My friend Melodie said that Louisa was not married because of choice. Sometimes life doesn´t go the way you want it to go. She is sad and bitter when she envies her sisters marriages and sees them being supported by their respective spouses.
Another friend of mine (hi Lorraine) said that when the men you adore, idolize and you fall for them, when you are young, that sets such a high standard, it´s difficult to find someone to replace it. Later in life she never stopped looking for the person who could fill those shoes.
In Little Women Jo says to Friedrich, you are my first love and that makes you the best.
oh I love this quote so much
“In Louisa May Alcott´s cosmopolitan circles the response to the global changes was not to privilege the near and familiar by excluding or demonizing the “other” but value “the other” and work towards connection. Louisa bypassed her own English-puritan inheritance entirely. Jo falls in love with a poor German philosopher, from an Anglo-American perspective such a choice has seemed bizarre but from a transnational perspective, it makes perfect sense” (Walls: Louisa May Alcott cosmopolitan family).
People judge Jo, the way she becomes more feminine in Little Women part 2. Jo is 15 in LW part 1 and LW part 2 covers years between 19-35+ it would be pretty strange if there would´t be any kind of personal or physical development.
Here´s the thing. LMA writes in the beginning of the Little Women part 2 that Jo had received “softer features”or the way I read it, her lady parts were developing. It´s described in the book how Laurie is flirting with her and slow key trying to suggest a physical contact or like my friend says “Laurie´s actions can not be approved, simply because he was horny”.
The younger Jo made fun of the way her sisters wanted to fit in the society of young girls, the older Jo feels isolation because she can not fully fit into the male society, sure she is more welcome there, but there is lots of misogyny. She is not fully welcome to the female unless she can´t leave behind her own misogynistic though processes.
Louisa May Alcott has quotes of person receiving a higher form of self understanding when they move on from one interesting person to another, or the way Alcott scholar Christine Doyle puts it “Laurie is the fascination of Jo´s childhood, but Friedrich is a man” “He speaks to the romantic side of her and her practicality”.
In order to find balance Jo needs to form her own society and that she can do together with Fritz by starting a school. No need to choose, whether to be more masculine of feminine, since he thought she was perfect the way she was and he brought out the best of her.
Hello and welcome back to our Little Women den.
Today´s comment shoutout goes to a-skirmish-of-wit-and-lit, who says:
I suppose you could argue that Laurie growing up wealthy is partly what contributed to him not valuing work. He never had to worry about not not having things or not being able to afford what he wanted. In that regard, his exposure to the Marches, and the March sisters in particular, was fortuitous because they helped to enlighten him.
Laurie's definitely not stupid. He's just more or less indifferent to academia. Not everyone is, and I like that Alcott sort of points that out with his character. Meanwhile, Jo lusts after learning. She feels like she can never know enough.
I have spoken about this before, but erasing Laurie´s growth as a character, erases everyone else´s growth as well, and if you do that, there is no story. Putting two female characters against one another is a very common Hollywood trope. Interestingly it is often brunette versus the blonde. Think about Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russel in Gentlemen prefer blondes, Elle Woods and Vivian Kensington in Legally Blonde.
Legally Blonde I must say is refreshing because it subverts that plot, but I think Warner Huntington III summed up the problem when saying that he wanted Jackie and not Marilyn.
People often praise Jo for being a tomboy and how she rejects femininity, but Jo´s idealization of the masculine has very toxic elements. Amy is a character who is more governed by her brain, where as Jo is in fact governed by her emotions, which is considered a feminine trait. In the novel Jo struggles to show her feelings because she considers that weak and "feminine". When father is wounded at the war she shouts her sisters not to cry. Couple years later Laurie says that she doesn't show emotions calls her out about it. Because Jo tries to shut down an important human part of herself, simply because she considers it feminine, is actually something that slowly eats her inside and contributes into her loneliness. This is why the umbrella chapter is so important because Friedrich says to Jo that it is okay to be vulnerable.
Amy does the opposite. She considers rational marriage with Fred Vaughn because it allows her to secure her family´s financial future. When Laurie reminds Amy that she is her mother´s daughter, and she simultaneously inspires Laurie to become a productive member of the society, Amy allows herself to listen to her heart and her own feelings and allowing herself to become more open and it is this inner work that the couples do in Little Women, that makes these relationships work.
Unfortunately the adaptations rarely pay any attention to this. There are people who have not read the novel, have only seen the films, and they don´t understand why the couples end up together. This is because the adaptations, never bother to show what actually happens between these people in the novel.
Another quote from There are people who have not read the novel, have only seen the films, and they don´t understand why the couples end up together. This is because the adaptations, never bother to show what actually happens between these people in the novel.
Maybe Louisa was more of a romantic than people sometimes give her credit for?
After reading about Louisa´s relationships between the real life Friedrich´s and Laurie´s I´d say she definitely was. Louisa was a transcendentalist and one of the methods that the transcendentalists used was so called self-scanning, which basically means trying to understand and analyze the feelings and the experiences that you are going through. Louisa practiced this throughout her life, and she put lots of consideration to the true meaning of love. When Louisa grew most marriages that she saw were unhappy marriages because they were arranged marriages.
Louisa herself answers this question about the equality within marriage rather beautifully and her own wishes from marriage seem to have remained the same throughout her life.
