Turning as from a fallen idol she made other discoveries which rapidly dispelled her romantic illusions. Imagine her dismay on stealing a glance of timid admiration at the poet who´s lines suggested ethereal being fed on spirit, fire and dew to behold him derringer his supper with an order which flushed his intellectual countenance.
Already in the first part of Little Women we find out that Jo doesn´t always enjoy the higher class social gatherings. Now that she is in the circles of writers, poets and intellectuals which is the world where she longs to be part of she is disappointed by her own illusions that she has created about that world.
”Before the evening was half over. Jo felt so dis-disillusioned that she sat down in a corner to recover herself. Mr Bhaer soon joined her looking rather out of his element and presently several of the philosophers each mounted on his hobby came baling up to hold an intellectual tournament in the recess.
Friedrich also seems to feel that he is in a wrong place. Jo becomes distressed when she is following the debate and one of the young philosophers puts intellect above god. After some hesitation Friedrich keeps his speech defending religion. Speech leaves an ever lasting impression on Jo and I would even argue that this is when Jo starts to realize that her feelings for Friedrich are more than friendship.
”She began to see that character is better possession than money, rank, intellect or beauty and feel that if greatness is what a wise man has to find it to be truth, reverence and good will, then her friend Friedrich Bhaer was not only good, but great”.
Jo´s journey as a writer (never in the films)
Little Women is a Bildungsroman. Bildungsroman is a literally genre that originates from Germany. English translation could be ”coming of age” novel.
The focus of a Bildungsroman is in the moral and psychological development of the character.
In movies and in all tv adaptations so far, scene where Fritz expressed his opinions about sensational literature has been turned into a conflict. I guess it is suppose to create more drama, but this is not the way things go in the book because Jo has already labelled her sensational writings as ”rubbish”.
Way before she even thinks of traveling to New York. She has assured herself that her intentions are good because she would use the money to help her family. This inner conflict that Jo has begins in chapter 27. Literally lessons.
In this chapter Jo attends to a lecture about pyramids. There she pumps into a young man who is reading a thrilling story written by Mrs Nordbury.
Jo is amused by the boys admiration of the ”trash” that is how Jo calls this type of literature which emphasizes her wish to detach herself from those stories. So Jo´s negative views towards sensational stories is clearly identified. When Jo hears how much Mrs Nordbury makes with her Stress and Thunder tales Jo begins to change her mind and soon starts to write them herself.
Stress and Thunder tales originate from Goethe. In German this genre is called ”Sturm und Drang”. It sounds way more cooler in German. Drang refers into deep emotional stress. Sturm und Drang was a movement in literature and music in late 18th century Germany and was largely influenced by Goethe´s writings and plays. There is a great emphasis on the faith of the individual and the movement was highly influenced by Shakespeare. Goethe´s Sturm und Drang plays were about very masculine Teutonic heroes which is probably what fascinated Louisa as an author. Jo´s first stories are poor attempts to capture the spirit of Sturm und Drang.
”Her story was full of desperation and despair as her limited acquaintance of those uncomfortable emotions enabled her to make it. Jo takes in consideration all the advice she gets from everyone around her instead of seeking advice from someone who could help her to improve as a writer. She goes against her own judgement when she knows that some of the advice she receives does not improve the story.
”So with Spartan firmness the young authoress laid her first-born on the table and chopped it up as ruthlessly as any ogre. In the hope of pleasing everyone she took everyone advice and like the old man and his donkey in the fable, it suited nobody. After submitting to bunch of magazines
Jo writes her first novel, which is a romance and it receives mixed reviews. Jo appreciates the feedback and learns from it.
”Her family and friends, administered, comfort and accommodation liberally, yet it was a hard time for sensitive high-spirited Jo, who meant so well and had apparently done so ill but it did her good, for those whose opinions had real value, gave her criticism which is author´s best education and when the first sourness was over, she could laugh at the poor little book, yet believe in it still, and feel herself yet wiser and stronger for the buffeting she had received”.
In chapter 34 when Jo enters to the publishing world in New York, she enters to the world that is male-dominated. Her sensational story is cut from third of it´s original length. Jo is frustrated the way Mr Dashwood wants to cut out all the morals away from the story and the morals are what Jo wishes to keep.
Eventually Jo agrees to these alternations to be made. Despite of her masculine shield, Jo is quite emotional internally even though she doesn´t like to show it and writing thrilling tales becomes distressing.
”She was living in a bad society, and imaginary thought it was, it´s influence effected, for she was feeding hard and fancy on dangerous and unsubstantial food and was fast brushing the innocent bloom from her nature, by a premature quittance of the darker side of life. Which comes soon enough to all of us.”
Fritz knows that Jo writes and he is curious about it but Jo is ashamed of her writings. She is adamant about using a pseudonym and she doesn´t tell anyone at home what she is doing and neither she has shown her stories to Fritz. Friedrich never criticisms Jo as a writer. He is criticizing the genre. Friedrich is honest.
