"This is less a question than an observation a huge part of what is disappointing about lot of these adaptations including the Greta Gerwig one, is that it´s 2020 now and folks don´t want to talk about the fact that a huge part of the Bhaer-hate stems from fat-phobia and honestly, that brilliant, goofy, nerdy people don´t make romantic leads and I´m pretty sure Louisa May Alcott would agree. I always imagined someone maybe with Sean Astin´s build playing the part".
This next thing I am going to say is legitimate. You can find Louisa May Alcott novels so you can check this out. In every single Louisa May Alcott novel, where the Louisa type of protagonist falls in love or marries, the romantic partners, they always look the same. They all have the same body type. They are all tall and heavily build. One of Friedrich´s models was the German poet Goethe and if you look at pictures of Goethe, he is this middle-aged man with broad-shoulders and very tall and you know, heavily build and all Louisa May Alcott´s romantic heroes look like that. Some of the have beards, some of the don´t and surprisingly many of them speak with German accents. John Suhre who was a German soldier who Louisa nursed in the war. He was tall and a bit stout, with a brown beard. Louisa wrote into her diary that she found him very handsome and attractive. Adam in Moods and David in Work, the female protagonist is always fixated to their looks and their "manliness" and when Friedrich becomes Jo´s sexual awakening she pays attention to his big hands and to his big feet and she is really lusty over him.
In Jo´s boys when Dan comes back to Plumfield, he has grown a beard. For those of you who have not read Jo´s boys, Dan was one of Jo´s and Friedrich´s students. When he comes back he asks Jo if he should shave the beard or not and Jo is like "don´t do that. It makes you look so manly and handsome" and it is so funny because both Friedrich and Dan are based on Henry Thoreau. Mac in Rose in Bloom, he also has the same body type. He is blonde and he is younger. In Eight Cousins where he is a pre-teen he is described to be a bit "chubby", but then in Rose in Bloom, Mac has a huge growth spurt and suddenly he is taller and he has broad shoulders and Rose, surprise, begins to see him more attractive.
All these men are described to have blue eyes, which is an interesting detail since Henry Thoreau had blue eyes. In away Louisa, she was attracted to the alpha-male. Her ideal man always looks very masculine but they are all very gentle by nature. To Louisa man being heavily build meant that they were big and strong, and they can take care of themselves and other people. People like Greta Gerwig complaining about body type. It is very shallow. People can hire conventionally good looking actors to play Fritz like Rossano Brazzi and Louis Garrel, but it never erases the problem that Jo is never attracted to Laurie, and Laurie´s looks, and the way his and Jo´s relationship has these toxic elements, it´s always missing and all that explains why Jo dumps him in the first place.
Alpha-male for Louisa was also someone who could support their writing, which is what Friedrich does. He encourages her to find her own writing style. There is also some criticism over skinny-looking guys in Little Women. Nat and Laurie are skinny and pretty, more effeminate and the narrator has occasionally criticisms about their "overly-emotional nature", like Laurie. Laurie is often overly-dramatic and Nat is more of a daydreamer, they both are very sensitive. Which raises an interesting question if part of that is about narrator´s dislike about femininity because in the novel, one of Jo´s more masculine qualities is that she denies her own vulnerability which is why I think her arc with Friedrich was so important because the more she tried to deny her vulnerability, the more she felt lost and with Friedrich she could find the balance.
In some ways Louisa connected men being skinny with non-productivity. In Jo´s boys Meg and Jo don´t want Daisy to marry Nat, because they think he is such a daydreamer. Then he travels to Germany to study music and when he comes back to Concord he is more heavily-build. It´s really funny because Meg and Jo are like wow, he looks much better now. I don´t personally share Louisa´s views about skinny guys not being productive but maybe it was based on her own experiences since Julian Hawthorne and Laddie Wisniewski who were real-life Laurie´s. They were pretty but they weren´t always very productive and didn´t really live up to Louisa´s standards. In Finland we have this expression, uusavuton, which means an adult, who doesn´t know how to be an adult, and Laurie and Nat, they are these type of characters. They need strong female guides, like Amy or Daisy to inspire them to grow and to take control over their lives.
To Louisa the alpha-male is a man who combines the masculine and the feminine energy together in a balance, and effectively. Strong but kind, confident but humble. I don´t really know any other writer who has such a clear idea what her ideal man is like. It has a lot to do with taste, but I think Louisa´s love for "masculine men" who were also intellectuals was connected to her own values. She was drawn to men who possessed tender masculinity. I read once that Louisa gave Friedrich elements of European men that she wished that more American men would have. I think there might be some truth to that. I grew up watching lots of Scandinavian film productions, like Astrid Lingren adaptations and there is lots of male characters that look very masculine, or physically strong male characters, but they are passionate and romantic with their partners and they love their kids. So if you know someone who complains about Friedrich´s looks, Louisa wrote Friedrich to be her own ideal man, so if someone has problems with that. They don´t really understand the author.
When Louisa was asked to write little women, she hesitated because her closest friends were all boys, and then her sisters. Knowing Louisa´s love for men and boys and masculinity, it makes a lot of sense that men who she was attracted to also looked that way. There has been lots of research on Louisa´s identification with masculinity and yes, there is a lot of that in Little Women, but in a lot of ways Jo is also a very feminine character, in the way she reads romance novels and when she falls in love, she dreams about marriage and starting a family and she is very maternal, which is something that came naturally to her.
You can watch the full q and a here.
sMALL UMBRELLA IN THE RAIN
Small Umbrella In The Rain is an on-going series of video essays, articles and podcast episodes that examines the different intersections in Louisa May Alcott´s Little Women.