Louisa May Alcott and Philosophers

Niina Pekantytär


Before Jo goes to New York she has been quite frustrated from the way Laurie is not interested in his studies. Jo can not attend university because of her gender. Friedrich sees Jo as his intellectual equal. 1994 film captures the meeting of the minds perfectly. BPS series is so far the only adaptation that has included a symposium, leaving the symposium. There is another reference to transcendentalism when Friedrich and Jo talk about Kant´s theories.

In the book, Friedrich and Jo attend a symposium together. It is a very important part of the book because the reader finds out that Jo´s and Friedrich´s morals go together. In the symposium, Jo meets famous poets, writers and philosophers. Some who she has put on a pedestal but her opinions are about to change.

”Her reverence for genius received a severe shock that night and it took some time for her to recover from the discovery that the great creatures were only men and women after all. Turning as from a fallen idol she made other discoveries that rapidly dispelled her romantic illusions. Imagine her dismay on stealing a glance of timid admiration at the poet whose lines suggested ethereal being fed on spirit, fire and dew to behold him derringer his supper with an order which flushed his intellectual countenance.

Already in the first part of Little Women, we find out that Jo doesn´t always enjoy the higher class social gatherings. Now that she is in the circles of writers, poets and intellectuals which is the world where she longs to be part of she is disappointed by her own illusions that she has created about that world.

”Before the evening was half over. Jo felt so dis-disillusioned that she sat down in a corner to recover herself. Mr Bhaer soon joined her looking rather out of his element and presently several of the philosophers each mounted on his hobby came baling up to hold an intellectual tournament in the recess.

Friedrich also seems to feel that he is in the wrong place. Jo becomes distressed when she is following the debate and one of the young philosophers puts intellect above god. After some hesitation, Friedrich keeps his speech defending religion. Speech leaves an everlasting impression on Jo and I would even argue that this is when Jo starts to realize that her feelings for Friedrich are more than friendship.

”She began to see that character is better possession than money, rank, intellect or beauty and feel that if greatness is what a wise man has to find it to be truth, reverence and goodwill, then her friend Friedrich Bhaer was not only good but great”.

public domain

There has been lots of unnecessary stereotyping made towards Friedrich´s character. I will point out some of them, partly because they are truly ridiculous but also because they show how long a journey we have to understand Louisa May Alcott´s worldview. In one supposedly “feminist” study that I read, the author pointed out that Bhaer having Shakespeare, Milton, Plato and Homer in addition to his German Bible in his bookshelf represent the way Jo is now a captive of the male power. Apparently, if a fictional male character who happens to be a teacher of philosophy has books about philosophy on his bookshelf that must make him a sexist.

Louisa herself grew up reading books and the teachings of these particular philosophers. Plato was actually one of the first philosophers who talked about gender equality. Christine Doyle points out that throughout the book series Friedrich´s character represents the positive aspects of the German culture that the new immigrants embodied. Well-read and well educated — Friedrich´s shelf contains volumes of Shakespeare, Milton, Plato, and Homer in addition to his German Bible — he is nevertheless remarkably unpretentious, darning his own socks, for example. at the gathering He is deeply religious, standing up for the importance of religion of intellectuals he and Jo attend. This is a particularly important detail since, unlike the working-class German immigrants, the German intelligentsia were highly suspect for their “godlessness,” and it is actually against proponents of Kant’s and Hegel’s intellectualism that Friedrich launches his defence of religion. Even the great supporters of German literature, the Transcendentalists, sometimes found it difficult to come to terms with what they read as immorality and even atheism

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

Finland, MN

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