Little Women: Constructive Criticism

Niina Pekantytär
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In chapter 34 when Jo enters the publishing world in New York, she enters the world that is male-dominated. Her sensational story is cut from a third of its original length. Jo is frustrated with the way Mr Dashwood wants to cut out all the morals away from the story and the morals are what Jo wishes to keep. Eventually, Jo agrees to these alternations to be made. Despite her masculine shield, Jo is quite emotional internally even though she doesn´t like to show it and writing thrilling tales becomes distressing. ”She was living in a bad society, and imaginary thought it was, it´s influence affected, for she was feeding hard and fancy on dangerous and unsubstantial food and was fast brushing the innocent bloom from her nature, by a premature quittance of the darker side of life. Which comes soon enough to all of us.” Fritz knows that Jo writes and he is curious about it but Jo is ashamed of her writings.

She is adamant about using a pseudonym and she doesn´t tell anyone at home what she is doing and neither she has shown her stories to Fritz. Friedrich never criticisms Jo as a writer. He is criticizing the genre. Friedrich is honest. He wants Jo to take herself seriously as a writer. In the book, Jo does not shout or argue with Fritz, unlike the movie Jo does because Friedrich expresses what Jo has been thinking all long. As a result, Jo burns her trashy novels, then the book Jo tries to write for children. It doesn´t feel right. Then she writes stories that only have moralities, that doesn´t feel right either. She jumps from one literal genre to another. Experimenting. Friedrich does turn out to be a friend. He encourages Jo to study real-life people so she can develop her characters, and as a Christmas gift, he gives her a set of Shakespeare´s novels. Goethe, Louisa´s idol, would have had similar thoughts towards sensational stories that Friedrich had. Here is a quote from Megan Armknecht who has done some extensive research between Friedrich´s character and Goethe. ”Bhaer is trying to help Jo to become a genuine writer, instead of one who catered, to the whips of the crowd. This is something Goethe would have done. He disliked superficiality in people and in art and was through life frequently offended by the shallow pretensions, the false aims, writers who because they had some poetic sensibility and some gift of expression”. Louisa credited Goethe with being the one author who has thought me the most about creating and understanding characters.

In the 1994 film, Jo argues with Friedrich about her writings. The film kind of portrays Jo as an ultra-feminist when Jo says that too bad her writings are not good enough for Friedrich´s high morals, this is the complete opposite to the book Jo, because book Jo and Friedrich, have always shared the same morals. Some viewers of the 1994 film, have taken Jo´s side on the argument probably because of it´s ultra-feminism. Here is a quote from a person who joined #teambhaer after becoming familiar with Friedrich for the first time through Greta Gerwig´s film and they got inspired to read the book. ”Never read or watched Little Women before this but I am so phenomenally found of Friedrich, just in general. But this is coming from someone who watched the 2019 film first and had no context prior to this. As a writer cinema-savvy person, I was made aware of Gerwig´s cinematic parallelism of the past and the present during my watch and I could tell that there must have been something taken out of the equation. As a means to balance out Gerwig´s vision. Yet I took fondly of the man who was basically void of existence mid-movie barely on the fact that Gerwig´s method of narrative essentialism still had me appreciate his weight. In the same 2019 Jo summarized the entirety of her loneliness in a single sweep, as I later found out, she dedicated an entire chapter to such sombre chills. I found that Friedrich´s clean sweep came down to lines that could be easily overlooked if one came from acting instead of script. ”But do you have anyone to take you seriously?” To talk about your work, he was essentially the one meant to simply see her. That is a single line Greta Gerwig had essentials in his character. This correlates with the book Fritz. ​ ”Now Mr Bhaer was a different man and slow to offer his opinions. Not because they were unsettled but too sincere and earnest to be lightly spoken, as he glanced from Jo to several other young people attracted by the brilliancy of the philosophic pyrotechnics. He knit his brows and longed to speak fearing that some inflammable, young soul would be led astray by the rockets to find when the display was over”. Of course, as I actually admitted it 2019 Friedrich, was my first version of Friedrich and he still managed to catch my attention, for all he was worth. It was nice reading book 2 and finding out that Alcott wrote him as a worthy addition, rather than a cop-out, as I´ve had the misfortune, to read criticism as of late, that I was shocked at all that anyone would argue otherwise”.
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This makes me wonder why Greta has spent so much time and energy bashing the book Friedrich while promoting her film. With just that simple line he is established as someone worthy of Jo´s love, Gerwig´s film has its focus on how much Jo has discomforts with the change, and the feedback scene doesn´t promote ultra-feminism but Jo comes out more childish. She yells she never speaks to him again and it is not something that the book Jo would do. In the PBS series, Friedrich actually yells at Jo. That is not something that the book Friedrich does. Friedrich wasn´t biased to Jo when it came to his feelings, he knew she could do more and wanted her to be as good as she wanted to be. He sees her as an equal, as a woman with a true heart and soul, a woman with talent. He isn’t easy on her but neither is he cruel to her when it comes to her writing. I think ultimately she appreciates that Friedrich never softened the blow but always treated her as someone whose ideas and thoughts were meant to be listened to.

Here is another quote from chapter 27 literary lessons: “that’s just it. I’ve been fussing over the thing so long, I really don’t know whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. It will be a great help to have cool, impartial persons take a look at it, and tell me what they think of it.” The whole chapter is about how Jo learns to define her craft from the feedback she receives, way before she meets Friedrich, and it foreshadows the arrival of Friedrich´s character. There is a longing to find a person who can not only give her constructive criticism but also encourage her to explore her capacity as a storyteller. The 2018 film did a pretty good job by making Bhaer Jo´s editor and a professor of literature, and so far it is the only film where Jo listens and embraces the feedback she receives the same way as the book Jo does. Here is a quote from Edna Cheney who was one of the first Louisa May Alcott biographers Louisa was always a creature of moods; and it was a great relief to work off certain feelings by the safe vent of imaginary persons and scenes in a story. She had no one to guide or criticize her; and the fact that these gambols of fancy brought the much-needed money, and were, as she truly called them, “potboilers,” certainly did not discourage her from indulging in them. She is probably right in calling most of them “trash and rubbish,” for she was yet an unformed girl, and had not studied herself or life very deeply.

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

Finland, MN

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