Little Women Podcast Transcript
Hello Little Women fans!
Today´s comment shout out goes to @justanavengersfan who says the following:
"Laurie is always a boy to Jo and when she speaks about Nat or Teddy as daughters, you can really see that she was never going to find Laurie attractive".
Jo in the books never finds Laurie attractive. Friedrich is her sexual awakening. There are quite a few scenes in Little Men and Jo´s Boys where Jo refers Nat and Laurie as "girly" or "daughters". I am surprised that not that many people discuss about this. I think it´s really fascinating. Even when Laurie is in his forties Jo always speaks about him in a very maternal tone, which doesn´t happen between Jo and Friedrich and Jo kinda sees Laurie as a personal success story, because he was the first boy that she adopted and that inspired Jo to start a school for boys. One of the things that a lot of people don´t seem to understand about Louisa, is that she was a very maternal person and she also loved the energy of young boys and very masculine men. Louisa was a paradox but do these qualities need to be exclusive?
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Some you may know that I didn´t read Little Women part 2, or Good Wives until I was a teen ager but I did read Little Women part 1 as a child. I still have my old copy which is a Finnish translation from 1940s. Here in Finland and in most European countries and I believe in most South-American countries as well Little Women used to be published as two separate books, when in the US it has been published as one book.
In the first part of Little Women Jo is 15, then part 2 it starts four years after the events of the first part and part 2 actually covers roughly 20 years of Jo´s life. I didn´t really pay attention to the adaptive attractiveness until I read the original English Little Women, which had not been white-washed by Louisa´s publisher. In the original text, Laurie, he has darker skin complex, big nose and there are lots of references to his Italian heritage. When I started to do more deeper research on Laurie´s character I re-read my Finnish versions, which were based on these "newer versions" where Laurie´s character was being romanticized. Many of these elements that made him more Italian were erased and it´s funny because I was looking at my copy of Good Wives. It has this cover illustration of Amy and Laurie. Laurie is actually a blonde and he could an actor from a Finnish film from the 50s. However I do not blame the illustrator because obviously that text was based on this, re-writing of Little Women.
In the original text same happens with Friedrich´s character. Louisa makes constant references on him being German and Jo loves that he is German, which is actually quite endearing. I am sure you can now find lots of different versions of this uncut original book which is great and the book that I have is Penguin classic Little Women based to the original book from 1867. That is the version I have used as a reference on this podcast. Every time when I have quoted something from Little Women.
This is small umbrella in the rain, Little Women podcast: Laurie and adaptive attractiveness.
Original Description of Laurie
Theodore Laurie Lawrence is one of the most complicated characters in Little Women and his cultural and cinematic history is also complicated. More than often the Hollywood adaptations of the book changes our perspective of the characters. In the original book that was published in 1868 Laurie is both foreign and androgynous.
Laurie has brown skin, curly black hair, long nose, nice teeth, little hands and feet. He is the same size as Jo making him equal to her. When he asks Jo to dance he makes a little French bow.
For the 1880 edition of Little Women Louisa´s publisher demanded her to make changes for the books. Little Women was a huge hit and publishers want to make money. Now all Laurie´s foreign features were removed because they were not suitable for a romantic suitor. He became more handsome, no mention of the colour of his skin and he is taller than Jo, making him superior to her.
The problem with these changes was that LMA herself never meant Laurie to be a romantic suitor for Jo. Quoting her own words when she created Laurie she gave her alter-ego a brother that she never had. It is the 1880 version with more "masculine Laurie" that is familiar to most people. This description of him remained in the books nearly 100 years. When I read Little Women as a child my Finnish version did not have any mention of Laurie being androgynous neither there was any mentions about his skin colour. The translation I read had been made in 1920´s. Last Finnish translation of Little Women appeared in 2012 so that is when the Finnish readers got to read the original description of Laurie for the first time. Little Women has been translated into more than 50 languages. Many translations especially the older ones are abridged and entire chapters are missing.
Another very important part of Laurie is that he has androgynous looks. In the famous and beloved 1933 film version of Little Women Douglas Montgomery plays Laurie and he has very androgynous looks. He has quite feminine and soft features. Katherine Hepburn´s Jo is close to the book Jo. She is tall, with androgynous looks and sharp features and a strong way to carry herself. Little Women is a semi-biographical novel and Jo´s character is loosely based on Louisa herself and Louisa was a tomboy and not traditionally feminine.
Hollywood and Adaptive Attractiveness
What it comes to Little Women adaptations they are model examples of adaptive attractiveness. Adaptive attractiveness refers to the way Hollywood changes the appearance of a book character. Who in the story is described from anything from old to ugly from androgynous to plain looking is played by an attractive actor in a film version. As we learned the adaptive attractiveness of Laurie already started in the 19th century. In films/tv adaptations Jo, Laurie and Friedrich all go through adaptive attractiveness. This does not mean that beautiful actors can not play these characters or that we should stop watching these movies. Some of them are the best adaptations of Little Women. The reason for this is the same as Louisa´s publisher changing Laurie´s looks, to make money. Studios invest great deal of money to the films and the best way to make profit and get viewers is to hire attractive actors.
Problems With Adaptive Attractiveness and Little Women
However there are lots of problems with adaptive attractiveness in Little Women Louisa´s original description of the three characters: Jo, Laurie and Friedrich, is a big part of the narrative. Adaptive attractiveness is deeply rooted idea in our culture. Starting from fairy-tales which follow the Hollywood narrative that love only belongs to the young and attractive. When Little Women appeared it became a massive hit and it made Louisa May Alcott a billionaire. When young girls came to visit Louisa they often left disappointed because they were expecting to see young and beautiful Jo March. Instead they saw Louisa who was rather plain looking. Sometimes she even opened the door dressed up as a maid and she said to the young fans of Jo March that Miss Alcott was not at home. An effective way to get rid of fans. Jo is not written to be beautiful so why did these readers thought that Louisa or Jo was beautiful? I have no idea.
Brown Skinned Laurie
Here is a quote from Jimena:
The importance of a dark skinned Laurie. A matter of representation
Louisa describes Laurie as
‘Curly black hair, brown skin, big black eyes, handsome nose, fine teeth, small hands and feet, taller than I[Jo] am…’
Yet in all adaptations, except the 80s anime, Laurie has been represented as a white character. It doesn’t surprise me that up until the 70s that was the case. However, the 2017 miniseries, 2018 modern adaptation and the 2019 movie make the same mistake: they whitewashed Laurie!
(I’m conflicted in using the word “mistake” cause that implies that they honestly didn’t know. But since they swear they love the book, then it seems more of a conscious decision.)
To me, it’s very worrying that almost no one discuss this in the media during the 2019 press tour.
But a brown skinned Laurie is not just about sticking to Louisa’s description of the character, it goes much deeper. It’s a matter of representation.
One problem that period drama set in Europe or the United States has is that there is little diversity, which makes sense cause they were slaving black people and discriminating everyone who wasn’t white and Christian. If today a show wants to add more variety into their cast, they normally have to race-bend characters or create a fantasy world, like Bridgerton. That or people of color get to play the servants or the poor people or the foreigners who appear in the background.
Yet, here we have an 1868 book, set the Civil War, that features a brown skinned character. And it’s not just a side character, he’s prominent, he’s part of the main characters. He has an arc as important as the main white family.
The fact that Laurie is brown skinned plays into his identity issues.
Just because the North was against slavery, doesn’t mean they weren’t deeply racist. As a matter of fact, Bronson Alcott got into a lot of trouble for offering education to white and black children in the same classroom.
