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)
If I was a Jo and Laurie fan, I would not speak to myself. Also discussing how incredibly lonely Louisa was and how she envied her sisters' marital happiness, and how she believed that in the next life she would reunite with her loved one and would get the things that were not granted to her in the present (marriage, family).
Hi Niina. I love listening to your podcast. I know this is not a topic you speak very often but I am curious to know what are your thoughts on Jo and Laurie fans and do you think the large number of them is more of a result of a bad interpretation of the novel or the overly romanticised film versions or both?
An excellent question. To my experience lot of Jo and Laurie fans they have very strong denial mentality. I can give you an example. Once I was having a discussion with someone. I said that I really didn´t like the way Laurie was minimizing Jo´s writing in the novel and this person said that they can´t remember any scenes from the book where Laurie would dislike Jo´s writing. So I took screen shots of the scenes in the book where Laurie is minimizing and making fun of Jo´s writings and this person blocked me. To me it is difficult to have discussions with Jo and Laurie shippers because when you point out things in the novel they close their eyes and ears and are like "I don´t want to hear that I don´t want to see that". If you listen to my channel, then you know that I love to discuss about the novel. To my experience they don´t read the part 2. They romanticise part 1 and they skip over the scenes where Laurie and Jo as well are shown in more critical ligth, like in the chapter where Laurie is imposing as John and is catfishing Meg and those things are never in the films.
So to answer your question, I think there are lots of Jo and Laurie fans who are very aware of the more problematic aspects of Jo´s and Laurie´s relationship in the novel but because the films romanticise the so much it is very difficult to some to let go of that and this is why I think the film makers make a HUGE disservice to the book and to the public because year after year after year they keep erasing these toxic elements of their relationship, so the viewer never finds out the real reason why Jo dumps him.
Here is a quote from a discussion I had with Cara who is a fellow Little Women fan.
"There are so many men like Laurie in romantic movies. Guys that are constantly bullshitting or hurting someone end up with the girl and we are rooting for them because they are Oh So pretty. Take Ryan Gosling in the Notebook. He threatens his love interest with killing himself by jumping off the ferris wheel if she doesn´t go on a date with him. Incredible Werther moment. We see it as a grand gesture and a sign of love because that guy is played by Ryan Gosling. If the role would be played by an unattractive actor we would view his actions much differently".
"I always ask myself if the screen writers and actors did read the book or only saw the adaptations because if so they wouldn´t be that biased I think or they really think love interest in Jo´s age would be more contemporary or rather that they like this young blooming love growing into something bigger -trope but are they really people attracted to stupidity? I mean I know a lot of people that don´t care how well-read or intellectual their significant other is but it´s usually people that aren´t well read either and focus on different things".
Laurie, he can be productive and smart when he wants to but he also says that he went to college to please his grandfather and Jo, but he is not interested from academics, the same way as Jo and Friedrich are and he is not interested to work. I don´t really care to discuss with Jo and Laurie fans these days anymore because it´s waste of my time. The last discussion that I had with a Jo and Laurie fan was really disturbing. They said that Louisa May Alcott didn´t know what she was doing and that Greta Gerwig´s version is the only real version because Jo almost accepted Laurie´s proposal. I´m not kidding with you. When I said that Laurie doesn´t really have anything in common with Jo. He likes men´s fashion and music, but he doesn´t take his music career very seriously. I did not hear from this person again. In my evolution of Laurie essay I quoted a lady who had written an article called "Laurie is a nice guy" where they wrote how they used to love Jo and Laurie together but when they got older it began to bother them how he was harrasing her and tried to manipulate Jo to be with him. In the 19th century there was many Jo and Laurie fans because no one was questioning his behavior. Except Louisa May Alcott herself in the novel. I think Jo and Laurie fans are mostly doctorined by the films. If the films would include all the messed up things that Laurie does in the novel and how bad influence Jo and Laurie have on each other no one in their right mind would think they are a good couple.
Jo and Laurie fans they love to complain about Amy burning Jo´s book. In the novel Jo is bullying Amy for months. She was on a 24/7 crusade humiliating her. That´s not in the films. Jo and Laurie fans they love to complain how Amy "stole" Jo´s trip to Europe. Jo says to the aunts that she doesn´t like French and that she is better than them and the aunts are going to France. That is never in the films and isn´t it interesting that Louisa May Alcott herself did the same trip to Europe that Amy did? The way I read that chapter it is meant as a lesson to Jo to not put herself above other women.
The favorite thing that Jo and Laurie fans like to complain is that Friedrich stop´s Jo from writing. This is a narrative that is entirely made up by the Laurie fans. In the book Jo has a mental breakdown when she has to write sensational stories which contradicted with her own desires and that is never in the films. So when Friedrich reminds her that if you want to be a successful and an authentic writer you need to write things that you can stand behind and you can be proud of and this happened with Louisa. She really struggled with sensationalism and she felt lots of pressure when the publisher asked her to write stories that she herself was not comfortable with and there is a quote in Louisa´s journals where she mentions that her friend Emerson has given her courage to find her own voice as a writer. You can find this from the first Louisa May Alcott biography which has quotes from her diaries and it´s never in the movies and the film makers just skip over that and then you get people like Greta Gerwig and Heidi Thomas saying that Friedrich doesn´t allow Jo to write. Why haven´t these people actually read the novel?
Some of you may know that a book called "Jo and Laurie" appeared in 2020 and because of my basic principles I decided not to read it. Someone who I did a collaboration to the podcast had read it and they said that in the novel Louisa decides to match up Jo and Laurie but she is not very happy with that so even the person who wrote this book, and I assume that they are a Jo and Laurie shipper, isn´t certain about them and that if Louisa thought it was a good idea. Part of me thinks that is hilarious but then I am also annoyed that they are misrepresenting Louisa May Alcott who was an actual person (I´m looking at you Greta Gerwig). The only way that Jo and Laurie would have ended up together was if Louisa would have ended up with Ladislas Wisniewski. He wanted Louisa to be his nanny and called Louisa his "little mama" and according to some Alcott scholars he was a conman blackmailing Louisa. I think we can all agree that that relationship would have been a bad idea. If you want to hear more about theories surrounding Ladislas check out my video essay "love and sex in little women".
All this applies to Jo should have been a spinster/asexual/ i ship Jo to a flower pot/ I think she wants to be a child who doesn´t grow up blah blah blah none of those narratives goes along with the events in the novel or Louisa´s personal life. The transcendentalists they had very unique ways to see the world. They were abolitionists and they believed into co-education. People like Henry Thoreau and other philosophers who Louisa knew personally and that she inserted into Friedrich´s character. Without them she would not have become the person who she became so you can´t erase Jo´s and Friedrich´s relationship from Little Women because then you don´t have story of this curious intellectual person growing to be Louisa May Alcott.
There is a book called "life of Charles Follen" which was written by Eliza Follen. Charles was a German immigrant and an abolitionist and he was a hero for the transcendentalists. Louisa had met Charles as a child and she liked him a lot. After Charles passed away Eliza wrote a book about him and their relationship. Louisa May Alcott read this book when she was 12. So both Charles and Eliza ended up becoming models for Jo and Friedrich and my favorite quote in Little Women is the part where Jo wonders why everyone likes Friedrich and she says "he was attractive as a genial fire. People gathered around him like a warm hearth" and I found out that Louisa actually copied this sentence from Eliza Follen. So my favorite scene in Little Women, is written by Eliza Follen. There was something about that relationship that deeply moved Louisa. I am going to make an entire podcast episode about Charles and Eliza in the future.
When Louisa was in her 20s she had dreams about marriage and starting a family. This is what I´v been doing. I´ve been tracing these books that Louisa read that worked as basis for Jo´s and Friedrich´s relationship. Henry Thoreau who Louisa loved all her life passed away when she was 28 and Henry was a model for Friedrich and all the romantic heroes in her stories and John Suhre, German soldier who Louisa fancied and nursed in the war. He passed away when she was working in the hospithal and it is sad that people like Greta Gerwig try to justify Jo remaining as a spinster or to be in love with Laurie, just because Louisa May Alcott never married. Louisa was incredibly lonely. Lot´s of people like to sugarcoat that. Susan Bailey once wrote that maybe writing romantic endings for her heroines was Louisa´s way to cope with her loneliness or re-live romantic memories. Louisa did consider marriage with Laddie Wisniewksi but like we´ve discussed in this podcast many times, he was very flicky and not very trustworthy, and Louisa writes in one of her articles that marriage without love is self-deceiving and if you marry someone just because you are lonely, you are hurting yourself even more and this is exactly what happens in Little Women. Jo says that the only reason she could marry Laurie is because she was lonely.
It´s actually really heartbreaking to read some of Louisa´s letters because she was incredibly lonely. Louisa believed to recarnation and to the immortality of the soul and that she would re-unite with her loved on in the next life. Louisa writes how she sees that her sisters are very happy and she is happy for them but she is sad because she is lonely and she believes that she has had so many struggles in this life she believes that she deserves just as much love and romance as they do and that she will get them in the next life.
