Louisa May Alcott, The Philosopher and the German Soldier

Niina Pekantytär


“Although Emerson never noticed Alcott´s schoolgirl crush on him, he did notice her love for Goethe. For her 18th birthday, Emerson gave her a copy of Goethe´s Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship. This copy now in Houghton Library at Harvard, is well-worn and marked with Alcott´s marginal comments, showing the care and attention with which she read Goethe´s novel”.

What I just now realized is that this is where Louisa got the inspiration for the scene where Friedrich gives Jo a volume of Shakespeare´s works as a Christmas present, so she can study characters.

Wilhelm Meister includes a cavalcade of characters that can be linked to little women. Wilhelm himself embodies Laurie´s search for meaning. Mariana is the vivid actress who likes to dress up as a boy and Natalia is the Amy-type person who is aware of the social norms and how they work.

In the light of this (together with LMA´s personal criticism against sensationalism), the idea of Louisa marrying Jo to someone who does not support Jo´s creative journey is utter nonsense. The more we dive into these connections the more we see how important these links to Goethe and Emerson are in the terms of interpreting Little Women.

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During her civil war service as a nurse, Louisa took care of the wounded soldier John Suhre. John who was a German descendant made an ever-lasting impression on Louisa and she captured his character to her first successful novel Hospital sketches. What we know about John is that he had a very mild temper, Louisa describes him as the “prince of patients” and he looked a lot like the book Friedrich. Tall, stout, brown hair and a bushy beard. Some Alcott scholars have speculated if there was a romance between them. I don´t know about the romance but in her letters, Louisa describes him as “manly” and “handsome” which indicates that she found him attractive.

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“The real-life John had a profound effect on Alcott’s sympathies and memory. As he lay dying, Alcott told her journal that John possessed “all that I could expect or ask from the first gentleman in the land. Under his plain speech & unpolished manner, I seem to see a noble character, a heart as warm & tender as a woman’s, a nature fresh & frank as any child”

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

Finland, MN

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