For all the praise that Greta Gerwig’s movie got, I’m surprised very few people called her for including only a couple of black characters. There was one lady who barely had a line and another one at Meg’s wedding who is there just for background. That’s tokenism!
Even the modern adaptation which should have had no problem getting a diverse cast, chooses to cast Lucas Grabeel.
Then there’s the matter of his Italian heritage.
A couple of times, Laurie think about his Italian heritage and not in a good light. Actually his mother must have been the one who passes him his skin color. When he is in Valrosa with Amy, he think his Italian side brings out the superstition aspect in him. Italians have always had a negative stereotype in Western Europe and the United States. I don’t know how difficult must have been for Laurie to hear all these negative comments that attack his mother. This will also serve the discussion of immigrants in the XIX century America, alongside with Friedrich’s case.
Moreover, Italy is also a prominent Catholic country. A few articles I’ve read say that protestant America rejected Catholicism, even to the point of forbidding it. Let’s remember Aunt March’s French catholic maid who change her name from Estelle to Esther so that it would sound more American. This under the condition that the old lady wouldn’t ask her to change religions.
Even with all of these issues, he is in a position of power. He is the heir to one of Concord’s biggest fortunes. He gets to go to college. He is destined to run one of the greatest companies in Massachusetts. Amy even teased him because Fred was richer than him, like it was something that didn’t happen often. So his wealth must have been pretty big.
Returning to the March family, it will also serve to prove with their actions how anti racism they were, not just anti slavery. They included this boy as part of their family almost instantly. He becomes Jo’s best friend and Amy’s husband. It is in the book that a lot of mothers look at him as an attractive suitor for their daughters, but I’m sure some other inhabitants looked down at him for being Italian and brown-skinned.
So, my point is, representation matters.
Imagine how much this would mean for brown skinned boys, mixed race boys and parents of those kids to see this character properly cast.
(I’m curious, how many people knew that Laurie is supposed to be brown-skinned?)
Flipping Gender Stereotypes
Laurie in the books is a complex character with both good and bad qualities. He is an orphan living together with his distant grandfather. Laurie was an aspiring pianist. He had no problems becoming best friends with four girls next door. He put snow to Meg´s ankle, saved Amy from drowning and was Jo´s bff. That is what we usually see in the movies but in the books Laurie is much more complicated character. Louisa was ahead of her time. She refused to impose any gender stereotypes to any of her characters. In 19th century context Laurie and his love for music can be seen as a more effeminate trait. Even the way he is lonely in the big old mansion follows the narrative of the 19th century where young women were domesticated and shut down from the social life. In one of my favourite chapters in Little Women camp Lawrence Laurie is compared to a colt, a gun that can go off at any given minute. Colt also refers to an untamed horse. In the beginning of Little Women Jo is also referred to a colt.
No Temper For Laurie (Or For Jo)
In many ways the 1933 film is loyal to the books but it shows the characters through 1930´s lens. This happens with every Little Women film. They are always bound to their time. Both Jo and Laurie lack their aggressive outbursts they have in the books. Douglas Montgomery´s Laurie and Peter Lawford´s Laurie from 1949 both have bit of a temper which is what you can see in the proposal scene but in all adaptations after them Laurie´s temper is missing. In the 1949 version Laurie played by Peter Lawford is one of the most idealized Laurie´s. He has run away from the school. Lied his age to get into army were he got wounded (we can´t see any wounds). He is also extremely kind and charming. Film does not either show Laurie´s and Amy´s time in Europe together.
Little Women fan Dana Parra has criticised Laurie´s casting choices.
"I think another issue I have with Gerwig´s film and really any film with fans that do this is how the cast are put upon these pedestals. There are fans of the fandom and there are fans of the actors and the director. I feel that Gerwig´s film suffers from fans that love either her or her work or the cast and know little about the original story and I feel Laurie is a prime example of having fans that love his actor and not the original character. Timothee Chalamet is a popular up and coming actor. I haven´t seen him in much, so I couldn´t tell you how good of an actor he is but I know he has a fan base and I know that fan base saw Little Women for him. Not just because they wanted to see the movie and we all do that with our favorite actors. When Jo refuses Laurie, because of this fan base you have to wonder are they mad Jo didn´t end up with Laurie or are they mad that Jo refused Timothee Chalamet because that is a huge difference and those are the fans that don´t care about the original story. They are just mad that their favorite didn´t get what they wanted. You could say the same with Peter Lawford too and Christian Bale because you know that the studios are going to try to put some heart-throb in to the role of Laurie to appeal to the love story or to make the movie into more of a love-story than a coming-of-age movie".
Here is a quote from blogger @thatvermillionflycatcher
Why Jo and Laurie don´t end up together or why our expectations of tropes set us up for disappointment
We are used to seeing literature for women as romances or epic fantasy. Not that there is anything wrong with any of those genres. But this perspective sets us up expect and assume some things. For example we expect the main couple in the novel to be introduced to us in the first few chapters. Usually via some kind of meet-cute or meet-ugly.
But Little Women isn´t a romance novel. It features love and marriage but the romance is not the core of the story. We read chapter three where Jo and Laurie meet and we read it as meet-cute. It never crosses our mind to expect a meet-ugly between Laurie and Meg. For example because Meg is not the protagonist and Jo thinks of an arrangement between Meg and Laurie.
Little Women is a strange story if you think it as a romance. Because the protagonist marries a character that appears well into book two but this is not a problem because it is not a romance. Alternative reading is the adventure quest. The heroine is different. Has a new world view and engages in a quest to change her world but Jo isn´t a heroine in this way. If there are two defining characteristics of Jo´s character those are her anger and her fear of change. She doesn´t want Meg to marry Mr. Brooke not because she thinks that marriage is a constricting future for Meg because it would mean change in her family. Meg would no longer live with them. The family dynamics would be totally different and the mere idea terrifies Jo.
Jo´s quest doesn´t fail because there was no quest. Little Women isn´t an adventure novel either. It is as many people like to point out but frequently seem to overlook consequences of a semi-biographical novel. It is the life story of four sisters. A slice of life with everything it brings. Love and romance and some adventures. Yes but the simplicity of every day life. Pain, lost, friendship, family, work, talent and virtues.
Let´s talk about gender
In this episode I will be talking great deal about men and women, masculine and feminine, male and female. So much that some of you might wonder what are my thoughts about gender in general. Gender is a spectrum and fluid spectrum for that. Some people fit to one point at the scale and that is fine. Some people are more fluid and that is fine as well. When I use the word "men" that refers to one particular demographic and they are not people with male parts, beards or beer bellies but simply people who identify as men. Same with women. Not just people with breasts and ability to give birth but people who identify as women. Femininity on other hand is a set of attributes, behaviors and roles generally associated with girls and women. Femininity is made up of both socially defined and biologically created factors. Definition of masculinity is similar. Set of attributes, behaviors and roles generally associated with boys and men. Masculinity as well is made up of both socially defined and biologically created factors. Both males and females can exhibit both masculine and feminine traits. In Little Women especially Louisa May Alcott explored masculinity and femininity through social and cultural factors of her time and it is a very common theme in all of her works.
Louisa May Alcott was born in 29th of November 1831. Her mother Abigail was one of the first social workers in US. Her father Bronson was a religious reformer, educator and one of the leading figures in New England´s transcendentalist movement. Louisa had three sisters; Anna, Lizzie and May. From a very young age Louisa was introduced to the intellectual circles of the time. Likes of Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Many Louisa´s family members and friends were abolitionists, suffragettes and women´s rights activists. Louisa´s farther was a controversial figure already during his life time but some of his more respectable aspects was that he wanted his daughters to have a proper education.