He wants Jo to take herself seriously as a writer. The book Jo does not shout or argue with Fritz, unlike the movie Jo does because Friedrich expresses what Jo has been thinking all long.
As a result Jo burns her trashy novels, then the book Jo tries to write for children. It doesn´t feel right. Then she writes stories that only has moralities, that doesn´t feel right either. She jumps from one literal genre to another. Experimenting.
Friedrich does turn out to be a friend. He encourages Jo to study real-life people so she can develop her characters, and as a Christmas gift, he gives her a set of Shakespeare´s novels. Goethe, Louisa´s idol, would have had similar thoughts towards sensational stories that Friedrich had. Here is a quote from Megan Armknecht who has done some extensive research between Friedrich´s character and Goethe.
”Bhaer is trying to help Jo to become a genuine writer, instead of one who catered, to the whips of the crowd. This is something Goethe would have done. He disliked superficiality in people and in art and was through life frequently offended by the shallow pretensions, the false aims, writers who because they had some poetic sensibility and some gift of expression”.
Louisa credited Goethe being the one author who has thought me the most about creating and understanding characters. In the 1994 film Jo argues with Friedrich about her writings. Film kind of portrays Jo as an ultra-feminist when Jo says that too bad her writings are not good enough for Friedrich´s high morals, this is complete opposite to the book Jo, because book Jo and Friedrich, they have always shared the same morals. Some viewers of the 1994 film, have taken Jo´s side on the argument probably because of it´s ultra-feminism.
Here is a quote from a person who joined #teambhaer after becoming familiar with Friedrich for the first time through Greta Gerwig´s film and they got inspired to read the book.
”Never read or watched Little Women before this but I am so phenomenally found of Friedrich, just in general. But this is coming from someone who watched the 2019 film first and had no context prior to this. As a writer cinema-savy person, I was made aware of Gerwig´s cinematic parallelism of the past and the present during my watch and I could tell that there must have been something taken out of the equation. As a means to balance out Gerwig´s vision. Yet I took fondly of the man who was basically void of existence mid-movie barely on the fact that Gerwig´s method of narrative essential ism still had me appreciate his weight. In the same 2019 Jo summarized the entirety of her loneliness in a single sweep, as I later found out, she dedicated an entire chapter to such somber chills. I found that Friedrich´s clean sweep came down to lines that could be easily over-looked if one came from acting instead of script. ”But do you have anyone to take you seriously?”
To talk about your work, he was essentially the one meant to simply see her. That in a single line Greta Gerwig had essentialised his character. This correlates with the book Fritz.
”Now Mr Bhaer was a different man and slow to offer his opinions. Not because they were unsettled, but too sincere and earnest to be lightly spoken, as he glanced from Jo to several other young people attracted by the brilliancy of the philosophic pyrotechnics. He knit his brows and longed to speak fearing that some inflammable, young soul would be let astray by the rockets to find when the display was over”. Of course as I actually admitted it 2019 Friedrich, was my first version of Friedrich and he still managed to catch my attention, for all he was worth. It was nice reading book 2 and finding out that Alcott wrote him as a worthy addition, rather than a cop-out, as I´ve had the misfortune, to read criticism as of late, that I was shocked at all that anyone would argue otherwise".
This makes me wonder why Greta has spend so much time and energy bashing the book Friedrich while promoting her film. With just that simple line he is established as someone worthy of Jo´s love, Gerwig´s film has it´s focus how much Jo has discomforts with change, and the feedback scene doesn´t promote the ultra-feminism but Jo comes out more childish. She yells she never speaks to him again and it is not something that the book Jo would do. In the pbs series Friedrich actually yells at Jo. That is not something that the book Friedrich does.
Friedrich wasn´t biased to Jo when it came to his feelings, he knew she could do more and wanted her to be as good as she wanted to be. He sees her as an equal, as a woman with true heart and soul, a woman with talent. He isn’t easy on her but neither is he cruel to her when it comes to her writing. I think ultimately she appreciates that Friedrich never softened the blow but always treated her as someone who’s ideas and thoughts were meant to be listened to.
Here is another quote from chapter 27 literary lessons:
"that's just it. I've been fussing over the thing so long, I really don't know whether it's good, bad, or indifferent. It will be a great help to have cool, impartial persons take a look at it, and tell me what they think of it."
The whole chapter is about how Jo learns to define her craft from the feedback she receives, way before she meets Friedrich, and it foreshadows the arrival of Friedrich´s character. There is a longing to find a person who can not only give her constructive criticism but also encourage her to explore her capacity as a story teller. The 2018 film did pretty good job by making Bhaer Jo´s editor and a professor of literature, and so far it is only film where Jo listens and embraces the feedback she receives same way as the book Jo does.
Here is a quote from Edna Cheney who was one of the first Louisa May Alcott biographers
Louisa was always a creature of moods; and it was a great relief to work off certain feelings by the safe vent of imaginary persons and scenes in a story. She had no one to guide or criticize her; and the fact that these gambols of fancy brought the much-needed money, and were, as she truly called them, "pot boilers," certainly did not discourage her from indulging in them. She is probably right in calling most of them "trash and rubbish," for she was yet an unformed girl, and had not studied herself or life very deeply.