"I believe that we meet somewhere again, thou where or how I don´t know or care, for genuine love is immortal"
"I think immortality is the passiong of a soul through many lives or experiences; and such as are truly lived, used and learned, help on to the next, each growing richer, happier and higher, carrying with it only the real memories of what has gone before.... I seem to remember former states and feel that in them I have learned some ofthe lessons that have never since beenmine here and in my next step I hope to leave behind many of the trials I have struggled to bear here and begin to find lightened as I go on. This accounts for for the genius and great virtue some show here. They have done well in many phases of this great school and bring into our class teh virtue of the gifts that make them great or good. We don´t remember the lesser things. They slip away as childish trifles and we carry on only the real experiences"
This is so interesting to me. Louisa believes that she learns and grows from her mistakes and in the second life she gets the things that weren´t given her in the present. Things like marriage and family of her own, and maybe even the school that she dreamt of.
This idea that reading Good Wives or Little Women Part 2 as a sad story of yerning for childhood, it is not supported by the text or the author´s intention at all, because Little Women is about growing up as a person, but what lot of people don´t know that is that Louisa became very ill after her cervice at the Civil War. She had typhoid fever but it was actually the mercury poisoning that slowly killed her. Especially during the end of her life Louisa´s condition was extremely painful and I think it is also good to remind that during this time, in the end of the 19th century most people married for money instead of love and Louisa was part of the movement that was encouraging people to marry for love instead of money.
For those of you who have asked me about Louisa´s relationship with Henry Thoreau. I agree with Christine Doyle, Alcott scholar who said that Henry merited Louisa´s life long affection. He was the love of her life. Now, I don´t know if he loved her back. I think he loved her as a friend and maybe there was something romantic that happened between them but there are too many similarities between Little Women and things that happened between Louisa and Henry, the way Louisa has written about them into her diaries. She wrote that she used to "steal" Henry from her father to have philosophical discussions with him and this happens in Little Women, when Jo tries to steal Friedrich from her father. Henry also has a habbit to carry an umbrella and Henry also used the word "thou" when he was being very cute or romantic. Look up Henry Thoreau´s love poems. Friedrich uses "thou" on Jo, "thou" is his pet name for her and Henry is the romantic lead in Louisa´s novels. What it comes to her love for him, she is very transparent. Henry is not the only model for Friedrich, but he sort of accidentally became part of my research when I found out how big effect this relationship that they had had on Louisa´s literal works. Hashtag #TeamHenry.
aWhy Friedrich is poor/ Little Women explained
One of the things that I come across over and over again as someone who studies Little Women, is that a lot of people don´t understand why Louisa May Alcott married Jo to a man who was poor. This question is followed by mentioning Laurie´s wealth. Even Little Women script writers have asked this, which always surprises me.
What if I would tell you that Louisa marrying Jo to a poor character who Jo loves and not to a rich character who she is not in love with is one of the most feminist aspects of Little Women.
Louisa May Alcott was born into New England´s transcendentalist movement. Transcendentalism was religious philosophical movement that was based on German philosophy. One of the main thesis of the transcendentalism was the importance of self-reliance. A belief that a person should be able to take care of themselves and others. Rooted to the idea that no matter the circumstances you were born into, you can still make something of yourself. Leave a mark to this world.
One of Louisa´s favorite writers was the German poet Goethe. Goethe was born into great wealth, which eventually led him to a quest to find himself. In away being born as a rich man caused emptiness. Some readers might notice that this is down to a T, Laurie´s character arc in the book, but it has never been adapted.
Goethe finds writing to be his calling and he recommends work as the best remedy for the broken heart. In Little Women when Laurie is in Vienna after he has been rejected by Jo and has been lectured by Amy, he is writing an opera which would ”harrow Jo´s soul and melt her heart” but he just keeps seeing Jo in her most unflattering ways and Jo is replaced by a beautiful ghost that looks like Amy and Laurie sees himself as a romantic prince.
He is flirting with this ghost for a while but then he stops and for the first time in his life Laurie realizes that what he is doing is silly, and he remembers Amy´s words. She took his hand and said that it was white and soft as a woman, and had never done any real work. Only picked flowers for ladies and wore Jouvin´s best gloves.
As a result of this Laurie goes to work for his grandfather. Laurie´s character arc in Little Women is not about Amy or Jo. Laurie´s character arc is about how Laurie becomes a man. In Louisa May Alcott´s world the only acceptable wealthy people are the philanthropists. Marches are friends with older Mr Lawrence not because he is rich but because he uses his wealth to do good. Laurie gets his redemption arc because Amy gets him to support his philanthropist projects.
Self reliance was a big part of Goethe´s philosophy but if we go back into the history of Germany and many other European countries that were protestant, and this is a big part of American history as well, one part of spirituality was the idea that work is beautified by faith and that work, even the most mundane work has a higher meaning. We live in a very secular world but understanding the Christian aspect of the novel can make it easier to understand it.
Transcendentalism has a mixed reputation these days. Unfortunately a lot of that has been spread by the Little Women film makers, who say it is preachy and anti-feminist. It is very ironic because the transcendentalists were an important part of the first wave of feminism because they believed that women had the right to work. Louisa, her sisters May, Anna and Lizzie, they were all working girls, Louisa´s mother Abba was one of the first American social workers.
In Little Women the Marchs´s they used to be on a higher place in the society. In the novel aunt March is the sister of Jo´s father and her husband died and they had a child together, and she died as well. That would make any person bitter. So aunt March is wealthy but she is not happy.
Jo describes uncle March being one of her favorite people. He was kind and he liked to play with kids and that he had a great library. Uncle March actually sounds a lot like Friedrich.
Why did Greta Gerwig decided that it was a great idea to make aunt March a rich spinster who never wanted to marry (where did she get the money, film doesn´t explain that, who is she related to?) Reminds my what Little Women fan- Melodie Ellison said ”Greta Gerwig decided to put herself above everyone else, Louisa May Alcott included".
The Marches they used to have more money but when their father allowed a black child to enter his school , he lost his position and that is when the Marches became poor. In reality the Alcott´s were poorer than the Marches.
Jo is never romantically interested about Laurie in the novel, and in part 2 Jo is actually criticizing Laurie because he doesn´t take his education seriously,and this is a big deal for Jo because she would like to study and go to university. When Jo returns after an eventful year in New York and Laurie proposes her, she sees that he is still not at all interested to find a job. He basically tells her (Jo) to be the one who tells him what to do with his life. It is not Jo´s job to raise him.
One of the re-occurring themes in Little Women is that Laurie is constantly unaware that he is privileged. One example is chapter ”Laurie makes mischief and Jo makes peace” where he is 15 and was pretending to be his tutor John Brooke and send Meg letters in his name.
There was already a rumour going on that Meg and Laurie were an item, and that Marmee was trying to marry Meg to Laurie. This started in the chapter ”Meg goes to vanity fair”. Of course Marmee hated this rumor and so did Meg, but Laurie seemed to be completely unaware of this and that he nearly ruined Meg´s reputations and his tutors reputation.
There are lot of this type of instances in Little Women. In part 2 Laurie is often questioned for buying nice clothes and then he gives worthless gifts to his friends.
Friedrich and Jo are on the same social level, they are both poor and they what it is like to be poor. Jo´s family were not rich, but they were living quite comfortably before. Friedrich had the same experience. In Berlin he was a respected professor. He would get his monthly paycheck. He lived alone so his expenses were less. Then his sister got ill. He moved to New York to take care of her. She died and he adopted his nephews. Now he can only find a job as a language tutor.
What Jo falls in love with in Friedrich is that he is self-reliant and hardworking and that he supports Jo and her desire to work and make her own money. In the chapter friend which is terribly adapted in most adaptations, Friedrich sees that Jo is struggling to write for Weekly Volcano. The stories that she was asked to write forced her to look material that caused her depression and anxiety.
One of the methods that the transcendentalists used as a method to ”transcend” was that they ”scanned” themselves. They would look at the situation from multiple different angles and see if there was something that needed to be changed. Louisa did this all her life. In Little Women Amy, Jo, Laurie and Friedrich they all have these moments of clarity.
When Friedrich tells Jo that the sensational stories can corrupt person´s mind, Jo agrees with him because these sensational stories have been already corrupting her mind. Louisa did the same as Jo, she wrote sensational stories and then she had a moment of clarity. We could compare this to a person who is working for a company. Payment is small, they get not appreciation and they are asked to produce content that goes against their own values.
Friedrich helps Jo to see all that and by doing that she gets her self worth back. Her writing also improves because after this Friedrich gives Jo a set of Shakespeare´s novels and Jo begins to search her own literal style.
The Amazing thing is that Jo does exactly the same to Friedrich. Fritz is described to be very friendly, extroverted person but the narrator also mentions that he feels quite isolated. He is not in a place in his life where he would like to be. He is in a job that doesn´t give him professional satisfaction. The narrator (Louisa) mentions that he dreams about falling in love and starting a family. He loves his nephews but he is also painfully aware that it would be difficult to find a person who would accept the boys to their life as well. Louisa also points out that Friedrich has experienced discrimination for being German and that makes it difficult for him to find a job.
