At least that’s my take on Professor Bhaer. And what a sweetheart she’s created! Kind, gentle, a lover of children . . . an intellectual who can challenge her mind and create stimulating conversation . . . a confidant . . . someone with the courage to be virtuous and defend it . . . someone who can let his hair down and play with children on the floor . . . someone who brings out Jo’s best side.
Louisa needed to lay out a strong case for Jo choosing Professor Bhaer over Laurie and she presented it like a lawyer. I found the argument logical, convincing and keeping in character with Jo (although I thought she overdid Professor Bhaer’s virtues a bit, perhaps trying too hard to convince her readers who had pressured her to marry Jo to Laurie). Jo was decidedly different and preferred odd people; she stated emphatically in chapter 33 from her journal, “I hate ordinary people!” It makes sense to me that she was paired with Bhaer. Louisa has methodically revealed Jo’s personality and character throughout the book; Jo has opened slowly before me like a beautiful flower. Louisa needed to do the same with Bhaer but far more quickly. By the end of chapter 34 (The Friend), I was convinced, and comfortable with the idea.
Chapter 32 (Tender Troubles) actually presents the opening argument in this exchange between Jo and Marmee when Jo confides that Laurie has designs on her:
Jo looked up and Jo looked down, then said slowly, with sudden color in her cheeks. “It may be vain and wrong to say it, but–I’m afraid–Laurie is getting too fond of me.”
“Then you don’t care for him in the way it is evident he begins to care for you?” and Mrs. March looked anxious as she put the question.
“Mercy, no! I love the dear boy, as I always have, and am immensely proud of him, but as for anything more, it’s out of the question.”
“I’m glad of that, Jo.”
“Because, dear, I don’t think you suited to one another. As friends you are very happy, and your frequent quarrels soon blow over, but I fear you would both rebel if you were mated for life. You are too much alike and too fond of freedom, not to mention hot tempers and strong wills, to get on happily together, in a relation which needs infinite patience and forbearance, as well as love.”
“That’s just the feeling I had, though I couldn’t express it.
It is well known among Alcott enthusiasts that Louisa never wanted to have Jo marry in the first place but caved in to pressure from her readers. In a letter to one Elizabeth Powell, she writes:
” ‘Jo’ should have remained a literary spinster but so many enthusiastic young ladies wrote to me clamorously demanding that she marry Laurie, or somebody, that I didnt dare to refuse & out of perversity went & made a funny match for her. I expect vials of wrath to be poured out upon my head, but rather enjoy the prospect.” (from Little Women A Norton Critical Edition, page 421)
Louisa said that Bhaer was a “funny match” but I actually found it to be the perfect match and a very logical choice. And I had to smile as I read because it seemed to me that Louisa, had she met a Professor Bhaer at the right time in her life, might have considered marrying him. Some have speculated that Bhaer was based on her father’s lifelong friend and family benefactor Ralph Waldo Emerson. It’s no secret that Louisa had a girlhood crush on Emerson (writing love letters to him a la Goethe’s Correspondence With a Child) and if Bhaer is based on him, then her affection for Emerson was deep and authentic.
Only Louisa’s skill as a writer (and the heart she put into her writing) could have pulled this off. It creates a far more interesting and dramatic story in the long run even if readers were disappointed with the outcome.
And this is just the beginning, as I began to realize upon reading chapter 35 . . . I was amazed at how my tears flowed as I read it . . . but more on that in my next post. I have so much more I want to write about, just from chapter 34, let alone chapter 35. And then there’s chapter 36 . . . yikes! But that will have to wait until tomorrow.