Pressure and mental health problems caused by Weekly Volcano
When I was doing this research I actually came appalled when I realized that the scene in Little Women where Jo is having a mental breakdown because of the stories that she has to write to weekly volcano, that is never in the films.
When Louisa was in her early twenties she wrote into a New York news paper called Frank Lesley´s weekly illustrated newspaper. Weekly Volcano is a caricature of that newspaper. We tend to have quite one-dimensional way of thinking what it comes to historical people because historical people had morals. Just like we have morals. Louisa was writing for money and writing for money it came with mental health problems. She had to look up things that made her feel uncomfortable. They had stories of men abusing women and some of the stories were racist and sexist. These things contradicted with Louisa and her own morals.
Which is why she quit. There is a literal quote in her journals where she writes about these moral struggles and her friend Emerson says hey you don´t need to write anything you don´t want to write and just like Jo in the book Louisa feels relieved when she stops. You can find this journal online. You can read it for free. All these script writers they have had access to read it over a decade.
Love for philosophy (and philosophers)
There has been lots of unnecessary stereotyping made towards Friedrich´s character. I will point out some of them, partly because they are truly ridiculous but also because they show how long journey we have to understand Louisa May Alcott´s world view.
In one supposedly "feminist" study that I read, the author pointed out that Bhaer having Shakespeare, Milton, Plato and Homer in addition to his German Bible in his bookshelf represent the way Jo is now a captive of the male power. Apparently if a fictional male character who happens to be a teacher of philosophy has books about philosophy in his bookshelf that must make him a sexist.
Louisa herself grew up reading books and teachings of these particular philosophers. Plato was actually one of the first philosophers who talked about gender equality.
Christine Doyle points out that throughout the book series Friedrich´s character represents the positive aspects of the German culture that the new immigrants embodied.
Well-read and well educated—Friedrich´s shelf contains volumes of Shakespeare, Milton, Plato, and Homer in addition to his German Bible—he is nevertheless remarkably unpretentious, darning his own socks, for example. at the gathering He is deeply religious, standing up for the importance of religion of intellectuals he and Jo attend. This is a particularly important detail since, unlike the working-class German immigrants, the German intelligentsia were highly suspect for their “godlessness,” and it is actually against proponents of Kant’s and Hegel’s intellectualism that Friedrich launches his defense of religion. Even the great supporters of German literature, the Transcendentalists, sometimes found it difficult to come to terms with what they read as immorality and even atheism
Movie Laurie´s missing arc
When Laurie starts to make his moves on Jo the book Jo feels very uncomfortable by that. She says no many times, but he doesn´t listen or respect her. In the book Jo is way more mature character than Laurie is but in the recent adaptations this is not the case.
In Greta Gerwig´s film after Jo has nearly confessed to Marmee that she is in love with Friedrich the film Jo suddenly decides to write Laurie and accept his proposal. One might argue that the open ending is a cop- out not to handle Jo´s loneliness and maximize the profits of the film by trying to please This does not happen in the book. everyone.
When Laurie proposes to Jo he says he wants Jo to take care of him and he doesn´t want Jo to continue writing when Laurie´s behavior becomes possessive it is now that Jo finally realizes what it feels like for a woman when someone does not respect your boundaries. Laurie guilt-trips Jo for a very long time and he makes fun of Friedrich even when he has never met him.
This is a common narrative in Louisa May Alcott´s novels. In Rose in Bloom Charlie wishes to marry Rose, because of her money. He is a lot like Laurie, a champ who everyone likes but he is also very sensitive and escapes himself to gambling and alcohol. Rose eventually falls for Mac who is basically a younger Scottish-American version of Friedrich.
In Work story of experience the protagonist Christie is courted by a man called Fletcher. A wealthy man who would like to own her and Christie feels very uncomfortable by his possessive behavior. There was no me-too campaigns in the 19th century. In true Alcottian style these men are all forgiven. Laurie goes through a process in which Amy plays an important part and thanks to her low bs level Laurie actually improves himself. Fletcher and Charlie are not so lucky and in their death beds they apologize to the protagonist. Laurie was never in love with Jo. He was looking for an excuse to keep their relationship as it was so that he would not have to grow or to take responsibility of his actions, but Jo wants to leave that toxic cycle they are in. Especially after she has returned from New York and opened her heart for Friedrich.
Laurie and the Friedrich archetypes in LMA´s novels
I am going to read you a quote from my friend Chelley and Chelley knows Louisa May Alcott´s books like their own pockets. "
"In my opinion Louisa May Alcott draws a lot deliberate similarities between characters like Laurie, Charlie in Eight cousins and Rose in Bloom, Tom in an old fashioned girl, Jack in Jack and Jill and Thorny in under the lilacs. All of whom are raised in relatively comfortable settings. Are kind hearten and clever, and talented but more than a little wild, and indolent, and are influenced whether for good or evil, most heavily by women. In Laurie´s case the Marches are explicitly referred to as a positive influence over him, but it´s Marmee, Jo and Amy who ultimately hold the most sway and each of their relationships with him represents some version of semi-domesticated feminine power; mother, sister the lover. Despite the stated importance of the first two influences however Laurie isn´t really inspired to better himself simply for the sake of being a better person growing up until he talks to Amy who instead of mothering him or spearing his feelings speaks to him honestly and tells him, he needs to grow up.
