Anyone's better than that awful Mr. Brooke.
February 24, 2016 4:57 PM   Subscribe

"Jo, having devotedly fulfilled her readers’ expectations for years, confounds our hopes by ending up not with the dashing, boyish Laurie but with Professor Bhaer, a somewhat older, less glamorous, rather didactic German tutor. To anyone steeped in the conventions of romance—not to mention conventional plotting—the gesture has for generations felt almost vindictive on Alcott’s part." Who is Professor Bhaer? Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.
posted by ChuraChura (49 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thank you! I really liked this article. It made me think about things I haven't considered for a long time. As a child (and later as a teenager), I wasn't really impressed that Jo ended up with Professor Bhaer, but I wonder how I'd feel if I went back and re-read it. Still, it's hard to get past deep-seated childhood reactions, which are much like Sadie Stein's [and her husband's!]:
When I first encountered the book, I was probably nine or ten—too young to appreciate a character like Bhaer, and more receptive to Laurie’s obvious charms. Bhaer had seemed pedantic and unromantic, and I’d retained that notion. As a grown-up, would I feel differently? By this time, having known loneliness and love, and indeed having married someone a few years my senior, would I have more sympathy for this more mature relationship?

“You’re my professor Bhaer,” I said experimentally to my husband.

He paled. “That’s the most horrible thing you’ve ever said to me,” he replied.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:23 PM on February 24, 2016 [10 favorites]


She tried hard, but I still don't like him.
posted by jeather at 5:26 PM on February 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


Myself, I like big, enthusiastic men with gruff Germanic accents. I could ship it . . . if it weren't for that hot nonsense about Jo's writing. I practically have it to memory:

. . . "All may not be bad, only silly, you know, and if there is a demand for it, I don't see any harm in supplying it. Many very respectable people make an honest living out of what are called sensation stories," said Jo, scratching gathers so energetically that a row of little slits followed her pin.

"There is a demand for whisky, but I think you and I do not care to sell it. If the respectable people knew what harm they did, they would not feel that the living was honest. They haf no right to put poison in the sugarplum, and let the small ones eat it. No, they should think a little, and sweep mud in the street before they do this thing."


"Cram it, ya big load," I mutter, all these years later.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:26 PM on February 24, 2016 [39 favorites]


Not a bad analysis, though I note that in the third piece the writer says Professor Bhaer ties Nan to a chair to punish her for running away to pick berries. This is erroneous. It was Jo who disciplined Nan in this way.

I think a big part of the problem with the Jo-Friedrich match was that Jo was Louisa May Alcott's fictional alter ego, and Alcott, who never married herself, was unable even to imagine a satisfactory husband for herself or Jo. (This was a problem in general with the Little Women series, as the farther the fictional series departed from the real life path of the Alcott family it was based on, the less satisfying and convincing the fictional version was.) From what I've read, I definitely got the sense that Alcott would have liked to have found love, but she was an exceptional person in many ways and anyone she partnered with would have had to be an exceptional man if their marriage was to be a success... and she never found him. How many Victorian men would have understood her writing ambitions or respected her need for independence or sympathized with her progressive politics? It didn't help that she was moody, quick-tempered, and very sharp-tongued. But she was too sensible to settle. She may not have liked being single, but she preferred to remain single than to settle for any marriage that was ever open to her.
posted by orange swan at 5:33 PM on February 24, 2016 [17 favorites]


“An old maid, that’s what I’m to be. A literary spinster, with a pen for a spouse, a family of stories for children, and twenty years hence a morsel of fame, perhaps, when, like poor Johnson, I’m old and can’t enjoy it, solitary, and can’t share it, independent, and don’t need it. Well, I needn’t be a sour saint nor a selfish sinner, and, I dare say, old maids are very comfortable when they get used to it, but ... ” And there Jo sighed, as if the prospect was not inviting.
I think that sounds like a perfectly splendid ending.

