Little Women: Pressure and mental health problems caused by Weekly Volcano

Niina Pekantytär
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When Louisa was in her early twenties she wrote into a New York newspaper called Frank Lesley´s weekly illustrated newspaper. Weekly Volcano is a caricature of that newspaper. We tend to have quite a one-dimensional way of thinking about what it comes to historical people because historical people had morals. Just like we have morals. Louisa was writing for money and writing for money came with mental health problems. She had to look up things that made her feel uncomfortable. They had stories of men abusing women and some of the stories were racist and sexist. These things contradicted Louisa and her own morals. Which is why she quit.

There is a literal quote in her journals where she writes about these moral struggles and her friend Emerson says hey you don´t need to write anything you don´t want to write and just like Jo in the book Louisa feels relieved when she stops. You can find this journal online. You can read it for free. All these scriptwriters have had access to read it for over a decade. Friedrich was helping Jo to find her own path as a writer.
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I am re-reading Megan Armknecht´s essay “Jo marries Goethe. Professor Bhaer as the goethean ideal. and I came across a paragraph that I must have missed the first time.

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

Finland, MN

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