The best adaptation that shows this is Little Women musical. It even has a line where Friedrich tells Jo that ever since he started to fall for her his students told him that he is much happier and smiles all the time. In the novel it is the night before Jo is leaving. Fritz gets his moment of clarity ”Oh my god. I´m so in love with this woman. What should I do”.
The reason why Jo goes back home is not because they argue like in the films. It´s because Beth gets ill and Friedrich lost a sister. He knows what that is like. Jo does the same to Friedrich what he has done for her. She inspires him to take life by the balls. He starts to look for another job so he could provide both Jo and his nephews and when Jo accepts his proposal and they begin to turn Plumfield into a school Jo returns him his previous status as a professor and he simultaneously supports her career as a writer.
This is how Jo addressed her family about her plans: “Now, my dear people," continued Jo earnestly, "just understand that this isn't a new idea of mine, but a long cherished plan. Before my Fritz came, I used to think how, when I'd made my fortune, and no-one needed me at home, I'd hire a big house, and pick up some poor, forlorn little lads who hadn't any mothers, and take care of them, and make life jolly for them before it was too late. I see so many going to ruin for want of help at the right minute, I love so to do anything for them, I seem to feel their wants, and sympathize with their troubles, and oh, I should so like to be a mother to them! …I told my plan to Fritz once, and he said it was just what he would like, and agreed to try it when we got rich. Bless his dear heart, he's been doing it all his life – helping poor boys, I mean, not getting rich, that he'll never be. Money doesn't stay in his pocket long enough to lay up any. But now, thanks to my good old aunt, who loved me better than I ever deserved, I'm rich, at least I feel so, and we can live at Plumfield perfectly well, if we have a flourishing school. It's just the place for boys, the house is big, and the furniture strong and plain. There's plenty of room for dozens inside, and splendid grounds outside. They could help in the garden and orchard. Such work is healthy, isn't it, sir? Then Fritz could train and teach in his own way, and Father will help him. I can feed and nurse and pet and scold them, and Mother will be my stand-by. I've always longed for lots of boys, and never had enough, now I can fill the house full and revel in the little dears to my heart's content. Think what luxury – Plumfield my own, and a wilderness of boys to enjoy it with me."’
Philosopher Waldo Emerson was Louisa’s friend and neighbor; I will read you a quote from his book Self-Reliance: ‘What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.’
What Waldo is saying there is that trusting your own instincts is always the best path to take, and it is also the more difficult one, because there are always people who try to convince you to go against what you know is right.
Here is a quote from Louisa’s early novel The Lady and the Woman, where she discusses her ideas of marriage. Eligible Edward Windsor claims that the style of woman he most admires are those who ‘claim our protection and support, giving us in return affection and obedience, beautiful and tender creatures submissive to our will, confident in our judgment and lenient to our faults, to be cherished in sunshine and sheltered in storms.’
Kate Loring, a young woman of 24, with no pretensions to beauty, who has raised her four orphaned brothers, replies ‘You have given your idol a heart but no head; I would have her humble though self-reliant, gentle, man’s companion not his plaything, able and willing to face storms as well as sunshine, and to share life’s burdens as they come.’ Louisa was part of the women’s movement that developed into the first wave of feminism. Whilst the moving power of this movement was to encourage people to marry for love instead of money, most marriages of the time were because of financial reasons. In Little Woman Marmee says to the sisters that she would rather see them married to poor men and be happy than unhappily to rich men. All the marriages in Little Women, in one way or another, are wrapped around this idea that love is connected to self-reliance. It is a very Christian idea of marriage, the idea that you build something better together with your significant other. I usually try to avoid politics and religion in all of my podcasts, but because Louisa May Alcott was a Christian and it had a big impact on her work, this is one of the things where I make an exception.
When Louisa was in her early 20s, she considered marrying for money to help out her family; in Little Women this element is given to Amy, and a lot of people think that this makes Amy a social climber: I don’t think that was Louisa’s intention. In the book Amy considers marrying Fred Vaughan because she wants to lift her family away from poverty. She’s not thrilled about the idea; she sees it as her duty. Sometimes I wonder if the people who criticize Amy for marrying Laurie, who is rich but not as rich as Fred but still wealthy – would they be as quick to criticize Jo if she had married Laurie? The cause of the whole argument is the lack of Laurie’s character arc in the adaptations.
In the nineteenth century, despite the desire to work, women’s work areas were limited. There was some factory work, but often women would work as maids or governesses or tutors. Amy writes in her letters that if the artistic career doesn’t take off, one of the options is to come back home to Concord and work as an art teacher.
Both Jo and Amy had very similar ideas about wanting to become wealthy, for the wrong reasons. Marrying a rich man, and to support your family that way, seems almost too easy, but in the long run that kind of thing could ruin your life. Jo thought that writing sensational stories would be easy money, and almost cost her her mental health. Amy’s moment of clarity comes when Laurie reminds her that she should not sacrifice her own happiness, and that her family would definitely not support that kind of decision, and the truth is that Amy is reminded of her values and the way she was raised.
I have talked about Laddie Wisniewski who was one of the models for Laurie. Louisa met Laddie in Switzerland, when she was working there. It is still a bit unclear why he was there in the first place – maybe he was taking care of his health. According to Louisa, he had tuberculosis and she was nursing him; he was very flirtatious with Louisa, then he allegedly proposed to Louisa’s employer, [? 19.52 Anna Weld?], who did not react well, and Laddie was kicked out of the premises. Anna Weld was a very wealthy woman, which has led some Alcott scholars to speculate that Ladislas was after her money.
For the angry Laurie fans, who are listening to this, I think the part of Laurie chasing Jo is what comes from this encounter with Laddie Wisniewski, and the rest of it probably comes from Goethe, but continues after the publication of Little Women. Louisa’s publisher had sent a check to Laddie Wisniewski; Louisa and Ladislas had not met each other after they had met in Europe. Why was Louisa giving him money? These are all theories. Ladislas had got married, and he had children, and he needed the money to support them; Louisa loved kids, and she was happy to help. Second scenario: he was blackmailing money from Louisa, threatening to go to the press and tell about their time together in Europe; Laddie was 10-11 years younger than Louisa, and that would have been quite a scandal. I don’t know which scenario is the truth, but I do know that Louisa’s sister May also knew Laddie and they had actually lived in Paris at the same time; but May wasn’t a huge fan of him, and it seems that Louisa got fed up with him as well. They described him as boring, and said that he never paid back his debts for money that Louisa gave him. Maybe May had also given him money that he never paid back.
Whilst the biggest crime that the adaptations do is to make it seem that Amy and Jo are always arguing over Laurie, in the book Jo never wants him, and Amy doesn’t want him either when he is being lazy and unproductive. In an article called ‘Happy Women’ which Louisa wrote about a year after Little Women was published, Louisa writes that accepting a false idea of love just because you are lonely is self-deceiving. Isn’t this what happens in Little Women? Jo considers Laurie’s proposal because she is lonely; perhaps the reason why Louisa rejected Laddie Wisniewski was because she was still in love with Henry Thoreau.
Henry, like all the Transcendentalists, believed in self-reliance; I think the best way to describe Henry’s relationship with money is that he was a minimalist; he also came from the working class – his father had a pencil factory where Henry worked from time to time. He was also a teacher and occasionally a gardener, a hunter and a naturalist – and a writer; and of course Henry was a Transcendentalist philosopher like Friedrich. In Little Women’s saga Henry is constantly present, specially in Little Men where Louisa describes his love for simplicity, when she writes about Friedrich’s love for the natural world.
In the 19th century some religious organizations considered the Transcendentalists heretic, because they almost had a pantheistic belief that Nature was the most perfect expression of God. One of my observant book-readers said that it really was based on someone who Louisa was in love with, and that explains why Louisa was frustrated by the fans who were demanding that she married Jo to Laurie.
Louisa never really liked Little Women; she considered it as one of her worst novels. I think the observant book-reader is right that Louisa wrote a lot about herself, and therefore the success of Little Women would create very conflicted feelings. I and my friend Emily talked about this in our ‘Laurie’ episode; in the 19th century Laurie was a super-popular character, and perhaps one part of that popularity was because he was wealthy. Every time that Louisa was asked about the real-life Laurie, she would always speak very highly about Laddie to the public; but then in her private letters she was not so happy with him.
So why is Friedrich poor? He is poor because he is Jo’s equal, and therefore they shared their similar views on self-reliance and can build their life together. This is what Louisa writes in the ‘Umbrella’ chapter; Friedrich says “I could not find the heart to take you from that so happy home until I could haf a prospect of one to gif you, after much time, perhaps, and hard work. How could I ask you to gif up so much for a poor old fellow, who has no fortune but a little learning?" "I'm glad you are poor. I couldn't bear a rich husband," said Jo decidedly, adding in a softer tone, "Don't fear poverty. I've known it long enough to lose my dread and be happy working for those I love, and don't call yourself old – forty is the prime of life. I couldn't help loving you if you were seventy!"
n Jo´s boys, which is the last little women book, Jo and Friedrich are making out, and he is seventy!
