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
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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.