“You have given your idol a heart, but no head. … I would have her humble, though self-reliant, gentle, though strong; man’s companion, not his plaything; able and willing to face storms, as well as sun shines, and share life’s burdens, as they come. Let me advise you to take head as pilot, for you may find, as I have done, that the voyage of life is not quite a pleasant trip” “I would not be above you as I now am, nor yet below, like poor Amelia in the garden. But here where every woman should be, at her husband’s side, walking together through life’s light and shadow".
Here she is actually echoing both Amy and Jo, in the matters of the heart one should combine both head and the feelings. This episode is sponsored by Audible. I am currently reading the biography of Charles Follen. This is a book that Louisa May Alcott read at the age of 12. Get this, it is a story about Eliza who was an American female writer and Charles who was a German immigrant, a philosopher and an abolitionist. Here we have prototypes of Jo and Friedrich. It gets even better. Charles full name was Karl Theodore Christian Friedrich Follen.
His names were Theodore and Friedrich! that is more than just a coincidence. Charles was a good friend of Louisa´s uncle, Samuel May and Louisa actually met him few years before this book was published, and he seemed to have left quite a big impression on Louisa.
I have said this before, but Jo is not only based on Louisa, but also ladies she admired like Eliza Follen, who indeed married a kind hearted German immigrant. I will make an episode about Eliza and Charles in the future. You can get 30 day free trial to Audible and listen and read as many books as your heart desire, with the affiliate link you can find from the description. But now onto Amy.
This is Small Umbrella In The Rain Little Women Podcast: Amy and Jo, two sides of the same coin.
May Alcott Nieriker
Louisa loosely based Amy´s character to her younger sister May. Louisa was more boyish and May was more feminine and like Amy she slept with a cloths peg in her nose when she was 12. Unlike Amy who in the book comes to the conclusion that she does not have the genius May embodied genius. She was a professional artist and her paintings were exhibited in Paris Salon and she even wrote and published a book for young female art students called "Studying art abroad and how to do it cheaply".
When Louisa and May were young there was a great deal of rivalry between them. Both were very impulsive and temperamental and both loved attention. Louisa often called May as the baby of the family, and since she was the youngest and often got her way, which annoyed young Louisa.
Amy in the novel is shorter than Jo. She has a button nose and heart shaped face. May and Louisa looked more similar. They were tall and handsome women, with the exception that May was blonde and a lot more feminine. Louisa´s father Louisa had dark brown hair, gray eyes. She spent a lot of time outside. She was often quite tanned, which was not considered very attractive in the 19th century and she had a high temper. Knowing this, it is easy to understand why she would envy May.
Bronson Alcott, he believed to the idea of an ideal man and that this ideal person would have blonder hair, blue eyes and angelic nature. Bronson was also an abolitionist. He was an active member in the underground railway and the Alcott hid black slaves in their home and he lost his teaching position because he took a black child to his school (which also happens in Little Women). Now you´ll ask, isn't that contradicting? and it absolutely is. The transcendentalists, they had varying opinions on slavery. For example Emerson was often vague with his stance on the topic where as Henry Thoreau was a very active in the abolitionist movement, which you can also see in Little Women when Jo and Friedrich take black children to their school, and Friedrich is largely based on Henry.
Same way as Jo and Amy in the books Louisa and May did became closer when they matured and learned to control their tempers. They even made trips to Europe together.
here is a great deal of Louisa herself in Amy´s character. There were times when Louisa did consider marrying for money instead of love until her mother persuaded her otherwise. In Little Women it is actually Amy who says that "I have learned to sail my own ship and I am not afraid of storms". The trip that Amy takes with aunt March in Europe, is actually based on Louisa´s own experiences in Europe. It is very sad and ironic that there are people who say that Amy stole Jo´s trip, when that trip was actually based on Louisa´s trip.
Jo is not written to look pretty
Louisa had lots of insecurities about her looks and she often compared herself to her sisters, May especially. When Little Women became very popular and fans started to visit Louisa´s home, they were often disappointed when they saw her, because for some reason they always imagined Jo March to be very pretty and young.
Imagine your fans coming to meet you and be disappointed when they see you. Louisa was very tall. She was taller than most men. According to her niece Lulu, Louisa always had sort of masculine air around her. She was not very graceful and that she had a very low voice, like a man. In the end of her life Louisa was very ill, due to mercury poisoning, so it is very likely that the illness also affected to her appearance.
Amy in the novel is written to be someone who is a very visual person. She likes to make things pretty around her. Jo is written to be the opposite. Someone who doesn't care that much about looks or appearance.
Laurie in the book is written to be pretty, but the way he treats Jo is far from pretty. Friedrich is written to be unconventionally attractive, but he treats Jo well. He loves her. Henry, in fact he occasionally criticized very femininity that was fueled by consumerism. Women who spent a lot of time and money to their appearance. It is easy to see why Louisa had deep feelings for him. In Little Women Jo is horrified with the ideas that she should go to a ball or go for social calls because they require her being more feminine. Friedrich is written to be unconventionally attractive because Jo is unconventionally attractive. Being beautified by love is a big part of their romance.
Same way Laurie is written to be conventionally attractive, because that way he appeals to Amy´s sense of beauty.
