Jo Marries Goethe, Louisa May Alcott´s Love For The German Poet

Niina Pekantytär

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There are times when Goethe´s and Friedrich´s values separate. One of these is their views on religion. Goethe´s views on religion are often described as vague whereas Friedrich in Little Women, is very religious. Louisa was a very spiritual person herself and her religious views were rather eclectic, but the base of her beliefs was in her protestant upbringing.

In Little Women Jo and Friedrich attend a symposium. There Jo listens to one of the young philosophers speaking about the atheist worldview, and this makes Jo quite upset.

“It dawned upon her gradually, that the world was being picked to pieces, and put together on new, and according to the talkers, on infinitely better principles than before; that religion was in a fair way to be reasoned into nothingness, and intellect was to be the only God. Jo knew nothing about philosophy or metaphysics of any sort, but a curious excitement, half pleasurable, half painful, came over her, as she listened with a sense of being turned adrift into time and space, like a young balloon out on a holiday”.

“He bore it as long as he could; but when he was appealed to for an opinion, he blazed up with honest indignation, and defended religion with all the eloquence of truth — an eloquence which made his broken English musical, and his plain face beautiful. H had a hard fight, for the wise men argued well; but he didn´t know when he was beaten, and stood to his colours like a man. Somehow, as he talked, the world got right again to Jo; the old beliefs that had lasted so long seemed better than the new. God was not a blind force, and immortality was not a pretty fable, but a blessed fact. Jo felt as if she had solid ground under her feet again; and when Mr Bhaer paused, out talked, but not one whit convinced, Jo wanted to clap her hands and thank him.

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“She did neither, but she remembered this scene, and gave the Professor her heartiest respect, for she knew it cost him an effort to speak out then and there because his conscience would not let him be silent. She began to see that character is a better possession than money, rank, intellect or beauty, and to feel that if greatness is what a wise man has defined it to be “truth, reverence and goodwill” then her friend Friedrich Bhaer, was not only good but great”.

In this case, Friedrich is

in fact, much more closer to the American philosophers like Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who Louisa had often heard keeping speeches about religion. Despite the fact that the transcendentalists adored German culture and writings they were highly suspicious of German philosophers because they did not always share their religious views.

I know quite a few Little Women fans, who absolutely love the symposium scene. It is their favourite Jo and Friedrich moment. She says that “he was not only good, but great” Friedrich is no longer a crush for Jo. It becomes something a lot more serious. Jo remembered his passionate speech for the rest of her life. She even wants to clap when he stops talking. Friedrich managed to move something inside her. I have mentioned this in my articles before, one of the reasons why I always adored Jo and Friedrich love story and storyline, is because it is one of the most realistic descriptions in literature, how it actually feels like to fall in love with another person and Louisa wrote from her experience. Jo was attracted to Friedrich from the moment she met him. There is a build-up in the novel how her crush and her curiosity about him deepens.

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“He was poor, yet always appeared to be giving something away. a stranger yet everyone was his friend, no longer young, but as happy-hearted as a boy, plain and odd, yet his face looked beautiful to many and his oddities, were freely forgiven for his sake. Jo often watched him, trying to discover the charm, and at last, decided that it was benevolence which worked the miracle. If he had any sorrow “it sad with its head under its the wing” and he turned only his sunny side to the world”.

This is what is said about Goethe´s personality: “Goethe was always an optimist, despite the many setbacks he had had during his life. He often wanted to uplift others and bring as much success to others as to himself. Goethe believed that creativity was a gift, but the only way to true success was through hard work and resilience. Goethe was emotional and vulnerable and yet he could be a light of the party. Sometimes he was generous to a fault, but always honest and loyal to those he cared about the most.

I personally really like the idea that Louisa gave Jo a husband and a partner that was inspired by Goethe. It makes a lot of sense that Friedrich who helps Jo to reach the next stages of her writing career was based on Louisa´s favourite writer and that there are elements in Friedrich´s personality we can trace to Goethe.

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Folklorist and historian. Alcott essayist. A host of the Little Women Podcast.

Finland, MN
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