In Rose in Bloom Rose´s primary issue with Charlie is that Charlie is expecting her, the woman, to be the angel who saves him from himself, keeps him from harm and he repeatedly wounds Rose, by exploring her natural kind heart and desire to help. Louisa could have gone down that same route with Nat and Daisy, Tommy and Nan and Even Jo and Laurie or Laurie and Amy, but in all those other cases, she writes a story where woman requests to be afford the same respect they want, and expect that from their life partners, an d the men either shape up and meet them on equal footing or miss out".
Then there is the Friedrich archetype. That is Mac in Rose in Bloom, Friedrich in Little Women, John in Hospital Sketches, Adam in Moods, David in Work. The Friedrich archetype, he is usually older and more calm, self-reliant and more grounded than the Laurie archetype. There is silent passion for the protagonist. Desire to be on equal grounding with them. The idea that love beautifies a person and that when you are in a relationship with a right person you inspire each others to be better. This is a very common theme in Louisa May Alcott´s novels. In Friedrich´s case, he wants to be worthy of Jo. He applies to a job in the west so he can provide both for Jo and his nephews. In the equals you can very clearly see how well Jo and Fritz perfectly balance each others.
The Friedrich archetype is mainly based on Henry Thoreau. He was the great love of Louisa´s life. There was a very strong friendship between them. With Louisa and Henry there was almost a telepathic understanding between one another. Here is another quote from Chelley,
The love story of Mac and Rose in Rose in Bloom, is one of the most romantic ones in all of Louisa May Alcott novels and a lot of that hinges on that telepathic form of communication. It letters that sort of opens a window to their souls, to each other and they connect on an intellectual level that to them deepens the love. Silent passion is good way to describe it. I think the idea of Louisa May Alcott modeling her heroine´s love interest after men she admired in real life is almost tragically funny because while she is writing something and thinking here is the happy ending, our beloved protagonist learns life lessons and finds love and future happiness with a mate who is worthy and equal to her, a large portion of her readership is going ”she married that guy why?” because they are having trouble looking past the outward appearance and unfortunately I think a lot of people now days still miss her main point because they get so hanged up on who didn´t end up together, that they fail to see why the people who did end up together are right for each other and how that marriage based on love and trust and respect and similar goals was so radical for a time that emphasized financial stability and or upward mobility over personal happiness".
Love and Sex in Little Women
The fact that Louisa May Alcott was in love with Henry Thoreau and that she had a fling with young Wisniewski this is common knowledge. You can read about it from pretty much every single Louisa May Alcott biography and from online as well. For example Alcott scholar Susan Bailey who runs Louisa May Alcott is my passion blog, she has written tons of informative, fact-based articles on Louisa´s relationship with these men.
I am going to read you a quote from Marlowe Dailey-Galeone
”Alcott shows women finding their own empowerment and satisfaction through their writing, through their art, through their relationships with others. The way their structure domestic activities even in the way they are thinking about marriage as a partnership. Also Alcott anticipates discussion on women´s pleasure and fulfillment. When I teach little women I like to ask my students if they enjoyed the sex scene? This is a subtle but important scene of intimacy and pleasure after Meg and John have a discussion about finances, Alcott carefully includes a moment when Meg puts on John´s coat. The coat that he is only able to buy because she returns the dress and they have enough money. She puts on the coat, welcomes him home. Kinda racy. We might have missed it. What comes next is a blissful state of things, so she, Louisa, is engaging with the idea of pleasure. Again I think a nice thing to remember that in 1868 and 1869 Louisa May Alcott is thinking about this.
Louisa May Alcott and transnational family
Louisa May Alcott was a transcendentalist. Transcendentalism was a philosophical and Christian movement. Transcendentalism was based to the ideas of German philosopher Immanuel Kant and his ideology about the universal family. Belief that all nations can learn from one another. Transcendentalists they took this message to their hearts. If you know anything about 19th century world events and conflicts the transcendentalist were seen radical but they were also a head of their time. Getting familiar with other cultures was encouraged. The German immigrants were widely discriminated. Transcendentalist welcomed them. The most respected and valued literature, poetry and plays and art all came from Germany and Louisa´s whole world view was based on German philosophy.
The 2019 film has been criticized for not including the transcendentalist ideas and when Greta Gerwig was promoting her film, she made tons of xenophobic statements on Friedrich´s character. Him being German and him speaking with a German accent and how Greta Gerwig thought it was repulsive. All these xenophobic comments they don´t align with Louisa´s philosophy about transnational family and Greta Gerwig is a descendant of German immigrants herself. Some of the criticism what I have come across about Greta Gerwig is that she is reluctant to have minorities presented in her films. Which is very unfortunate.