The book that was Louisa’s personal favorite was ‘Moods’, a story that she began to write when she was 17, and she revisited it several times during her life. If you want to read about Louisa’s love life and relationships, ‘Moods’ is pretty explicit, and Jo’s and Friedrich’s age difference in the book is 16 years, which is also Louisa and Henry’s age difference. When it comes to the adaptations, they don’t usually pay much attention to wealth and class; Laurie’s missing character arc is a prime example of that.
That Fritz is poor or not is often pretty vague – same with him being an immigrant, for example in Greta Gerwig’s film there was an earlier script where Friedrich was written to be German and Jo’s father gives a speech about the USA being built upon immigrants, which is true, but then in the final script, and then in the final film, Friedrich is vaguely European and the part about immigrants was turned into a joke. The only film where Friedrich is clearly poor is the 1994 film. Gabriel Byrne´s clothes; in the film they look really nice but they don’t look new. The 1978 series is the only adaptation which shows that Friedrich is applying for jobs after Jo has returned to Concord, and there is a scene where he gets the job and he is building courage to travel to Concord and tell about it to Jo. But the musical is probably the best when it shows that not only does Fritz has a good effect on Jo and her writing, but she has a positive effect on him and his life, in a wider sense.
I will read you a quote from Henry’s poem called ‘Friendship’:
When under kindred shape, like loves and hates
And a kindred nature,
Proclaim us to be mates,
Exposed to equal fates
And each may other help, and service do,
Drawing Love's bands more tight,
Service he ne'er shall rue
While one and one make two,
And two are one;
In such case only doth man fully prove
Fully as man can do,
What power there is in Love
His inmost soul to move
Based on Louisa´s diary markings from the time when she was in her early 20s, it would seem that one of her dreams was to start a school with Henry, where she would be the boys’ mother and he would be the teacher. Henry passed away in 1862; quite soon after that, Louisa registered to work as a nurse in the war; we can fairly say that these events are connected. The idea of school reappears in Little Women. One of Louisa’s friends, Elizabeth Powell and her husband, seem to have been models for Jo and Friedrich; like Jo and Fritz, they even had two sons together. Elizabeth also became one of the first female deans of a university.
Another model for Jo and Fritz were a couple who Louisa greatly admired, Eliza and Charles Follen. Now Charles Follen was a German immigrant; he was really good friends with Louisa’s uncle, Samuel May, and one of the early figures of Transcendentalism. Charles died in an accident, and Eliza wrote a book about him and their marriage. You don’t only see this couple’s influence on Little Women, but also in countless other Louisa May Alcott novels.
Louisa had the habit of inserting herself and people she knew into the books that she wrote. Charles was almost a legendary figure among the Transcendentalists; Louisa basically grew up hearing stories about him. Charles was a hardcore Abolitionist, a revolutionist educator, and he was from – you guessed it – Berlin. Charles was a political refugee. When I now read Little Women, a part of me believes that Friedrich was a political refugee who was fighting against the oppressors. May I tell you, Little Women fans who like to spend their time meditating on Friedrich’s character (like yours truly) are often interested in the different philosophical movements of the past.
I have a few friends who sometimes talk about Friedrich’s childhood and his past relationships before he met Jo. If we think about Henry Thoreau and then Charles Follen – I don’t know if they ever met, but Henry would have known about him because all Transcendentalists knew about Charles Follen. They were both intellectuals, but they both had a rebellious side and a very strong sense of social justice; both Amy and Jo grew up in a family where both parents were always happy to help the poor, and both sisters knew what it was like to be poor. Laurie can never be Jo’s partner because he doesn’t have the mental capacity to support her writing career; it doesn’t mean that Laurie is stupid – it’s just not something that he’s interested in or that he knows a lot about. He is not very grounded, so he can’t really run a school with Jo, but everything works out great for him as Amy is very grounded. When Jo sees him [Friedrich] for the first time, he’s helping this little servant girl, who is carrying a heavy bucket of coal. One of the better parts of the 2017 series is the line where Fritz says that it pains his heart to see a child suffer. Beside their love of books and Goethe and philosophy, Jo and Friedrich also share similar views on anti-slavery and child labor, and also on education, and when we think about all these people who Louisa inserted into Jo’s and Friedrich’s characters – Charles, Eliza, Henry, Louisa herself – they are all connected by this level of rebellion-ism and their refusal to conform to the regulations of society. How amazing is that! Thank you for listening.
The Laurie Problem
Hello friends and welcome to Small Umbrella In The Rain. A podcast series on all things Louisa May Alcott and Little Women. This is a special episode. A collaboration between me and booktuber Emiloid. Emily and I discovered that we had lots of similar opinions and thoughts about Little Women and our first conversation actually lasted four hours!
This episode has been heavily edited :) and we had so much fun that we are probably going to do more collaborations in the future. I hope you guys enjoy this. This is Small Umbrella In The Rain: The Laurie Problem.
Emily: Hello I am Emily. I am also known as Emiloid. I run a booktube channel by the same name and I am also a big fan of Little Women the novel and also a great fan of discussing the adaptations as well.
Niina: I am Niina. Hello everyone and I am a blogger on YouTube and I have a channel called Small Umbrella In The Rain. I do gender studies on Little Women and been lately focusing mostly on the male characters.
Emily: Also I am relatively well-known for my channel for a review I did on the newest Little Women adaptation.
Niina: Which was a really good review.
Emily: To say the least. Openly critical of the film and Niina reach out to me because we have lot of the same perspectives on the book and the films. I am very honored. I am really flattered that you asked me because I had literally found your blog when I was preparing for my video.
Niina: So nice because it was a really big surprise for me how many people reached out after I published it. You always learn new things when people reach out to you like that. They share their views and it´s been a pleasure.
Emily: Yeah. I had lots of people reaching out to me ”wow I am so grateful that you have reflected my views on this film” and it feels like they finally got presented. Before I even knew you I remember thinking about your blog post like, ”wow this person agrees with me” because you really love professor Bhaer and this film did not have professor Bhaer in it, pretty much. You know, they didn´t have our professor Bhaer in it.
Niina: Yeah, where is our professor Bhaer?
Emily: Yeah, where is this beautiful relationship?
Emily: Today you wanted to discuss Laurie.
Niina: Among other things, yes.
Emily: Yes, among other things.
Emily: So we are going to do one video on this channel. On Niina´s channel and then one video on my channel, where we will be discussing Jo and professor Bhaer but you will probably find that our discussions will go on different directions.
Niina: Very likely.
Emily: We have lots of feelings about these adaptations and this book. Alright, how about we start out talking about the Laurie model. By the way I literally just watched the 2017 series last night.
Niina: oh you did?
Emily: I think I agree with a lot what you said about it. I like what they expanded but the ending is very rushed.
Niina: It is. I felt like the writer should have had four episodes to do it properly.
Emily: Yeah. Somehow they managed to expand on some things but somehow the ending was just really rushed. I was so surprised at the end.
Niina: Yeah and it did not build enough for the two couples. That really bothered me.
Emily: They didn´t really thought through the whole process for Jo and professor Bhaer and suddenly the school is established and they don´t build up on that. It was a bit weird. You sent me a bunch of articles and blog posts about this subject and you clearly had done very deep dive into his character.
Niina: I think my biggest problem with all Laurie´s presentations in the films is that it never follows the book´s narrative. This is something that really reflects to the way people read Little Women. I find it very problematic to say the least.
Emily: I know I remember you said that basically Laurie has to go through a whole growth process in the book, I guess we should preface it by saying that lot of the adaptations idealize him. What you said in your blog post. He is kind of this young, pretty guy who is in love with Jo. We are supposed to feel bad for him but what the adaptations leave out is how immature he really is and actually how horrible he is sometimes.
Niina: One of my blog readers. She wrote a very eye -opening review about Little Women how Jo and Laurie, the ideas that they feed to each others, they actually end up harming each others on a long run and that is something that people constantly ignore.
Emily: Yes! I think a big example is, remember when Laurie was like ”Ah I don´t want to go to university and Jo is like just run away you don´t have to go to the uni and Meg is like ”No, don´t tell Laurie, not to go to uni. No, you need to do it”. At that point I was like wow these two are not good influence on each other at all.
Niina: Laurie was that kind of character that he always did what he was told to do. He always wants to do what he is told not to do and he has this constant inner conflict because of it.
Emily: That is true. He kinda reminds me of bit of me, I don´t think he really appreciated lot of the priviledge he had at the start because he is like ”I don´t like uni” because he is sort of expected to fit into a certain mold in the society what he doesn´t really properly appreciate. He was just sort of a party boy in college and messes around and everything. He doesn´t really know how to be a productive member of society. He doesn´t really understand what that means.
Niina: When Jo gets older, it really starts to bother her. That he doesn´t take responsibility of himself. She is like a little mother for him. She is always taking care of him and it is quite sad the way Jo feels bad that he has all these priviledges that she doesn´t have.
Emily: He kinda represents lot of the things that she can´t have but he really takes for granted. I think you might have pointed this out in your blog post but Jo is very much taking care of him because he is really looking for a mother. He really kind of falls in love with her, or he thinks, because he is really looking for this character who is going to nanny him.
Niina: People forget that Laurie is an orphan. He doesn´t really have a stable parental figure until Jo arrives.