Marriage between Abba and Bronson was stormy and argumentative. Often Bronson would refuse to look for work and put his highly spiritual ideas before his own family. Bronson Alcott was a very controversial figure even during his own lifetime. Louisa´s childhood was way less idyllic than Jo´s. From very early on she started to support her family with her writings. In the 19th century context the role of the provider was seen more masculine. There were times when Alcott´s lived in extreme poverty. Louisa´s love and dedication for her mother Abba was fierce and protective. Same way as the Marches the Alcott´s went through hard time together and both Jo and Louisa were protective over their families. In the 19th century puberty began much later on than now days. Part of Louisa´s youth was also time spent in Fruitlands, a spiritual community based on transcendentalist ideas started by Alcott and John Slayne. Some of the rules in Fruitlands was to follow a strict vegetarian diet. Also coffee, tea, milk, alcoholic drinks and warm bath water were banned. Many Alcott scholars believe that the low nutrition might have also effected to Louisa´s hormonal balance.
Three different point of views
As much as we idolize Jo she was drowning into internalized misogyny. Jo and Laurie were brothers. They planned to ran away together, they had good time making pranks and they made fun of the feminine ladies who Laurie used to flirt with in college. One of the best examples of the internalized misogyny is chapter 21. Laurie makes mischief and Jo makes peace. You can read the whole chapter here.
In this chapter Laurie pretends to be his tutor John Brooke and he sends letters to Meg in his name, who he knows Brooke has feelings for.
She was quite right, for the mischief-loving lad no sooner suspected a mystery than he set himself to find it out, and led Jo a trying life of it. He wheedled, bribed, ridiculed, threatened, and scolded; affected indifference, that he might surprise the truth from her; declared her knew, then that he didn't care; and at last, by dint of perseverance, he satisfied himself that it concerned Meg and Mr. Brooke. Feeling indignant that he was not taken into his tutor's confidence, he set his wits to work to devise some proper retaliation for the slight.
Jo´s reactions throughout the chapter however has annoyed plenty of contemporary readers and so have Laurie´s actions.
Jo´s first reaction is to beat up Laurie and to defend Meg´s honor.
"Oh, the little villain! That's the way he meant to pay me for keeping my word to Mother. I'll give him a hearty scolding and bring him over to beg pardon," cried Jo, burning to execute immediate justice. But her mother held her back, saying, with a look she seldom wore...
Seeing Meg's usually gentle temper was roused and her pride hurt by this mischievous joke, Mrs. March soothed her by promises of entire silence and great discretion for the future. The instant Laurie's step was heard in the hall, Meg fled into the study, and Mrs. March received the culprit alone. Jo had not told him why he was wanted, fearing he wouldn't come, but he knew the minute he saw Mrs. March's face, and stood twirling his hat with a guilty air which convicted him at once. Jo was dismissed, but chose to march up and down the hall like a sentinel, having some fear that the prisoner might bolt. The sound of voices in the parlour rose and fell for half an hour, but what happened during that interview the girls never knew.
When they were called in, Laurie was standing by their mother with such a penitent face that Jo forgave him on the spot, but did not think it wise to betray the fact. Meg received his humble apology, and was much comforted by the assurance that Brooke knew nothing of the joke.
Jo stood aloof, meanwhile, trying to harden her heart against him, and succeeding only in priming up her face into an expression of entire disapprobation. Laurie looked at her once or twice, but as she showed no sign of relenting, he felt injured, and turned his back on her till the others were done with him, when he made her a low bow and walked off without a word.
As soon as he had gone, she wished she had been more forgiving, and when Meg and her mother went upstairs, she felt lonely and longed for Teddy. After resisting for some time, she yielded to the impulse, and armed with a book to return, went over to the big house.
When Laurie is scolded by Marmee Jo quickly forgives him and sees the whole thing only as a harmless prank. She has difficulties to understand how much Laurie´s mischief actually hurt her sister. This is what Meg says:
"If John doesn't know anything about this nonsense, don't tell him, and make Jo and Laurie hold their tongues. I won't be deceived and plagued and made a fool of. It's a shame!"
Meg is in an age that if this prank would have turned into a rumor it would have severely hurt Meg´s reputation and John´s as well. Meg´s response is very mature. Considering the time there is very little that Meg can do when something like this happens.
Back at the Lawrences Laurie is lectured by his grandfather.
"No, he would have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I'd have told my part of the scrape, if I could without bringing Meg in. As I couldn't, I held my tongue, and bore the scolding till the old gentleman collared me. Then I bolted, for fear I should forget myself."
"It wasn't nice, but he's sorry, I know, so go down and make up. I'll help you."
"Hanged if I do! I'm not going to be lectured and pummelled by everyone, just for a bit of a frolic. I was sorry about Meg, and begged pardon like a man, but I won't do it again, when I wasn't in the wrong."
"He didn't know that."
"He ought to trust me, and not act as if I was a baby! It's no use, Jo, he's got to learn that I'm able to take care of myself, and don't need anyone's apron string to hold on by."
Jo works as a mediator between Laurie and older Mr.Lawrence. After being forced to apologise to Meg Laurie is now expecting his grandfather apologising him for lecturing him without no reason. He refuses to see any faults in his own actions. Next moment he is asking Jo to go to Washington to see Mr. Brooke and Jo is tempted to go but she is mature enough to see that such trip is Laurie only trying to escape facing his grandfather.
There is of course an actual reason why Laurie´s and his grandfather´s relationship is difficult and why he is constantly looking for attention but that does not adjust his actions.
Mr. Laurence's ruddy face changed suddenly, and he sat down, with a troubled glance at the picture of a handsome man, which hung over his table. It was Laurie's father, who had run away in his youth, and married against the imperious old man's will. Jo fancied her remembered and regretted the past, and she wished she had held her tongue.
Why the feminine sister´s feelings are treated less valid?
One thing I have noticed while doing gender studies on Little Women characters and talking to fans across the world is that this chapter is more than often ignored and the focus isn´t on the prank but in Laurie´s and Jo´s conversation.
"Why didn´t Jo just agreed to go with Laurie to Washington and have fun?"
"Nothing bad happened as long as Jo is happy".
One fan I chatted with said "why care since no one as hurt".
What about Meg?
For many Meg seems to be a less valid person in the story than Jo is and Jo forgives Laurie so aren´t we ab-lied to forgive Laurie as well?
In her analysis of this very same chapter Jan Alberghene brings out many of the similar themes I have presented here.
No matter how much time Laurie spends with Jo, her sisters, or Marmee, Laurie lives in a man’s world. And so do the women, whether grown or “Little.”
Jo´s reaction can feel almost as violating as Laurie´s actions because Jo is the protagonist and even though she is participating to cover up Laurie´s behavior she does not question it (unlike Marmee and Meg do).
The idealization of both Jo and Laurie is so deeply rooted in our culture, this chapter has never been adapted into any of the movies. It would be important to include it. Chapter captures both Jo´s and Laurie´s fast mood changes and their parallel tempers. We also see that Meg is a very strong person (in this case more feminist than Jo who´s growth process is only beginning).