When Jo decides to stop writing to the Weekly Volcano, she makes a remarkable realization. As a creator everything that she writes to her novels has either a good or a bad influence to her readership and she stops to think how much damage she has done by writing stories that conflicted with her own morals. She is not even paid well for those stories. Friedrich he represents the older Louisa and her whole transcendentalist world view. He reminds Jo who she is as a person and that she has a good heart. Jo grew up in a family that was always ready to help those in need and her mother took Jo and her sisters with them when she went to help the immigrant families and her father lost his job when he took a black child to his school. The Alcott´s were abolitionist and even hid black slaves at their home. Louisa had first hand witnessed people being discriminated because of their ethnicity.
Love beautifies a person
Gerwig also complained about Friedrich´s looks and this is the one thing that most people miss in Little Women. Katherine Hepburn and Paul Lukas from the 1933 film probably are closest to what the characters are written to look like. The whole point of the story is that love beautifies a person. Jo is not written to be beautiful but she finds Friedrich very attractive and he is attracted to her. Louisa was not particularly beautiful either. Even her fans were disappointed when they saw her. There is a hilarious scene in Jo´s boys. There is an adult fan who comes to meet Jo Bhaer. Jo´s and Friedrich´s son, he points out the portrait of his mother and this fan is like ”oh no! I expected her to be 15 and pretty and having pig tails. I don´t think I want to see her now, because she looks so mundane”. Laurie is written to be conventionally good looking character, but his actions over Jo are ugly. Films are sold with beautiful people, but I would be more worried about the way the film makers gloss over Laurie´s flaws.
Because of her looks, sometimes Jo feels herself as a freak and that she is not worthy of love. Friedrich basically tells to Jo that it is okay to be clumsy and unconventional and still be worth of loving.
Real life Laurie
Louisa met Ladislas ”Laddie” Wisniewski in Switzerland when she was working as a companion for an invalid woman called Anna Weld. Laddie was a 21 year old composer from Poland. He was very charming and he called Louisa his ”little mama”. He had tuberculosis and Louisa nursed him. Louisa was a trained nurse. He was flirting with Louisa. Something happened between Ladislas and Miss Weld. They got into an argument. Some believe that he tried to force her to sleep with him and others say that he proposed to her. There is an Alcott story called ”Anna´s whim”. There is a character who sounds just like Ladislas and he proposes a rich heiress called Anna. So maybe the proposal idea is not so far fetched.
This is what Louisa writes ”Anna troubled about Laddie who was in a despairing state of mind. I could not advice them to be happy as they desired. So everything went wrong and both worried”.
Previous diary markings suggest that Laddie had been flirtatious with Louisa and had even mentioned possible future together. Louisa had written that Anna Weld was ”whiny, needy, foolish, and didn´t have a glue about Goethe”. The tone of Louisa´s diary markings change. She begins to sympathize Anna and becomes more suspicious about Laddie. When Louisa writes ”could not advice them to be happy as they desired?” what does she mean? did Ladislas and Anna had suddenly become affectionate with one another. It is very unlikely because quite soon Ladislas announced that he was leaving. Imagine being Louisa. First this handsome young guy is flirting with you all the time and being romantic and then he proposes to your boss. Louisa was not rich at the time. She was not considered particularly beautiful and Louisa was about 32 when this happened. When her employment ended she went to Paris and spent a day with him without a chaperone, which was very scandalous and after that she wrote to her very censored journal words ”couldn´t be”.
If you guys have read little women 2019 film guide Greta Gerwig writes ”Jo and Laurie could be a great couple if they would like to be”. Well, it does seem that Louisa did not want it. This reminds me what Emily said in our Laurie podcast. When Laurie was proposing Jo, he was looking for someone to nanny him. Alcott biographer Harriet Reisen points out that perhaps Ladislas was a conman who prayed on wealthy women. There are things that suggest that Wisniewski might have been a conman. Louisa writes in her journal about his ”miraculous recovery from tuberculosis”. Tuberculosis killed millions of people and very conveniently, Ladislas is miraculously healed, just before he has this conflict with Miss Weld.
I don´t know if he was a conman or not but I do believe that he might have mistaken Louisa´s care for him as something romantic and that he did want her to nanny him, which is not something that you can build a healthy relationship on and I am pretty convinced that he was not on Louisa´s intellectual level and she could not rely on him being supportive on her writing.
Real life Friedrich
Susan Cheever writes in American Bloomsbury that every-time when Alcott´s moved back to Concord, Louisa would find herself loving Henry more and more every time when they returned. Louisa loved very masculine men. She writes in her journals that she loves soldiers and uniforms. She writes in her journals that Henry is the perfect man and there is a quote where she compares Henry to Napoleon and her friend Emerson to Goethe. In Little Women Friedrich is Jo´s sexual awakening. He is written to be more masculine and more mature than Laurie. He has a beard, big hands, deep voice. In Little Men the narrator even says that Jo loves very ”manly” men. There is some criticism over guys who are thin and more effeminate. Like Laurie and Nat. In Jo´s boys there actually quite many scenes where Jo and Friedrich are kissing and there is also a scene where they are making out. They are about to do the dirty and their sons come in and interrupt them. I am actually surprised that Louisa got away with that.
