Hello Global community of Little Women fans.
Today´s comment shout out goes to @notafraidof-virginiawoolf who says the following:
Friedrich Bhaer is the only convincingly sexy man in literature I have decided.
That is some legitimate Fritz Bhaer appreciation. Friedrich, he is based on many men who Louisa May Alcott personally found attractive and one of them was Goethe.
From all the episodes I´ve done to this channel, the one about Louisa May Alcott´s love for Germany , it is probably the one I´v got most feedback. When people have contacted me and they´v wanted to discuss with me about Little Women, lot of people mention that particular episode or the articles I wrote about it and that it has helped them to understand Little Women and Friedrich´s and Jo´s relationship. It´s nice because I went through the same feelings when I was doing the research. Ever since I posted that episode and I mentioned the Goethe connections, I´v got people asking me if I could speak more about it and here we are.
Sources I have used to gather this information has mostly come from Meghan Armknecht´s excellent essay called "Jo marries Goethe, Professor Bhaer as the Goethean ideal in Louisa May Alcott´s Little Women" and Christine Doyle's amazing essay "Singing Mignon´s song, German culture and literature in Little Women". I have read lots of books and essays about Louisa May Alcott. Sometimes I feel that when the writer is talking about"Little Women" they are actually not speaking about the novel, but some of the movies. It can be very frustrating, and I think some of them don´t even realize they are doing that, but Christine Doyle, she has read the books and knows them very well. I can recommend her Louisa May Alcott studies.
I have also used Goethe as one of my sources. I read Sorrows of young Werther, who´s story is very similar to Laurie and his over-compelling emotional turbulent and Wilhelm Meister, book that has love stories that Louisa reprises in Little Women. These were Louisa´s favorite novels that she read multiple times during her life. She had the framework for the love stories build up years before she was asked to write Little Women. In her essay Megan Armknecht said that there has been not a lot research done between Little Women and Goethe´s novels. This is really unknown territory and it can completely change the way we think about Louisa May Alcott. Maybe after you have listened this episode you come to the same conclusion and start do your own research on this topic.
This episode is sponsored by Audible. From Audible you can find unlimited amount of books to read and you can get a free trial with the affiliate link, that you can find from the description.You can find books like Goethe´s Wilhelm Meister which I am going to open up a bit in this podcast and of course Little Women and it´s sequels, if you have not read it yet.
(Audible link https://amzn.to/3uFSyNf )
This is Small Umbrella In The Rain The Little Women Podcast - Jo Marries Goethe, Louisa May Alcott´s fascination to the German Poet.
Louisa May Alcott and the transnational family
Louisa May Alcott, great American writer was born in 1832. The same year great German writer and poet Goethe passed away.
Was that a sign?
Louisa became familiar with Goethe as a child. Thanks to her father Bronson, who had Goethe´s biography, in his small but selective library. By the end of her life, Louisa had managed to collect all American editions and some German editions of Goethe´s works and often send notes to her friends to let her know when new editions were available, so she could complete her Goethe collection.
This is what Alcott scholar Christine Doyle writes:
By the time Alcott wrote Jo´s Boys (which is the last Little Women book) in 1880s. She had spent a life time reading Goethe, and he was still clearly and consciously important to her. In 1876 and again in 1883, se had made attempts to collect as much of his work as possible. She wrote to her publisher Thomas Niles "Thanks for the Goethe book. I want everything that comes out about him" (Signing Mignon´s song, Doyle).
Louisa was actually born in to the first American town that was settled by German immigrants in 1683. This was Germantown in Pennsylvania. Louisa was born into a time when Americans started to consume German literature and there was somewhat a "German epidemic" in New England. This was also the time when American universities started to include German books into their collections and many of these educational reformers were transcendentalists, like the Alcott´s.
During those years German immigrants and German literature made a powerful impact on America. Quoting historian Russel Nye "Although Irish immigrants were the most numerous (Marches in Little Women, and Alcott´s in real life were descendants of Irish immigrants) Germans were close behind, numbering 1,3 million in 1860s, In addition to their Protestant heritage, which made the typical German immigrant far less suspect in America than the Irish Catholic, German immigrants were welcomed for their "socially sophisticated tradition" that included food, art and support for education.
The attitude towards immigrants varied depending on the location. Areas like New England where there was a long history of German immigration, people were naturally a lot more accepting, but this was not the case in many other places. In Little Women Jo points out the difficulties Friedrich has finding a job, because he is an outsider and speaks with broken English. We can assume that this is why the local universities do not wish to hire him, despite the fact that he was a teacher of philosophy in Germany. When Friedrich proposes Jo he says that he is going to move to the west and work as a teacher there and the two agree to wait and work for their shared future. This probably is a reference to Louisa´s love for philosopher Henry Thoreau, who to Louisa embodied the ideology of the west. West in the popular imagination refers into to the last frontier of American settlement.
Nye sums up; They (German immigrants) were "adaptable, ambitious and strongly patriotic".
Just such an immigrant is Friedrich Bhaer, whose character allows Alcott to acknowledge many of the positive aspects of German culture that the new immigrants embodied. Though a renowned professor in Berlin, Bhaer endures anonymity and poverty in America to honor his promise to his sister, who had married an American and wanted her two German-American sons to be raised there (Doyle).
Goethe Louisa´s literal idol
Goethe is still today a huge figure in Germany and in German speaking countries, one must read at least some of his works to get into the university they want. Lots of research has been done between the similarities in Louisa´s novel "A long fatal love chase" and Goethe´s Faust but the connections between Goethe´s writings and Little Women is just beginning.
Friedrich and Jo are both mixed characters. Louisa wrote Jo to be an idealized version of herself, therefore Jo also has elements from women who Louisa admired. Louisa wrote Friedrich to be her own ideal man, so Friedrich has elements of men who Louisa loved and admired, and Goethe was one of these men.
Friedrich as a character has striking similarities with Goethe, that go beyond their German background. When Jo writes letter home, she describes Friedrich for the first time.
"Mrs Kirk told me he was from Berlin. Very learned and good but poor as a church mouse".
Goethe was not poor as a church mouse . He actually came from an aristocratic background but Friedrich shares Goethe´s intellectualism and the book gives hints that if Fritz would have remained in Germany he would have risen in to great fame, because of his intellectualism.
In his native city he had been a man much honored and esteemed for learning and integrity. Jo felt proud to know that he was an honored professor in Berlin, though only a poor language master in America and his homely, hard working life, was much beautified by the spice of romance which this discovery gave it.
