Louisa creates the perfect man for Jo (and herself?)

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.”

“Why, please?”

“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.

14 Replies to “Louisa creates the perfect man for Jo (and herself?)”

  1. I confess that when the 1994 Little Women came out when I was 12 and I saw it in the theatres Jo ending up with Professor Bhaer seemed laughable. I mean, he was so OLD! He was kind of dusty and musty, like a living library, with his old fiddle and his funny accent. Teddy seemed more real, way cuter, and liked to have more fun.

    It shows to go you what a 12-year-old would choose as opposed to a young woman!

    I rewatch Little Women around the holidays every year, and over the years have come to love Professor Bhaer and now find Teddy quite immature. Louisa was 32-33 when she wrote about Bhaer, and I think if she’d been her 16-year-old pre-war self scribbling “Moods” she might have had Jo end up with Teddy, despite their faults. It’s more romantic, don’t you think?

    But after her horrific experience in the Civil War, after marriage proposals had dried up, and after suffering poverty and illness for so many years, I think Louisa wanted Jo to have something she never could – a safe and content marriage. Not something passionate, not something wild … something like home. Teaching school in a huge old house called Plumfield, with a worldly intellectual by her side, oodles of boys tumbling about. This was Louisa’s dream and she gave it to Jo.

    Louisa also gave her Jo somebody who was a non-threatening choice, who wouldn’t impede her intellect or trouble up her life with moody outrages. Teddy may have been like that. As a writer who married my own smarty-pants 10 years older than me, I needed someone who wouldn’t interfere with my emotions too much and gave me space to write.

    That’s what Jo would need, too. 🙂

  2. Susan, I was crying by this point in Little Women, too! I love Professor Bhaer — he’s such a better match for Jo. Laurie is like a brother. I can’t wait to see more of these too in the books that follow (Little Men and Jo’s Boys. 🙂

  3. Meg, love your analysis! Professor Bhaer is a safe haven, much like his alter ego, Ralph Waldo Emerson was. Emerson was always the port in the storm, constantly saving the family from disaster, and being that calm presence in her life.

  4. I always hated Bhaer and much preferred Laurie. Maybe thats why I enjoy Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom so much. Louisa got that one right!

    I will say that I enjoyed the 1990s TV show Little Men. Apparently the writers thought that Bhaer wasn’t a good match either and found her a way hotter man.

  5. I haven’t seen Little Men TV show but I did read Little Men. Jo is married to Bhaer and they have two sons. Whom did they match her with in the show?

  6. It was a handy man that worked on the farm. All I remember is he was rugged and hot and they butted heads a few times. I did enjoy the show. Sorry it went off the air.

  7. I don’t like Professor Bhaer either. He’s boring and too good. My ten year old self HATED that match and wanted Jo to marry Laurie like Anne and Gilbert! Now I think Jo should have remained a spinster like her alter-ego.

  8. Facinating that Bhaer might have been based on Ralph Waldo Emerson?! Maybe if I had known that I would have liked Bhaer a little more. As it is, I couldn’t stand him. Really because I think Louisa used him to turn Jo into a proper Little Woman as required by the times and I found that hard to stomach. Oh and also the fact that I really thought that Bhaer was modeled after Bronson Alcott, Louisa’s father. He was bookish, poor, absent minded, and a teacher. And of course much older. So I also found Jo and Bhaer’s relationship to be a bit icky…

    I’m a Jo and Laurie fan, and thought marmee’s advice was hogwash. But I’ll admit it was probably what a lot of women bilieved during Louisa’s time. So that being said, I’d definitely would have preferred that Jo remain single. Sadly, Louisa had to sell books and had to satify her publisher so that couldnt be…

    1. Oh I agree that Bhaer was also based on Bronson whether Louisa meant it to or not. He seemed to act as her conscience. I was kind of disappointed when she gave up writing the potboilers at his request but she wouldn’t have given in so easily had she been truly comfortable with it.

      I thought from a soul mate perspective they were a perfect match. Laurie was more like a brother to Jo and she treated him that way right from the start.

      1. Of course as a Jo/Laurie fan I have to disagree with the Laurie as Jo’s brother idea 🙂 she definitely thought of him as her best friend…and I think she was afraid of feeling anything more for him and wouldn’t let herself (she did that for a bit with Bhaer too)…someone said it was all about timing with Jo and I like that theory…but given Louisa, no amount of timing would have worked,lol…

        I do think given Louisa’s accounts in her journals/letters (what’s left of them anyway) that she did fall in love…Her infamous “couldn’t be” line in her journal for example…but a true long term romance was never possible for her and she never really saw what a successful egalitarian marriage looked like…given these experiences, though I think she kept yearning for that amazingly close relationship with a member of the opposite sex, but without the mess and heartache of romance/marriage that she had observed…

        So I believe she used a combination of Laddie, her other favorite boys, and some inspiration from literature to create a perfect companion for Jo
        as a close friend and confidante. Since she never expected to write Part 2 of LW, she never expected to have to deal with the romance. I wonder how she would have written up Laurie (and Bhaer too) had she known from the beginning she’d have to write a sequal to LW…interesting to speculate!

      2. Louisa was so pragmatic that I tend to think that in the back of her mind she did think there would be a sequel, otherwise she wouldn’t have left the story so wide open for one. But you’re right, she certainly didn’t know for sure and it would have been very interesting to see how it would have played out as you suggest. 🙂

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