So many of my Jo friends have gone off and married various versions of Bhaer. Haven't we all had a friend like that, someone uniquely sparkling and bright who ends up with someone benign (not unlike a tumor, I suppose) and boring?

I wonder if perhaps this is Alcott not commenting on whether this sort of ending is desirable or happy or even satisfactory, but simply saying that's what happens.
posted by mochapickle at 5:40 PM on February 24, 2016 [14 favorites]


I read Little Women and its sequels to literal pieces when I was a kid. Oddly enough, I never had a negative response to Jo marrying Professor B: he was clearly a nice guy and there was some romance there (the articles left out the "kissed the picture in the dark" scene, I think), whereas even to a child's eyes, it was clear that Laurie was not yet marriage material at the time of his proposal. Thinking about the books as an adult, the Professor is a tweaked Bronson Alcott, with added fiscal responsibility and subtracted failure.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:52 PM on February 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


I was under the impression that she was pressured to have Jo marry, either by her publisher or her readers. A quick google agrees with my vague memory (item 6).
posted by bunderful at 5:58 PM on February 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


My courses in women's studies included Work by Alcott. The perspective was Work was "the real story" of Alcott's life (protagonist that never married, endured string of toxic men, happily gave birth to a daughter) that couldn't be published in Alcott's time and that Little Women catered to an audience.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 6:03 PM on February 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Going down the rabbit hole I discovered that May Alcott, on whom Amy was based, had some success as an artist, before she died giving birth at 39. I knew that Amy March was based on May Alcott, but it had never occurred to me to check and see what art the real sister had produced ..
posted by bunderful at 6:08 PM on February 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


AND OH MY GOD I just discovered anime Little Women in the mental floss listicle I linked upthread!
posted by bunderful at 6:19 PM on February 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's been a long time since I read a biography of Louisa May Alcott, but my impression is that she didn't have any warm feelings for Bronson Alcott, and that he didn't deserve any. As blunderful's article points out, "he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors". I'm not a big fan of Professor Bhaer either, but he's better than that.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 6:21 PM on February 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


Much about Jo's passion for Herr Prof Bhaer is explained by Alcott's case of the hot bananas for Thoreau and Emerson.
posted by gingerest at 6:26 PM on February 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


Kind of a tangent, but Susan Palwick wrote a lovely story about (and called) Jo's Hair:
You remember the story. Jo March, tomboy and hoyden, whose only beauty is her long chestnut hair, sells it for twenty-five dollars because her father lies ill in a hospital in Washington. He has not asked for twenty-five dollars, has not asked for anything, but Jo, good nineteenth-century daughter, knows that sacrifices are called for in such situations. Her father has sacrificed his comfortable home life to serve as a Civil War chaplain. Her mother has sacrificed her anger, and the other daughters their ambitions; little Beth will ultimately sacrifice her life. Jo, who does not yet wish to sacrifice her desires, sacrifices her hair instead: walks into a small shop where a small, oily man cuts off her mane and gives her a small roll of bills, which she sends proudly to her father.

Her father does not want it.
Online in Google Books here.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 6:31 PM on February 24, 2016 [7 favorites]


I may be in the minority, but I never like Laurie and was glad Jo didn't end up with him, even when I was a kid.
posted by ELind at 6:33 PM on February 24, 2016 [11 favorites]


Haven't we all had a friend like that, someone uniquely sparkling and bright who ends up with someone benign (not unlike a tumor, I suppose) and boring?


Hmm, I try - not always successfully - to not judge my friend's partnerships. In addition, a 'sparking and bright' personality is often complemented by someone more stolid.

As for boring, I don't know. I worked as a freelance writer for many years, and both in that job and many others have had to conduct interviews. I do tend to find people, all people, interesting. There's a lovely spark that happens when you unearth a something interesting.

I have many memories of my late Father chatting amiably - even intensely - to strangers from all walks of life with radically different temperaments. I consider myself somewhat introverted, but my wife has caught me carrying out these kinds of conversation with strangers at the airport for example, and it gives me a special glow that many bereaved children will recognise, when an aspect of a beloved parent manifests in you. A sliver of immortality showcased in unconscious tribute.