Goethe´s native city was not Berlin. He was from Weimar, but the two cities are only hundred miles away from each other in the same region.
Quote from Megan Armknecht:
By the time when Alcott wrote Little Women, Berlin was gaining more and more importance and would become the capital of the new German empire in 1871.
Goethe´s and Friedrich´s similar traits
There are similarities between Goethe´s and Friedrich´s personalities. Both were family men and loved children. Their characteristics include kindness and largeness of heart.
When Jo sees Fritz for the first time, he is helping a young servant girl to carry a heavy hold of cole.
In her letter home, Jo remarks the incident.
"Wasn´t it good of him? I like such things for as father says, trifles show character.
Friedrich loves kids and is very good with them. After his sister Minna passed away, he adopted his nephews Franz and Emil, and raised them as his own. For Jo, that Friedrich has children, especially boys, is actually something very attractive. Throughout the novel the narrator (Louisa) mentions how much Jo loves boys and hanging out with boys and boyish energy.
Jo loves to observe how Fritz interacts with children. When she is staying at New York, she spies on him and little Tina, who is the daughter of the French maid at the boarding house.
Jo writes; "Tina has lost her heart to Mr Bhaer and follows him about the house, like a dog, whenever he is at home, which delights him, as he is very fond of children".
Goethe biographer Herder writes that Goethe was a great child all his life. Eager to learn and willing to give whatever he had to make others happy. One of the things that Jo finds attractive in Friedrich´s character is the way he is always ready to look after people and himself. Which is in contradiction to Laurie´s behavior since for the most part of the novel, Laurie doesn´t know how to be an adult or how to look after himself and he expects that once they marry, Jo shall be his caretaker, not an equal partner, which is what Amy later becomes.
In Little Women Louisa hints that Friedrich´s father might have abandoned his family. This explains why Friedrich loves his sons and his nephews, and wants to be an exceptionally good father. He kissed his sleeping sons head remembering a father who left and never returned.
Goethe had a complicated relationship with his father. He didn´t approve his sons artistic endeavors, and this is a topic Goethe often handles in his novels. Young men often act out against the bourgeois lives of their parents. It is part of their rebellion.
Marriage based on love
Both Goethe and Louisa lived during a time period when marriages were based on economic factors and not the matters of the heart. Both writers encourage their readers to reject the economical factors and only to marry for love. This was a very radical idea of the time.
One of the books that Louisa found from her father´s library was Goethe´s WIlhelm Meister´s apprenticeship. Like Little Women, Wilhelm Meister is a Bildung´s roman. It was world´s first coming of age novel. Little Women and perhaps it´s most famous story-line, Jo rejecting Laurie for Friedrich, can be traced to Wilhelm Meister. Wilhelm starts out as a naive, and idealistic young man who has a passionate affair with the actress Marianne. Wilhelm loves theater and he struggles to balance his passion for the arts and the expectations his family has for him taking on the family business. He runs out with the theater company only to see how the theater world slowly consumes his soul with it´s ruthlessness. Then he meets Natalia, a woman very different to Marianne who helps him to gain back his self-worth.
For her 18th birthday Emerson gave Louisa a copy of Goethe´s Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship. This copy now in Houghton library at Harvard, is well-worn and marked with Alcott´s marginal comments, showing the care and attention with which she read Goethe´s novel” (Armknecht). In Little Women when Jo is staying in New York, Friedrich gives her a copy of Shakespeare´s novels as a Christmas gift and encourages her to study character. Louisa praised Emerson calling him as "her Goethe". Goethe was a literal inspiration for her and Emerson offered support and encouraged her to read and study character. Friedrich embodies them both and it makes sense that Louisa would give Jo a partner who not only supports Jo´s creative journey but is an essential part of it.
Louisa called both Goethe and Waldo Emerson as "god of my idolatry" Goethe became a a way for Louisa and Emerson to deepen their friendship through intellectual conversation, enriching both of their lives".
Many of the annotations in Louisa´s copy of Wilhelm Meister are associated with romance. For example, she underlined the heading of chapter nine of volume one, marking the passage where Wilhelm feels as though he is infused with "new life" as he falls deeply in love with his first love Mariane. Furthermore in volume three, chapter four, Louisa annotatted a scene where Wilhelm and Natalia talk in the garden about love. She penned in the word "beautiful" after their private conversation.
This sounds very similar to what happens between Amy and Laurie when they are in the garden at Vevey and Jo and Friedrich under the umbrella.
Quote from Christine Doyle´s Mignon´s song.
"The cultural level suggested by Friedrich´s profession and more specifically by his knowledge of Goethe also helps to validate the connection between him and Jo. Alcott had penned a quote from Margaret Fuller´s Woman in the 19th Century regarding Wilhelm Meister´s females connections, the note in Alcott´s handwriting on the back of flyleaf reads, "M Fuller says, As Meister grows in life and advances in wisdom, he becomes acquainted with women of more character moving from Mariana to Natalia, who expresses the Minerva side of things, Mignong the electrical lyrical cnnature. In this light it is possible to read Jo March´s transference of affection from Laurie to Friedrich as a form of "rising" due to her own growth and advancement in terms of character. Laurie is always a "boy" to Jo, but Friedrich is a man. Laurie possess charm and culture, Friedrich as we see, is cultured but also steady and well-grounded. He speaks both to her down-to-earth practicality and down-to-earth imagination. When he and Jo together reprise Mignon´s song after Friedrich´s surprise arrival at the March home later in the novel, it is a clear statement of the fitness of their union, a union of America with some of the best European culture, and for Friedrich, fulfillment of the American dream, he is much more than a "funny match" for Jo".
Wilhelm Meister, Jo moving from Laurie to Fritz, Laurie moving from Jo to Amy
Louisa read Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship first time as a child and it was a novel that she always went back to. The way Laurie is chasing Jo is very similar to what happens in another famous novel by Goethe "sorrows of young Werther". Louisa´s affection to Eliza Follen´s biography on her husband Charles and the love story between an American woman and a German immigrant is also reprise in Little Women in Jo´s and Friedrich´s characters. Another book that Louisa read in her early youth.This knowledge can change the course of Louisa May Alcott research, especially what it comes to Louisa´s own perceptions on Good Wives. Alcott scholar Daniel Shealy writes in his essay "Wedding Marches" "in the remaining correspondence between Louisa and her publisher Thomas Niles there are no indications that Niles would have had any say on the character relationships, the marriage decisions were all Alcott´s". Louisa had build the basis for the love stories in Little Women decades before she was asked by Niles to write a book for girls. Good Wives (Little Women part 2) was never an afterthought but an exploration between immature love versus mature love. Yes, some of that we can see in Louisa´s own love life in her relationships between young Ladislas Wisniewski (Laurie) and Henry David Thoreau (Friedrich), which is probably the reason why, Louisa later in life tried to detach herself and her own love life from the love life of her literal counterpart, because it became all too personal.
