Little Women Historical Tracks

Niina Pekantytär

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This is what Little Women fan Melodie Ellison has to say about Friedrich´s looks ”I think part of why people act like Friedrich is not attractive is because of the well known Louisa May Alcott quote about intentionally making a funny match for Jo. ”I wouldn´t be at all surprised if she didn´t quite mean that. Laurie was conventionally attractive. There are men in our current times, that fall into the same category. Men like Zac Efron. For example, if you were to ask me what I think of Zac Efron I'll tell you that he is handsome but I am not personally attracted to him. Like Jo I prefer my men bearded and a little stout but most importantly intelligent, hardworking and kind. I think folks who can´t accept an older less hot version of the professor fail to understand his and Jo´s relationship. She respected him and he her and for her, that was the ultimate sexiness”.

One of the biggest misconceptions about little women is that Jo is only based on Louisa. Louisa wrote Jo to be an idealized version of herself and there are elements in Jo that come from women who Louisa admired. I would argue that Louisa´s friend Elizabeth Powell was the true model for the 15-year-old Jo. Based on the letter exchange between Elizabeth and Louisa, Elizabeth wasn´t too keen on the idea of marriage which is understandable since she was only 16. Elizabeth did fall in love and married 10 years later and it would seem that she continued being a model for Jo. First for Jo March and then for Jo Bhaer. Her life was still very similar to the book Jo. Louisa was the complete opposite. Louisa had a huge crush on her father´s best friend philosopher Waldo Emerson. Louisa wrote love letters to him but she never sent them and she used to sit under his window singing Migon´s song.

Mignon´s song is a song from Goethe´s novel, Wilhelm Meister´s apprenticeship. Which was one of Louisa´s favourite books. Emerson was one of the many models for Friedrich. The main model was philosopher Henry Thoreau who merited Louisa´s lifelong affection. When Jo meets Friedrich for the first time he is singing Mignon´s song. When Jo writes her letter home she says that the letter is rather ”bhaery” and that she is always interested in odd people. We can interpret this that Jo is fascinated by Friedrich´s eccentric-ism and this is where Jo finds her kindred spirit because all of her life she has considered herself as odd and not fitting. One of the reasons why Jo´s and Laurie´s relationship, can never be a relationship between equals was that Laurie was looking for a mother figure in Jo, and Friedrich being older and more mature than Laurie is a paradox of that.

”I was in our parkour last evening and Mr Bhaer came in. With some newspapers for Mrs Kirk, she wasn´t there, but Minnie who is a little old woman introduced me very prettily. ”This is Mama´s friend Miss March” ”Yes, and she is jolly and we like her lots” added Kitty, who is an ”enfant térrible”. We both bowed and then we laughed, for the prim introduction and the blunt addition were a rather comical contrast. Like their creator, Jo and Friedrich share their love for children. Already in the first novel, Jo escaped the female society and ran out to play with boys. In New York, Jo is more interested in the doings of Franz and Emil, than her female charges, Kitty and Minnie. The more time Jo spends in New York, the more attractive Friedrich becomes, both physically and intellectually.

When spring arrives, she takes notice of the ”pleasant curves around his mouth”, ”his eyes that were never cold or hard”, ”his big hands that had a warm, long grasp that was more expressive than words”.

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Greta Gerwig complained about Friedrich´s looks and this is the one thing that most people miss in Little Women. Katherine Hepburn and Paul Lukas from the 1933 film probably are closest to what the characters are written to look like. The whole point of the story is that love beautifies a person. Jo is not written to be beautiful but she finds Friedrich very attractive and he is attracted to her. Louisa was not particularly beautiful either. Even her fans were disappointed when they saw her.

There is a hilarious scene in Jo´s boys. There is an adult fan who comes to meet Jo Bhaer. Jo´s and Friedrich´s son, points out the portrait of his mother and this fan is like ”oh no! I expected her to be 15 and pretty and have pigtails. I don´t think I want to see her now, because she looks so mundane”. Laurie is written to be a conventionally good looking character, but his actions over Jo are ugly. Films are sold with beautiful people, but I would be more worried about the way the filmmakers gloss over Laurie´s flaws. Because of her looks, sometimes Jo feels like a freak and that she is not worthy of love. Friedrich basically tells to Jo that it is okay to be clumsy and unconventional and still be worth loving.

Louisa May Alcott writes in her journal how her own fans were horrified when they saw her. Louisa suffered from multiple illnesses. Jo´s feelings of outsiderness and feels of being unloved has a firm base in the author´s real-life experiences.

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

Finland, MN
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