What often happens in Little Women films is that the filmmakers gush how pretty Laurie is and then they explain Jo rejecting Laurie by saying that Jo must be gay or ace, because it is so difficult for them to understand that Louisa May Alcott or Jo in the novel was not somebody who cared that much about conventionally good looking guys. The entire promotion of 2019 film was based on that. Laurie´s creepy behavior towards Jo is constantly being erased in the adaptations and his storyline with Amy.
In the books the events that lead into burning Jo´s manuscript begin much before any theater tickets. I will read you an article from the blog contagiousgrace. I will put a link to the sources if you want to leave her a comment.
I just saw where someone said that Amy deserved to die in the ice because burning Jo’s manuscript was basically the same as killing Jo.
And I call bull.
First off, the moment we start prizing the created thing over creation (ie. People) whether that’s in our literature or in real life, then I believe we’ve missed the point of art. So jot that down.
Second, Bronson Alcott, Louisa’s father, had this belief that people could be perfected. That you were born a blank slate and with careful correction and guidance, you could stay that way. His first daughter supported that theory. She was compliant and thoughtful and quiet and sweet. Theory proven.
Or so he thought. When Louisa came along, she was wild and rebellious and utterly imperfect from the start, shattering his theory. He adjusted. He came to believe that if you just work hard enough and diligently enough, you can perfect yourself. This was the kind of moral philosophy Louisa grew up with. Personally, I see it as insufficient and utterly imperfect. BUT it has some merits/truths wrapped up in it, the primary one being that 1) people can change for the better.
The start of Little Women–the book–includes Marmee gifting each of her daughters with a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegorical tale about all the obstacles and temptations and struggles that a man passes through in life in the pursuit of God. And Marmee challenges her girls to pick up their burdens and embark on their own journeys. Each of them have different sins and struggles that are their burdens.
For Jo, that is her pride and temper. For Amy, it’s her pride and envy.
In this one situation, Amy burning the manuscript and Jo letting Amy fall through the ice–both of their greatest sins are on full display and both see the very real potential consequences of their sin. Amy doesn’t lose her sister’s love because she falls through the ice and Jo gets a chance to realize that her anger and unwillingness to forgive could have cost, not just her relationship with her sister, but her sister, altogether. They literally and figuratively survive it all. They get grace. And in that grace, they grow.
Consequences of bad choices have to be experienced/seen in some way to generate growth. This is true both in life and in storytelling.
And in this way, Alcott illustrates the two ideas at the core of her thesis: People can grow and be better but they can only become the best versions of themselves. The ideal woman is not just a quiet woman who stays home and cares for her children and sews her family’s clothes. Nor is the ideal woman a writer who supports her family through her talent. Nor is she a great artist. She can be all of those things or none of those things–she must simply be good while being herself. To divorce yourself from yourself is to divorce yourself from who you were made to be. Meg’s personality and dreams are Meg’s personality and dreams for a reason. Jo trying to live Meg’s life wouldn’t have made her a better person. And so on and so on with each sister–just as little Louisa could not be little Anna. All four women grow to become the people they were meant to be, and while doing that they also become better morally.
Jo stubbornness and anger and pride transforms her into a determined, loving, and sacrificial woman who has honed her talents for the good of others as much as, if not more than, herself.
Amy’s envy and pride and obsession with appearance transform into humility and integrity and loving the people around her in a way that makes them more beautiful versions of themselves. This is long-winded and probably making less and less sense so I will end with point #3
3) Don’t come for Amy. She’s my girl.
In the Little Women group that I am part of. There was discussion on the portrayal of this scene in the 2019 film. I will read that to you as well.
Rewatching Little Women . . . and I’m annoyed at Jo March.
Was Amy burning her journal/book/etc a shitty thing to do? Yes, it was, and as a writer myself, I’m not excusing it. If someone destroyed all my writing, I’d be very mad, too. Would I physically attack them over it, though? No. I would not.
Jo is also annoying me in that when they neglect to inform Amy that Beth is sick, Jo says, “Amy has always had a talent for getting out of the hard things in life.” Sorry, what?
- Amy gets attacked by you
- Amy gets hit by her teacher
- Amy has to be without her father
- Amy gets sent away from her family when Beth is first sick
- Amy nearly drowns
- Amy deals with her family neglecting to inform her that her sister is sick
How is that Amy getting out of the hard things in life? Plus, how is it Amy’s fault for not being told that her sister is sick?
Not to mention Amy also had to miss her SISTER’s funeral because no one had informed/prepared her beforehand that Beth was sick. Also, Jo SAW Amy coming to ice skate with her and Laurie and neglected to warn her about the very thing that led her to nearly drown. We saw Laurie warn Jo.
Here is the answer.
In regards to Jo attacking Amy, Jo was notorious for having a terrible temper and the event on the ice rink is what made Jo realize her mistake in overreacting and not controlling herself. The fact that her sister nearly died because of her made Jo want to become a better person and learn how to better communicate with people. This is probably why it felt like Jo was such a terrible person throughout the movie, because the lesson didn’t stick.