Only adaptation where Laurie makes mischief has been included is the obscure BBC series from the 1970. One can definitely tell that the series comes from the 70´s. Marmee´s first reaction when she sees the letters is to laugh. Which is very off-character. We don´t see Laurie being scolded neither by Marmee or his grandfather. Like in the book Jo does forgive him, when he mopes how difficult life he is living with his grandfather. Meg is portrayed as someone who is overly emotional and over-reacting. In this version John knows what is going on and he sees it as a harmless prank. Once again very off character.
Should Laurie´s actions be censored
This is a quote from @Jodramamarch
"At the risk of alienating my fellow Louisa May Alcott enthusiasts and scholars one of my students has urged me to be thoughtful about the following. Would Theodore Laurie Lawrence be loaded for his actions and behavior by modern standards or would he be censored. I am always hesitant to evaluate actions of a literate characters written over a century ago through the lenses of the present but I do feel it is a question that merits discussion. I am deeply respectful of Louisa May Alcott. Her exceptional work and her remarkable life but the "boys will be boys" latitude that Laurie´s character is given strikes me as odious at several moments throughout Little Women".
Jo does have internalized misogyny. She wants to be a man and identifies more with men, at least in the beginning of the novel and then slowly begins to find the balance between the masculine and the feminine. Other than her mother and her sisters she doesn´t seem to identify or enjoy the company of other women. In the end of the novel when Friedrich comes courting, the narrator says that Jo forgot to compare him to Laurie. Who had been her model of masculinity. When she gets into a relationship with Friedrich, she begins to treat other women with more respect because he does. Same happens with Laurie in his relationship with Amy. He becomes a lot more considerate of other people around him and he even apologizes to Jo in the end of the novel about the way he behaved towards her but that´s never in the films, because Laurie´s character arc has never been adapted.
Why Laurie´s physical features matter
When Jo and Laurie grow up, he takes a role that is almost overly masculine. He low-key tries to encourage her to flirt with him and then he threatens to kill himself if Jo does not marry him. This breaks Jo´s ideas of masculinity the way she knew it. In the book Jo travels to New York, because she gets anxiety to be alone with Laurie, nothing sweet or romantic about that. She even says to Marmee that she needs to leave because she doesn´t like him that way and then in New York she opens her heart to Friedrich and Laurie proposes after Jo has returned. In the movies Laurie proposes before she goes to New York. So you will never get the real reasons why Jo rejected him. She was in love with Friedrich.
When Louisa wrote Little Women, there was discrimination against both German and Italian immigrants. Laurie first becomes friends with the Marches who represent Louisa´s own transcendentalist philosophy of the transnational family but because Laurie comes from a wealthy family he does not face the same level of discrimination as Friedrich´s character does. There has been lots of criticism towards recent Little Women adaptations because they do not include the immigration themes and in some cases they even make fun of them.
Throughout the whole promotional tour of the 2019 film Greta Gerwig complained about Friedrich being German and speaking with a German accent. Louisa May Alcott adored everything that came from Germany and even studied German herself.
This is another quote from @thatvermillionflycatcher
Why Laurie´s physical features matter, how the film and tv adaptations of Little Women consistently ignore the fact that Laurie is described as tall and dark, brown skin with black eyes and black curly hair. It isn´t just about representation, though it is important, but who Laurie is as a character. Why he is the way he is and how his relationship with his grandfather is the way it is.
Laurie´s physical appearance tells us that he is half-Italian and that he looks Italian and Louisa May Alcott make a point emphazising that.
This is what Jo says in Little Women: how I wish I was going to college. You don´t look as if you like it?"
"I hate it! nothing but grinding or skylarking! and I don´t like the way fellows do either in this country".
"What do you like?"
"To live in Italy and to enjoy myself in my own way"
"That is why he has such handsome black eyes and pretty manners"
"Italians are always so nice", said Meg who was a little sentimental"
"He looked like an Italian. Was dressed like an English man and had an independent air of an American"
"For the Italian part of his nature, there was a touch of superstition"
"The pale roses Amy gave him, were the sort of Italian laid in their death hands, never in bridal wreaths and for moment he wondered if the omen was for Jo or himself".
"She watched him for a moment with artistic pleasure, thinking how like Italian he looked, as he laid basking in the sun with uncovered head and eyes full of sudden dreaminess. For he seemed to have forgotten her and fallen into a reverie".
An explanation to why this is so important can be found in Marmee´s explanation:
"Mother, why didn´t Mr Lawrence like to have Laurie play?" asked Jo who was in enquiring disposition. I am not sure but I think it is because his son, Laurie´s father married an Italian lady. A musician, which displeased the old man, who is very proud. The lady was good and lovely and accomplished but he did not like her and never saw his son after he married. They both died when Laurie was a little child and then his grandfather took him home. I fancy the boy who was born in Italy. Is not very strong and the old man is afraid of losing him which made him so careful, Laurie comes naturally by his love for music, for he is like his mother and I dare say his grandfather fears that he may want to be a musician. At any rate his skill reminds him of the woman he did not like and so he glowered as Jo said".
Laurie is an orphan who lost his parents at an early age. Mr. Laurence, who had cut ties with his son, learns that his son has died before they could get reconciled, and that he had a grandchild he had to take care of from then onwards. As he doesn’t know what to do, he keeps Laurie in Europe, attending school there. Laurie was practically an institutionalized child. Mr. Laurence finally hires a tutor for Laurie, and brings him home to live with him. By the start of the novel, they have really known each other for a very short time. Laurie wants to go back to Europe, to tread his roots, to be in the place to which he, by temper and looks, feels like he belongs to. Laurie’s appearance is a constant reminder that he doesn’t quite fit in Concord’s society, and this only changes when the Marches make him one of their own. That’s why he has a mother-son relationship with Marmee. That’s one of the reasons why he is so dejected when Jo refuses him. That’s why he is so lousy at college.
Mr. Laurence, on his side, is terrified of losing Laurie, the same way he lost both his children –both musically inclined, as was Laurie’s mother, of whom Laurie bears the resemblance– (and one can suppose, his wife) at a young age. It is no wonder that he doesn’t want Laurie to play or dedicate himself to music. It is only his story arc with Beth that helps him recover from his aversion to music, and it is under this light how important for him as a character is his offer to Laurie, after the failed proposal, to go to Europe with him, try his art and enjoy himself. Mr. Laurence wants to be there for his grandson and correct somehow what he didn’t do for his son. Laurie isn’t just a standard boy-next-door. He is a character in his own right that cannot be understood properly unless his background is taken into account, because it significantly shapes his temper and the way he relates to other characters in the novels. That’s why it is important for him to be played by an actor who has dark skin, black eyes and curly black hair.
To give you some context Louisa also emphasizes Friedrich being German:
“Being a German, he loved these simple domestic festivals, and encouraged them with all his heart, for they made home so pleasant that the boys did not care to go elsewhere for fun”
When Friedrich´s nephew Emil returns from his sea voyage: he “kissed all the women and shook hands with all the men except his uncle; him he embraced in the good old German style”.
“standing next to his father at the head of the table, folded his hands, reverently bent his curly head, and softly repeated a short grace in the devout German fashion, which Mr. Bhaer loved and taught his little son to honor”.
Thank you for listening. Take care and make good choices.
Hello all the Little Women fans.
Today´s comment I came across on Tumblr and it reminded me of Little Women.
These generic tropes, or the lack them 100% apply to Laurie in Little Women films. The answer why Jo rejects Laurie, is in the novel, but the films never give you an answer, because they always erase Laurie´s character arc. Not too long ago I had a discussion with someone who said that they always start as Jo and Laurie shippers when they watch the films and then they end up cheering Jo and Friedrich, but they never understand why Jo rejects Laurie and that there must be something that the films intentionally leave out.
