Little Women Readalong: Wrapping Up

littlewomenreadalong

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.

 

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16 comments

  1. Thank you for a lovely well written review! Little Women Part 1 (the part that ended with Meg’s engagement and Mr March’s return) is my favourite book and I like how gently you’ve treated the characters. I admit I’ve always been a bit unsettled with Little Women Part 2 (that began with Meg’s wedding), but I think that’s largely because I was expecting an Elizabeth Bennett-Fitzwilliam Darcy ending for Jo – reject the proposal from the boy who isn’t really ready to propose and she’s not really ready to accept yet, and he grows up and wins her over with a stunning display of character and passionate devotion.

    I do like your analysis of the mentoring role Professor Bhaer plays as a kind of male Marmee – that’s quite an insight, and makes it easier to understand why Jo immediately seems to feel somewhat at home with a stranger. I still struggle with their pairing though, as I’ve felt Louisa wrote him into the story not for herself (she had initially planned Jo to be single), but for her publisher and possibly her father, who had been seeking to establish his own schools and spread his particular brand of education.

    • It is nice to hear that someone else is of the opinion that Jo and Laurie didn’t need to marry 🙂 I too loved the professor and thought he was sweet. And while my man isn’t a German speaking Swiss, he is older than me by 8 years 🙂

  2. Great insights to the story. I’m starting to change my mind about the whole Jo/Laurie thing. There’s a part of me that still wants them together, but as I sit and stew on the story a bit, I’m becoming more okay with it. I think this may have to do with reading so many people’s perspectives on things. I love how read-alongs do that. Thanks for participating! 🙂

  3. I never looked at Jo and Professor Bhaer’s relationship from that point of view, but you’re right; he does seem Marmee-ish! Very interesting take on things. I don’t Professor Bhaer; I think he’s a nice guy. We just love Laurie! Haha.

  4. Yes, I always thought that Prof Bhaer was more like a father-figure than husband material, but it seemed to work for Jo. The illustrated edition I had as a child also made him look like a kind of cuddly grandpa! Will you go on to read the other books? From memory (it was a long, long time ago!) I really enjoyed Jo’s Boys, though I don’t think any of the rest were quite as good as Little Women.

    • On another blog, there was just a discussion about whether Emma and Mr. Knightly made a good couple or not. I gave them the benefit of the doubt as well, so maybe I just want everyone to be happy. And Jo did seem happy, even if her romantic interest seemed to be a bit out of character.
      I’m sure I’ll eventually read the other books. The ending gave me a good glimpse of Jo as a “real adult,” and I’d like to see how she gets on with he boys’ school.

      • I do think Emma and Mr K were better suited, though the whole “grooming” aspect of it makes me feel a bit queasy, with my modern sensibilities. I always wondered how Marianne and Colonel Brandon got on in the long term though…

  5. I loved Little Women when I read it years ago (maybe 15-20 years ago?), but reading this just makes me realize all the things about it that I forget. I want to have an opinion on all your musings, but I don’t because I don’t remember well enough what I thought of it all. Hmm… re-read the book, or watch the movie?

    • I’m planning to watch the movie version with Winona Ryder soon to compare book and movie. I’ll let you know how they stack up, and then you can decide what to do. (Although you have so many wonderful books to read that maybe, just maybe the movie will do…)

  6. Nice wrap up! Still jealous of that annotated version you have 😉 but ew on the grandfatherly picture instead of a more appropriately aged photo. After all I don’t think 40 is ancient. LOL!

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