Emily: Yeah and he is always envying that really idyllic view of the March family. All the sisters and their relationship with Marmee and Marmee essentially becomes his secondary mother in away. I think you also pointed out, despite of craving this maternal figure in his life, he and Jo like to make fun of very feminine girls. They have really mutually negative reforcing views on femininity and masculinity as well. I was surprised when I re-read the book and I was like wow! Laurie was actually ...am I allowed to swear on your channel?
Niina: Go ahead.
Emily: He is a fuckboy.
Emily: Yeah he is really a fuckboy but then he turns around and talked bad about these girls to Jo and I am like Wow, this is exactly the kind of guy I would have tried to avoid back in uni. He is quite misogynistic. I wonder what you think because you pointed out that Jo is dissappointed with Laurie but I think also Amy is as well. I think Amy even if she doesn´t have the same kind of relationship with Laurie also really steps in and is the one to say ”Hey, you are really not being productive person and you are really idle” and she taps his hand. She is like, your hands, they have never done days work and I´m wondering if you could talk about your view on Jo and why Jo is kind of his mother but isn´t able to build that kind of relationship with him that Amy is somehow able to come out. Give him the same kind of talk but then isn´t really his mother and is actually able to get through him.
Niina: There is a theory that Amy already had a crush on Laurie when she was 12. When I read the book like that it makes sense because there is the scene where Laurie goes to cheer her up when she is staying at aunt March and all that.
Niina: I always liked that chapter but when I read Little Women last time what I noticed is that Laurie always behaves a lot better with Amy than he does with Meg or with Jo. With Meg or with Jo he always seems to have this idea that he is somehow above them but that doesn´t really happen with Amy. It´s really interesting.
Emily: Do you think it is because they are both younger siblings of Jo and Meg and they kind of are able to reach some sort of equal footing that way?
Niina: They are all just very different people. There is that chapter where Laurie forges letters in John´s name and then he is catfishing Meg and then Jo wants Meg and Laurie to get together. To keep Laurie in the family. She doesn´t really see how harmful that is to Meg´s reputation and Laurie doesn´t see any kind of harmful elements in his actions.
Emily: He is just kind of making fun but it really is a mean joke to play at somebody. Especially when one of them involves his teacher, who he really does not appreciate enough.
Niina: He really takes Mr Brooke for granted.
Emily: I think I read this on your blog and this really resonated with me. He is also quite toxic towards Jo especially when he wants to be in a relationship with her. He is saying ”I am going to kill myself” you know ”over you”.
Niina: There is lots of mental blackmailing and it´s quite hard to read sometimes.
Emily: Yeah it is. I think you quoted somebody who said, Laurie is a ”nice guy”, so called. He is one of those nice guys who expect to get what he wants because he is so nice to that person.
Niina: He doesn´t really see Jo as an actual person at that point. He wants to marry her because he is expected to marry someone. When there is that time period when he is in Vienna and he is trying to compose. It is like he doesn´t really care who he is going to marry or who is this romantic woman that he is composing these operas for. It doesn´t really matter at that point because he has this idea that this is what a man is supposed to be like.
Emily: I think he writes about how he has this phantom of a woman in his mind and it is not really vague. He is not really thinking about Jo´s characteristics or anything like that. He just have this sort of Goethean idea of a woman. What we know doesn´t resemble Jo at all.
Niina: It is this phantom princess who is waiting for a prince to arrive, from an opera or a ballet. It´s really not Jo March and it is really not Amy either but when he starts to have more deeper feelings for Amy, this phantom it starts to look more and more like Amy. It is one of those things that is never adapted in the adaptations.
Emily: I am surprised. You are absolutely correct. No one gives Laurie this arch. Nobody delves into his feelings about the March girls. People even cut out that kind of toxic behaviour that he has.
Niina: It is really weird. Very odd.
Emily: I am surprised. You know how these days we are talking about Twilight. Twilight is so toxic because Edward stalks Bella and is so possessive and I am just like, well you know, here is this nice guy who is very toxic towards the person he wants to be with and is no better. It really bugles my mind. That even a grown up reader could go back to this character and be like ”oh Laurie should have been with Jo” and I don´t know if you saw but I think they are even coming out a book called ”Jo and Laurie”.
Niina: Yeah, I heard about it. I am not going to read it. It´s going to make me angry.
Niina: I know better!
Emily: I don´t want to read it either. If you want to write fan fiction, fine, but I can´t believe people are actually publishing this stuff.
Niina: It´s ridicilous.
Emily: Buy this narrative that they should have been together. I really can´t believe it.
Niina: What it comes to Louisa, the whole premise of Little Women was to write a book for girls about how to marry someone who you can actually live with for the rest of your life and she really does this very well when you think about it because she especially crafted Friedrich´s character for Jo and then he is based on men who Louisa was in love with.
Emily: As we pointed out before, we don´t have lot´s of full characterizations of Laurie in the films. I am wondering, did you expect the 2019 film to do a better with his character?
Niina: I read very early interviews of Greta Gerwig who talked about the way Jo and Laurie has this relationship that is not romantic and that gave me hope but then I read the movie guide for the new film and then she goes back with it. I think she is a Jo and Laurie shipper. Which is why Laurie doesn´t have an arch. What I have seen in Little Women circles with lot of the people who I have talked with and interviewed for my articles, is that there are lot of people now who think that Laurie is very immature in that film and they are glad that Jo ended up with the professor. So it is some kind of improvement but he is still million times more idealized in that movie that he is in the book.
Emily: The really dreamy Timothee Chamalet.
Niina: He doesn´t have a character arch. They did very good job with Amy in that movie.
Emily: Yes, yes.
Niina: But it doesn´t work without Laurie´s arch. That is the problem.
Emily: That is very true. I was hoping to discuss this with you. Despite of my very critical review of the new film. I think they were doing okay with Amy and Laurie. For up until the Europe part because I think setting up their relationship is pretty good. I think I said before in my review. I didn´t like how they contrived that with Amy´s painting being the set up for that because I think that is actually a very awful scene that is supposed to be a scene or righteous anger and I didn´t like that it was made to be comical. I liked that they did some work on establishing their relationship before hand. I´d be okay with this and in Europe they have that discussion. Amy gives him a talk and then Amy also doesn´t want to play second to Jo. I was like okay, this was fine. But then you noticed how Laurie doesn´t have to do any work for Amy?
Niina: Yeah, that´s true.
Emily: I always found this to be very crucial part of their arch. Amy even encourages him to be a productive member of society but then he never does any of that. That aspect of their story is left hanging and just incomplete and then it´s back to Beth´s death to speed up their relationship instead of himactually putting work in, which really sat badly with me.
Niina: That is something that really bothered me in the film and that kind of reflected in Jo´s character because she was not given a character arch either.
Emily: She is not. I said in my review her arch is flat without professor Bhaer.
Niina: If we compare that to the 1994 film, Jo has a full arch there. That is the way it goes in the book.
Emily: Yes she does. Despite Laurie not having much of a characterization, maybe not much more in the 1994 film. I liked that they actually acknowledged that he went away to actually better himself before coming back to Amy.
Niina: It doesn´t really build up their relationship as much as the 2019 film but Laurie has some sort of arch in that movie.
Emily: Now that we are talking about 1994 film. I think you said in your blog post we don´t get a sense of his temper and how he would clash with Jo which is why we don´t always buy that they would kill each others.
Niina: That is the same with all adaptations. I mean, Louisa makes a really big effort in the book. She describes that Laurie has a temper and that he has these violent outbursts sometimes and Jo has them as well.
Emily: You get this sense that Laurie is butting heads with Jo, what he kind of is, but he also clashes with her in other ways but they never really represent that. I think in 1994 Christian Bale is really wonderful for the character that they wrote but I guess a lot of people have accused the film of making that relationship with Amy creepy. Underdeveloped maybe, but I never found it creepy particularly.
Niina: I think it´s because Amy is 12 in the first part and Laurie is 16 but it´s just a four years age different and they are not romantically together in that way but then people also say that Jo and Friedrich are creepy but Jo is 24 when they meet. I never saw that creepy.
Emily: They are both adults.
Niina: It was written in the 19th century. Most marriages were marriages with age gaps and Louisa had a thing for older guys.
Emily: Back then it was super common.
Niina: Yeah, for most people there was an age gap in the marriages or in relationships in general.
Emily: Because families generally wanted their daughters to marry established gentlemen. Who already had a living and generally it would take time for a guy to actually establish his career and when he did at that point he would marry somebody. So it is not shocking at all that you would have age gaps like that.
Niina: If you think about some of the recent films. For example the new Emma. In the original Jane Austen´s Emma, the Knightley and Emma age difference is 19 years. In the new film, Knightley´s actor is much younger looking. They do that now days. The male lead is hired to be a young looking guy, even if the actor is actually a bit older in reality.
Emily: It´s funny, you know in the 2019 film they did that with professor Bhaer. They were not going to do the proper arch anyway but they made him younger too.
Niina: The actor is actually 36 so his age is really close to the book Fritz but he looks much younger. It´s just Hollywood the way it does it but then if I think about Amy and Laurie in the 1994 film, I don´t think it´s creepy but if you think about how people could actually avoid that why can´t they actually hire a 16 year old guy to play Laurie but people are going to complain about everything, it doesn´t matter who we are going to cast to play Laurie.
