If I was a Jo and Laurie fan, I would not speak to myself. Also discussing how incredibly lonely Louisa was and how she envied her sisters' marital happiness, and how she believed that in the next life she would reunite with her loved one and would get the things that were not granted to her in the present (marriage, family).
Hi Niina. I love listening to your podcast. I know this is not a topic you speak very often but I am curious to know what are your thoughts on Jo and Laurie fans and do you think the large number of them is more of a result of a bad interpretation of the novel or the overly romanticised film versions or both?
An excellent question. To my experience lot of Jo and Laurie fans they have very strong denial mentality. I can give you an example. Once I was having a discussion with someone. I said that I really didn´t like the way Laurie was minimizing Jo´s writing in the novel and this person said that they can´t remember any scenes from the book where Laurie would dislike Jo´s writing. So I took screen shots of the scenes in the book where Laurie is minimizing and making fun of Jo´s writings and this person blocked me. To me it is difficult to have discussions with Jo and Laurie shippers because when you point out things in the novel they close their eyes and ears and are like "I don´t want to hear that I don´t want to see that". If you listen to my channel, then you know that I love to discuss about the novel. To my experience they don´t read the part 2. They romanticise part 1 and they skip over the scenes where Laurie and Jo as well are shown in more critical ligth, like in the chapter where Laurie is imposing as John and is catfishing Meg and those things are never in the films.
So to answer your question, I think there are lots of Jo and Laurie fans who are very aware of the more problematic aspects of Jo´s and Laurie´s relationship in the novel but because the films romanticise the so much it is very difficult to some to let go of that and this is why I think the film makers make a HUGE disservice to the book and to the public because year after year after year they keep erasing these toxic elements of their relationship, so the viewer never finds out the real reason why Jo dumps him.
Here is a quote from a discussion I had with Cara who is a fellow Little Women fan.
"There are so many men like Laurie in romantic movies. Guys that are constantly bullshitting or hurting someone end up with the girl and we are rooting for them because they are Oh So pretty. Take Ryan Gosling in the Notebook. He threatens his love interest with killing himself by jumping off the ferris wheel if she doesn´t go on a date with him. Incredible Werther moment. We see it as a grand gesture and a sign of love because that guy is played by Ryan Gosling. If the role would be played by an unattractive actor we would view his actions much differently".
"I always ask myself if the screen writers and actors did read the book or only saw the adaptations because if so they wouldn´t be that biased I think or they really think love interest in Jo´s age would be more contemporary or rather that they like this young blooming love growing into something bigger -trope but are they really people attracted to stupidity? I mean I know a lot of people that don´t care how well-read or intellectual their significant other is but it´s usually people that aren´t well read either and focus on different things".
Laurie, he can be productive and smart when he wants to but he also says that he went to college to please his grandfather and Jo, but he is not interested from academics, the same way as Jo and Friedrich are and he is not interested to work. I don´t really care to discuss with Jo and Laurie fans these days anymore because it´s waste of my time. The last discussion that I had with a Jo and Laurie fan was really disturbing. They said that Louisa May Alcott didn´t know what she was doing and that Greta Gerwig´s version is the only real version because Jo almost accepted Laurie´s proposal. I´m not kidding with you. When I said that Laurie doesn´t really have anything in common with Jo. He likes men´s fashion and music, but he doesn´t take his music career very seriously. I did not hear from this person again. In my evolution of Laurie essay I quoted a lady who had written an article called "Laurie is a nice guy" where they wrote how they used to love Jo and Laurie together but when they got older it began to bother them how he was harrasing her and tried to manipulate Jo to be with him. In the 19th century there was many Jo and Laurie fans because no one was questioning his behavior. Except Louisa May Alcott herself in the novel. I think Jo and Laurie fans are mostly doctorined by the films. If the films would include all the messed up things that Laurie does in the novel and how bad influence Jo and Laurie have on each other no one in their right mind would think they are a good couple.
Jo and Laurie fans they love to complain about Amy burning Jo´s book. In the novel Jo is bullying Amy for months. She was on a 24/7 crusade humiliating her. That´s not in the films. Jo and Laurie fans they love to complain how Amy "stole" Jo´s trip to Europe. Jo says to the aunts that she doesn´t like French and that she is better than them and the aunts are going to France. That is never in the films and isn´t it interesting that Louisa May Alcott herself did the same trip to Europe that Amy did? The way I read that chapter it is meant as a lesson to Jo to not put herself above other women.