When you erase Laurie´s erase character arc, at the same you actually end up erasing Jo´s arch, Amy´s arc and Friedrich´s arc, because they are all intertwined. If you want to find the roots of TeamBhaer versus TeamLaurie debate the answer is Laurie´s missing character arc. In the 19th century when Little Women appeared, Laurie was extremely popular character. I noticed after the #metoo campaign in the literary blogs that I visited there began to be more nuanced conversations about Laurie and the way he treated Jo and how different it was to the way he treated Amy. It is sad that it is only now after over 100 years of the publication of Little Women, people are finally waking up to discuss about Laurie and the leeway his character has been given in the past. Louisa always included educational messages to her works. She wrote Laurie to be an example of a character who can turn their life around. Back in the days Little Women was not only read by young women, but young men as well and Louisa wanted to have positive influence on them. In Louisa´s novels there are similar characters like Laurie who are always looking for a female guidance. Some of them, like Charlie in Rose in Bloom, expect the woman to do the work and save them from themselves. When this does not happen and the woman refuses they surrend themselves to their own demons. When Laurie wants to be with Jo, he is on that same path, but it is actually Jo´s rejection and desire to have Amy´s approval that forces him to either choose to man up or go down with the toxic self-centerdness.
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This is Small umbrella in the rain The Little Women Podcast - Why Jo and Laurie don´t end up together (what the films leave out)
The Book Laurie
Most distressing part in the adaptations from 1933 to 2019 is the complete lack of Laurie´s character arc and not showing him as a full person. In the book before Laurie moves to Concord he has been tossed around in Europe from one boarding school to another and then he moves to live with his grandfather and they have to build their relationship from the scratch. Older Mr.Lawrence had rejected the marriage of Laurie´s parents so since the beginning Laurie feels unwanted and this is why he becomes so attached to the Marches. He even calls Marmee his mother and that is why he is clinging on to Jo so much. Because of Jo´s idealization towards the masculine Laurie thought he could do anything and she would always forgive him. Hannah describes Laurie as a weathercock. He is a character with constant mood changes. He can be sensitive but he also has high temper. Which has never been shown in the films. He can be very inconsiderate towards other people´s feelings (same way as Jo) like during the time when he forged those letters and hurt Meg. Times when Laurie is sweet and caring are the times when he puts other people before him. Like during Beth´s illness and when he went to cheer up Amy when she was staying at aunt March.
There are times when Laurie is vain like a peacock. He likes nice clothes and keeping up good appearance which is something that Jo at times makes fun off. He can be funny but also very immature. He wants to break free from his grandfather´s obey dance but he is afraid to do that. Laurie is an orphan. Relationship with his grandfather is complicated. For older Mr Lawrence Laurie resembles both of the children he lost and this is why he doesn´t want to hear music because of the painful memories and I suppose self-blame. It is only with his encounters with Beth these wounds start to heal. Laurie doesn´t like school. He wants to go to Italy and be a composer and to re-connect with his roots, this is aspect of him that is hardly ever included in the adaptations. Laurie´s Italian roots are connected to his love for music, his temper and his brown skin.
Laurie The Composer
Only adaptations where Laurie actually plays the piano are series from the 70s and 2017 mini-series. What it comes to the movies it is Mr. Bhaer who is actually much more musical and Fritz does sing and plays music in the books. But it is strange that there are only couple adaptations where Laurie actually plays piano and after all Laurie is a composer. So far all film versions have had their focus on romanticizing Jo and Laurie instead of giving him a full-personality. They follow the Hollywood narrative that the only reason why Laurie exists is to be pretty and to be in love with Jo and he doesn´t have any other aspirations or inspirations outside that. The plot of the novel is unconventional because it flips the conventional romance trope, but when the adaptations try to do this while erasing Laurie´s arc they actually follow the conventional romance trope, and not the unconventional story that Louisa wrote.
Laurie The Prankster
In the beginning of Good Wives when John and Meg move to their new home Laurie comes bringing gifts; knife cleaner that spoils all the knives, soap that takes the skin off one´s hands, sweeper that leaves all the dirt and bunch of other similar items. Each week when Laurie is on holiday from college he brings them random useless things. It can be a funny joke for the first couple of times but Laurie does it for months. It´s behavior you could expect from a teen-ager but not from a 21 year old. John and Meg are poor. Laurie is rich. He could give them something useful. None of Laurie´s pranks are never shown in the movies. Big part why Jo wanted to be more boyish and her being dismissive over feminine was about showing off. Laurie´s pranks were his way of showing off and to get attention.
Call to conform
It is when Laurie goes to college the gender expectations of the time start to have more bigger impact to Jo´s and Laurie´s behavior. Laurie is not very interested from his studies. He goes to college simply to please his grandfather. Laurie is more of a party-boy in college. That is not necessarily a character flaw. Quite many young people go to college to do just that still today. In college Laurie smokes, drinks, plays pool, flirts with girls, gets into fights (never shown in any adaptations) and Jo criticizes him for doing these things. Jo doesn´t want to do any of these things but she wishes she could have the liberty to do whatever she wants without being judged by the society. Jo was very aware of the unfairness of the situation. In the books Jo never likes Laurie romantically and his romantic interest only makes Jo feel uncomfortable. Not only does their dynamics change because Jo doesn´t want to fit into the traditional female role of the time but because Laurie fits into the traditional 19th century male role almost too well. Their relationship in their youth worked when there was more space for gender fluidly but it starts to fall apart when they are called to conform more. When Laurie develops a crush on Jo he breaks that brotherly bond and that shatters Jo´s ideas of masculinity the way she has come to know it. It has never been showed in movies. The closest example of this the way it is described in the books is the song Astonishing from Little Women musical.
Because of the copyrights I can not include clips from the musical, I´m not going to sing either but I will read you the lyrics.
Who is he?
Who is he with his marry me?
With his ring and his marry me,
the nerve, the gall.
This is not,
Not what was meant to be.
How could he ruin it all
With those two words?
I thought I knew him
Thought that he knew me
When did it change?
What did I miss?
When I thought all along,
That we were meant to find frontiers,
How could I be so wrong?
And I need,
How I need my sisters here
If I can't share my dreams
What were they for?
I thought our promise
That we would never change and never part.
I thought together,
We'd amaze the world.
How can I live my dreams or even start when everything has come apart.
I thought home was all I'd ever want
My attic all I'd ever need.
Now nothing feels the way it was before
And I don't know how to proceed.
I only know I'm meant for something more
I've got to know if I can be
There's a life
That I am meant to lead
A life like nothing I have known
I can feel it
And it's far from here
I've got to find it on my own
Even now I feel it's heat upon my skin.
A life of passion that pulls me from within,
A life that I am making to begin.
There must be somewhere I can be
I'll find my way
I'll find it far away
I'll find it in unexpected and unknown
I'll find my life in my own way
Here I go
There's no turning back
My great adventure has begun.
I may be small
But I've got giant plans
To shine as brightly as the sun.
I will blaze until I find my time and place
I will be fearless,
Surrendering modesty and grace
I will not disapear without a trace
I'll shout and start a riot
Be anything but quiet
I'll be Astonishing
This is by far the closest what happens in the novel. It´s like what my one of my friend´s said "That Laurie was horny does not justify his actions". Jo felt really uncomfortable by Laurie´s advances. In the novel, Jo is also frustrated staying at home and she wants to go to New York, mainly to gather new experiences but also try her wings and become more independent.