It is pretty fair to say that Louisa wanted someone on her side who could feed and stimulate her brain. Henry wasn´t a great looker but there was something about him because he had quite a few female admirers in Concord. Louisa was attracted to him but the most important aspect of that relationship was their similar interests and the intellectual connection that they had and they did spent a lot of one-on-one time together. She would visit him at his hut at the Walden´s pond. They took long nature walks, and he would often take her to boat trips. I have said this before and I say it again, the age difference between them was the same as between Jo and Friedrich, 16 years.
Henry passed away when Louisa was 27. Rest of her life with Ladislas, and other men and women who she encountered. She never found them to be even remotely as intellectually stimulating as Henry was. In Little Women Jo confesses to Friedrich that, he is her first love, and therefore the best.
Something I found very interesting in my Thoreau research, was that Henry and the whole Thoreau family, they had reputation that they despised gossip and supported individualism. This is something that Louisa admired. You can read from their journals that both Henry and Louisa often felt themselves as outsiders. Very similar to Jo and Friedrich who are connected by their feelings of outsiderness.
The self-censoring, it happens even in Little Women. It raises the question what is the intention of the author? In the book when Amy burns Jo´s manuscript it happens because Jo has been bullying Amy for weeks and she has had enough. Little Women is framed against Pilgrim´s process. A story where the protagonist learns to overcome their biggest flaws. For Jo her biggest flaw is her temper. Why would Louisa make her literal counterpart to face that if there was no intention? She is the creator and the one who controls the story? another explanation is that Louisa is censoring her own writing, because when Jo writes the story again, it becomes a lot better.
Second self censoring happens with Weekly Volcano. As I explained earlier Louisa used herself as an example but never admitted that. In the last Little Women book, Jo´s boys, when Jo has become a famous writer, she is very much against when her nephew Demi begins to write stories for a magazine. Jo does not approve. Almost like Louisa is echoing her own history with sensationalism.
Louisa began to self-censor her diaries when Little Women became a best-seller. As a writer she was marketed as ”the friend of all children”. It is also important to point out that in the 19th century sex was a taboo. There was times when Louisa struggled with the children book format because she preferred to write adult themes, especially after Louisa´s passing, the early Alcott scholars took everything that she had written literally, most of these people were completely unaware that Louisa had self-censored her own journals. Not only did Louisa write about her own love life in Little Women in literal disguise, she also wrote about her experience writing the sensational stories. We might even say that she wrote her biggest secrets to the novel. It is no wonder that she had very conflicted feelings about it. Some of us might be very eager to judge her for this, the way she tried to detach herself away from Little Women, but in the 19th century woman having a good reputation, that was a lot more valuable than all the money that they owned.
The idealization of masculinity
There is something that I would like to talk about. It is the heart core of studying Little Women, from the perspective of gender. That is the idealization of the masculine. In one of her journal markings Louisa has written ”I am a hero worshiper by nature”. If I quote one of my blog readers ”Jo was drowning into internalized misogyny”. Jo puts Laurie to a pedestal because Laurie is a boy. Laurie does the same to Jo, because she is the first person, who pays any attention to him. When Laurie is cat fishing Meg, Jo doesn´t see any problems in his behavior, and it´s actually Laurie who Jo feels bad for, and this has made many modern readers, female readers especially, quite upset. What we know about Louisa is that, she always preferred the male company rather than women. Friedrich is idealized for complete different reasons than Laurie. He is idealized because Jo is in love with him. When we get into the courting and the umbrella chapter, the roles are reversed between Jo and Friedrich and it is now Friedrich who openly admires Jo. Friedrich´s model of masculinity is different. He respects her boundaries and does not over-step them, and only makes his moves on Jo when he has Jo´s full consent. When Friedrich proposes to Jo he gives her German title ”Professorin”, which does not mean ”professors little wife” like it was translated into my older Finnish version of Little Women, it is German and means ”female professor” and by doing that Friedrich acknowledges Jo´s thirst for knowledge and considers her as his intellectual equal.
In both 1994 film and 2019 film Jo and Friedrich part in bad terms, but in the book they part as friends both wondering if it could lead into something more in the future.
”Early as it was he was at the station next morning to see Jo off and thanks to him, she began her solitary journey with the pleasant memory of a familiar face smiling it´s farewell, bunch of violets to keep her company and bets of all the happy thought ”well, the winter is gone and I´ve written no books, earned no fortune, but I´v made a friend worth having and I´ll try to keep him all my life”. Jo and Fritz spent the next two years writing letters to each others. Taking care of Beth forces Jo to re-evaluate her life. After Beth´s passing she goes through a period of depression, grief and loneliness. In the book right after Beth´s death, Laurie sends Jo a letter from Europe and proposes her again. This happens the moment when Laurie has realized he has feelings for Amy. Jo sends him a polite answer and refuses again. Laurie´s second proposal has never been adapted.