Geraldine Brooks declares: Another reason Alcott crafted the direction of Jo’s life in this way was because she seemed to want to marry but never did. It seems likely, however, that she did have at least two different love interests in her life. Perhaps Alcott decided to give Jo what she herself always wanted: marriage and a family.
After doing this research for few years now, I´ve come to the same conclusion. When I read Louisa´s letters from her later life, where she says she is happy for her sisters when she sees them flourishing in their marriages, she envies them and feels lonely and she believed that in her next life she would get the things she wanted but never could have, a safe and loving relationship and children of her own.
Sentimental Language of Louisa May Alcott
Greta Gerwig has been very vocal how much she hates Friedrich´s character. I don´t know what her problem is but there is one thing that annoys me to no end. In every one of her interviews Gerwig has argued that Friedrich forces Jo to use the word "thou". I can´t even fathom how absurd this is.
When you study German one of the first things that you learn is that there are two ways to address a person. There is "Du" which is what you use with someone you are very close and then there is "Sie" that you use when you are discussing with someone who is not very close to you. In the 19th century when German literature was translated into English "Du" became "thou". When Friedrich and Jo call each other "Thou" it means that they want to be close to one another.
In the book it says that Jo thought that "thou" was a "lovely syllable". It sounds that Gerwig is just making excuses to spread hate speech about a fictional character and it doesn´t have any base on reality.
This is what Christine Doyle writes:
When Jo terms Friedrich´s request to use "thou" in addressing him "sentimental" (while privately thinking it is lovely), he says, "Sentimental? yes, thank Gott, we Germans believe in sentiment, and keep ourselves young mit it. Your English "you" sounds so cold. Friedrich in fact, retains his German accent throughout the March novels, occasionally dropping German words and phrases such as "Mein Sohn" and "Vaterland" into his speech despite his much imrpoved command of English (for example in Little Women Friedrich says "haf" but then Little Men and Jo´s boys he says "have"). Like Friedrich´s defense of religion, his sentimental language is significant in both cultural and literary context. Alcott seems here to be standing up for emotion in the face of staid New England culture".
Sorrows of young Werther, novel that first skyrocketed Goethe into great fame has been often used as an example of the over-sentimentality of the German Sturm und Drang movement. Louisa was heavily affected by the Sturm und Drang and in her youth she consumed and wrote these "Stress and thunder" tales. Despite of being more of a realistic novel, Little Women is written in sentimental language and this applies to all of Louisa´s novels, children´s books and the adult books. Friedrich is sentimental, but so is Louisa May Alcott.
Louisa´s real life crush, and possible lover Henry David Thoreau also always used "thou" in his love poems when addressing his loved one.
Jo describes Friedrich to look like a regular German. He has brown hair and a bushy beard. Kind blue eyes, big hands and big feet and he has kind tone is his voice "that does one´s ears good after our sharp or slipshod American gabble".
This description is similar to Friedrich Schiller´s first impression on Goethe:
"His appearance greatly lessened the idea I had conceived from hearsay of his imposing and handsome person. He is of middle height, and looks and walks stiff. His countenance is not open, but he has beaming eyes. The expression of his countenance is serious, at the same time that it is benevolent and kind. He has brown hair, and appears older than I should say he really is. His voice exceedingly pleasing, and his conversation flowing, lively and amusing. It is a pleasure to listen to him, and when he is in a happy mood, which he was on this occasion, he is fond of talking and takes and interests in what he says".
Friedrich´s looks and his somewhat stoic personality can also be traced back to Henry David Thoreau, but like Goethe, Henry as well opened up in a company, especially when the conversation was lively and interesting.
There I might with thee my beloved go
"First thing Jo hears from Bhaer is him singing "Kennst du das land" (do you know the land) to himself, the opening line of Mignon´s love song from Goethe´s Wilhelm Meister. Here again is literary intertextuality of Wilhlem Meister in Little Women. By having Bhaer sing Mignon´s song to himself. Alcott not only draws a direct connection between Bhaer and Goethe but also an emotional connection between herself and Goethe".
Louisa points out that both Jo and Friedrich are familiar with Wilhelm Meister. In the chapter surprises Friedrich comes to court Jo, and Jo asks him to perform Mignon´s song with her.
"Now we must finish with Mignon´s song, for Mr Bhaer sings that"
"You will sing with me, we´ll go excellenty well together?" he asked.
A pleasing fiction, by the way, for Jo had no more idea of music than a grasshopper, but she would have consented, if t he had proposed to sing a whole opera, and warbled away, blissfully regardless of time and tune. It didn´t much matter, for Mr Bhaer sang like a true German, heartily and well, and Jo soon subsided into a sublued hum, that she might listen to the mellow voice that seemed to sing for her alone.
"Know´s thou the land where the citron blooms"
Used to be the Professor´s favorite line, for "das land" meant Germany to him; but now he seemed to dwell, with peculiar warmth and melody, upon the words; -
"There, oh there might I with thee, Oh my beloved go"
and one listener was so thrilled by the tender invitation, that she longed to say she did know the land, and would joyfully depart thither, whenever he liked.
How did Jo knew that was his favorite line? they must have had deep one-to-one discussions about Goethe.
Here is a quote from Little Women fan Christina:
Maybe she noticed how a certain gleam come across his eyes as he sings the line. Maybe his lips turn upward into a smile when the lyric comes up, no matter how many times he sings it. Or maybe it was because of the warmth in his voice as he spoke of his home that Jo recognized as she speaks of her home.
But she notices. She notices all the little things of Friedrich, but had yet to have a reason why. But when she leaves New York and is alone after Beth’s death, she thinks of those little things and smiles to herself.
When he comes to her home, she thinks about that line. Home. He is home.
There is another way to interpretate this chapter. Mignon´s song is about departure and re-uniting with your loved one in the after life. Louisa believed that in the next life, she would meet her loved one again and then she would get the life that she had wanted. Maybe this scene was written about Henry, same way as the umbrella chapter. Henry had the same Goethe´s books as Louisa and he was also a good singer and when he would come to visit the Alcott´s, they sometimes sang together.