The way Jo treated Amy after the ice skating incident was one of my biggest complaints with the movie. No where in the book did Jo continue to harbor harsh feelings towards Amy or ever felt that Amy got out of things. If anything, Jo was more disappointed in herself for not being what Aunt March wanted in a companion, was happy for Amy and Laurie being married because she knew they were perfect for each other. It constantly felt as though Gerwig was pitting Jo and Amy against each other for no other reason than to make you want to like Jo more, but the characterization of Jo in the movie is just God awful.
I am not sure what Gerwig was trying to achieve with adding unnecessary conflict between these two instead of showing their character growth within themselves and in their relationship with each other.
I have heard people saying that Louisa somehow made a 180 degree with Amy´s character when she started to write the Little Women part 2. I disagree with this because in the first part of novel Jo´s flaws are very much out there and her temper is very much out there. In part 2 when sisters actually start to get more close with one-another, that is a natural part of life, and also something that happened in reality. Louisa and May did grew more closer as they mature and they started to understand each other better.
Amy´s behavior as a child was childish because she was a child. Jo´s behavior is also childish because she is constantly making fun of Amy because she is so girly and Amy makes fun of Jo because she is so boyish. Only adaptation which shows arguments from both sides (and not just Amy making fun of Jo) is the modern Little Women adaptation from 2018. All Jo´s moral lesson have to do with her temper but also the fact that Jo can be very judgmental. All Amy´s lessons are about her vanity and popularity. In the beginning Amy´s desire to become a lady is away for her to get out of poverty but as she grows it becomes a tool for self-improvement and thanks to that Amy begins to control her temper beautifully. In an interview Gillian Armstrong who directed the 1994 film said that there should always be two actresses to play Amy. There are over 20 adaptations of Little Women and only two versions where child Amy has been played by a child actress. In most Little Women adaptations 12 year old Amy has been played by an adult woman.
For some time now there has been a theory going on that Amy did have a crush on Laurie already as a child. I tried to read the book this way and I think it does work. It is an interpretation but it does give a deeper context to why did Amy burn Jo´s manuscript because a 12 year old does not necessary know how to handle their feelings in a mature way (especially if they have a crush to their big sister´s best friend). The 1994 film does have a sweet scene with young Amy and Laurie in the carriage together (and a promise of a kiss). I have heard some people complaining that Amy´s and Laurie´s relationship is creepy in the 1994 film. Maybe this comes from the people who remember him transitioning to from a teen to an adult in the film, but Christian Bale was 19 when he played Laurie. 2019 film on the other hand has been criticized that Timothee Chalamet does not go through the transition so he never looks as an adult in the movie, and if I remember right he was 24 during filming. 2018 and 2019 films go with this idea that Amy already had a crush on Laurie as a child. Kristen Dunst has later revealed that when she played Amy in the 1994 film, she had a big crush on Christian Bale. Art imitates life.
Amy has been given a stamp of a social climber but she ain´t one.
Amy grows up in an environment where there isn´t a great deal of options for women. She believes that marrying well she could uplift her family away from poverty even if it would mean that she herself would not be the happiest person. Jo in the first book is a walking contradiction. She wants to be equal to men which is what gender equality and feminism is all about. She is also constantly making fun of her feminine sisters which is inherently anti-feminist. She makes fun of Meg because she wants to fit into the circles of Sally Moffat and other young ladies. She constantly mocks Amy when she uses fancy words and her desire to become a lady.
Girl on Girl Hate
Great deal of hatred that Amy receives has been caused by the fact that Amy likes to be a girl. It is hate towards the feminine. Her movie and tv portrayals are rarely flattering. In the 1933 film and in the 1949 films Amy is first introduces standing in the middle of the class room holding a sign, which says "I should be ashamed of myself".
In the book Amy is introduced together with her sisters before Christmas when father is at the war. Introduction is sweet and does not make a mockery of her or anyone else.
Jo and Amy are perfect mirrors of each others. Many ideas about the masculine that Jo used to cherish and admire were quite harmful. Amy´s early ideas about the feminine were not very realistic either. She connected femininity to very shallow things like being popular and the shape of her nose. Amy´s desire to become a lady was never fully supported in her immediate family and Jo especially was making fun of it. When Beth became ill and Amy went to live with aunt March aunt gave her the structure to become what she wanted. When Amy starts to approach becoming a lady in the terms of self-improvement largely thanks to Esther and aunt March in the process she learns to control her temper and becomes a kinder person.
Because Amy´s femininity has been so heavily demonized we never see her growth process in any adaptations. In the chapter Calls Amy and Jo go for a series of social calls which were part of woman´s role of the time. Jo despises these calls like she despises most of the female labor of the time. Jo tries to avoid speaking with the ladies and more than once she runs out to play with the boys. Amy loves Jo but she is hurt because Jo is making fun of something that is important for her. Jo doesn´t take any of the meetings seriously and her own insecurities also bring out her temper. When they go to visit aunt March and aunt Carol Jo dismisses them and puts herself above them. At the same time aunt Carol is wondering which girl gets to go to Europe and Amy makes a better impression. Calls has never been adapted into movies. Probably because it shows Jo in a bad light. Yet it would be important to adapt it because it does not only show how much Amy has matured but also how the conversations between Jo and Amy are more respectful even if they would disagree.