In the book shared looks continue when Friedrich comes courting.
”Though a very social man, I think Mr Bhaer would have gone decorously away and come again another day. How could he when Jo shut the door behind him and bereft him of his hat. Perhaps her face had something to do with it for she forgot to hide her joy at seeing him and showed it with a frankness that proved irresistible to the solitary man who´s welcome far exceeded his boldest hopes. Stealthy glance now and then refreshed her like sips of fresh water after a dusty walk. For the side-long peeps showed her propitious omens. Mr Bhaer´s face had lost the absent minded expression and looked all live with interest in the present moment, actually young and handsome, she thought”.
The Umbrella, Identification of selves
Shared looks were a big part of courting. When Jo comes to the realization that Friedrich has truly come to court her, Jo flushes. She becomes fully self-aware and she is quite pleased and thrilled by the idea.
Then we get into the third and the most important part of 19th century courtship. Identification of selves, mutual recognition of one another. Which in Little Women is the umbrella. Courting is usually rushed in the films. Friedrich in fact, visits the Marches for two weeks and during all this time he is hoping to see signs of love from Jo.
”For a forth-night professor came and went with a lover like regularity”. Then he stayed away for three whole days and made no signs for proceeding, which caused everybody to look sober and Jo to become pensive at first, and then alas for romance, very cross”.
The idea of loosing Friedrich has become petrifying. She goes to the German block to look for him, but he is nowhere to be found. It starts to rain and Jo is ready to burst into tears and then he is there.
”I feel to know the strong minded lady who goes so bravely under many horse-noses and so fast through much muss. What do you do down here my friend?”
Mr Bhaer smiled, as he glanced from the pickle factory on one side to the wholesale hide and letter concern on the other, but to her, he only said politely.
”You have no umbrella, may I go also and take for you the bundles”.
”Yes, thank you”.
Jo´s cheeks were as red as a ribbon, and she wondered what he thought of her but she didn´t care for in a minute, she found herself walking away arm in arm with her professor. Feeling as if the sun had suddenly burst out with uncommon brilliancy that the world was alright again and that one truly happy woman was basking through the wet that day.
Jo doesn´t have lots of experiences with men, so it makes sense that she is quite clumsy and awkward around him. In an earlier version of the script of Greta Gerwig´s film, Jo actually pulled down a chair when Fritz came to visit and and he fixed it in a very calm manner. At least they included the part of Jo, setting herself on fire, and the viewer finds out that Friedrich was just as clumsy.
”We thought you had gone” said Jo hasty, for she knew he was looking at her. Bonnet wasn´t big enough to hide her face and she feared he might think the joy of it betrayed unmaidenly.
Once again Jo flushes and she is very aware of his presence. The sharing of the interior lives happens while trying interpret the other persons tone and voice and gestures.
When Friedrich tells her about the new job and that he can now provide a better home for his nephews Jo is encouraged by the prospects.
”Indeed you should. How splendid it will be to have you doing what you like and be able to see you often and the boys” said Jo clinging to the lads as an excuse for the satisfaction. She could not help betraying.
”Ach, but we shall not meet often I fear, this place is at the west”.
”So far away” and Jo let her skirts to their faith”, as if did not matter now what became of her clothes, or herself.
Mr Bhaer could read several languages, but he had not learned how to read women yet. He flattered himself that he knew Jo pretty well and was therefore much amazed by the contradictions of voice, face and manner. Which she showed him in a rapid succession that day. For she was in half-dozen different moods in the course of half an hour. When she met him she looked surprised, though it was impossible not to suspect that she had come for that express purpose. When he offered her his arm, she took it with a look that filled him with delight but when he asked if she missed him, she gave such chilly formal reply that the despair fell upon him, but learning his good fortune she almost clapped her hands. Was the joy all for the boys? Then on hearing his destination, she said ”so far away” in a tone of despair that lifted him onto a pinnacle of hope but the next minute, she stumbled him down again, by serving like entirely absorbent in the matter.
The narrator points out the difficulties, of the mute courting, the narration of love. How to verbalize it through non-verbal clues.
When they go shopping Jo is very clumsy and Friedrich starts to see how Jo indeed goes by contradictions. In the store she hides her cried face into a shawl.
”Does this suit you Mr Bhaer” she asked. Turning her back to him, feeling deeply grateful, for the chance of hiding her face.
I actually always thought that this scene was very intimate. It gives me some serious 1995 Sense and Sensibility vibes.
The next moment she rummages the counters like a ”confirmed bargain hunter”. Jo´s pattern is to hide vulnerabilities into action, but Jo has got into a point where she is ready to let down all her walls.
”For now the sun seemed to have gone, in as suddenly as it came out, and the world grew muddy and miserable again and for the first time she discovered that her feet were cold. Her head ached and that her heart was fuller of pain than the ladder. Mr Bhaer was going away. He only cared for her as a friend. It was all a mistake, and the sooner it was over the better. With this idea in her head she hailed an approaching omnibus with such a haste gesture that the daisies flew out of the pot and were badly damaged”.