Emily: In the 2019 film I felt that it had bit an issue with Florence Pugh looking older in all of her scenes, when Laurie just looked young in all of his scenes.
Niina: The actors they are the same age.
Emily: They are the same age. It´s just that, you could not quite buy Amy or Florence Pugh as a child and you could never buy Timothee Chamalet as an adult. Whatever their real-life age is. It just doesn´t work in the sense of that visual contrast. I mean people have pointed out to me that Christian Bale was only 20 when he played Laurie but he is able to transition from being an teen ager into an adult. Sometimes you know, even if the real age matches, that is the thing about casting, you need certain people to pass of different ages. It is weird because I haven´t seen the 1933 film but I noticed that both 1949 and 1994 don´t pay that much attention to Amy´s and Laurie´s arch. In fact I think 1949 less so. It is not even there.
Niina: No. There is this scene before Laurie goes to propose Jo and Amy is looking at Laurie with a sad expression on her face. I think that is the only scene with them together and then there is the end when they end up together. That is their arch. Laurie´s proposal is extremely romanticised in that film and it´s really romanticised in 1933 film and 1994 film. 2019 film did better but then it completely erased Friedrich´s character so it kind of sucks.
Emily: Laurie in the 1949 film. I recall his proposal being pretty angry and I think that was the only time we could ever really buy into his character having a temper.
Niina: It is the same in 1933 film. Laurie has bit of a temper in it but after that it is just really flat in the next adaptations.
Emily: I have watched the proposal scene in the 1933 film with Katherine Hepburn. At least he has that line ”I can´t believe you, you don´t know what you want”. Jo in 1949 was probably my least favorite. She never really handles scenes like that with much sensitivity. I don´t recall her being very in-depth about emotions in it with Laurie. My problems with 1949 film is that they had no balls to do lot of things. Amy´s caining, they come up right against it and back down from it, remember that. When she get´s her hand beaten for having limes. They have the teacher almost hit her hand and then he doesn´t do it.
Niina: I really like Elizabeth Taylor as Amy but the problem with that movie is that they make her the butt of the joke and I don´t like that because that is not something that the book does so it kind of brings out this Amy against Jo positioning again. It shouldn´t be there. It romanticises Laurie the same way as it does with Mr Bhaer´s character so it becomes Laurie versus Fritz and then Amy versus Jo and it´s just not the way the book goes. The book makes it very clear that Amy is really perfect for Laurie, and Fritz is perfect for Jo. I still haven´t seen an adaptation that does it the way the book does.
Emily: Yeah that´s true. I think they did professor Bhaer pretty well in 1949 film.
Niina: They actually build up that relationship pretty well.
Emily: I appreciated that.
Niina: He is Italian, but I´m going to over-look that.
Emily: We should probably save this for the professor Bhaer video.
Emily: I like it when the adaptations build up that relationship. I guess some people will argue and say. Oh you can´t really develop some of these scenes because or run-time. Because there isn´t really time for to do these things but I feel like there is not really an excuse sometimes. When you have the really incomplete archs for everybody. The 2019 film tried to do this with Meg´s arch, dealing with poverty in her marriage, but then they just kind of slapped on a happy ending on that and they were just like we are not going to explore it. We are not going to have any sort of conclusion.
Niina: It was left half-developed but I think that happens a lot with Meg´s character.
Emily: In the beginning I liked that they were trying to do something with her. They ended up not really properly deal with her in away that I would like. First of all Emma Watson, as we´ve discussed can´t carry on that kind of quiet strength that Meg has. When you bring something like a marital issue, a serious marital issue, I don´t think you should be like ”Oh I am just going to sell it! Get rid of the silk” you didn´t make the issue go away.
Niina: There was an older version of the script. One of the older versions where her melt-down was included but it wasn´t added into the movie and I heard that it was because of Emma Watson´s performance and that James Norton had to carry out many of the scenes. It goes back to the casting I guess.
Emily: We dicussed this before, casting Emma Watson was very much based on her other accomplishments other than acting. Because she plays the same character in every film she is in. I do admire her as an activist but I have not been impressed with her since Harry Potter. Having recently watched the 2017 film..mini-series. Did you think they did any better with Laurie´s arch or no? Because I dont´t think he really put in much work either. What did you think?
Niina: I think he was very idealized in that version once again. He is very melacholic character there. Laurie in the books, he can be very up-lifting and very funny sometimes.
Emily: Like I said, his interractions with Amy, they were able to build up that relationship a bit more. They acknowledged his musical side. Which is an improvement. I think they tried to get in some of his clashes with Jo. When their characters bummed up their heads sometimes. I think they do bit of that. When he ends up with Amy, when they come together. We don´t see Amy getting him to put his life in order. I feel again, that is such an important part of their story. That Amy is the one to get him to be a productive person.
Niina: Amy´s portrayal in that series it is really a villanization. It was once again putting Amy against Jo. For once they adapted my favorite chapter, which is Calls. She gets to go to Europe and Jo doesn´t get to go to Europe because Jo is actually really rude towards aunt March.
Niina. In that particular version it was framed that we should admire Jo for being rude to aunt March and Jo is like a feminist hero because of that and then Amy actually is quite happy that Jo doesn´t get to go. Then in the book it is the opposite. Amy is really horrified by Jo´s actions and she feels ashamed by it. It is not something that she is secretly glad about and when she finds out that she is chosen and Jo is not chosen. She is really sad for Jo. She really feels bad for her. I think 2019 film had that part done much better.
Emily: Jo and Amy rivalry, the problems I had with 2017 I had similar issues with 2019 where I felt like Amy and Jo were somehow in competition over Laurie, which I don´t like that dynamic.
Niina: That doesn´t happen in the book because Jo never wants to be with Laurie romantically. She is very clear about it since the beginning.
Emily: Yeah, the only reason she would ever consider accepting Laurie is if Laurie accepted again and that´s because she was lonely and that was really the only reason. I think in 2017 when I saw Jo is like ”oh she is engaged to Laurie what! And I was like ”No” they are not supposed to be in competition over this guy. That is not how it works.
Niina: It really has to do a lot with the script writer and how they feel about the characters because I read interview from Heidi Thomas who wrote that show and she was not a big fan of Amy. So you can really see how that reflects in the film. Jo doesn´t really have an arch and Amy doesn´t really have an arch. It´s all just a mess.
Emily: I did feel some of the weaknesses in the writing. I don´t know if it is the issue with that actress who plays Jo but sometimes she can´t always pass off Jo´s lines in a belieavable way. I liked other aspects of that series. The civil war. They included a lot of elements of that which I appreciated. There is a lot more of Marmee and their father.
Niina: That was something that I really liked about it and they developed their characters a bit more and it was a new take so it was refreshing.
Emily: I am always a fan of a strong Marmee because Marmee has to deal with so much. She has to mother the four girls. She is kind of a secondary mother to Laurie. She has to give him adressing down at some point and she has to run a household that is financially struggling. So you need a very subtantial Marmee and I love what they did with her in that mini-series. That´s an issue I had with 2019 film. She is so overly happy about everything.
Niina: It was a bit strange and they didn´t really put that much effort to show the struggles that were going on. In the opening of the film I think there was a quote from Louisa ”I write happy stories because of my stragic life” or something like that. You don´t really see any of that stragic life there. That was something that bothered me because you see that in Little Women, the book itself.
Emily: I know, the whole point of Little Women is about people getting over their struggles and to find the happiness despite the unhappiness. That is why I don´t like the framing device of the 2019 film. ”Oh well the childhood was so simple and warm and happy and now this dark time and adulthood is so complicated” I am just like ”No, it wasn´t never that happy even when they were kids. They were poor and they had to struggle. They had to work very hard from a young age. It was not that simple. It is very pessimistic too because the whole point is that you are supposed to build up into adulthood and you know find your happiness there as well. That thematic bent on it I did not agree with it at all.
Niina: What it comes to Amy´s character and her relationship with Laurie, the dilemma against Amy´s character is that some people say she is really vain, or that she marries for money, but then if you actually read the book, she says that she want´s to marry...what was the name of the rich guy she was dating?
Emily: Fred Vaughn
Niina: Fred Vaughn! Because she wants to provide a good life for her family. So she is thinking it is some kind of a sacrifice that she must make. That she is not going to marry for love but marry for convenience.
Emily: I don´t think she loves the idea of marrying for money. She always has her family in mind. I think the book burning incident sends lot of people against Amy and I think that incident always makes Amy seem like an anti-Jo in away but she is also a kid at that point. Later on we are supposed to see her become this really mature person and eventually is able to set the guy she marries stray, so she does marry for love and it works out very well for her. She is incredibly mature character. She has a sense of social graces. She actually genuenly cares about Jo.
Niina: Yes, she does.
Emily: 2019 film really keeps setting up Amy and Jo even with their artistic pursues. Did you notice that? Amy being like ”I am always in the shadow of Jo” implying that even artistically she is in competition with her.
