Wrapping Up Little Women Part Two – Mama and Papa Bhaer, and my favorite character

Chapter 46 of Little Women, “Under the Umbrella,” should have been a glorious chapter for me since Jo and Fritz finally decided to get married. Instead, it was incredibly frustrating, though it wasn’t all Louisa’s fault. :-) I’ve been listening to an audio book during my long commute and the reader for that particular chapter had a really annoying affected voice. That, plus all the games that Jo played before she finally let down her guard had me yelling in the car, “Will you get to it?!?”

If there was ever a time when the propriety of the era seemed to be getting in the way of happiness, this was it! My goodness, Jo might have let Professor Bhaer slip right out of her grasp simply because she couldn’t get past propriety to show how she really felt. Considering their friendship and how easy going they had been together, this sudden need to be proper (especially from Jo of all people) was exasperating.

Throughout the book I had often thought that a little propriety might be nice in this day and age where dating is an outmoded word (now it’s “friends with benefits,” or “we’re an item.”). There is so little structure today in relationships (and such a fear of commitment) that you wonder how anybody gets married anymore.

But after reading chapter 46, I just kept thinking, “Be honest! Tell him how you feel. At least let your face tell it!” Thankfully, she finally did!

That being said, as I intimated before in a comment to the last post, I was not terribly happy with the end of the book. I had so hoped to witness Jo’s wedding but Louisa passed right over it (I guess it was just too much to ask to have her write about her alter ego actually go through the ceremony). The book had been operating somewhat in a real time setting – now all of sudden it jumps ahead several years. It just didn’t feel right. Plus, the ending was so syrupy. Sure, I could see the reasoning for a happily-ever-after ending for a children’s book but goodness, it was just so sicky sweet! A tiny dose of reality was thrown in with the paragraph that hinted that Amy’s child was sickly like Beth (and was even named Beth!) and that she might eventually lose her, but it came and went so quickly and seemed really out of place with the rest of the chapter. I expected this book to go out with a bang but it went out with a whimper.

Still, I have enjoyed this read immensely. The character development was wonderful and I enjoyed the different morality dilemmas and the growth that each character experienced. Sure, it wasn’t a sophisticated, adult, gray treatment of morality, but especially in this day and age where everything seems to be gray and truth is relative, the world of concrete morality was a nice place to be.

I mentioned in a comment that I read chapter one of Martha Saxton’s biography, Louisa May Alcott A Modern Biography, in which she gave her own analysis of Little Women as it related to Louisa. I had said that I found her treatment annoying because she was so heavy handed in her psychoanalysis. I failed to mention that she found the world of concrete morality where someone learns from their adversity and grows spiritually to be unsophisticated and not adult-like (my interpretation of her words). I happen to be a big believer in growth from adversity, it’s what gives suffering meaning. I happen to believe in Someone bigger than myself and that Someone guides my life, allows adversity to happen, and helps me to grow from it. I don’t consider it to be unsophisticated. It’s a life that gives me great peace in the midst of trouble – why would I want to trade that in for Saxton’s vision which I’m guessing was a lot more gray and a lot more chaotic?

I wish I had her book in front of me so I could quote from it because I’m just spouting off here, but it annoyed me tremendously reading Saxton’s analysis.

BUT, on to better things . . . my favorite character . . .

And my favorite character is . . . . AMY!

Remember in earlier posts when I said I couldn’t stand her and that Beth had always been my favorite? I’ve changed my mind. I have to admit that I’m very influenced by my recent immersion into May Alcott Nieriker, but I believe that Amy was more than she seemed – more mature, more compassionate, in many ways as loving as Jo. The difference is that Amy was into the details. Chapter 30 was the beginning of my conversion, so to speak (see Amy wins the day, and Jo pays the price). She reminded me of one of my favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux. Known as “The Little Flower,” St. Therese taught that it was in the little, day-to-day things where one could grow in virtue and holiness. Hidden acts of kindness were her style, and she was much misunderstood by the other nuns in her convent. A simple smile to someone she didn’t necessarily like, helping a cranky sister with her dinner, things like that were the kinds of virtues St. Therese practiced throughout her short life. For that she became one of the most popular saints of our day, and was made a Doctor of the Catholic Church.

Now Amy was no saint but she practiced the same kind of spirituality. It was all in the details, the little mundane things of life. I admire that and was won over by her completely. Graciousness is a wonderful thing to master.

Beth still mystifies me because I’ve never known anyone like her. Her real life alter ego, Lizzie, is even more of a mystery. I just can’t help wondering about someone like that.

And why wasn’t Jo my favorite? Because I knew Louisa first and Jo seemed like a shadow to her alter ego. I think perhaps if I hadn’t known Louisa and met Jo first, that she might have been my favorite. But Louisa is real and so much more interesting and complex. She is the one who inspires me.

I’d love to hear who your favorite character was and what you thought of the ending. BUT, save the favorite character part for my next post. Harriet Reisen, in honor of Louisa and Bronson’s upcoming birthdays on the 29th,  is giving away a DVD of her excellent documentary on Louisa, and I want to make this giveaway a short essay contest. So hold thoughts on your characters for the contest  if you want to enter.  I will post information about the contest this weekend.