The 1994 film does not have any scenes from the calls and the viewer doesn´t get any explanation why Jo was not chosen. 1994 film also frames it to happen right after Jo has rejected Laurie which in the book happens much later on. Jo is very mad and jealous to Amy when she hears that she has not been chosen. She is way more mad at herself but she doesn´t want to admit it. This also parallels Jo´s and Laurie´s tempers because neither one of them liked to admit if their own actions hurt other people and rather put the blame on someone else.
In the 2019 film, we once again do not see Jo putting herself above the aunts and losing the trip to Europe. Instead we only see Meryl Streep telling Jo that she is not coming. Film also tries to pin point Jo´s and aunt March´s similarities by portraying aunt March as a happy spinster who only cares about money, when in the novel aunt March is a widow, and sad and unhappy because she had lost her child and her husband who she dearly loved.
In the book Amy feels terrible for getting something that Jo so badly wanted and Jo did not want to show her her own disappointment but to be supportive which is a proof of sisterly love. Amy matured a great deal when she was in Europe. She became more graceful and more serious. Amy also loved aunt March more than anyone else in the family and truly enjoyed the company of her aunt.
There are a lot of things I could say about Jo loosing her trip to Europe and people blaming that on Amy. Once again, that entire narrative is entirely constructed by the film makers, and I think I will make a separate episode where I discuss about it.
Amy´s portrayal was better in Greta Gerwig´s film but even that one has received lots of criticism for portraying young Amy as an immature brat, because an adult woman should not play a 12-year old. In an earlier script of Greta Gerwig´s film after Jo found out about Amy´s and Laurie´s engagement she wanted to punch Amy. This diverges too much from the novel. Even when the writers say they want to do a good with laurie and amy they cant seem to escape their Jo and Laurie obsession.
Book Jo never likes Laurie romantically. This triangle is repeated in all adaptations because we don´t see Laurie´s character arc, we fail to understand why Jo rejects him. In 2017 series Jo became really cross when she found out about Amy´s and Laurie´s engagement. The 2018 film is probably the only one that shows that Laurie is clearly more of a brother to Jo, and yet there is a scene where Jo says to Beth that Amy stole Laurie from her. None of this is in the novel. The whole reason why Jo traveled to New York, was because Laurie was harassing her and she was actually scared to spend time alone with him.
In the novel, even before Jo finds out that Amy and Laurie are engaged she says to Marmee that she thinks Amy and Laurie would be a good couple. Why this has not never been adapted?
Louisa partially based Laurie´s character to her Polish friend Ladislas Wisniewski. They met in Switzerland in 1865 when Louisa was working there and Ladislas was quite flirtatious with Louisa. A year later May Alcott lived in Paris at the same time with Ladislas "Laddie". This has made many Alcott scholars believe that there was some sort of rivalry between the sisters about this young man, but the letters between Louisa and May show that they both became quite tired with him. The call him "boring" and say that he does not take his life or work very seriously.
Julian Hawthorne was the next door neighbour of the Alcotts. It seems that he had a crush on May, but May was 6 years older than Julian. After the publication of Little Women, Julian apparently spread a rumor that he had been the model for Laurie. However this is not somehting that Louisa ever confirmed. Julian was not very interested in school or work and he came from a rather comfortable family setting and May had tried to encourage him to study and make his family proud.
Alf Whitman, was one of the real life Laurie´s and friend of the Alcott sisters. Alf was 5 years younger than Louisa but only 2 years younger than May. Alf and May were very close and when May moved to Europe they continued writing letters to one another, but when Alf was younger and the sisters connected with him through their theater hobby, young Alf was drifting and quite lost with his future plans and both May and Louisa tried to encourage him to study and to be more productive.
In the novel, Laurie is not a price that the two sisters are fighting over. In the novel both Jo and Amy are frustrated that he is wasting his life away. He only goes to school to please his grandfather and he does not want to work. There is literally a chapter in the novel called "Lazy Lawrence". Both Amy and Jo are working class girls and Laurie is rich and in the novel there are scenes where he says that he does not understand why Jo wants to write and why it is so important for her to make her own money.
No matter how hard Jo tries, she can´t get through Laurie, probably because Jo´s relationship to Laurie was very maternal. Jo wanted to go to university, and Laurie took his education for granted. All the models for Friedrich were one way or another connected to education. Louisa herself was an advocate for female education and in her journals from the time when Louisa was in her 20s she wrote about her future wishes of starting a school, possibly running that together with Henry.
Then we have all these real life Laurie´s who I believe were smart young men but for some reason were not interested working or studying. Some of them, like Alf, did decide to be a useful member of the society and made the sisters proud. In the novel Laurie is not stupid. It is mentioned in the novel that he graduates with honors in Latin, and Amy is especially proud of him, but Laurie is lazy.
"Do you think Jo would despise me as you do?"
"Yes, if she saw you now. She hates lazy people. Why don´t you do something splendid, and make her love you+"
"I did my best, but it was no use."
"Graduating well you mean? That was no more than you ought to have done, for your grandfather´s sake. It would have been shameful to fail after spending so much time and money, when everyone knew you could do well".
This scene reveals that Laurie did not go to university for the sake of studying. Book also describes how in the uni Laurie is a party-boy, he flirts and gets into troubles.
In Little Women even though Amy is four years younger than Laurie, she is a lot more mature than he is and it is only thanks to Amy Laurie puts his act together.