The favorite thing that Jo and Laurie fans like to complain is that Friedrich stop´s Jo from writing. This is a narrative that is entirely made up by the Laurie fans. In the book Jo has a mental breakdown when she has to write sensational stories which contradicted with her own desires and that is never in the films. So when Friedrich reminds her that if you want to be a successful and an authentic writer you need to write things that you can stand behind and you can be proud of and this happened with Louisa. She really struggled with sensationalism and she felt lots of pressure when the publisher asked her to write stories that she herself was not comfortable with and there is a quote in Louisa´s journals where she mentions that her friend Emerson has given her courage to find her own voice as a writer. You can find this from the first Louisa May Alcott biography which has quotes from her diaries and it´s never in the movies and the film makers just skip over that and then you get people like Greta Gerwig and Heidi Thomas saying that Friedrich doesn´t allow Jo to write. Why haven´t these people actually read the novel?
Some of you may know that a book called "Jo and Laurie" appeared in 2020 and because of my basic principles I decided not to read it. Someone who I did a collaboration to the podcast had read it and they said that in the novel Louisa decides to match up Jo and Laurie but she is not very happy with that so even the person who wrote this book, and I assume that they are a Jo and Laurie shipper, isn´t certain about them and that if Louisa thought it was a good idea. Part of me thinks that is hilarious but then I am also annoyed that they are misrepresenting Louisa May Alcott who was an actual person (I´m looking at you Greta Gerwig). The only way that Jo and Laurie would have ended up together was if Louisa would have ended up with Ladislas Wisniewski. He wanted Louisa to be his nanny and called Louisa his "little mama" and according to some Alcott scholars he was a conman blackmailing Louisa. I think we can all agree that that relationship would have been a bad idea. If you want to hear more about theories surrounding Ladislas check out my video essay "love and sex in little women".
All this applies to Jo should have been a spinster/asexual/ i ship Jo to a flower pot/ I think she wants to be a child who doesn´t grow up blah blah blah none of those narratives goes along with the events in the novel or Louisa´s personal life. The transcendentalists they had very unique ways to see the world. They were abolitionists and they believed into co-education. People like Henry Thoreau and other philosophers who Louisa knew personally and that she inserted into Friedrich´s character. Without them she would not have become the person who she became so you can´t erase Jo´s and Friedrich´s relationship from Little Women because then you don´t have story of this curious intellectual person growing to be Louisa May Alcott.
There is a book called "life of Charles Follen" which was written by Eliza Follen. Charles was a German immigrant and an abolitionist and he was a hero for the transcendentalists. Louisa had met Charles as a child and she liked him a lot. After Charles passed away Eliza wrote a book about him and their relationship. Louisa May Alcott read this book when she was 12. So both Charles and Eliza ended up becoming models for Jo and Friedrich and my favorite quote in Little Women is the part where Jo wonders why everyone likes Friedrich and she says "he was attractive as a genial fire. People gathered around him like a warm hearth" and I found out that Louisa actually copied this sentence from Eliza Follen. So my favorite scene in Little Women, is written by Eliza Follen. There was something about that relationship that deeply moved Louisa. I am going to make an entire podcast episode about Charles and Eliza in the future.
When Louisa was in her 20s she had dreams about marriage and starting a family. This is what I´v been doing. I´ve been tracing these books that Louisa read that worked as basis for Jo´s and Friedrich´s relationship. Henry Thoreau who Louisa loved all her life passed away when she was 28 and Henry was a model for Friedrich and all the romantic heroes in her stories and John Suhre, German soldier who Louisa fancied and nursed in the war. He passed away when she was working in the hospithal and it is sad that people like Greta Gerwig try to justify Jo remaining as a spinster or to be in love with Laurie, just because Louisa May Alcott never married. Louisa was incredibly lonely. Lot´s of people like to sugarcoat that. Susan Bailey once wrote that maybe writing romantic endings for her heroines was Louisa´s way to cope with her loneliness or re-live romantic memories. Louisa did consider marriage with Laddie Wisniewksi but like we´ve discussed in this podcast many times, he was very flicky and not very trustworthy, and Louisa writes in one of her articles that marriage without love is self-deceiving and if you marry someone just because you are lonely, you are hurting yourself even more and this is exactly what happens in Little Women. Jo says that the only reason she could marry Laurie is because she was lonely.
It´s actually really heartbreaking to read some of Louisa´s letters because she was incredibly lonely. Louisa believed to recarnation and to the immortality of the soul and that she would re-unite with her loved on in the next life. Louisa writes how she sees that her sisters are very happy and she is happy for them but she is sad because she is lonely and she believes that she has had so many struggles in this life she believes that she deserves just as much love and romance as they do and that she will get them in the next life.
"I believe that we meet somewhere again, thou where or how I don´t know or care, for genuine love is immortal"
"I think immortality is the passiong of a soul through many lives or experiences; and such as are truly lived, used and learned, help on to the next, each growing richer, happier and higher, carrying with it only the real memories of what has gone before.... I seem to remember former states and feel that in them I have learned some ofthe lessons that have never since beenmine here and in my next step I hope to leave behind many of the trials I have struggled to bear here and begin to find lightened as I go on. This accounts for for the genius and great virtue some show here. They have done well in many phases of this great school and bring into our class teh virtue of the gifts that make them great or good. We don´t remember the lesser things. They slip away as childish trifles and we carry on only the real experiences"
This is so interesting to me. Louisa believes that she learns and grows from her mistakes and in the second life she gets the things that weren´t given her in the present. Things like marriage and family of her own, and maybe even the school that she dreamt of.