Quote from Megan Armknecht
Another parallel between Bhaer and Goethe is their philosopher, especially regarding the purposes of art and religion. Bhaer is very interested in Jo´s writing, encourages her to read Shakespeare, and helps explain his work to her. Bhaer gives her as a New Year´s present. Classic writers, such as Shakespeare were very important to Goethe, who read Shakespeare and often wrote about and criticized him in letters to Schiller.
As Jo reads Shakespeare, she not only begins to notice true, honest character more, but she also recognizes just how good Bhaer truly is. She discovers a "live hero", who interested her in spite of many human imperfections. Mr Bhaer, in one of their conversations, had advised her to study simple, true and lovely characters whenever she would found them, as good training for a writer; Jo took him at his word - fro she coolly turned round and studied him and finds him to be good and benevolent. In this way Bhaer´s love of the simple, honest and pure, mirror´s Goethe´s who remained ever in touch with the reality of things as revealed to the sense, but never blind to an ideal interpretations.
This is all in the text of Little Women. Friedrich encourages Jo to become a genuine writer. I have never understood people who say that Friedrich prevents Jo from writing, when in the book, he does the exact opposite, but the people who spread that type of false information, are usually Jo and Laurie fans.
Another quote from Armknecht:
"Bhaer is trying to help Jo to become a genuine writer instead of one who caters to the whims of the crowd. This is something that Goethe would have done. He disliked superficiality in people and in art and was through life frequently offended by the shallow pretensions, the false aims. He insists that a poem must be suggested by real life, and having herein a firm foundation".
This is particularly important information. When Louisa was in her twenties she wrote sensational stories to a New York magazine. Weekly Volcano in Little Women, is a caricature of this magazine. These stories are not Louisa´s best stories, and in Little Women, she describes how Jo has mental health problems because she feels powerless in the hands of the editor, who wants her to write stories that have shock value and when Jo looks for material she begins to have anxiety attacks. This is all in the text. It has never been adapted and that must affect to any anti-Friedrich statements people might have, because in the novel Friedrich comes to Jo´s help, when he sees how much she is struggling.
When Louisa wrote these sensational stories, she was not very experienced with the darker side of life and struggled with lot of these themes that she was requested to write about. It makes sense that she looked up to her literal hero, Goethe and take his advice that a good story, should have a real-life foundation and this is how Jo in Little Women moves on from writing trash to write successful realism thanks to Friedrich, and Louisa did the same thanks to Goethe.
There are times when Goethe´s and Friedrich´s values separate. One of these are their views on religion. Goethe´s views on religion are often described as vague where as Friedrich in Little Women, is very religious. Louisa was a very spiritual person herself and her religious views were rather eclectic, but the base of her beliefs were in her protestant upbringing.
In Little Women Jo and Friedrich attend a symposium. There Jo listens one of the young philosophers speaking about atheist world view, and this makes Jo quite upset.
"It dawned upon her gradually, that the world was being picked to pieces, and put together on new, and according to the talkers, on infinitely better principles than before; that religion was in a fair way to be reasoned into nothingness, and intellect was to be the only God. Jo knew nothing about philosophy or metaphysics of any sort, but a curious excitement, half pleasurable, half painful, came over her, as she listened with a sense of being turned adrift into time and space, like a young balloon out on a holiday".
"He bore it as long as he could; but when he was appealed to for an opinion, he blazed up with honest indignation, and defended religion with all the eloquence of truth - an eloquence which made his broken English musical, and his plain face beautiful. H had a hard fight, for the wise men argued well; but he didn´t know when he was beaten, and stood to his colors like a man. Somehow, as he talked, the world got right again to Jo; the old beliefs that had lasted so long, seemed better than the new. God was not a blind force, and immortality was not a pretty fable, but a blessed fact. Jo felt as if she had solid ground under her feet again; and when Mr Bhaer paused, out talked, but not one whit convinced, Jo wanted to clap her hands and thank him.
She did neither, but she remembered this scene, and gave the Professor her hearthiest respect, for she knew it cost him an effort to speak out then and there, because his conscience would not let him to be silent. She began to see that character is a better possession than money, rank, intellect or beauty, and to feel that if greatness is what a wise man has defined it to be "truth, reverence and good will" then her friend Friedrich Bhaer, was not only good but great".
In this case Friedrich is in fact, much more closer to the American philosophers like Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who Louisa had often heard keeping speeches about religion. Despite the fact that the transcendentalists adored German culture and writings they were highly suspicious of German philosophers because they did not always share their religious views.
I know quite a few Little Women fans, who absolutely love the symposium scene. It is their favorite Jo and Friedrich moment. She says that "he was not only good, but great" Friedrich is no longer a crush for Jo. It becomes something a lot more serious. Jo remembered his passionate speech for the rest of her life. She even wants to clap when he stops talking. Friedrich, he managed to move something inside her. I have mentioned this in my articles before, one of the reasons why I always adored Jo and Friedrich love story and story line, is because it is one of the most realistic descriptions in literature, how it actually feels like to fall in love to another person and Louisa wrote from her experience.
Jo was attracted to Friedrich from the moment she met him. There is a build up in the novel how her crush and her curiosity about him deepens.
"He was poor, yet always appeared to be giving something away. a stranger yet everyone was his friend, no longer young, but as happy hearted as a boy, plain and odd, yet his face looked beautiful to many and his oddities, were freely forgiven for his sake. Jo often watched him, trying to discover the charm, and at last decided that it was benevolence which worked the miracle. If he had any sorrow "it sad with it´s head under it´s wing" and he turned only his sunny side to the world".
This what is said about Goethe´s personality: "Goethe was always an optimist, despite of the many setbacks he had had during his life. He often wanted to uplift others and bring as much success to others as to himself. Goethe believed that creativity was a gift, but only way to true success was through hard work and resilience. Goethe was emotional and vulnerable and yet he could be a light of the party. Sometimes he was generous to a fault, but always honest and loyal to those he cared about the most.
I personally really like the idea that Louisa gave Jo a husband and a partner that was inspired by Goethe. It makes a lot of sense that Friedrich who helps Jo to reach the next stages of her writing career was based on Louisa´s favorite writer, and that there are elements in Friedrich´s personality we can trace to Goethe.
I hope you enjoyed listening to this. Take care and make good choices. Bye.