The 2019 film includes Laurie saying Amy that she should not marry Fred for the sake of money, but the film does not show Laurie doing any work for Amy. Laurie doesn´t have any kind of growth process. In one of her interviews Greta Gerwig said that Laurie wants Jo to step into the adult world. Laurie in the book is the one who does not want to grow and the only reason he wants to marry Jo is that he wouldn´t need to take any responsibility on his life.
This is what Laurie says in the book, after he has fully internalized everything that Amy has said to him.
"She is right! Talent isn't genius, and you can't make it so. That music has taken the vanity out of my as Rome took it out of her, and I won't be a humbug any longer. Now what shall I do?"
Jo´s Masculine Trajectory
Some readers have struggled reading the part 2 because it portrays Jo in slightly less favorable light than in part 1. Jo has a heavy masculine trajectory. in part 1 she and Laurie are brothers. Jo wishes that she could be soldier and fight in the war like her father. If a readers reads too much to Jo, they see Amy as an annoying little sisters, because that is how Jo sees her.
In part 2 it is now Jo who struggles to fit into the surrounding society. Amy who has more feminine trajectory is better accepted to the Concord´s society. When Jo was still living at home it was okay for her to behave like a boy and family didn´t see too much harm in it but when she grows this old model of masculinity does not suit her and neither she wants to conform to the traditional female role. When Laurie proposed to Jo, he expected her to give up writing and became a socialite, and be something that Jo wasn´t. This is why Friedrich´s character is important because he does not ask or want Jo to conform. Because Jo looks very different and more masculine than other women, she felt she could not find anyone to love. If I quote my podcaster pal Emily, Little Women as a book was also written to offer hope to those who feel that they are never going to find love.
Amy sees the value of the feminine work, good societal status and all the wonderful things that prosper when you know how to make the best of it.
Jo´s feminist awakening
Loosing the trip to Europe became the first step in the terms of Jo´s feminist awakening. Jo realizes that her temper is out of control and the ideas of masculinity that she has been admiring are not working. In the first part of the novel Jo had difficulties to identify with Meg´s pain when Laurie forged letters in the name of his tutor. In the beginning of the second book when Jo becomes the target of Laurie´s unwanted attention it is now that she begins to understand what it feels like when someone does not respect your boundaries. This is repeated in the fourth book Jo´s boys where Jo is in her 50´s and on a full feminist mode. She scolds some of the young male students who treat girls like objects. In Jo´s boys the characters of Nan and Tommy Bangs also echo Jo and Laurie. Nan studies to become a doctor and Tommy is also studying medicine but he isn´t that interest from it. He has anterior motifs. Jo is really annoyed by Tommy´s behavior. So when Tommy unexpectedly falls in love with someone completely different Jo is very pleased and Nan is also relieved.
From Amy Jo learns to value the feminine labor and not underestimate women.
Taking care of Beth brings out her nurturing side and it also makes her to examine her own life in a new light and loosing Beth beautifies the domestic tasks.
From Meg Jo learns that equally respectful relationship can be worth of pursuing.
Jo struggles to fit into the traditional feminine role. Friedrich does not fit into the traditional masculine role. But he doesn´t struggle with it. He is comfortable of being who he is. His intellectualism and philosophical background compliments Jo´s feminist views.
Amy The Feminist
Amy´s desire to improve herself already exist in the first novel. When she doesn´t want to wear the ring aunt March has given to her and when Marmee asks why Amy says it is going to be a reminder for her not to be too selfish.
What is also interesting is that in the first part of Little Women Laurie puts himself above Meg and Jo but he does not put himself above Amy. For example when Amy is writing her will Laurie does not dismiss or scoff her but instead is very supportive and sweet to her.
The problem with Hollywood turning Laurie into the perfect boy next door is that in the minds of many that turns him into an award for sisters to fight over when that is not part of the books narrative. Amy is also a feminist but it is not straight-to-your face feminism to which Jo´s feminism eventually develops. For example Amy plans to open a charity that would help women to break into the male dominated art market. Both Amy and Jo were raised in the same politically aware home and both were encouraged to think outside the box.
Thank you so much for
Take care and make good choices.
If I was a Jo and Laurie fan, I would not speak to myself. Also discussing how incredibly lonely Louisa was and how she envied her sisters' marital happiness, and how she believed that in the next life she would reunite with her loved one and would get the things that were not granted to her in the present (marriage, family).
Hi Niina. I love listening to your podcast. I know this is not a topic you speak very often but I am curious to know what are your thoughts on Jo and Laurie fans and do you think the large number of them is more of a result of a bad interpretation of the novel or the overly romanticised film versions or both?
An excellent question. To my experience lot of Jo and Laurie fans they have very strong denial mentality. I can give you an example. Once I was having a discussion with someone. I said that I really didn´t like the way Laurie was minimizing Jo´s writing in the novel and this person said that they can´t remember any scenes from the book where Laurie would dislike Jo´s writing. So I took screen shots of the scenes in the book where Laurie is minimizing and making fun of Jo´s writings and this person blocked me. To me it is difficult to have discussions with Jo and Laurie shippers because when you point out things in the novel they close their eyes and ears and are like "I don´t want to hear that I don´t want to see that". If you listen to my channel, then you know that I love to discuss about the novel. To my experience they don´t read the part 2. They romanticise part 1 and they skip over the scenes where Laurie and Jo as well are shown in more critical ligth, like in the chapter where Laurie is imposing as John and is catfishing Meg and those things are never in the films.
