Motherhood in Little Women

Niina Pekantytär

Discussion between Little Women bloggers Niina Niskanen and Christina Scott

Niina: The whole story about Laddie (Wisniewski) I think is one of the reasons why Louisa liked to hang out with´s almost like she always wanted to have somebody there that she could take care of. Was it her sister or when she worked in the war as a nurse and then there was Laddie and she took care of him because he had tuberculosis? You can see that Louisa always had this very maternal side that she liked to take care of people like her parents, later on and Jo is very much the same and we just recently talked about this with some fans on discord that in the 1994 film you can see this maternal side of Jo and then in the 1949 film. I like that when people add that dimension of her to the films because it is a big part of her. That she is this maternal character. People always complain "Oh Friedrich is so paternal, the fatherly figure" ...well, Jo is very maternal in the book. Of course, she would like to be with somebody who is a fatherly character and loves children as much as Jo does.

Christina: It is surprising that people would think that. I remember someone said, even if a person doesn´t like kids, see how they react to them because it tells you so much of their character and even if someone who doesn´t like kids is still good with kids, that says a lot, but if someone is like "get away from me kid" that is not a good judge of character. That is not a good sign. So it is surprising that someone would say "Oh this character likes to be with kids or is a father figure to them or any child they see, that is a horrible thing" why?. It shows that they have a really good heart and you know if you were that type of person who is like "I am looking for someone to settle down with and to start a life with and start a family and see how they are with other children tells you a lot and these two also I think to get axed a lot. I think only in the Masterpiece theater 1971 Franz and Emil get so cut in the story and I feel that it tells a lot who Friedrich is because the fact that he takes in his nephews and treats them as if they were his own not just like "I´m their uncle and these are my nephews and I take care of them". No, he treats them almost as if they were his own is so telling of how his character is and the way that he treats Tina, the sweet little girl and he is like "come, come, come to me. Come to your old Bhaer" he treats her as if she is her own. It is what impresses Jo a lot is just how good he is with kids and I think it´s like you said, it touches that maternal part of her who loves being with kids, who loves to take care of people as we have seen with Beth.
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Beth was pretty much, I feel like almost if she could have, she would have been her surrogate mom. It kind of reminds me of their relationship of that one scene in "Mermaids" with Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci where she says "when you came home from the hospital I tried to get you to call me mom" I feel like that would have been very much Jo and Beth relationship. You gotta hate kids that much to be like "hmph I can´t be with someone who is just friendly to children" what´s wrong with you?"

Niina: One of the things that I liked about Fritz was that when he comes to court Jo, he spends time with her niece and nephew and there is that scene with the chocolate. I always thought that was so sweet. "Jo´s Boys", I think that is really one of the best ones when you see how Jo and Friedrich behave with their sons when they are teenagers. Then there is that scene, where the other boy gets bitten by the dog. They go to their parents but they are really nervous to tell them, but Jo and Fritz are like "we love you" and then they comfort them. I just love Rob and Ted and I would like to see that story to be adapted a lot more often. In Little Men, it is mentioned how Franz almost became Jo´s son. He saw her more as a mother figure. They were very close. Franz was Friedrich´s oldest nephew. I mean it tells a lot about a character that he comes to this new country to take care of his sister and then adopts her two sons when she dies. It tells everything about Friedrich´s character, the way he is. When Jo is in New York she writes that letter to Marmee. It´s all about Friedrich. I think that story about the way he lost his sister and adopted the boys, was something that really moved Jo. It was something that she was very attracted to. One of the many things about him. It would be nice to see that in the films. One of my favourite scenes in the 1994 film is the part where Friedrich is playing with children and I like that also in the 2017 series.

Christina: Another moment that kinda hit me and I have the copy of my book right next to me, just to double-check. In some of the other movies they sort of switch it to be an adult but in the 2017 series and in the book, the first time Jo sees professor Bhaer is when a little servant girl is carrying this bucket of coal and he takes it from her and says that "the little back is too young to have such heaviness". It doesn´t matter whether or not they are a child or a servant, he is a friend to all children and that is like such a sweet little moment and some of the other versions like the Katherine Hepburn one and June Allyson they make it that they are an adult carrying like a load of laundry or something like that but again it is one of those telling moments that he sees that this little girl who is a servant and we could talk about child laws and labour laws as much as we want, someone who is supposed to be working and he sees that they are struggling and he is like "No, that is not what you are supposed to do. No!" Even though other people would have been like "that´s her job. So what if she is 10. She is supposed to be carrying that bucket of coal" but he is like "but she is 10! she should be carrying that bucket! again that is very telling not just how good he is with children, just the fact that he recognizes that "I don´t care if it is your job, you as a person should not be carrying that. That is not supposed to be your job. An adult should be really doing your job honestly" but as far I can recall the Masterpiece theatre 1 2017 adaptation was faithful to the book in that regard.

Niina: It was a really nice scene and I really wish they would have developed Jo and Fritz a lot more in that series because they were doing a really good job that little time that they had, except the part of him shouting at Jo about her writing. Other than that it was pretty decent. It was written by a Jo and Laurie shipper. There it goes.
Erol Ahmed/ Unsplash

Christina: I think the closest we get to the proper approach is the sort of Daily Volcano..and it´s weird for me to say even though I know this is supposed to be a remake of an earlier version but really I think the June Allyson one does it best because instead of Friedrich being disappointed he is more questioning. I am surprised because you don´t seem to be the type of person who writes those kind of characters and Jo admitting "I know they are not the greatest but they help to get money and..I have been having hard time publishing what is it that I want to publish" and it becomes more of a discussion of "you are a good writer. I know you are, but stick what makes you feel good about writing rather than trying to do what these people want" and I wish that if I would have my version I would make that very clear that distinction that Friedrich has with sensationalism versus Jo writing because there is moment, even though Jo doesn´t say it, he knows that she is writing it for the sake of money and he is like "I totally get where you are coming from because I know you are doing it same way as I work for money put most versions would put it like "Oh I thought you were better than that and this makes me think less of you" whatever and Jo taking it as a hard blow but she seeks out his advice in writing and he gives it. It´s not the Daily Volcano stuff that she hands in because she is not proud of that work really but in general her regular writing, he likes and he gives constructive criticism but he is never mean to her about it. He is more upset about what Daily Volcano represents. Sort of almost equivalent of like why are you showing an R rated movie at 12 o´clock in the afternoon when kids are home on a channel that is accessible to children, like that is the way I would re-frame it in a modern-day sense. That sort of feeling like why is that out there. How is that access to children? why is it that they put the channel to go from Disney to this channel? and all of a sudden if they do they´ll see someone hacking a person to death and boobies and a crazy amount of swear words that flan them out. I think people don´t see it that way but that is the way I always interpreted that it is not at all criticism against Jo but just what the Daily Volcano stood for and I think most adaptations somehow blend the two and it makes Friedrich not look the greatest and it is such a shame.

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

Finland, MN

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