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, 150 years Penguin edition,
Sorrows of young Werter, Johann W. Goethe, 1787, Book Beat
Singing Mignon´s Song, Christine Doyle, John Hopkin´s university press, Children literature volume 31, 2003
"Jo marries Goethe, Dr Bhaer as the Goethean ideal in Louisa May Alcott´s Little Women", Megan Armknecht
Goethe in our time, Sarah Colvin, BBC Radio 4, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003c1c8
Little Women Podcast Transcript:
Merry meet little women fans! Welcome to the second season of Small umbrella in the rain. New episode every Thursday for the next 12 weeks.
Today´s comment shutout goes to Melodie. This is what she says:
I wish, instead of remaking “Little Women” into a story where Jo is happy as a spinster, they’d give us a movie about Louisa May Alcott and Henry David Thoreau. I want to see THAT story! Maybe folks would understand that Friedrich was the real prize then. And maybe they could understand better that Louisa did not remain unmarried because she wished it. She needed meeting of the minds, mutual respect sort of love.
It’s my experience that Jo and Laurie shippers are usually folks who haven’t read the book. Or, if they read it, it was when they were very young and it was still only as a companion to the 1994 movie. I love your comparison to “The Notebook.” I’m always horrified when I hear that’s someone’s idea of romantic. It’s so toxic. And Jo and Laurie together would be just that. I think one of the beautiful things about “Little Women” is it shows the difference between immature and mature love. When we are young, love often looks like what Jo and Laurie had. I think Laurie just wanted to be in love, so he latched onto the idea of Jo. It’s hard to see it this way, though, because of the movie portrayal. How do you say no to a young and beautiful Christian Bale?!
Melodie, I agree 100%. Perhaps the problem is not the way the book is written, but that society at large romanticizes that type of toxic behavior. Louisa found Henry very attractive even though he wasn´t conventionally attractive but it wasn´t just about his looks but the connection that they shared. Laddie Wisniewski, who was one of the real life Lauries. He was conventionally attractive but he and Louisa didn´t have that connection.
Romanticizing possessive behavior in a male character runs very deeply in our culture. There are double standards, because when a man is pursuing the woman, no matter what the woman says, lot of people think it´s romantic, but when a woman does the same to a man, she is automatically labeled as crazy. This episode is about the similarities between Goethe´s novel, The Sorrow´s of young Werther and Laurie´s character arc in Little Women, and especially how Jo´s and Laurie´s relationship can be directly traced into Goethe´s novel.
There will be mentions of suicides. If this is a topic that triggers you, use your own judgement how to proceed. It is not going to be overly explicit, but it can be a difficult topic for some people.
This episode is sponsored by Audible. If you wish to find unlimited amount of books to read and podcasts to listen you can get 1 month free trial by clicking the affiliate link in the description https://amzn.to/3uFSyNf and if you are looking to something to listen on Audible I can recommend The Sorrows of young Werther and other Goethe´s novels. To me, in terms of my character research . reading Goethe helped me to understand Laurie´s character a lot more, and also it made me understand the transcendentalist world view and their belief system better, because Goethe was one of their heroes and they believed that nature was manifestation of god and this is an idea that Goethe writes a lot in his novels and because he was Louisa´s favorite writer as well, it has helped me to understand Louisa more as a person.
Louisa May Alcott and Goethe
Johan Wolfgang von Goethe was one of the most praised German authors of his time. Louisa May Alcott was a big Goethe fan. Louisa was a transcendentalist. The whole world view of the transcendentalists could be described as nature-centric form of Christianity and it was based on German philosophy and German romanticism. Goethe was one of the most important literal inspirations for the transcendentalists because he captured the essence of their beliefs into poetic form.
Louisa, according to her own words "grew up hearing stories of Goethe on her father´s knee". Bronson Alcott´s library included contemporary translation of Goethe´s biography and we can assume that it was one of the first books that Louisa read. One of Louisa´s most famous literal characters, Laurie from Little Women, is partially based on Goethe and Goethe´s literal heroes (Doyle).
Goethe was born into great wealth. His father was a doctor of jurisprudence and came from prestigious family from Frankfurt. Goethe was home schooled. He had tutors and he studied history, mathematics, music, languages, dancing and fencing. Goethe was fluent in French, a language he spoke as well as his native German.
At the age of 16 Goethe began to study law in the university of Leipzig but he mostly focused on deepening his love for literature and partying.
After graduating as the licentiate of law in 1771 Goethe worked as a lawyer in Frankfurt for a while. Around the same time he began to receive more fame as an author. Goethe published his first novel the Sorrows of Young Werther at the age of 24 and it became a massive best-seller. At the time "Werther" was the second most sold book in Germany, only surpassed by the German Bible.
Sturm und Drang /Stress and Thunder
Goethe was one of the most prominent figures of the German Sturm und Drang movement. Sturm und Drang refers into deep emotional stress. The name of the movement originates from a play called Sturmn und Drang written by Friedrich Maximilian von Klinger. Two most prominent figures of the movement were Goethe and Friedrich Schiller and the movement effected to the German art world, music, literature and theater.
Louisa described herself as "a creature of moods" so finding an author who managed to capture Louisa´s own emotional stress into words must have been both exiting and comforting. In Little Women Laurie, Jo and Friedrich can be described as Goethean characters, Laurie notably the most. We can trace Laurie´s character arc in Little Women to two Goethe´s novels: "Sorrows of young Werther" and "Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship" and to Goethe himself.
In Little Women Laurie is born into great wealth. He lives with his grandfather and he has a home tutor, Mr Brooke. In boarding school he studied fencing and dancing. In college Laurie is a party boy and not very interested in the world of academics (unlike Jo). Laurie is also fluent in French. He has, most of the time, nice manners and he is a talented musician. Laurie is very temperamental. He was born out of a forbidden marriage, between his American father and Italian mother, and this is one of the reasons why he struggles to bond with his grandfather, and they both feel great deal of resentment towards one another when Laurie moves to live with him.
Sorrows of Young Werther
Sorrows of young Werther is a novel written in a letter form. This is an important fact because this makes an immediate effect to the reader. There is no narrator. Letters are written by Werther and addressed to his friend Wilhelm. Werther is a story of a young man who falls in love to Charlotta "Lotte", who is engaged to another worthy man, Albert. Werther suffers from constant emotional stress and he also has quite a temper.