If I let myself, I can be interested in a lot of things. Apologies for the derail.
posted by smoke at 6:40 PM on February 24, 2016 [22 favorites]


Also, Laurie irritated me.
posted by smoke at 6:40 PM on February 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


I loved Little Men, so Professor Bhaer made perfect sense to me. It was the only way Jo could have had her school. Little Women was actually my second favorite of the series. But then, I even reread Jo's Boys and Under the Lilacs repeatedly.
posted by Peach at 6:42 PM on February 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


Any original dislike of Bhaer I had was complicated by Gabriel Byrne playing him in the movie...so dreamy...
posted by sallybrown at 6:54 PM on February 24, 2016 [13 favorites]


In my reading, the real reason Jo turned Laurie down is that she didn't love him. She says as much to both Laurie and her mother. Handsome, fun, intelligent, talented, loving, kind, and charming as Laurie was, Jo just wasn't feeling it. There's also discussion of why a relationship between them wouldn't work (i.e., they want different lifestyles, they're both too willful and unable to compromise) and while those reasons are perfectly valid, they're auxiliary to the main truth that Jo simply did not love Laurie and there was nothing she could do about that. It's both incredibly realistic (haven't we all dated a stellar someone who just didn't do it for us?) and radical, because I can't think of another novel in which a plain, awkward, blunt, bad-tempered girl can have the dashing romantic lead who is a genuine catch if she'd only say the word, but turns him down and doesn't regret it.
posted by orange swan at 7:04 PM on February 24, 2016 [29 favorites]


I don't remember disliking either Bhaer or Laurie. I do remember that section of the book being roughly the point where I decided I just didn't understand, at about age 12, why anybody actually liked the book itself. Jo was the only one of the characters who I'd ever actually liked. I probably could have seen her settling down with someone, it wasn't like I objected to romances in books I was reading at the time, but neither of the available options was at all appealing. I don't think I quite understood why, at that point, but as an adult, it's like: Jo got to go off to New York and yet somehow this is the only other man who ever ends up in her life? That's it? She goes away but she never actually escapes the incredibly insular kind of life she came from.

I actually don't think I mind the idea of her marrying someone who's something other than a great romance, so much as I minded that Jo didn't seem to ever do anything in New York that she couldn't have done at home. Amy is the only one of them to have any kind of a life worth having, which seemed to suggest that the only people who were going to get any rewards in life were the ones who were utterly unbearable. And even she eventually gets reduced to a nice house and a baby.

Maybe not an inaccurate lesson, but I've always felt a little resentful that I let myself get caught up in the book only to get let down like that.
posted by Sequence at 7:09 PM on February 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


I think both Meg and Jo have pretty fulfilling lives, especially by the standards of the choices available to women in the 1870s. Family, kids, opening a badass school for educating boys ... seem like lives worth living to me.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:12 PM on February 24, 2016


The man that Meg marries, Mr. Brooke, also tutored German (among other things), which makes for an oddly high level of parallelism between Meg's and Jo's lives -- and if we add to that the fact that Beth comes within an inch of dying in the first book and then finally does travel that final inch and die in the second, making clear that sparing her in the first book was simply an interregnum, I think we might guess that something pretty strange has happened to the plot of Little Women.

Namely, that in Alcott's mind as she conceived the book, Meg and Jo were a single character, Beth got sick and died in a single arc, and Little Women was meant to be a much shorter book.

It would be interesting to know what happened to change this plan (if there was such a plan, of course); whether things went well, she got favorable feedback, and decided to extend things, or whether two uneasily united characters forced her to bifurcate their lives, or whether there were other motives.

There is such a heavy burden of moralizing and conventionality in the first book, and Jo seems so out of place in it (as indeed there was no place in it for a woman like the author herself!), that I think Jo must have been a later addition, and that Laurie had been meant for Amy from the beginning and Alcott decided not to change that.