So to answer your question, I think there are lots of Jo and Laurie fans who are very aware of the more problematic aspects of Jo´s and Laurie´s relationship in the novel but because the films romanticise the so much it is very difficult to some to let go of that and this is why I think the film makers make a HUGE disservice to the book and to the public because year after year after year they keep erasing these toxic elements of their relationship, so the viewer never finds out the real reason why Jo dumps him.
Here is a quote from a discussion I had with Cara who is a fellow Little Women fan.
"There are so many men like Laurie in romantic movies. Guys that are constantly bullshitting or hurting someone end up with the girl and we are rooting for them because they are Oh So pretty. Take Ryan Gosling in the Notebook. He threatens his love interest with killing himself by jumping off the ferris wheel if she doesn´t go on a date with him. Incredible Werther moment. We see it as a grand gesture and a sign of love because that guy is played by Ryan Gosling. If the role would be played by an unattractive actor we would view his actions much differently".
"I always ask myself if the screen writers and actors did read the book or only saw the adaptations because if so they wouldn´t be that biased I think or they really think love interest in Jo´s age would be more contemporary or rather that they like this young blooming love growing into something bigger -trope but are they really people attracted to stupidity? I mean I know a lot of people that don´t care how well-read or intellectual their significant other is but it´s usually people that aren´t well read either and focus on different things".
Laurie, he can be productive and smart when he wants to but he also says that he went to college to please his grandfather and Jo, but he is not interested from academics, the same way as Jo and Friedrich are and he is not interested to work. I don´t really care to discuss with Jo and Laurie fans these days anymore because it´s waste of my time. The last discussion that I had with a Jo and Laurie fan was really disturbing. They said that Louisa May Alcott didn´t know what she was doing and that Greta Gerwig´s version is the only real version because Jo almost accepted Laurie´s proposal. I´m not kidding with you. When I said that Laurie doesn´t really have anything in common with Jo. He likes men´s fashion and music, but he doesn´t take his music career very seriously. I did not hear from this person again. In my evolution of Laurie essay I quoted a lady who had written an article called "Laurie is a nice guy" where they wrote how they used to love Jo and Laurie together but when they got older it began to bother them how he was harrasing her and tried to manipulate Jo to be with him. In the 19th century there was many Jo and Laurie fans because no one was questioning his behavior. Except Louisa May Alcott herself in the novel. I think Jo and Laurie fans are mostly doctorined by the films. If the films would include all the messed up things that Laurie does in the novel and how bad influence Jo and Laurie have on each other no one in their right mind would think they are a good couple.
Jo and Laurie fans they love to complain about Amy burning Jo´s book. In the novel Jo is bullying Amy for months. She was on a 24/7 crusade humiliating her. That´s not in the films. Jo and Laurie fans they love to complain how Amy "stole" Jo´s trip to Europe. Jo says to the aunts that she doesn´t like French and that she is better than them and the aunts are going to France. That is never in the films and isn´t it interesting that Louisa May Alcott herself did the same trip to Europe that Amy did? The way I read that chapter it is meant as a lesson to Jo to not put herself above other women.
The favorite thing that Jo and Laurie fans like to complain is that Friedrich stop´s Jo from writing. This is a narrative that is entirely made up by the Laurie fans. In the book Jo has a mental breakdown when she has to write sensational stories which contradicted with her own desires and that is never in the films. So when Friedrich reminds her that if you want to be a successful and an authentic writer you need to write things that you can stand behind and you can be proud of and this happened with Louisa. She really struggled with sensationalism and she felt lots of pressure when the publisher asked her to write stories that she herself was not comfortable with and there is a quote in Louisa´s journals where she mentions that her friend Emerson has given her courage to find her own voice as a writer. You can find this from the first Louisa May Alcott biography which has quotes from her diaries and it´s never in the movies and the film makers just skip over that and then you get people like Greta Gerwig and Heidi Thomas saying that Friedrich doesn´t allow Jo to write. Why haven´t these people actually read the novel?
Some of you may know that a book called "Jo and Laurie" appeared in 2020 and because of my basic principles I decided not to read it. Someone who I did a collaboration to the podcast had read it and they said that in the novel Louisa decides to match up Jo and Laurie but she is not very happy with that so even the person who wrote this book, and I assume that they are a Jo and Laurie shipper, isn´t certain about them and that if Louisa thought it was a good idea. Part of me thinks that is hilarious but then I am also annoyed that they are misrepresenting Louisa May Alcott who was an actual person (I´m looking at you Greta Gerwig). The only way that Jo and Laurie would have ended up together was if Louisa would have ended up with Ladislas Wisniewski. He wanted Louisa to be his nanny and called Louisa his "little mama" and according to some Alcott scholars he was a conman blackmailing Louisa. I think we can all agree that that relationship would have been a bad idea. If you want to hear more about theories surrounding Ladislas check out my video essay "love and sex in little women".