In the beginning of the novel Werther travels to the countryside. He is impressed by the unpretentious country people and envies their happy and simple life style. Often he wonders what is the secret of their happiness, since they have way less than he has. Werther spends great deal of time thinking the meaning of life and he is a great admirer of beauty and the natural world. He spends his time writing and drawing the things he sees. Nature comforts him and that is where he feels happy and safe.
When Werther meets Lotte for the first time he is invited to her home and he sees her feeding her younger sisters and brothers and what Werther is attracted is the feeling of warmth and home that he sees around him. Something that he doesn´t seem to have in his own urban home.
Same happens in Little Women, when Laurie meets the March family for the first time and Jo sees the "hungry look in his eyes" when he looks at her family.
Amy is in there
Louisa´s younger sister May, was a talented professional artist but perhaps Louisa was also inspired by Werther´s artistic talents.
"I am so happy, my dear friend, so absorbed in the exquisite sense of mere tranquil existence, that I neglect my talents. I should be incapable of drawing a single stroke at the present moment; and yet I feel that I never was a greater artist than now. When, while the lovely valley teems with vapour around me, and the meridian sun strikes the upper surface of the impenetrable foliage of my trees, and but a few stray gleams steal into the inner sanctuary, I throw myself down among the tall grass by the trickling stream; and, as I lie close to the earth, a thousand unknown plants are noticed by me: when I hear the buzz of the little world among the stalks, and grow familiar with the countless indescribable forms of the insects and flies, then I feel the presence of the Almighty, who formed us in his own image, and the breath of that universal love which bears and sustains us, as it floats around us in an eternity of bliss; and then, my friend, when darkness overspreads my eyes, and heaven and earth seem to dwell in my soul and absorb its power, like the form of a beloved mistress, then I often think with longing, Oh, would I could describe these conceptions, could impress upon paper all that is living so full and warm within me, that it might be the mirror of my soul, as my soul is the mirror of the infinite God! O my friend—but it is too much for my strength—I sink under the weight of the splendour of these visions!"
-Sorrows of Young Werther, chapter 1
We must talk about Fritz and Coffee
Friedrich is also in the Sorrow´s of young Werther.
The other day I went to the fountain, and found a young servant-girl, who had set her pitcher on the lowest step, and looked around to see if one of her companions was approaching to place it on her head. I ran down, and looked at her. "Shall I help you, pretty lass?" said I. She blushed deeply. "Oh, sir!" she exclaimed. "No ceremony!" I replied. She adjusted her head-gear, and I helped her. She thanked me, and ascended the steps.
- Sorrows of young Werther
In Little Women when Jo sees Friedrich for the first time he is helping a poor servant girl to carry a heavy hold of coal and this makes a good impression on Jo.
Werther´s body type is more similar to Friedrich than Laurie. Laurie is described to be skinny and androgynous young man. Werther on the other hand is a tall, solidly build man with broad shoulders. He has blue eyes and a fine forehead. Similar to the way Friedrich is described to look like in Little Women. Louisa was attracted to very masculine looking Teutonic heroes and all her romantic interests in her novels look like Werther/Goethe.
In Little Women, Jo and Friedrich have a very strong flirt game and it´s often connected to coffee. When Friedrich comes to court Jo, Jo tells to Hannah to make coffee because "Friedrich..I mean professor Bhaer, doesn´t like tea". Jo would love to make German foods for Fritz but she is not a great cook and she is sad, but he constantly praises her how she makes the best coffee. They are adorable.
Werther, never fails to mention Wilhelm how much he enjoys drinking coffee with his new acquaintances and he writes these long descriptions how they all went to picnic and drank lots of coffee. I counted that coffee is mentioned at least 10 times. It seems that Goethe´s novels became Louisa´s early guides to Germany, and she did visit Germany on her first trip to Europe.
The novel is entirely written from Werther´s perspective so the reader does not get to hear Lotte´s personal thoughts or feelings about him and his behavior. Werther falls in love, but Lotte doesn´t return to his affections. Albert is described as a man who Werther respects but also envies. There is an element of ridiculousness in Werther´s behavior and his emotional stress. He compares his mood changes into dark clouds and thunder storms. Both Werther and Laurie are written to be overly-dramatic.
Werther´s thoughts of suicide appear alarmingly often. Albert is worried when Werther jokes about it and when Werther defenses man taking his own life when the constant passions and feelings are never ending and he can´t escape them.
Laurie´s and Werther´s emotional stress is not caused by the broken heart. Their problems are caused by the lack of meaning.
Laurie was always told what to do by others. He was addicted to Jo´s maternal care, and because of that maternal care that Jo has for him, she was never able to inspire him to become a person who could make his own decisions and live his own life. Part of this is created by Jo´s sympathy to the masculine. She struggles to judge his behavior because of her soft spot for boys. We can trace this back to all the real-life Laurie´s being a lot younger than Louisa.
In the middle of the novel, Werther leaves Lotte and Albert and travels away. He gets a position as an ambassador´s assistant but the work does not satisfy him or the duties that comes with it. He struggles to fit into the high society because he feels that his individuality is being smothered by the "fake facade". He compares his wealthy associates to the poor people who were so kind to him. Werther sees that the nature of the person does not matter in the society, but only wealth and status does. Which leads into an inevitable conflict with the aristocrats and as a result he is reminded by his supporters that on such occasions going with the "whim of the society" is the way to go. Werther´s behavior becomes the topic of the gossip among those who have envied his position and Werther is so upset he would like to "stab a knife into his heart".
Goethe lived during the time when Neo-humanism became mainstream philosophy. One of the more important aspects of neo-humanism was the idea of "self". What is more important? the sense of self, the personal values and the moral codes, or in the end, is our value only measured by our wealth and status.
Jo wakes up to consider her own values
The idea of being "one authentic self" was part of the transcendentalist philosophy. Werther´s inner struggles, with his self-worth are being measured by things that he has no control over, like his family background. This is repeated in Little Women when Jo and Friedrich participate into the social gathering of artists, poets and intellectuals. Jo has a moment of clarity, when the people who she has been admiring from afar show the true nature of themselves and it is far from flattering. This becomes a pinning point between her and Friedrich, because his speech on religion goes right into her soul. Jo often despised the higher class gatherings and was even afraid to be invited into such events. This is caused by Jo´s own preconceptions about the higher class but also her unique sense of self and the way her parents have shown her the livings conditions of the less fortunate.
The idea of self, and self-worth appears in Jo´s and Friedrich´s discussion about writing, and when he reminds Jo that if she, Jo wants to be a successful writer, first she needs to find her own voice, and as a result Jo begins to search her own style.