But she had to marry Jo off and tame her for the sake of her presumed convention-minded editorship and readership, so she whipped up a mere variation on the plot she had already sketched out -- partly to despite her readers, I agree, because she knew there was no way they would accept Alcott herself as she was, and needed to demonstrate to them the consequences of their narrowness.
posted by jamjam at 7:14 PM on February 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


Wow, this makes me warm up to the book a lot more. I originally got super annoyed that Jo got married in the end. Even if she were to end up with Bhaer, why not just end the book before she marries him? It'd have been nice to just have Jo choosing to face the uncertain future.

I really realy liked that Jo refused Laurie. Mostly not because of what she's read, but based on feelings. That's amazing for a young woman with the expectations of both families in that society.

And I didn't realize there were sequels and an anime. Onwards!
posted by halifix at 7:40 PM on February 24, 2016


It's funny, my reading of the story was so different - perhaps because I'm of a different generation or perhaps because my family is a bit authoritarian. I thought it was great that Jo married Professor Bhaer, partly because as an ugly misfit one of my bigger worries was that no one would ever love me, and partly because I liked Professor Bhaer. I thought he was glamorous, because he was foreign, because he was an academic and because he'd known hardship as an immigrant. I think I connected him in my mind with Jane Eyre, too - but he reminded me of Jane, because he too had to make his own way in place where he was a stranger, and poor.

Laurie has grown on me now that I'm older because I've come to appreciate the virtues of a light heart, but I never really did see the point of him for Jo.

I liked all the books, actually, and even now I remember the stories of many of the students in the Bhaers' school. Demi and Daisy were annoying; Nan was my favorite, although now I have a soft spot for the frivolous girl whose name escapes me; Dan's romantic arc was pretty stupid, I thought even at the time.

Actually, I remember another Alcott short story (I think it was Alcott; surely it wasn't LM Montgomery?) where the narrator remarks that she has always admired her aunt whomever, because her aunt had said to herself at a very young age, "I am very plain. No one will ever love me, so I must learn to live with that and take care of others with a smile". Between that one and Dangerous Dan's "I can never have love because I have had to overcome my anger problems and it's left me melancholy"...well, I came away pretty young with the idea that I too should resign myself to being unloved, and that it was nobler to accept this with a good heart than to waste my time trying to find someone to love me. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't read those books at quite such a young age, because I really believed that stuff.
posted by Frowner at 8:30 PM on February 24, 2016 [18 favorites]


In retrospect, I wish I hadn't read those books at quite such a young age, because I really believed that stuff.

Oh boy. I know what you mean. I latched on to some great ideas from childhood reading, that shaped my life in a good way later on, but I also picked up some ideas that weren't so helpful.
posted by bunderful at 8:48 PM on February 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


Grandmother did what now?
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:48 PM on February 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Laurie was a puppy. No go. I always liked the sound of Baehr.

I've always had sort of a funny feeling, though, about the "Little Women" books, because for some reason I had a much closer relationship to the Rose books (Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom), and found those romances much more true to life. Rose's gradual evaluation of Archie, Charlie and Mac as potential life mates seemed to map much more realistically onto the romantic choices of a contemporary woman; I still think often about this and the virtues of choosing a Mac.

So many conversations about Alcott's statements about love and partnership center on Little Women; I'm not sure that's fair, since she wrote many other female figures and their searches for an equal partner. Little
Women achieved a great deal of fame, but may not reflect Alcott's own most independent ideas about relationships. Mac and Rose are ideal partners, to me,but you hear a lot more about Jo and the Professor.

I never got the sense in Little Women that she was really writing with the same passion and wisdom as she was in the Rose books. Even if she never really found the ideal partner in life that she might have wished for herself, the joyful, idealistic side by side intellectual and spiritual fraternity Rose had with Mac seems a lot closer to her ideal than the hierarchical relationship Jo had with Baehr. Baehr may have been the character Alcott felt she was supposed to love. Mac, though, feels like the authentic embodiment of her own true fantasy partner:


you have to overlook the whole cousin thing. It was normal then!


posted by Miko at 9:19 PM on February 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


Jo liked Laurie, but like a brother -- they did grow up together.