Because of the open narrative of Greta Gerwig´s film, which completely erases Jo´s arch and growth process, there are people now who say that, Jo just wanted to stay at home with her family and never grow up. Louisa May Alcott´s own name suggestion for Little Women part 2 was "Leaving the nest". Little Women is a coming of age novel, so it´s all about Jo maturing from a girl into a woman. Jo leaves home, because she wants to grow and leave childhood behind. Greta Gerwig also said that Laurie "want´s Jo to step up into the adult world". Seriously, what is this book that she has read? in the novel, Jo is really frustrated Laurie´s immature behavior, and she often criticizes it, and it actually makes Laurie feel quite uncomfortable.
Laurie´s behaviour becomes more obsessive and as a result Jo travels to New York to work as a governess and there she meets Friedrich. The movies have swapped the timeline so that Jo travels to New York after she has rejected Laurie´s proposal when in the book proposal happens after Jo has returned to Concord. When Jo meets Friedrich in New York he is not only her sexual awakening but Friedrich´s masculinity it collapses the male-female binary Jo knows. When Jo meets Friedrich the narrator says that for the first time Jo did not compare a man to Laurie. Up until to that point Laurie has been her ideal of masculinity but those old models have failed her miserably and then she meets a man who provides her a new definition of masculinity. Which does not demand Jo to change or to be traditionally feminine. Which is what Laurie´s model of masculinity did.
Two very different proposals
Lot of the relationship between Jo and Laurie was based on mutually reinforcing ideas of toxic masculinity. Eventually this turned out against both of them. In Jo´s case it made her to loose the trip to Europe and in Laurie´s case it brought out his temper and more possessive behavior. The best example why Jo rejected Laurie´s proposal and why she did fell in love with Friedrich is to examine the two proposals. When Laurie proposes to Jo he says he loves her because Jo has always been so good to him. He doesn´t love her because of her personality or her ambitions. Jo had a tendency to mother Laurie and we can probably explain this with the fact that the young men who were inspirations for Laurie´s character were much younger than Louisa. Being maternal figure was something that came naturally to Jo. In away March´s adopted Laurie to be part of their family unit. That Jo sees Laurie as her brother makes perfect sense and sisters often become pseudo-mother figures to their brothers. In movies we only see Laurie´s pain but we never see the pressure he puts on Jo or how uncomfortable his actions make her feel. When we read the book and see Laurie´s character through the movie´s lens it perpetuates the idea that the controlling behavior he has in the books doesn´t matter and it is a sign of love. Yet the book Laurie is not in love with Jo. He is in love with the idea of love. Laurie´s story and his character arc in Little Women it is not about Amy or Jo. It´s a story how Laurie becomes a man.
I´v tried to show it you but you wouldn´t let me. Now I am going to make you hear and give me an answer for I can´t go on any longer.
"But girls are so queer you never know what they mean. They say no when they mean yes, and drive a man out of his wits just for the fun of it"'
Laurie seems to be thinking that Jo would fall in love with him because that is what girls do. Laurie has said similar things as a teen ager. Things like "someday I´ll get you Jo" which is quite a possessive thing for a 15 year old boy to say and it highlights how much the two have fed each others with harmful stereotypes about gender roles. Now that they are adults Jo feels the need to leave this toxic cycle. Not just because of her own sake but also Laurie´s sake and it is toxic because up until to that point Laurie has been told what to do by Jo, John Brooke or by his grandfather. Laurie wants to keep the status quo of their relationship so that he does not need to grow and take the responsibility of himself or his own actions. Laurie was not used to making decisions. Marrying Jo is an easy escape of his life remaining the same rather than different as it is meant to be. This type of chase is not something that Jo likes or enjoys. It makes her feel incredibly uncomfortable.
Most adaptations have also chosen the easy escape by not showing the slow and painful work of the personal transformation that Laurie does go through in the books. If we now take a look at the narrative of the second book. There are no glimpses inside to Laurie´s head where he would be thinking about Jo or dreaming about future with her. When Jo leaves New York we do get a glimpse inside Friedrich´s mind and he does admit to himself that he is indeed in love with her and he wonders what life with Jo would be like. Laurie´s actions in most part of the second book don´t make any sense because Laurie´s mind is a complete mess.
Almost like the lack of Laurie´s inner thoughts the book is telling us that Laurie hasn´t thought things through. This is another contrast between Laurie´s shallow idealized dreaminess and Friedrich´s deeply grounded reality (@this-thrown-out-gentleman).
Jo is honest with Laurie. She sees that if she would marry him their arguments would escalate to violence. Laurie´s relationship to Jo is more codependent.
Laurie wants to keep the status quo of their toxic relationship and it is toxic because up until to that point Laurie had been used to do by Jo, John Brooke or his grandfather. He wasn´t used to making decisions (@renee561)
When Jo rejects Laurie we should be on Jo´s side. Yet in 90% of Little Women adaptions Laurie´s character arc is missing. He doesn´t have a temper (or character arc) in 1933, 1949, 1994, 2018 and 2019 films. Series from 1950 and 2017. Little Women musical and or in Japanese anime.
Trying to threat someone you say you love is never a good idea. Instead of seeing any fault in his own actions Laurie blames it on someone else and he wants Jo to feel guilty for rejecting him. Then he guilt trips her even more by saying that she will marry someone and that she will be a silly woman by going back on her word of never marrying. Jo has a brilliant response but Laurie doesn´t want to hear it.
Then Laurie threatens to go to the devil and behaves like a 19th century brat boy. Laurie´s proposal has been traditionally abridged or the dialogue has been changed. In the adaptations it has been portrayed to be a romantic scene when in the books it is a conflict. Little Women is often a misunderstood book because it does something very unique and powerful. Laurie´s proposal was never about Jo. It was all about him
It is still all about him and he still wants Jo to feel guilty. Thank god for the grandfather (this is good parenting). Six moths later Amy meets Laurie in Europe and they have not met for four years. Amy finds him changed and different. She scolds him and his attitude but it comes from a good place because Amy knows that Laurie has potential to make most of his life and when she carefully asks what happened between him and Jo...
Still all about him. Not about Jo.
Amy´s lecture did Laurie good though of course he did not own it until long afterwards. Men seldom do for when women are the advisers. The lords of the creation wont take the advice until they have persuaded themselves that it is just what they intended to do. Then they act upon it and if it succeeds they give the weaker vessel half the credit of it. If it fails they generously give her the whole. Little Women chapter 41.
Amy´s words start to effect on Laurie yet in his mind Laurie thinks that Amy´s advice was unnecessary and that he had always meant to do something. Laurie´s biggest flaws are his pride and vanity but also his lack of ability to put himself to another person´s position and this is why his growth process is slow and painful. Still at this point Laurie doesn´t see women as individuals. He sees himself above them. In Vienna he starts to compose and opera which would harrow Jo´s soul and melt her heart. Once again it´s all about him but the opera doesn´t go that well. He wants to capture his romantic passion and all things that come to mind are Jo´s oddities, faults and freaks.
Romantic or creepy?
The moment when Laurie caught himself thinking the word "brotherly" and Jo it is almost like he sees himself as a character in an opera he is trying to compose. He immediately sends Jo a letter and proposes her again. Once again it is all about him and not about Jo. Proposing someone right after they have lost their sister is not a good idea. When Jo´s response arrives and she still says no Laurie feels relieved but instead of feeling bad for guilt tripping her for quite a long time he wants to cherish his memory as being tragic romantic hero. It is still all about him. Why was Laurie so obsessed and why he never listened to what Jo had to say and why he felt guilty when he started to develop romantic feelings towards Amy? since we know Jo never cared about him like that.