This is where Werther and Laurie separate. Despite the fact that Laurie has grown up in the world that was filled with high class social gatherings, he is not against them. In fact he enjoys participating to parties and dinners. Amy has always enjoyed such gatherings. Laurie grew up in that world he neither has disillusions about it, but it is only with his relationship with Amy he begins to understand the privileges of his position.
Path to self-destruction
Quote from Liisa Saariluoma, professor of literature:
Even before Werther "falls in love" to Lotte, he knew that their love was doomed because she was engaged. For Werther being unhappily in love was something that he was pursuing from the beginning. Falling in love with Lotte, was a self-destroying path from the start, because Werther knew that even love can not save him from a life without a meaning.
Everything that Lotte represents to Werther, the warm atmosphere, the sense of home, or memories from his childhood and his first love, is secondary compared to his addiction for the emotional distress. Lotte can not save him from the conditions that he must live or that he refuses to find a meaning for his life, and instead he makes Lotte the only reason for his living, and their relationship changes from friendship to emotional blackmailing. Werther´s love for Lotte, is the same love he feels when he is with children or the peasants, because they erect something inside him, harmony, which is not something he has been able to find from the high society.
She said no
When Werther returns to Lotte and Albert, they are now a married couple. They treat Werther with friendliness but his moods are uncontrollable. He knew that the marriage was about to happen but it only fuels to his distress. The country idyll and the harmony that he was so in love with is utterly broken. Young woman who he was friends with had lost their child, and her husband had returned and lost their inheritance. A young peasant boy, a friend of Werther, has sexually abused his mistress. Even nature does not comfort Werther. Seeing the hazel threes he had admired with Lotte make him furious.
Lotte becomes angry at Werther accusing him for choosing her from all the other women, when he knew that she was engaged to somebody else. She and Albert try to calm him down, and she tries to figure out how they could make him to be more sensible.
"I can´t love anyone else, I can´t forget you Jo! never! with a stamp to emphasize his passionate words.
"What shall I do with him? sighed Jo, finding that emotions were more unmanageable than she expected. "You haven´t heard what I wanted to tell you. Sit down and listen; for indeed I want to do right, and make you happy" she said, hoping to soothe him with a little reason, which proved that she knew nothing about love". (Little Women, chapter tender troubles)
When Werther has made his final decision, Lotte is very nervous when she goes to meet him. In Little Women when Jo decides that it is time to tell Laurie to stop, she is very nervous. Werther reads Lotte death of Ossian, which is a poem by James McPherson and all the passages handle death and grief and they are very sentimental. Werther becomes very abusive.
"Everything passes away; but a whole eternity could not extinguish the living flame which was yesterday kindled by your lips, and which now burns within me. She loves me! These arms have encircled her waist, these lips have trembled upon hers. She is mine! Yes, Charlotte, you are mine for ever!
Werther doesn´t listen anything that Lotte says. He threatens her to say he loves her and then he shoots himself.
In Little Women Laurie says that there comes a time when Jo will find someone else, and he rather dies than sees it, and this is Jo´s brilliant response.
Werther the tragic (anti)hero
Werther was massively popular book among the German youth when it appeared. Young men even dressed like Werther, wearing a yellow vest and a blue jacket and it inspired thousands young men and women to commit suicide, and many were angry at Lotte for rejecting Werther. Does this sound familiar to Little Women fans?
Werther´s way to self-destruction is pervasive and all-compassing. His desire to live full-filling meaningful inspirational life is replaced with the belief that it can not be possible.
Werther´s inner conflicts have been often explained with his status. That his unhappiness is caused by the fact that he can not live a simpler life because he was born as an aristocrat.
More contemporary interpretation is that Werther sees no meaning in his life. In his biography Goethe writes about his inspirations for Werther, that the boredom towards life troubled his generation and the popular literature of the time was all about death and disappearance.
Emily and I discusses about this in our Laurie episode. It is a shame that Laurie´s character arc is missing from all Little Women adaptations, because the lack of meaning and not really knowing what you want to be or what you want to do with your life, that is a topic that lot of young people still today can identify with.
Falling love with the fantasy
In Little Women Jo actively tries to partner Laurie to each one of her sisters, because she earnestly wants Laurie to be her brother. First with Meg because "she is in the age", and in part 2 first to Beth, and later on to Amy (even before Jo knew that Amy and Laurie were re-kindling their friendship in Europe). For the modern viewer Jo´s desire to marry Laurie to anyone of her sisters, might come out as fear of committing, but the reason can be found from the proposal chapter. Jo at that point, did not know yet what love was, but she knew that she was not in love with Laurie, and that she wanted to be with someone who she could love truly and with her whole heart. Throughout the book series Jo is shown as a maternal figure who "saves" young boys from being lost, and in Jo´s eyes without her family´s care, Laurie will be lost.
Both Werther and Little Women, flip the pattern of the traditional romance novel, because the female protagonists wants someone better, a partner who is more suitable for them than the overly-emotional guy who is pursuing them and who´s advances make them feel uncomfortable.
Difference between immature and mature love
In Little Women when the reader moves from part 1 to part 2, all the sisters have grown but Laurie has stayed in the mental level of a teen-ager. He doesn´t like school, he doesn´t like to work. Jo has become quite tired with his behavior. She is always telling him how to act and behave. There are scenes in Little Women, where Laurie is frustrated to the way Jo is criticizing him, but he still continues to pursue her, even when he knows that Jo finds it annoying. Laurie is on a self-destructing path.
For Werther and Laurie, Jo/Lotte represents manic pixie dream girl. Manic pixie dream girl is character that somehow is expected to give the male protagonist whatever he needs to complete them and that love erases their troubles so they don´t need to grow or change, but neither Jo or Lotte are manic pixie dream girls, quite the contrary, they are individuals with their own desires and needs.
Laurie first tries to kiss Jo, when they are 15 and it happens when Beth becomes ill and Jo says no. His advances become more aggressive in Little Women part 2 and Jo starts to be afraid hanging out alone with him, which is why she travels to New York, where she meets professor Bhaer and she begins to develope feelings for him and he to her, but unlike Laurie, Friedrich respects Jo and he wants to know her true feelings for him, before making any kinds of advances.
When Laurie proposes to Jo he threatens to kill himself if she says no.