As well: the professor was never boring. He was quiet and less flashy, but devastatingly intelligent. He impressed Jo, and challenged her in a way that Laurie couldn't quite.
posted by jb at 9:27 PM on February 24, 2016 [12 favorites]


>In retrospect, I wish I hadn't read those books at quite such a young age, because I really believed that stuff.

>Oh boy. I know what you mean. I latched on to some great ideas from childhood reading, that shaped my life in a good way later on, but I also picked up some ideas that weren't so helpful.


Hands up if you thought Pilgrim's Progress and Pickwick Papers sounded like they were going to be just as fun as Little Women and then were sorely confused and disappointed.
posted by gingerest at 10:05 PM on February 24, 2016 [33 favorites]


"I am very plain. No one will ever love me, so I must learn to live with that and take care of others with a smile". Between that one and Dangerous Dan's "I can never have love because I have had to overcome my anger problems and it's left me melancholy"...well, I came away pretty young with the idea that I too should resign myself to being unloved, and that it was nobler to accept this with a good heart than to waste my time trying to find someone to love me."

Well, I still believe it. Okay, more specifically I can't find someone to love me who I love back--there's the occasional super creepy old dicey guy who'd like a shot, but that always ends in nightmare. But some of us--like LMA, I suspect--know that's our future from an early age and we just have to accept it. There are just not as many awesome men out there as there are awesome women. It was worse in their time than it is now, though. Jane Eyre's probably the only plain girl who found love in literature of the time that I can think of.

Now, what I want to discuss is Eight Cousins/Rose in Bloom. I could not get through Little Women and cannot remember Little Men, but did like Rose and all the cousins and Phebe. Rose/Charlie vs. Rose/Mac was pretty realistic for its time, especially that Charlie was a charming party boy who was going to not manage to make good and that nerds are nice. Okay, so it's a little squicky how she keeps going on about how Mac reminds her of the uncle who raised her, but this is a book about marrying cousins, so.... I liked Rose's trying to figure out what she wanted to do in her life, even if she eventually just decided to be a wife and muse (sigh). And Phebe's fight to be respected by the Campbells after being a servant.

I wish Pemberley Digital was still doing shows because I think Rose in Bloom would make an AWESOME retelling in modern times. Though the cousin dating would have to be changed up. (Seriously, y'all are rich and you can't find anyone to date but your relatives?)
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:46 PM on February 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


I thought he was glamorous... because he was an academic

Frowner, I think we as a society need more people who think like you.
posted by biffa at 12:09 AM on February 25, 2016 [13 favorites]


In my reading, the real reason Jo turned Laurie down is that she didn't love him. She says as much to both Laurie and her mother. Handsome, fun, intelligent, talented, loving, kind, and charming as Laurie was, Jo just wasn't feeling it.

I think you are right, orange swan. If I am not mistaken, I remember liking Laurie and thinking he sounded pretty charming, yet finding it perfectly reasonable and logical, based on Jo's comments, that she did not want to marry him.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:13 AM on February 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I actually really liked the Amy-Laurie romance. I was much more a girly girl than a tomboy and remember identifying much more with Amy while recognizing strongly that to be truly admirable in Alcott's eyes I really should have been much more like Jo. It made me happy that Amy grew up and got to have a lovely European romance with the handsome guy.
posted by Cocodrillo at 3:27 AM on February 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I actually really liked the Amy-Laurie romance. I was much more a girly girl than a tomboy and remember identifying much more with Amy while recognizing strongly that to be truly admirable in Alcott's eyes I really should have been much more like Jo. It made me happy that Amy grew up and got to have a lovely European romance with the handsome guy.