As being said there are no scenes in the books where Laurie is thinking Jo romantically or dreaming about a life with her. All his dreams are really about seeing himself as a romantic hero. Laurie feels guilty because his love for Jo is mainly gratitude. She invited him to be part of their family. Something that Laurie was always lacking. Thanks to the over the top ideas of masculinity he and Jo fed to each others Laurie didn´t learn to respect women.
We should not ignore Laurie´s background
It is easy to ignore the stories of the male characters in Little Women, because the four sisters are under a microscope. From the little that we know from Laurie´s background it would seem that when he was a child he was tossed from one boarding school to another and he did not have any stable parental figures or that he never spent enough time in one place to be able to establish such relationships. Quite early in the novel Laurie admits to Jo that he feels envious of the sisters bond to their mother.
Laurie´s and Jo´s relationship is characterised by childhood innocence. Jo represents the nurturing feminine presence Laurie was craving to have in his life at the same time Laurie is a brothernal figure for Jo who compliments her views on non-conformity (Ajedisith)
Jo and the March family become a refuge of stability to Laurie. It is only when he moves to Concord at the age of 15 for the first time he is surrounded by people who stick long enough to put boundaries and try to raise him. More than often Laurie was frustrated by Jo´s lectures but at the same he was depending on them.
Falling in love with the idea of love
Little Women is a semi-biographical novel. We can trace Laurie´s actions to Louisa. Same way as Laurie Louisa´s childhood was unstable and turbulent and the family moved very often. When Louisa was young she had a big crush to the family friend and next door neighbour philosopher Waldo Emmerson. Emmerson was also one of the many men who were inspirations to Friedrich´s character. More than often Emmerson saved Alcott´s from troubles and he became a symbol of stability for Louisa same way as Jo is for Laurie. Louisa became obsessed with German female writer and social activist Bettina von Armin and her book Goethes Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde (Goethe´s correspondence with a child). Which included love letters Bettina wrote to the poet Goethe.
Bettina represents herself as a lover. A role that is traditionally seen as more masculine (Kundera). Bettina was in love with the idea of love. Love as an emotion. Not as a love relation. In her letters she does not ask his opinions or share ideas with him.
"I turned myself into Bettina and made Emmerson my Goethe" - LMA
Laurie is not in love with Jo. He is in love with the idea of love. It is about putting up on a role and a narcissistic one for that when it hurts other people. Which is exactly what happened between Jo and Laurie and Bettina and Goethe. Let´s call Laurie´s behavior with it´s actual name, harrassment. When Louisa was an adult she did tell Emmerson how she had built this romantic fairytale scenario in her head. Emmerson himself had been completely unaware of it. Nevertheless they had very strong friendship throughout their lives (Reisen).
There is the famous Little Women passage to adulthood ritual. It basically means that a reader who has read the book as a child and romanticized Jo and Laurie and quite possibly watched the 1994 film more than once, reads the book as an adult and finds out that Laurie was very childish and he and Jo were very ill-matched and they move on to root Jo and Fritz or Amy and Laurie or both. We can also see it as a metaphor how a person develops a mildly delusional obsession over another. Especially young people can think that their life only has a meaning when they find a partner who´s only reason for existing is them but it is not healthy and not love. When you truly love someone you love them for what they truly are. Not the way you want to see yourself with them. In Little Women Laurie himself is the one character who goes through the Little Women passage of adulthood ritual. It is not until he goes through the process of self-growth and begins to see the women in his life as what they really are, he is truly able to love someone.
Friedrich´s proposal is complete opposite. He wants to tell her how he feels about her and let her decide. After Jo has left New York they have been writing letters to each others and when he comes to see Jo in Concord he hopes to see signs of love from Jo and when he reveals to her that he has gotten a job and he is going to the west Jo´s walls go down.
He gives Jo all the power and control and he lets her know that everything what she feels and thinks is important for him and he wants to make sure that she returns to his feelings and that their lives and goals work together. He is not even making a marriage proposal. He is asking if she could love him. In comparison to Laurie Friedrich´s screen portrayals are always closer to the books, even if most of his parts are left out because he is less romanticized character. He also acknowledges his flaws same way as Jo does. In terms of Friedrich´s narrative Little Women is also about identity but in his case it is not about forming identity but when he falls in love with Jo he reshapes his already existing identity.
Friedrich as Goethe
Louisa was a great admirer of German writer and poet Goethe. Lot of research has been made on Goethe´s influence on Louisa´s writings. For example long fatal love chase has many parallels with Goethe´s faust. But less research has been done between Goethe´s writings and Little Women. Goethe was one of Louisa´s favorite authors and she credited him to be the one author who has taught her the most about creating and understand characters. Her copy of Wilhelm Meister´s Apprenticeship was given to her by Waldo Emmerson (and Louisa filled it with scribbles and personal observations). In Little Women Friedrich gives Jo copy of Shakespeare´s work and through that Jo learns how much more there is to find out about storytelling. Fritz also encourages Jo to study people around her so that she becomes better at developing and creating characters. Goethe was one of the biggest inspirations for Friedrich´s character.
Laurie as the Goethean Protagonist
Trigger warning there will be mentions of suicides.
What it comes to Laurie´s character arc there are lots of themes that come straight from Goethe´s writings. Goethe´s first financially successful novel (and first German international best-seller) The sorrows of young Werther is a semi-biographical novel. Both protagonist young Werther and Goethe himself grew up privileged same way as Laurie. Werther´s love interest Charlotte is marrying another worthy man Albert. Werther makes Charlotte the only sole purpose of his living. He is not only miserable. He is proud of his misery. In fact he endorses it (Kirch). As a result he commits a suicide. What kills Werther is not being disappointed in love. It has nothing to do with Charlotte. What kills him is the toxic self-centeredness. What is common with Werther and Laurie is that they are both extremely sensitive. Same way as Little Women the sorrows of young Werther has often been misread. Some readers endorsed and glamorised Werther´s suicide and when the book became vastly popular it started a wave of suicides of young people in Germany who tried to emulate the tragic end of their romantic hero.
"The children took especial interest in the love-story, and when poor Laurie was so obstinately refused by Jo, “they wept aloud, and refused to be comforted,” and in some instances were actually made ill by grief and excitement" (Cheney)
References to Goethe continue in Laurie´s proposal. After being rejected Laurie threats to take his life and puts enormous pressure on Jo. Same way as with the sorrows of young Werther a great deal of Little Women fans, especially younger ones, find these worrying threats passionate and romantic. Goethe´s book was widely misunderstood since he meant it as criticism and warning example towards life-consuming self-absorption.