One of the best films of the recent years that depicts "Wertherian" behavior is 500 days of Summer. The entire visual narration of the movie is based to the emotional landscape of Tom, the protagonist. Tom is in love with the idea of love, more than Summer, the woman he is dating. There is a scene in the movie where Summer for the first time shows vulnerability to Tom and shares something deeply personal from her past, but her entire speech is mumbled, so we as viewers don´t know what she is saying and the only words that Tom hears are "I haven´t told this to anyone before". Tom hears the one thing he want´s to hear.
This is what Joseph Gordon-Levitt said about his character Tom.
"He develops a mildly delusional obsession over a girl onto whom he projects all these fantasies," "He thinks she’ll give his life meaning because he doesn’t care about much else going on in his life. A lot of boys and girls think their lives will have meaning if they find a partner who wants nothing else in life but them. That’s not healthy. That’s falling in love with the idea of a person, not the actual person."
After being rejected by Jo, Laurie travels to Vienna and there he tries to compose an opera for Jo, but no matter how hard he tries she never fits into the role of a sweet princess his mind wants to conjure (this has never been adapted into the Little Women films). This is why Laurie´s and Jo´s relationship was doomed from the beginning. Laurie doesn´t see women as who they are. He falls in love with the fantasy. He projected his fantasies and expectations onto Jo. He ignores the signs and warnings, and wants to live in his fantasy world. He tries to see Jo as a princess who he is going to save, but all things that he remembers are the most unflattering aspects of Jo. Since he is Jo´s best friend he should know what kind of person Jo is. This is also when Laurie begins to dream about a woman who looks a lot like Amy, and that is when he remembers the thing that Amy told him. That he is lazy and that she is ashamed of him. This is a huge turning point for Laurie. He leaves the daydreams and goes to find a work from his grandfather. Is Amy a manic pixie dream girl? no she isn´t, because Laurie sees Amy´s full reality and manic pixie dream girl, is never a real person. It is a male fantasy.
Goethe on Werther
Quote from Sarah Colvin, professor of German:
"Sorrows of young Werther brought Goethe enormous fame. It was hugely successful. There are elements of Sturm und Drang in it but more than that, it tapped into the cultural sensibility of the time. The importance of the heart, the importance of the emotions. An enormous audience responded into that. It sold out very quickly. It was popular for all kinds of reasons. Partly because you could decode it and people always love that.
Goethe, he himself fell in love to a young woman called Charlotte von Buff and the main character that Werther falls in love is called Lotte. That brought some embarrassment to the real life Charlotte and her fiance. In reality the relationship between Charlotte and Goethe was platonic, and he had a great respect to Johann Kristian Kestner, who is the Albert of the story.
Werther he kills himself in the end and lot of young men and women followed his example. Werther was badly misunderstood as a novel. Firstly because people didn´t understand that Goethe was actually criticizing the cultural sensibility in the character of Werther and secondly, it was read as an encouragement to suicide, which it certainly wasn´t. It was partly based on to a young man called Jerusalem, who´s story Goethe had heard and implemented to the novel. Jerusalem was a promising young ambassador´s assistant, who had had heartbreaks and disappointments living in the high society and who eventually took his own life".
Goethe was horrified by the wave of suicides that happened. Couple years later, he literally re-wrote Werther, this time in more critical tone.
Louisa was a consumer of Goethe´s novels since an early age. Because she had read Goethe´s biography she seemed to have a very deep understanding why Werther was not a character to be romanticized, but just like Goethe, Louisa noticed that giving Laurie this "Wertherian" character arc, in the end, took the attention away almost everything else in the novel.
Alf and Ladislas
It is difficult for us to understand it now, but when Little Women appeared Louisa received tons of mail everyday from young girls asking her to re-write the ending of the novel and marry Jo to Laurie. There is a scene in Jo´s boys (which is the last Little Women book) where Jo, who is now a famous writer, is very frustrated by these fans who send these requests and the fans who come to spy on her and leave disappointed when they see that she is a "gray woman in her 50s" and not a pretty 15-year old.
This is what Elizabeth Bankcroft writes, in her essay Alcott´s through 30 years, letters to Alf Whitman:
"Alfred, a motherless, lonely boy of 15, enrolled in Franklin B private school in 1857. The shy youth became great favorite of the Alcott girls".
Thirteen years later after Louisa´s death, Alfred published portions of twelve of her letters to him in the "Ladies home journal" permitting the magazine to announce that Laurie the beloved "hero" of Little Women, had edited them. Apparently up to then it had been generally believed that Ladislas Wisniewski, of Vevey and Paris, was the sole prototype for Laurie, but Alfred admitted that Louisa has written him, many years before that "Laurie is you and Jintly (that´s Ladislas). You are the sober half and Ladislas (who I met abroad) is the gay whirligig half".
I am not a native English speaker so I had to check what whirligig means.
Whirligig is a toy that spins round, for example a top or windmill.
I think I need to add that the word gay in the 19th century context, wasn´t always about sexual orientation. It meant a person who took care of their looks or looked dashing and dandy.
Louisa met young Wisniewski in Switzerland. He was very flirtatious with Louisa, who nursed him when he was ill. Louisa always spoke very highly about Ladislas in public, but in private letters between Louisa and her sister May they call him "boring" and they are frustrated that he does not take life very seriously. This is also why, I hardly ever believe any of Louisa´s public statements. She didn´t want anyone to know how heavily Little Women was intertwined with her own life.
We can only imagine Louisa´s frustration when her young fans would beg her to marry Jo to a dear friend like Alf, or Ladislas who was somewhat Louisa´s ex.
I can see why Werther was such a beloved character among young people in the 18th century, because he is written to be very endearing with all his messiness. Somebody also commented in a literal group that I´m part of that both Laurie and Werther, have these tragic elements within them that appeal to young people.
Thank you for listening.
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I´ll see you soon.
Make good choices!
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, 150 years Penguin edition,
Muuttuva Romaani, Liisa Saariluoma, Karisto, 1989
Sorrows of young Werter, Johann W. Goethe, 1787, Book Beat
Singing Mignon´s Song, Christine Doyle, John Hopkin´s university press, Children literature volume 31, 2003
Alcott´s through 30 years, Letters to Alf Whitman, Elizabeth Bankcroft, 1957, Harvard Library
Goethe in our time, Sarah Colvin, BBC Radio 4, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003c1c8
How 500 days of Summer gets the manic pixie dream girl right, Movies under the surface, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YI2i96G6Kwk&ab_channel=MoviesUnderTheSurface
Little Women 1994 film, Little Women 2017 series, and "Young Goethe in love" 2010 (in Germany "Goethe!")
"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.