While I am very much a bookish tomboy and not a girly-girl -- I often feel that Amy gets unfairly maligned in discussions about Little Women. Early on when she's being bratty, it's mainly because she's that simply that much younger than the others. And often she makes great points about things that none of the other characters are willing to make, except sometimes Aunt March. Amy is willing to take chances and make choices that none of the other characters are generally bold enough to take and gets rewarded for it. It's painted often as being more selfish, but she's simply the most assertive of the sisters.

I think Baehr makes more sense as Jo's love interest if you look at him in the context of Alcott's two non-thriller novels for adults, Work and Moods. Clearly, he's a Thoreau/Emerson type. Though as far as fictional love interests go, I find Baehr to be a lot less "why yes, I completely understand this" than David from Work. David also seems to be the most obvious fictionalized version of Thoreau -- right down to Alcott eulogizing him the same way she eulogized the actual Thoreau.

I think it might be time for a reread of all my favorites of the Alcott canon -- Work, Moods, Transcendental Wild Oats, and Little Women. I also should revisit Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom, even though I'm not as familiar with them.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 4:40 AM on February 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


I was surprised when Jo said no to Laurie -- I understood the conventions -- and even more surprised when Laurie and Amy got together, as if the sisters were interchangeable parts, or as if Amy was a Jo-substitute. I'd need to reread it to see how I feel about it now.

But I wasn't upset that Jo said no to Laurie, because it seemed right for her. Bhaer, on the other hand, always seemed to condescend to her -- she was good or right or smart only inasmuch as she agreed with him.
posted by jeather at 4:58 AM on February 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


In LW and LM Laurie and Amy's daughter Bess is described as fragile.

May Alcott was Daniel Chester French's( designer of the Lincoln Memorial) 1st art teacher.
posted by brujita at 7:13 AM on February 25, 2016


Any hope I had of becoming Team Bhaer probably died when I got my hands on a copy of the adaptation with Shatner as Professor B. As an adult I can see that Laurie would never have worked out, though.

I am Team Jo Needs To Find Herself A Nice Girlfriend And Have A Boston Marriage, but Team Spinster would work just fine for me too.
posted by Stacey at 7:13 AM on February 25, 2016 [11 favorites]


I liked Rose's trying to figure out what she wanted to do in her life, even if she eventually just decided to be a wife and muse

Totally; even though that choice ultimately was somewhat regressive she was coming from a reformist impulse, and the depiction of a woman giving such studied, intentional thought to her best role in life was fairly unusual in the fiction of the time (though there were lots of pioneering women choosing differently). In fact I'd like to learn a bit more about Alcott's point of view on this book.

the cousin dating would have to be changed up

You could just make them neighbors (though "Eight Neighbors" lacks a certain ring and makes the family story not make sense) or you could come up with some MacGuffin about how they're not blood cousins or something. But really, in blueblood New England, this was totally not common - I still meet people all the time whose grandparents were cousins. They reallly liked to keep money in the dynasty. One of the things about Rose was that she was filthy rich - how to deal with massive wealth is an undercurrent of the book.
posted by Miko at 7:45 AM on February 25, 2016


They could be fosters!
posted by bq at 8:23 AM on February 25, 2016


Any hope I had of becoming Team Bhaer probably died when I got my hands on a copy of the adaptation with Shatner as Professor B.

/dies laughing
posted by bq at 8:24 AM on February 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


No. No Bhaer, forever. When I read that part of Little Women I wanted to throw my book at the wall, and nothing those articles say about his paternalistic unsexy bullshit make me any more tolerant of him.

The "romance" with him has always read, to me, as "Jo goes out in the big wide world to fulfill her dreams, but is slowly drained of soul after her sister dies and the world is unkind to her, so she marries the first Nice Guy who says he wants to marry her, because she has lost the spirit to fight."

She turns down Laurie not, I think (though I will definitely reread) because she doesn't love him, but because she doesn't know how she can be the kind of wife she thinks him and his position need, and she worries that he will not be able to take her as she is and support her in her dreams.