Niina: If you read the first part of Little Women before the whole book burning accident Jo is really making fun of Amy constantly and she is bullying her. There is a whole episode how she is being a mean big sister. It is pretty normal what it comes to siblings that you fight with them. Especially when you are younger and they both have high tempers. It is when Amy wants to become a lady. She starts to work on her flaws. She starts to control herself. She sees that she can be better and then the whole premise of Little Women is that all the sisters they want to improve themselves somehow. With Jo her biggest issue is her anger and she is very aware of that and Amy thinks that it is her vanity that is the problem. If you actually read the book. She is not really a vain person. It´s in her head.
Emily: The vanity is more about her desire to fit into the certain circles of society.
Niina: They are very poor family and Meg has the same problem, that she wants to fit into the society. To the world of the young girls. Then she thinks it is vain for her wanting to do that because she comes from a different social class but the Marches they used to be part of the higher social class and they fell down. Meg is the one who still remembers what it was like.
Emily: It really hits harder for her because she remembers the days when her family was still living comfortably.
Niina: It is not wrong for her for wanting to be that again but she makes it a big deal for herself and that is quite sad but I think it also has lot to do with 19th century Christian morals and all that. We can´t really fully understand that because we live in 2020.
Emily: It is hard for us now to really identify with that Christian perspective that novel really has because when I read it this time around ”wow there is a lot of Christianity in this book”. They structured their entire lives around these ideals. Of course I can understand why they would now try to tone it down in the adaptations but I am not really fan of how they totally wash that out because that played such a big part in how they viewed their labour in life.
Niina: It also explains lot of the things that people struggle now days to understand in Little Women. I think it would be important to talk about it more.
Emily: I think so. I think that the Christianity, transcendentalism aspect of the story is very important and I liked that the 1994 film actually acknowledged that intellectual circle that they were part of.
Niina: That´s one of my favorite things about that film.
Emily: They got lots of nice historical, context in that film. The philosophical discussion I love it. But definitely Christianity it´s such a huge thing and why Little Women is also such fundamentally American novel is that ideal. You work hard and things will be okay.
Niina: That´s very important part of American literature in general.
Emily: You can really understand our current ideals about personal responsibility, personal development, when you really dwelve into this book and it plays out with all the characters. About being able to grow up and become productive and give back. I think, you know, people are always so upset about Jo not becoming a famous writer. You know she finds joy in being productive.
Niina: She does become a famous writer but people just don´t read the sequels.
Niina: She is very famous in Jo´s Boys. She is so famous she is really annoyed by her fame. When do we get Jo´s boys adapted?
Emily: I confess to not reading Jo´s Boys but I have read summaries of the book and people are like ”oh she doesn´t become famous” and I´m like, she does become famous in Jo´s boys.
Niina: It took Louisa a long time to become a famous writer. It´s the same with Jo. It doesn´t happen in one night. It takes work.
Emily: It does! Art is work. Jo she had to go through a lot creative failures to get into that point. Art is hard. I know that to be true. I feel like we are heading into Jo discussion now.
Niina: Okay, back to Laurie.
Emily: Back to Laurie!
Niina: In the book when he is in Vienna, he really goes through that process of self-discovery, self growth and self understanding. I have this thing when I read Little Women I always get really frustrated by Laurie because I don´t understand his character, his actions and it is not until there is that chapter when he is in Vienna I start to understand who he actuall is. It´s really interesting and it happens after Amy´s lecture. She is the first one he actually listens and I think the difference between Amy and Jo is that Laurie took Jo for granted. He doesn´t take Amy for granted. I don´t think Laurie was even in love with Jo. He was in love with the idea of being in love. He was afraid to grow as a person so he was clinging on to Jo so that he doesn´t need to grow and so that he doesn´t need to take responsibility of his life. Amy actually tells Laurie the truth. This is the way it is and you need to do something about it. In away Amy´s character is similar to Friedrich, in that sense, Friedrich tells Jo the truth. This is the way it is. You can improve yourself or you can stay in the same level you have been. This is what is missing in the adaptations. That whole sequence of Laurie in Vienna and the way he actually decides to be useful for the society. Do a favor for himself. He is about 24 at that point. He has been living in a bubble for most of his life. Very privileged, young, aristocrat life. I just love that scene when Amy and Laurie are rowing the boat together and that has never been adapted either.
Emily: I feel like it is so important to his story because lots of young people could probably identify with that now. Lot of people come from that priviledged circle and they have these dreams that may take little bit longer to process. ”I am just going to be an artist” you know. ”I am just going to live this bohemian life” and then it´s like ”oh well I didn´t really contribute anything and these are all just fantasies. Naturally I am just going to get into work now”. It is funny in our culture because I don´t know if I am wrong but I feel that lot of us really want that ideal ”oh no be an artist, follow your dreams”. For some people it is only talk and what they really need to do is to get a job”
Niina: He doesn´t even really know how to be an artist. He hasn´t really done that work-in-process that it takes to get into that level that he wants to be.
Emily: He hasn´t worked on his art the same way as even Jo has because Jo gets that it is work.
Niina: It is the same with Amy, when she comes to the realisation that she is not going to be a great artist. She continues doing art but then at the same time she combines that with her other passions, like charity work and supporting young artists. She finds a different way to approach her passions.
Emily: I found a recent youtuber who reviewed the new film and they were almost like ”oh I didn´t like that in the book, that everyone is just married”
Niina: What a misunderstanding!
Emily: Not married in the exclusion of everything else. I mean sometimes it´s just a reality for people. Sometimes they can´t make it so sometimes they need to channel their passions in different ways. That is the reality of life. That is what Louisa May Alcott understood.
Niina: That is what I like about Little Women is that you can have it all. You can have a good career and you can have a relationship with a person that respects you. It´s such a win-win situation really.
Emily: I can not for the life of me undertand why people find that unsatisfactory. It is even a promise for people who don´t even feel like they could find someone that they could marry. Even if you would feel like couldn´t be with anyone. Then you can find somebody. It is something that I don´t think the 2019 film really understood. I think they really wanted to push that whole independent woman narrative and I just really don´t like what that film seems to misunderstand about that book. They at least did nice job with Amy and her speech about marriage being an economic proposition. That´s a pretty good scene actually. That´s a scene I didn´t hate.
Niina: In the 19th century marriage was an economical proposition. It was really interesting when I did my research on Louisa and especially on Friedrich´s character. She was part of the movement, where it became more important that love and romance was part of marriage and not just money. That is something that Louisa is promoting in all of her novels. That is something that people are not aware these days. We don´t like to bother ourselves with historical facts about the author but there is lots of misunderstandings about Louisa as a person that are reflected in the way we read Little Women. It´s been really interesting to do research about her.
Emily: She is a real feminist in lot of ways and I think people have these very contradictory ideas about her and I don´t know if it is because Little Women has been around so long that our interpretations are changeabale in lot of ways because we are like ”oh she was a feminist” I think they kind of understand that but then ”oh no but Louisa would have been on board with these other notions now, she didn´t really want marriage she forced her characters into it”. They want to force Little Women to conform into their own modern narrative when you really can not do that. That is the problem, in the adaptation if you do that.
Niina: This idea that Louisa was forced to marry her characters, it is really the opposite. She puts lots of effort to explain why these marriages work and why it should be this way. These character archs they are really beautifully crafted in the book and the way these characters the way they compliment each others and it is really the same in all of her novels. I have been reading quite many of Louisa´s novels recently and I always surprised the way she does that. It is something that she is really into.
Emily: Jo´s story really doesn´t work, I mean none of them really work essentially without their partnerships, not because they are nothing without their parterships but because being able to share a life with somebody, she saw that as being able to achieve harmony in your life. To be able to form your own circle, your own family.
Niina: In many ways that fits with the transcendentalist idea of romance. There is this quote from Louisa, well not a quote, but something she had highlighted from her favorite books, how the character evolves, person transcends with another person. She is very found of this idea.
Emily: That is a very Christian idea, to form an union with the person that you marry. It is not that you are not your own person, just that you build something better with another person, that is bigger that both of you.
Niina: I think that was something that was very radical idea in the 19th century and now days we take that for granted.
Emily: It is a real shame that so much of Little Women has been worked over time by our modernizing world. Like I said before, we seem to have the desire to form Little Women into our modern world, into our modern ideals when really we are just restoring the work.
Niina: It is difficult to understand Little Women if we don´t know the historical context of it.
Emily: That´s very true. I really admire adaptations that try to put the story into it´s historical context. I think that context is everything. You might have heard me criticising the costuming in the new film for instance they are like ”we are trying to make it sort of you know pseudo-modern and we are trying to make it relatable and we are trying to do this and that to make it more relabtable to the audience” and I´m just like ”are you saying that you need to strip away that context in order to make it relatable. Are you saying we can´t relate to Civil War? Or anything from that era? Is that what you are saying?” That seems very condescending.
Niina: It takes away from the story itself when we are being distracted by the modernism in away, or post-modernism in this case. Or the post-modern ideas which are not part of the story itself.