This is where we get into the culmination. The mutual recognition of one another.
”I beg your pardon. I didn´t see the name distinctly. Never mind, I can walk. I am used to paddling in the mud. Returned Jo winking heard, for she would have died, rather than openly wiped her eyes.
Mr Bhaer saw the drops on her cheeks though she turned her head away. The sight seemed to touch him very much, for suddenly stooping down he asked in a tone that meant a great deal.
”Hearts dearest why do you cry?”
Liking someone is scary. These two have liked each others for quite a long time. When you first bring somebody into your life, it is scary because you have to admit to yourself that you are fully open. Taking a step forward, to tell you love them, it´s like standing on an edge of a cliff. Jo and Friedrich are both standing on that cliff and when Jo opens up Friedrich tells her that he has already fallen hard.
”Now if Jo had not been new to this sort of thing, she would have said, she wasn´t crying, had a cold in her head, told any other feminine fib proper to the occasion. Instead of that undignified creature answered with and irresistible sob,
”because you are going away”
”Ach mein gott, that is so good” said Mr Bhaer, then he clapped his hands despite of the umbrella and the bundles.
”Jo I have nothing but much love to giv you. I came to see if you could care for it, and I waited to be sure that I was something more than a friend. Am I? Can you make a little place in your heart for old Fritz? he added all in one breath.
”Oh yes!” said Jo, and he was quite satisfied, before she folded both hands over his and looked up at him with an expression that plainly showed how happy she would be to walk through life beside him even though she had no better shelter but an old umbrella, if he carried it.
Friedrich wants to go on to his knees, but they are on the middle of the street covered in mud. It makes it difficult so they express their love by looking at each others and they no longer care about the surroundings. Jo calls Friedrich by his first name for the first time. Which delights him. He says that his sister was the last person calling him Friedrich. Poor man, that was five years ago. Friedrich also calls Jo as Jo and not as Miss March. The conversation is now open and tender. Louisa´s love for Germany continues when Friedrich asks Jo to use the word ”thou” instead of English ”you”. For those of you who don´t speak German, there is ”Sie” which is how you adress another person formally. Then there is ”Du” which is informal and in the 19th century context a much intimate. In old English ”thou” was the more intimate version of ”you”.
Friedrich shows Jo the poem that brought him to her. Poem is called ”in the garret” and Jo wrote it after Beth´s death, while feeling very lonely. In most adaptations, Friedrich has come bringing Jo her new book. Poem shows that Friedrich has taken the time to follow Jo´s career. When Jo asks what kept him away for so long, we find out that he has been looking for a job so that he could provide a home for Jo. This highlights Friedrich´s self reliance which is a value that Jo appreciates. Chapter ends into the very famous ”not empty now” line.
”I am glad you are poor. I could not bare a rich husband”. Then added in a softer tone. ”Dont´t fear poverty I´v known it long enough to loose my thread and be happy working for those I love and don´t call yourself old. 40 is the prime of life. I couldn´t help loving you if you were 70!
Professor found that so touching that he would be glad of his handkerchief. As he couldn´t Jo wiped his eyes for him and said laughing, as she took away a bundle or two. I may be strong minded but no one can say I am out of my sphere now and bearing burdans. I am to carry my share Friedrich, and help to earn the home. Make up your mind on that, or I´ll never go”. She added resolutely as he tried to reclaim his load.
”Ach, thou give me such hope and courage, I have nothing to give back but a full heart and these empty hands”. Sighted the professor quite overcome.
Jo never would learn to be proper. For when he said that as they stood upon the steps, she put both of her hands into his whispering tenderly. ”Not empty now” and stooping down kissed ”her Friedrich” under the umbrella.
Here is another quote from Christine Doyle.
”While Meg and John are the down to earth couple. Amy and Laurie are the romantics the artists. Jo and Friedrich combine the two. One of Friedrich´s most compelling qualities, is that he combines the domestic and the romantic heroism”.
Most 19th century courtship restrained from crossing the line until marriage, but that did not nessecarily mean that all relationships lacked passion. Lystra mentions that middle to upper middle class couples often did not take physical consummation until marriage. However during unchaperoned courtship, they would. Primary sources tend to suggest that during the 19th century sex became linked to sentimental love, especially for women. While women were supposed to be pure by nature, Lystra asserts that Victorians saw the sexual, spiritual and the moral in the concept of true love.
Here is a quote from Little Women fan Kymberly East:
”In the professor, Jo found a candidate for a kind of marriage she had not considered possible. A union between two people where freedom and partnership intertwine. In such a relationship, she didn´t have to sacrifice anything. As a matter of fact, she was able to realize a dream, that she otherwise may not have been able to achieve and in later books, she finds success as an author as well as providing a home for boys. Her liberation is completed and no sacrifice has been required of her”
Thank you for watching. Check out the episode I and Emily did about Jo´s and Friedrich´s relationship. Stay well and make good choices.
All the sources are listed here.