Little Women was such a great ride! I had a ball. :-)

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8 thoughts on “Wrapping Up Little Women Part Two – Mama and Papa Bhaer, and my favorite character

  1. Mia Ninera says:

    Speaking of saying things aloud, I did it twice while reading this post. The first was “Tell me about it!” and then I laughed remembering lifeless hoarse voice of that reader. Don’t you get an image of a”haggard, worn, and moody woman” (as Louisa described her Jean Muir in Behind a Mask), sitting in a room full of smoke (of Louisa’s “hashish”:)), with an almost empty bottle of “something strong” next to the dictafon into which she’s reading? :))

    And the second was “Ah, I knew it!” when I read that Amy’s your favorite. :) To me it is hard to think about characters without linking them to their real life counterparts and without being able or unable to relate to them. But I will hold my thoughts about it for now. :) It’s a great idea to give away a DVD on Louisa’s birthday, I look forward to the contest. :)

    I do agree that the way the last chapter fits to the rest of the book feels somehow abrupt. There you can see that there was a deadline to meet and Louisa wrote it as if to say ” OK, I have 23 new chapters, let’s wrap it up now and give them happy endings they want” but on the other hand
    she was paving the way for the sequel, introducing new characters: March sister’s children and Plumfield pupils.

    When talking about the way things turned up in her life, compared to her early castle in the air, Jo says that she’s happy with her husband, sons and school although “Plumfield may burn up any night, for that incorrigible Tommy bangs WILL smoke sweet-fern cigars under the bed clothes, though he’s set himself afire three times already.” And indeed, in Little Men after Tommy did it Jo “found great amusement in the thought, I always KNEW Tommy would set the house on fire, and now he has done it!”
    She was a smart business-woman, I guess she might deliberately finish Little Women that way, so that she would leave readers with wanting more.

    • susanwbailey says:

      “Speaking of saying things aloud, I did it twice while reading this post. The first was “Tell me about it!” and then I laughed remembering lifeless hoarse voice of that reader. Don’t you get an image of a”haggard, worn, and moody woman” (as Louisa described her Jean Muir in Behind a Mask), sitting in a room full of smoke (of Louisa’s “hashish”:)), with an almost empty bottle of “something strong” next to the dictafon into which she’s reading? :))”

      You SO nailed that! Hah!

  2. Jillian says:

    Good reflections here, Susan!

    I absolutely adored the ending. I loved the suspense, and I was VERY glad we didn’t get stuck watching the wedding. A cutesy wedding at the end of a novel is one of my pet peeves…

    I have to say, Amy grew on me, too, through the reading. But Jo is my favorite. (Meg is my least favorite, but also grew on eading.) I knew Jo before Louisa, so perhaps that’s why I prefer her. As to the ending, I love the sensation that it will go on (Little Men, Jo’s Boys.) I can’t wait to see what happens next. :)

    Great post!

  3. Jillian says:

    eading = reading

    Sorry – sticky keyboard. :-)

  4. Carla says:

    I know this is an old post, but I’ve been on a bit of a Little Women/Little men/Jo’s boys immersion lately (as in rereading, rerereading and so forth till I almost know it by heart) and searching for a bit more info on L.M. Alcott I found your blog :). I’ve been reading the archives, and find it pretty amazing that you found out about L.M. Alcott before reading Little Women. Myself I started with Little Women and their sequels, then An old fashioned girl (that I love!). It is just recently that I read Eight cousins and Rose in Bloom, and even more recent that I’ve found myself interester in L. M. Alcott (an in, last week ^^)
    I have to tell you that I love your analysis on both the Jo/Bhaer and Amy/Laurie pairings. When I first read the book, as a kid for school if I remember correctly, and not knowing how it ended, I loved it. I loved how Bhaer and Jo went together, even though I do believe I cried in the chapter when Jo says no to Laurie ^^.
    Reading it now as an adult (well 22 year-old… not sure if that counts as an adult nowadays ^^) and in a serious relationship, I like even more the pairing of Jo and the professor. They seem so sweet together, and now I cry a the end of the chapter Surprises, and Under the umbrella, obviously, first because it is so frustrating, and then because it is so lovely :).
    Actually now, I think I look up at their relationship, and hope I can find the same thing in mine… they just seem so sweet, and I love all the little romantic moments that they have, whether implied or actually written. And they really seem to bring out the best on each other.
    I find it funny, or rather sad that so many people find Jo ended up with the wrong person… to me they just seem so perfect. And I find it really frustrating that 99% of fan fiction seems to be Jo/Laurie… usually I like reading fan fiction, but in Little Women’s case, I have not found much to my taste.
    I find your blog really interesting, and I’ll probably keep reading ^^

    • susanwbailey says:

      Hah, I can sure relate to the immersion thing! Glad to find someone else who likes the pairing of Jo and Prof. Bused. I think if people could see Amy as a more three dimensional character and get beyond the spoiled brat thing, then her pairing with Laurie would be more acceptable.

      • EmeraldZen says:

        I actually really liked Amy as a character (though she annoyed me at times). But then again, so did Jo. The only one who didn’t I think is Laurie, lol. (And while I found Amy and Laurie’s romance to be very sweet, I really didn’t like how dull their marriage turned to be)

        Anyways, I love all four sisters and most of the characters in Little Women. But those I didnt like all that much: Marmee, Bhaer, John Brooke. All are preachy to one extent or another and really serve to handily domesticate Meg, Jo, and Amy and turn our lively group of sistes into “proper” Little Women.

      • susanwbailey says:

        As I had mentioned, I liked how Amy employed her graciousness. She could have used it well to her advantage in a bad way but she did it in a good way. And yes, I agree that Jo could be annoying at times because she would overreact to things.

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