I missed the second check-in for the Little Women readalong (hosted by Jenni Elyse, Suey, and Kami). (Read my review of the first part here.) I have to admit that I was sulking a little bit; why did the girls have to grow up? I would have liked to have them all stay at home as eternal teenagers. But once I got over that—after all, why should they get to stay forever young?—I picked up the book again and zipped right through it.
I wasn’t that interested in Meg and her early marriage to Mr. Brooks, but Amy’s travels through Europe were fun to read about. The story really picked up for me again once Jo leaves home and goes to work in New York City. But then Jo has been closest to my heart, as I suspect is the case for many readers. I suffered with her through Beth’s death, but I rejoiced in seeing her grow as a person.
And of course this leads us to Professor Bhaer. I couldn’t help but think that he was a male version of Marmee. He’s so good and so patient and so wise (and is also almost as old). Why did Jo end up with him instead of Laurie? While I did not find the love story of Jo and Friedrich all that convincing, I do think that Jo and Laurie wouldn’t have been right for each other. I actually agree with Marmee’s reasoning; their tempers would not have mashed well. But why pick someone who’s almost Laurie’s opposite for Jo?
After thinking about it all for a while, I came up with a reason that makes the marriage of Jo and Friedrich work for me. Alcott strongly believed that husband and wife should be equal partners in a marriage. Thanks to the great annotated edition I read, I could see over and over again how Alcott wove her conviction into the story. Meg and Mr. Brooke, for example, achieve complete marital bliss once they both become involved in the bringing up of their children and make an effort to learn about and become involved in each other’s interests.
When Laurie and Amy start to become close, they both try to be better people because they want to please each other. Each wants to rise in the other’s esteem. While Laurie attempted to improve because Jo chided him, he really does not rise beyond what he should have done to begin with. Amy points this out when she tells him that being successful at college was not an achievement, but something that he should have aspired to for his own sake.
Likewise, if I remember correctly, Jo never really does any deep soul searching because of Laurie. But Friedrich’s criticism of the sensationalist stories Jo is writing anonymously while in New York inspires her to reevaluate her writing. Ultimately, it is her heartfelt poem—which has no questionable morals and to which she has attached her initials—that brings the two together.
It would have been nice if Friedrich hadn’t been so perfectly perfect, but I guess I can’t have everything. (At this point, my annotated edition did not serve me right, because the pictures in the book made him look like a grandfather. Urgh!) Ultimately, I am glad that Jo’s dreams for her life came true. She could not have gotten a better helpmate for her boys’ school than Friedrich. With that in mind, I can say that Little Women was a completely satisfying reading experience for me.