"When I re-read the novel in my early twenties, I still technically thought Jo should have ended up with Laurie, but I started to feel uncomfortable about feeling that way. Wasn’t it weird, I thought, to feel that way when the character of Jo so explicitly rejected his proposal? Wasn’t it a bit like telling a dear friend she should date someone she wasn’t crazy about just because he had feelings for her and is *such a good guy*? I dismissed this though because a) death of the author, non-canonical pairings are a-ok, etc. and b) I have a moderate grasp on reality and I do recognize Jo is a fictional character, not my friend. But re-reading Little Women this month, I realized with mounting alarm that as a potential romantic partner for Jo, Laurie isn’t a good guy; he is, in fact, a Nice Guy™. […] The story of Laurie and Jo is not, as I had previously remembered, one of Jo *seeming* like she loves Laurie and making an out-of-left-field decision. It is very much in the field! Jo consistently indicates that she does not have feelings for Laurie, does not want him to flirt with her, and tries to prevent him from doing so every time he flirts with her. And he ignores her, again and again. But wait, there’s more! When Jo realizes that her very consistent attempts to communicate her disinterest are not working, she decides to move to New York for adventure and also to get away from Laurie. […] There may be some who would accuse me of selective reading. After all, Laurie isn’t a terrible person! […] To which I say: yes, but all of this can be true *and Laurie can simultaneously still be a terrible potential partner for Jo*. […] What I realized re-reading Little Women as a grown-ass adult is this: making Jo and Laurie perfect for each other wouldn’t just require a different ending, it would require an entirely different book. So, it’s been over twenty years in the making, but better late than never: Louisa May Alcott, I’m sorry. You were right.”
Maddie Rodgriguez, ‘Laurie Isn’t a Good Guy, He’s a Nice Guy™’ (bookriot.com)
Proof in the pudding:
As Goethe, when he had a joy or a grief, put it into a song, so Laurie resolved to embalm his love sorrow in music, and to compose a Requiem which should harrow up Jo's soul and melt the heart of every hearer.
Little Women, chapter 41
Wilhelm Meister´s Apprenticeship and Laurie´s redemption arc
Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship is a story about self-realisation. The story centers around Wilhelm who wants to escape empty, mundane, bourgeois life of a businessman. After a failed romance he joins into a theater company. In Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship and in many Goethe´s works in general have elements from Shakespeare´s plays. In fact in the novel´s dialogue there is a great deal of discussion about Shakespeare´s work and Wilhelm´s theater group also performs a production of Hamlet where Wilhelm plays the lead. Theater world is filled with seductions, love affairs and scandals. The more Wilhelm sees it the more he dislikes it and he realizes that he is not fitting for this type of lifestyle. What Wilhelm really needs is to figure out who he is, what he wants from life and how he should live. Both Werther and Wilhelm can be seen as failed genius. They are sensitive and artistic but they are not creatively productive enough. Laurie in this case is more similar to Wilhelm because unlike Werther Laurie goes through the process of self-discovery and like Wilhelm Laurie also becomes a husband and father (which brings long desired purpose to his life) and a contributing member of the society which is not something he was before.
Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship introduces the character of Mignon. Mignon was kidnapped as a child by bandits and Wilhelm saves her. They tour the country together with the theater group, go to picnics, flirt and joke with each others. Mignon has a constant longing to her homeland Italy. She falls in love with Wilhelm but he is in love with someone else. Eventually Mignon dies for longing (a common theme in Goethe´s works).
In Wilhelm Meister´s Apprenticeship there is also an important character called Friedrich and one of the female characters, Marina, also likes to cross-dress (same way as Jo does).
"It's genius simmering, perhaps. I'll let it simmer, and see what comes of it," he said, with a secret suspicion all the while that it wasn't genius, but something far more common. Whatever it was, it simmered to some purpose, for he grew more and more discontented with his desultory life, began to long for some real and earnest work to go at, soul and body, and finally came to the wise conclusion that everyone who loved music was not a composer. Returning from one of Mozart's grand operas, splendidly performed at the Royal Theatre, he looked over his own, played a few of the best parts, sat staring at the busts of Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and bach, who stared benignly back again. Then suddenly he tore up his music sheets, one by one, and as the last fluttered out of his hand, he said soberly to himself...
"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?"
The purest form of love is to love the full-reality of the other person.
She did not hear him cross the courtyard beyond, nor see him pause in the archway that led from the subterranean path into the garden. He stood a minute looking at her with new eyes, seeing what no one had ever seen before, the tender side of Amy's character. Everything about her mutely suggested love and sorrow, the blotted letters in her lap, the black ribbon that tied up her hair, the womanly pain and patience in her face, even the little ebony cross at her throat seemed pathetic to Laurie, for he had given it to her, and she wore it as her only ornament. If he had any doubts about the reception she would give him, they were set at rest the minute she looked up and saw him, for dropping everything, she ran to him, exclaiming in a tone of unmistakable love and longing...
Is it possible that anyone who has not been happy with the books have been looking both Laurie and Friedrich from completely wrong perspective?
"Throughout his many works, Goethe stresses love as the foundation of relationships, and he did so living in a culture where marriage matches were typically determined by economic factors. It was a radical position to take.
The difference between “You love me!” and “You love me?” The substitution of a question mark for an exclamation point “changes the meaning completely” (Gustafson).
There is a fine line between love and obsession and the philosophical and psychological exploration of the two is a common theme in Louisa May Alcott´s literal works.
A year before Louisa wrote Little Women, she had a fling with a young man called Ladislas Wisniewski, a young Polish composer. He was 10 years younger than Louisa, and one of the models for Laurie. Louisa describes Ladislas as a charming prankster, and apparently at some point even considered a future with him, but Louisa´s letters reveal that she find Ladislas quite immature and irresponsible. A year after the publication of Little Women, Louisa wrote an article called Happy Women, where she says that one should only marry for love, and any other imitation of love, is only a shadow. Louisa often drew from her real life experiences and wrote them to her stories. If you ask me, a Louisa May Alcott essayist, why Jo rejected Laurie, the answer is very simple, Laurie is based on Ladislas Wisniewski and Alf Whitman. Louisa loved Alf like a brother. Louisa was very lonely when she met Ladislas. She liked to hang out with him but then realized that she didn´t truly love him.
Remaining notes of Louisa´s own romantic encounters and her intense need to protect her reputation does suggest that she put lots of thought and consideration to the true nature of love. Louisa May Alcott also lived during a time period when romantic love became the basis of marriage when before that marriage was based on economical factors and in all her novels Louisa promotes the idea of marriage based on love. When reading Louisa´s journals we find out that Louisa loved philosopher Henry Thoreau. Henry passed away when Louisa was 28 and Henry was 44. It is possible that this is the reason why Louisa never married, because Henry was her soul mate and anyone who has ever been in love knows that, soul mates are not easy to find. Later in life Louisa wrote in her journals, she believed that she was going to re-unite with her soul mate in her next life (Lukens). Interestingly in Little Women, Jo and Friedrich marry when Jo is 28 and Fritz 44. All Alcott sisters wanted to marry for love, and both Louisa and her sister May sometimes found it very difficult (Ticknor). Both being working women, it wasn´t that easy for them to find love in the world where financial stability was seen more important than personal happiness.
Louisa wrote Jo, the happy ending she had wished for herself.
Thank you for listening. Stay well and make good choices.
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, 150 years edition, Penguin Classics 2009
Sorrows of young Werther, Goethe, 1787, Saga Egmont, 2020
Wilhelm Meister´s Apprenticeship, Goethe, 1795, Saga Egmont, 2020
May Alcott, a Memoir, Caroline Ticknor, 1927
Life lessons from Goethe by Adan Kirch, New Yorker, 2016 issue
Stella: A Play for Lovers (1776) (2018) English translation of Goethe's novel (Peter Land and Susan Gustafson)
Immortality, Milan Kundera, 1988
Louisa May Alcott, Letters to Maggie Lukens
Goethe´s correspondence with a child, Bettina Von Armin, 1837
Goethe and Bettina (from Goethetc)
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.