All this applies to Jo should have been a spinster/asexual/ i ship Jo to a flower pot/ I think she wants to be a child who doesn´t grow up blah blah blah none of those narratives goes along with the events in the novel or Louisa´s personal life. The transcendentalists they had very unique ways to see the world. They were abolitionists and they believed into co-education. People like Henry Thoreau and other philosophers who Louisa knew personally and that she inserted into Friedrich´s character. Without them she would not have become the person who she became so you can´t erase Jo´s and Friedrich´s relationship from Little Women because then you don´t have story of this curious intellectual person growing to be Louisa May Alcott.
There is a book called "life of Charles Follen" which was written by Eliza Follen. Charles was a German immigrant and an abolitionist and he was a hero for the transcendentalists. Louisa had met Charles as a child and she liked him a lot. After Charles passed away Eliza wrote a book about him and their relationship. Louisa May Alcott read this book when she was 12. So both Charles and Eliza ended up becoming models for Jo and Friedrich and my favorite quote in Little Women is the part where Jo wonders why everyone likes Friedrich and she says "he was attractive as a genial fire. People gathered around him like a warm hearth" and I found out that Louisa actually copied this sentence from Eliza Follen. So my favorite scene in Little Women, is written by Eliza Follen. There was something about that relationship that deeply moved Louisa. I am going to make an entire podcast episode about Charles and Eliza in the future.
When Louisa was in her 20s she had dreams about marriage and starting a family. This is what I´v been doing. I´ve been tracing these books that Louisa read that worked as basis for Jo´s and Friedrich´s relationship. Henry Thoreau who Louisa loved all her life passed away when she was 28 and Henry was a model for Friedrich and all the romantic heroes in her stories and John Suhre, German soldier who Louisa fancied and nursed in the war. He passed away when she was working in the hospithal and it is sad that people like Greta Gerwig try to justify Jo remaining as a spinster or to be in love with Laurie, just because Louisa May Alcott never married. Louisa was incredibly lonely. Lot´s of people like to sugarcoat that. Susan Bailey once wrote that maybe writing romantic endings for her heroines was Louisa´s way to cope with her loneliness or re-live romantic memories. Louisa did consider marriage with Laddie Wisniewksi but like we´ve discussed in this podcast many times, he was very flicky and not very trustworthy, and Louisa writes in one of her articles that marriage without love is self-deceiving and if you marry someone just because you are lonely, you are hurting yourself even more and this is exactly what happens in Little Women. Jo says that the only reason she could marry Laurie is because she was lonely.
It´s actually really heartbreaking to read some of Louisa´s letters because she was incredibly lonely. Louisa believed to recarnation and to the immortality of the soul and that she would re-unite with her loved on in the next life. Louisa writes how she sees that her sisters are very happy and she is happy for them but she is sad because she is lonely and she believes that she has had so many struggles in this life she believes that she deserves just as much love and romance as they do and that she will get them in the next life.
"I believe that we meet somewhere again, thou where or how I don´t know or care, for genuine love is immortal"
"I think immortality is the passiong of a soul through many lives or experiences; and such as are truly lived, used and learned, help on to the next, each growing richer, happier and higher, carrying with it only the real memories of what has gone before.... I seem to remember former states and feel that in them I have learned some ofthe lessons that have never since beenmine here and in my next step I hope to leave behind many of the trials I have struggled to bear here and begin to find lightened as I go on. This accounts for for the genius and great virtue some show here. They have done well in many phases of this great school and bring into our class teh virtue of the gifts that make them great or good. We don´t remember the lesser things. They slip away as childish trifles and we carry on only the real experiences"
This is so interesting to me. Louisa believes that she learns and grows from her mistakes and in the second life she gets the things that weren´t given her in the present. Things like marriage and family of her own, and maybe even the school that she dreamt of.
This idea that reading Good Wives or Little Women Part 2 as a sad story of yerning for childhood, it is not supported by the text or the author´s intention at all, because Little Women is about growing up as a person, but what lot of people don´t know that is that Louisa became very ill after her cervice at the Civil War. She had typhoid fever but it was actually the mercury poisoning that slowly killed her. Especially during the end of her life Louisa´s condition was extremely painful and I think it is also good to remind that during this time, in the end of the 19th century most people married for money instead of love and Louisa was part of the movement that was encouraging people to marry for love instead of money.
For those of you who have asked me about Louisa´s relationship with Henry Thoreau. I agree with Christine Doyle, Alcott scholar who said that Henry merited Louisa´s life long affection. He was the love of her life. Now, I don´t know if he loved her back. I think he loved her as a friend and maybe there was something romantic that happened between them but there are too many similarities between Little Women and things that happened between Louisa and Henry, the way Louisa has written about them into her diaries. She wrote that she used to "steal" Henry from her father to have philosophical discussions with him and this happens in Little Women, when Jo tries to steal Friedrich from her father. Henry also has a habbit to carry an umbrella and Henry also used the word "thou" when he was being very cute or romantic. Look up Henry Thoreau´s love poems. Friedrich uses "thou" on Jo, "thou" is his pet name for her and Henry is the romantic lead in Louisa´s novels. What it comes to her love for him, she is very transparent. Henry is not the only model for Friedrich, but he sort of accidentally became part of my research when I found out how big effect this relationship that they had had on Louisa´s literal works. Hashtag #TeamHenry.
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
Thank you for listening. Like comment and share and subscribe to Small umbrella in the rain to learn more about the history of Little Women.
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.