The true romantic ending should have been Laurie and Jo spending some time away, after which Laurie realizes that a hollow Society Life is not what he wants, that he wants Jo and wants her to achieve her dreams, while Jo realizes that she can achieve her dreams even in wealthy surroundings and not struggling in a garrett.

And I did like Amy, which is all the more reason I hated Laurie for her. She deserves better than to be second best. Even after meeting Amy, you can't tell me if Jo had appeared and said "I love you and want to marry you" he wouldn't have dropped Amy in a red hot minute.
posted by corb at 9:05 AM on February 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


I liked Rose's trying to figure out what she wanted to do in her life, even if she eventually just decided to be a wife and muse

Rose was more than that. She was a philanthropist. Rose bought and managed what her cousins waggishly dubbed a Home for Decayed Gentlewomen, that is, an apartment building where the units were let at a nominal cost in order to provide decent housing for poor elderly women with nowhere else to go. Overseeing a concern like that would have been a fair amount of work, and it's also mentioned that Rose does some work for a children's home (in one scene she is making picture books for the children), and I seem to recall she was involved in organizing the benefit concert Phebe sings at. She also adopts an orphaned girl, Dulcinea, and raises her. If a woman were involved in both administrative and hands on charitable work such as that today, no one would say she was only a wife and a muse.
posted by orange swan at 9:14 AM on February 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


I also loved Rose in Bloom and Eight Cousins and while I've entirely forgotten the romantic plots I have never forgotten Rose's assertion that she wanted to be a philanthropist and how she acted on it.
posted by annathea at 9:34 AM on February 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


Jo's options always felt kinda barren to me. I've really enjoyed reading the biography of three early-mid 19th century women called The Peabody Sisters, by Megan Marshall. I hadn't appreciated that there was then a vibrant Boston subculture of intellectual-powerhouse women, who were at that time excluded from formal higher education. One of the Peabody sisters taught with Bronson Alcott briefly; he comes across as a bit narcissistic and disingenuous-- not someone who'd perhaps inspire an intelligent daughter to seek matrimony. In contrast, two of the Peabody sisters fell deeply in love, rather late in life, with men who were their equals (and who of course are now vastly more famous than the sisters.) Actually, their father wasn't that inspiring either, so maybe I can't attribute Louisa's disenchantment with marriage to Bronson Alcott.
posted by seacats at 10:41 AM on February 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


They could be fosters!

Easily solved: Rose is orphaned and adopted by "Uncle" Alec, who isn't her blood uncle.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:31 PM on February 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


When I was a child I didn't like "Little Women" because I felt I was being "edified". Edified by "Pilgrim's Progress", bullied into self-sacrifice and forced to marry a foreign academic because it was a high-minded thing to do. I remember recognizing the same trope when the protagonist in "Raisin in the Sun" had to marry the African Doctor. I was sure Lorraine Hansberry had read "Little Women". This thread makes me want to reread LW, however, because sometimes older children's books aren't comprehensible to modern children. I hated "The Wind in the Willows" as a child (I couldn't relate to clothes-wearing animals who drove cars), but was blown away when I reread it a few years ago as an adult. It's possible after decades of being a hard-working professional like Alcott, I'll totally understand what she was trying to say.
posted by acrasis at 5:54 PM on February 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


I was mostly annoyed that Jo ended up doing a shitload of work for a bunch of boys. The ultimate tomboy nightmare, you not only don't get to be a boy, you have to be their servant and somehow, you like it and it's the most fulfilling thing ever? Ugh! And Professor Bhaer was incredibly condescending to Jo.
posted by geeklizzard at 8:52 PM on February 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


But I am still amazingly fond of Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. <3
posted by geeklizzard at 8:52 PM on February 29, 2016


Plumfields' student Nan becomes a doctor.
Little sister Maud in An Old Fashioned Girl winds up "a busy, lively spinster".
posted by brujita at 7:50 PM on March 1, 2016


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