This idea that reading Good Wives or Little Women Part 2 as a sad story of yerning for childhood, it is not supported by the text or the author´s intention at all, because Little Women is about growing up as a person, but what lot of people don´t know that is that Louisa became very ill after her cervice at the Civil War. She had typhoid fever but it was actually the mercury poisoning that slowly killed her. Especially during the end of her life Louisa´s condition was extremely painful and I think it is also good to remind that during this time, in the end of the 19th century most people married for money instead of love and Louisa was part of the movement that was encouraging people to marry for love instead of money.
For those of you who have asked me about Louisa´s relationship with Henry Thoreau. I agree with Christine Doyle, Alcott scholar who said that Henry merited Louisa´s life long affection. He was the love of her life. Now, I don´t know if he loved her back. I think he loved her as a friend and maybe there was something romantic that happened between them but there are too many similarities between Little Women and things that happened between Louisa and Henry, the way Louisa has written about them into her diaries. She wrote that she used to "steal" Henry from her father to have philosophical discussions with him and this happens in Little Women, when Jo tries to steal Friedrich from her father. Henry also has a habbit to carry an umbrella and Henry also used the word "thou" when he was being very cute or romantic. Look up Henry Thoreau´s love poems. Friedrich uses "thou" on Jo, "thou" is his pet name for her and Henry is the romantic lead in Louisa´s novels. What it comes to her love for him, she is very transparent. Henry is not the only model for Friedrich, but he sort of accidentally became part of my research when I found out how big effect this relationship that they had had on Louisa´s literal works. Hashtag #TeamHenry.
Emily: We also talked a little bit about how Jo and professor establish sort of this common language between them in the way they talk with each other because of the use of "thou" and "you" and "us". I guess for me it is like what we´v discussed is that he doesn´t want to hold her in distance. It is almost like a pet-name for them to have a common language with each other but also establishing that they are the ones closest to each other. Which is great. I don´t think it is that extreme in German, in the actual language of German, among friends you say "du" and then for like, let´s say professional relations, your boss or with someone you don´t really know or don´t really see, so then when you establish sort of rapport with them, you´ll say "du". It is not quite as extreme as Fritz takes it in Little Women. Louisa was not a native German speaker. She was kind of doing her own thing with language which, you know, I don´t have a problem with.
Niina: In German and in Russian I think, you know they use a lot of formal language which is not that common in English, or here in Finland. But then in the 19th century I would imagine that it was even more important for the Germans to use "Sie" and "Du" so there was a bigger difference.
Emily: Yeah probably.
Niina: So when Louisa was travelling in Germany. She must have been using "Sie" a lot, when she was talking to people. Yeah I think in that relationship between Jo and Friedrich, "Thou" it becomes more of a pet name. Then it is interesting because when you read poems from Henry Thoreau or Goethe they are always using the word "thou". Makes you wonder if that was something that happened between Louisa and Henry, but that´s all speculation.
Emily: Yeah, we can´t know for sure but it is an interesting quirk. I think we also forget sort of the more antiquated nature of language at that time. I think we try so hard to modernize Little Women and bring it to our own time that I think we forget that it is very much a product of it´s time and is very much colored by history. Which I think people forget factors a lot in the events in the book that actually colors it.
Niina: It annoyed me a lot how Greta Gerwig was complaining how he is using the word "thou" and like I am reading Little Women when I´m 17 and I´m thinking it´s actually really romantic, but then again I was studying German back then. Then again also the translations, like I´v got this old Finnish translation of Little Women and the part where he calls Jo "Professorin, it is translated to "Professor´s little wife".
Emily: Oh no!
Niina: And then in German it means a female professor!
Emily: Female professor!
Niina: Female professor. He is giving her this title that she is his equal. I can imagine someone, a Finnish person reading Little Women, that poor translation from the 50´s and go "Oh Friedrich is such a sexist" and then in the original he is a feminist! Okay. I am pretty sure that the person who translated that didn´t speak a word of German. To my copy I corrected the German words there. I hope that the new translations are better but that was something.
Emily: I know this is a severe misunderstanding of that word. The thing is it is so cute when he calls her "Professorin" Even though he is older than her. He sees her also as a professor and on his level, even though on paper they don´t start out that way. I really can´t understand how people can´t get behind this relationship.
Niina: A part of me hopes that they will make a Little Women adaptation where they clearly show that Friedrich is German and maybe also include parts of him living in Germany. That would be nice and it was important to Louisa that he was German
Thank you for listening. Like comment and share and subscribe to Small umbrella in the rain to learn more about the history of Little Women.
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.