Emily: We touched a bit the Amy rivalry with Jo. You felt that they had kind of villanization of Amy in the 2017 show. They expanded her character a bit more in 2019. How do you feel about how they expanded Amy´s character and that rivalry? Because I think they really lean into it remember when Jo is flashing back to Amy falling in the lake and she burned the book and she is like ”oh Amy finds away to get out of easy situations, get out of hard situations” which took me backwards because it was like ”No, she was called to be with aunt March, she was travelling with aunt March. In that other situation I´d say, she was very ashamed of what she did and she almost died. I don´t understand where you are coming from one you say that she gets out of situations.
Niina: That is a very weird way to look at Amy. In the book, she feels humiliation. She really regrets the things that she does. Jo also regrets things that she has said to Amy. Jo also regrets some of her behavior patterns. But I think that the 2019 film did okay in that sense it showed that Jo and Amy were sides of the same coin. They are very similar and when they realize that they are actually very similar they become much closer. That is an improvement what it comes to Jo and Amy and understanding their relationship. One of the biggest problems in all the adaptations is really idealizing Jo a lot and not really see her as a full character. Really as a human being who actually does regret sometimes the things that she says. Things that she does.
Emily: She is very flawed.
Niina: Yeah, she is very aware that she is flawed. We live in this culture where we are suppose to idealise people who are adamant and don´t want to change or are rude or aggresive. That´s just not the way Little Women is written to be. Jo sees that her actions are harming other people and that is one of the reasons why she doesn´t want to be with Laurie, or hang out with him on the second part because she sees that they are feeding each others with these toxic ideas.
Emily: I don´t know how much young adult fiction you read but it is a common trend to have this female protagonist, you even see that in Star Wars where we have this female character who can do no wrong. Is very spunky and we are suppose to admire that. I think our culture has become a bit adversed to what we are trying to get of from Little Women. Jo is supposed to soften out. She is trying to not harm people with her behaviour and it is a good thing for her because she becomes more compassionate person. That is what becoming more tender means. That is how her father puts it. She has become more tender person because she is just more compassionate individual. That is also what happens with Amy as well. She also wants to be a productive person. She also gets to understand that all these things you get in life, you have to work for them as well.
Niina: Amy is very compassionate and she is very kind person. I really like that in the books. She cares about other people.
Emily: You noticed even when Fred Vaughn asked her to marry him, she is like ”it´s not fair for either of us”. She has to think herself and this other guy and, it wouldn´t be kind to either of them. I really respect her character a lot.
Niina: I think Amy was really the one in the family who really loved aunt March. They really ruined aunt March for me in the 2019 adaptation because she was way too kind in it. It is really who makes her a bit softer in the book. Meryl Streep is great don´t get me wrong but aunt March is a tough person to get along with.
Emily: She is a very tough lady. She is a very crusty lady because she has lived alone for a while. Her kid died. Her husband died. She has got a little bit bitter over the years. You can´t really blame her and Jo was like ”oh I am just so done with this gig, reading to this lady” Amy is the only one who is really able to properly connect to aunt March. Aunt March in her heart she loves these girls. She loves them all.
Niina: She does. She loves her nephew as well but she is not impressed by his way of being.
Emily: Sometimes when, she was like ”oh you made this really awful decision I can´t believe it” sometimes I feel that way about other people in my life ”oh I can´t believe you did that in your life what are you doing?”
Niina: She is quite relatable in the end.
Emily: Yeah she is really relatable. I mean isn´t that what adulthood is eventually relating to aunt March.
Niina: The part of her loosing her child, I didn´t realise that until last time I read the book. Somehow it had slipped off. I had a talk about in Louisa May Alcott group in Facebook with some people and we were all thinking what was the back story of aunt March and this child and her husband.
Niina: That would make a really interesting story for someone to write. It seemed that they had a very loving relationship based to the book, it must have made her bitter to loose it.
Emily: Somebody write the aunt March book. She is that sort of person you need to come to her level and when you do, she´ll be nice to you. She will do things for you. Amy is really cabable of doing that. She doesn´t even take aunt Marches belongings. Aunt March gives her a turquoise ring. She is like ”I am not going to always wear it, it wasn´t just for the material possessions that I worked hard”. I think they wasted Meryl Streep in the 2019 film. They did not do enough of her at all. I think her job was to be like ”well you know as a woman you are supposed to marry well” and that was it for her character. There is lot more dimensionality I like that other adaptations add that on.
Niina: I love her in 1994 film. She is one of my favorite characters. Very much like in the book.
Emily: You have to have that kind of element of thoughness and also those nuances as well. I love Angela Landsbury as her in 2017 series.
Niina: She was very good.
Emily: She is very good.
Niina: I liked the way that version developed her relationship with Jo.
Emily: That final scene between the two of them.
Niina: It didn´t really do that well with Amy and aunt March because it didn´t do that well with Amy but there is always something that seems to be missing.
Emily: Little Women, it is so hard to adapt, so hard to get all these elements.
Niina: There are elements that I like in all adaptations and there are things that I don´t like in all the adaptations.
Emily: That is true. I am so critical about the 2019 film and there are things that I like in it, refering to comments on my video ”why did you hate it? Why did you say that?” ”well I did like this aspect of the film like I didn´t like these ten other things”.
Niina: We are talking about a book that was written 150 years ago. We are allowed to be critical about the adaptations and we are allowed to talk about the things that are missing, like Laurie´s arch.
Emily: We should.
Niina: Things don´t move forward if we don´t talk about these things and the way we approach the book.
Emily: I think we should have these discussions. To some extend a lot of people are too afraid to talk about against the 2019 film because I got that sense from lot of my comments ”I didn´t like this all that much but I couldn´t really validate why I didn´t like it until I saw your video” and so many people were so up and arms against when I criticised it and I´m just like ”well if you are really that upset with me then go find these other people that talk other ways”. I even appreciate it when people talk about some aspect that in the 1994 film that don´t work as well which I also acknowledge. You are adapting 500+ page book there are things you are not going to get. I get that Amy and Laurie relationship isn´t that developed and I would have liked it if Meg would have had more screen time after she got married. I do appreciate those things.
Niina: Laurie is connected to all of this.
Emily: He is a side-character but he plays different roles to different people.
Niina: When I started to do my research on Laurie´s character specifically I began to understand him better when I started to pay more attention to the way he has this emotional turmoil because when I was younger I used to be very much the same. I wish that we would see that more in the adaptations because that is the part that is always missing and people misudnerstand it because they see that something romantic. We don´t see Laurie´s struggles. He is really a creep sometimes. If we would see that we wouldn´t have the TeamBhaer/TeamLaurie debate. Especially if you are hardcore TeamBhaer like you and I are, if you really like Amy as well and you actually have read the book many many many times. It just puzzles my mind how people can misunderstand the book so terribly.
Emily: I feel that even the fans of the book who have also read it many times still have this view on Laurie and these characters which still feels such a surface level interpretation of the book.
Niina: Feels like they haven´t really payed that much attention to what they have read. That´s all in the book and they still don´t seem to understand it. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to do an in-depth study on Laurie and Friedrich as well. It really surprised me that it was really difficult to find un-biased views on Laurie that weren´t about Jo or Amy but Laurie himself as a character, his actions and his behaviour.
Emily: In a sense we are no better, when people first read ”Young Werther” by Goethe. People looked at Werther and were like ”Oh my God, we should all die suicide for love and I think Goethe was ”No, don´t do that, this was not about that”.
Niina: Yeah, he was criticising himself and his own behaviour as a young person. For those of you who are new here. Louisa based Laurie´s character arch to young Werther which is Goethe´s novel from the 18th century Germany. Just a little sidenote and Friedrich is based on Goethe on one-level. We will get into that.
Emily: Yes. In the other video. I read Werther in German. It´s a lovely read but you also see some of the ridicilousness of that kind of romantic vision because he really relates to these big storms, these thunder storms. It signifies his emotional events and it really makes fun of that and people at the time didn´t get that and people also don´t seem to get that now.
Niina: It is very harmful when suicide is being romanticised in general or trying to blackmail someone for ”romantic” reasons that is really harmful and that is something that is still not recoginised fully enough.
Emily: Like I said before if we are criticising that behaviour in books now, in fiction that is coming out now, then why can´t we change the way that we see this character. I wonder if people decide how they see him because of the films.
Niina: I´v been thinking about this a lot. The films they tend to include the same scenes. Then there are those scenes that are being dismissed. Laurie he is idealised and romanticised. His flaws are downgrated and with Amy it is the opposite.
Emily: Which is why some people get angry when they get together. You are missing all that nice context. I think really Little Women needs a proper show. Not even just a mini-series. We need a show. Otherwise you don´t pick up on all these really great scenes that add dimensions to these characters. I really liked that exploration you did based on Goethe because I hadn´t really seen that characater that way before. More discussions like these need to happen.
Niina: I just love this. This is great.
Emily: I am having a lot of fun.
Niina: Next people who are going to adapt Little Women, have a good listen of these talks we are having.
Emily: I hope so. I really hope so.
Niina: Both me and Emily are definitely available to be consultans on these matters and we know people who can help you more.
Emily: Hollywood needs to head us up. That´s our discussion on Laurie and Amy also on different films as well. Of course we went on different tangions on different characters because all these things are connected. I hope you enjoyed our discussion of Laurie.
Niina: Thank you for listening guys.
Emily: Thank you.
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.