Real life Amy March May Alcott Nieriker

Niina Pekantytär
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Quote from a-skirmish-of-wit-and-lit, who says: 

I suppose you could argue that Laurie growing up wealthy is partly what contributed to him not valuing work. He never had to worry about not having things or not being able to afford what he wanted. In that regard, his exposure to the Marches, and the March sisters, in particular, was fortuitous because they helped to enlighten him.

Laurie's definitely not stupid. He's just more or less indifferent to academia. Not everyone is, and I like that Alcott sort of points that out with his character. Meanwhile, Jo lusts after learning. She feels like she can never know enough.

Erasing Laurie´s growth as a character, erases everyone else´s growth as well, and if you do that, there is no story. Putting two female characters against one another is a very common Hollywood trope. Interestingly it is often brunette versus blonde. Think about Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russel in Gentlemen prefer blondes, Elle Woods and Vivian Kensington in Legally Blonde.

Legally Blonde I must say is refreshing because it subverts that plot, but I think Warner Huntington III summed up the problem when saying that he wanted Jackie and not Marilyn. 

People often praise Jo for being a tomboy and how she rejects femininity, but Jo´s idealization of the masculine has very toxic elements. Amy is a character who is more governed by her brain, whereas Jo is in fact governed by her emotions, which is considered a feminine trait. In the novel, Jo struggles to show her feelings because she considers that weak and "feminine". When the father is wounded at the war she shouts to her sisters not to cry. A couple of years later Laurie says that she doesn't show emotions calls her out about it. Because Jo tries to shut down an important human part of herself, simply because she considers it feminine, is actually something that slowly eats her inside and contributes to her loneliness. This is why the umbrella chapter is so important because Friedrich says to Jo that it is okay to be vulnerable. 

After reading about Louisa´s relationships between the real-life Friedrich´s and Laurie´s I´d say she definitely was. Louisa was a transcendentalist and one of the methods that the transcendentalists used was so-called self-scanning, which basically means trying to understand and analyze the feelings and the experiences that you are going through. Louisa practised this throughout her life, and she put lots of consideration into the true meaning of love. When Louisa grew most marriages that she saw were unhappy marriages because they were arranged marriages. 

Louisa herself answers this question about equality within marriage rather beautifully and her own wishes from marriage seem to have remained the same throughout her life. 

“You have given your idol a heart, but no head. … I would have her humble, though self-reliant, gentle, though strong; man’s companion, not his plaything; able and willing to face storms, as well as sun, shines, and share life’s burdens, as they come. Let me advise you to take head as a pilot, for you may find, as I have done, that the voyage of life is not quite a pleasant trip” “I would not be above you as I now am, nor yet below, like poor Amelia in the garden. But here where every woman should be, at her husband’s side, walking together through life’s light and shadow".

Here she is actually echoing both Amy and Jo, in the matters of the heart one should combine both head and the feelings. This episode is sponsored by Audible. I am currently reading the biography of Charles Follen. This is a book that Louisa May Alcott read at the age of 12. Get this, it is a story about Eliza who was an American female writer and Charles who was a German immigrant, a philosopher and an abolitionist. Here we have prototypes of Jo and Friedrich. It gets even better. Charles full name was Karl Theodore Christian Friedrich Follen. 

Louisa loosely based Amy´s character on her younger sister May.  Louisa was more boyish and May was more feminine and like Amy, she slept with a clothes peg in her nose when she was 12. Unlike Amy who in the book comes to the conclusion that she does not have genius May embodied genius. She was a professional artist and her paintings were exhibited in Paris Salon she even wrote and published a book for young female art students called "Studying art abroad and how to do it cheaply".

When Louisa and May were young there was a great deal of rivalry between them. Both were very impulsive and temperamental and both loved the attention. Louisa often called May the baby of the family, and since she was the youngest and often got her way, which annoyed young Louisa. 

Amy in the novel is shorter than Jo. She has a button nose and a heart-shaped face. May and Louisa looked more similar. They were tall and handsome women, with the exception that May was blonde and a lot more feminine. Louisa´s father Louisa had dark brown hair, grey eyes. She spent a lot of time outside. She was often quite tanned, which was not considered very attractive in the 19th century and she had a high temper. Knowing this, it is easy to understand why she would envy May. 

Bronson Alcott believed in the idea of an ideal man and that this ideal person would have blonder hair, blue eyes and angelic nature. Bronson was also an abolitionist. He was an active member in the underground railway and the Alcott hid black slaves in their home and he lost his teaching position because he took a black child to his school (which also happens in Little Women). Now you´ll ask, isn't that contradicting? and it absolutely is. The transcendentalists had varying opinions on slavery. For example, Emerson was often vague with his stance on the topic whereas Henry Thoreau was very active in the abolitionist movement, which you can also see in Little Women when Jo and Friedrich take black children to their school, and Friedrich is largely based on Henry. 

Same way as Jo and Amy in the books Louisa and May did became closer when they matured and learned to control their tempers. They even made trips to Europe together.

There is a great deal of Louisa herself in Amy´s character. There were times when Louisa did consider marrying for money instead of love until her mother persuaded her otherwise. In Little Women, it is actually Amy who says that "I have learned to sail my own ship and I am not afraid of storms". The trip that Amy takes with aunt March in Europe, is actually based on Louisa´s own experiences in Europe. It is very sad and ironic that there are people who say that Amy stole Jo´s trip when that trip was actually based on Louisa´s trip.

Jo is not written to look pretty 

Louisa had lots of insecurities about her looks and she often compared herself to her sisters, May especially. When Little Women became very popular and fans started to visit Louisa´s home, they were often disappointed when they saw her, because for some reason they always imagined Jo March to be very pretty and young. 

Imagine your fans coming to meet you and being disappointed when they see you. Louisa was very tall. She was taller than most men. According to her niece Lulu, Louisa always had a sort of masculine air around her. She was not very graceful and she had a very low voice, like a man´s. At the end of her life, Louisa was very ill, due to mercury poisoning, so it is very likely that the illness also affected her appearance. 

Amy in the novel is written to be someone who is a very visual person. She likes to make things pretty around her. Jo is written to be the opposite. Someone who doesn't care that much about looks or appearance. 

Laurie in the book is written to be pretty, but the way he treats Jo is far from pretty. Friedrich is written to be unconventionally attractive, but he treats Jo well. He loves her. Henry, in fact, occasionally criticized very femininity that was fueled by consumerism. Women who spent a lot of time and money on their appearance. It is easy to see why Louisa had deep feelings for him. In Little Women Jo is horrified with the idea that she should go to a ball or go for social calls because they require her to be more feminine. Friedrich is written to be unconventionally attractive because Jo is unconventionally attractive. Being beautified by love is a big part of their romance. 

Same way Laurie is written to be conventionally attractive because that way he appeals to Amy´s sense of beauty. 

What often happens in Little Women films is that the filmmakers gush how pretty Laurie is and then they explain Jo rejecting Laurie by saying that Jo must be gay or ace, because it is so difficult for them to understand that Louisa May Alcott or Jo in the novel was not somebody who cared that much about conventionally good looking guys. The entire promotion of the 2019 film was based on that.  Laurie´s creepy behaviour towards Jo is constantly being erased in the adaptations and his storyline with Amy.

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

Finland, MN

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