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Literal Origins of Marriages In Little Women

Niina is an Alcott researcher and the host of the Little Women Podcast.


Wide Wide World

Louisa May Alcott was in love with her friend philosopher Henry David Thoreau. He appears in literal disguises in all of her novels as the love interest, such as Friedrich Bhaer in Little Women and its sequels.

Susan Warner's novel, Wide Wide World, includes a very similar relationship between a spirited young woman and a philosopher. Wide Wide World appeared when Alcott was 18 years old.

In Little Women, 15-year-old Jo is sitting in an apple tree " reading and crying over the wide wide world".

Listen Episode Real Life Friedrich Bhaer

Story of Charles Follen

Eliza and Charles Follen's love story is similar to Jo and Friedrich's as well. It is a true story about a German immigrant who became a teacher of philosophy in America and an American writer. Alcott had actually met Charles Follen when she was a young child because her uncle Samuel May was friends with him.

Charles Follen had to flee Germany because of his reformist views. In America, he became one of the first founders of the transcendentalist movement. A movement in that Alcott and her family actively participated.

In Little Women when Alcott describes Friedrich's presence and how comfortable people feel around him, stating that "he was attractive as a genial fire".

This entire passage can also be found in Eliza Follen's memoir of her husband, which Alcott read at the age of 12.


Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship

One of Alcott's favorite books, Goethe's "Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship," can be linked to Laurie. Laurie and Wilhelm have a lot in common as characters. Wilhelm's father wants him to take over the family business, but he wants to flee and become an actor. Laurie's grandfather wants him to take over the family company, but Laurie wants to go away and become a musician. Wilhelm is first in love with Mariana, a Jo-like figure who also dresses as a boy. Then he falls in love with Natalia, an Amy-like figure who is able to calm Wilhelm's easily disturbed mind.

There is a significant supporting figure in the novel named "Friedrich".

Young Louisa May Alcott penned the word "beautiful" after a scene where Wilhelm Meister and Natalia are in the garden and he confesses his love to her. The idea that the male character changes as a person when he moves on from Mariana to Natalia is one of the motifs in Wilhelm Meister. The next love connection is the one that gives him peace.


Relationship that brings happiness

Jo and Laurie are unable to answer for each others needs. Jo aspires to have a large family and wants to connect intellectually with someone to whom she feels intense attraction. Laurie first wants Jo so he won't have to change and can stay the same, but what he truly needs is a partner who admires him but will also let him know when he isn't being the best version of himself. A lot of individuals could gain from understanding Laurie's development. He does manage to evolve, and Amy is much to credit for that. How many people have been in unhappy relationships before finding one where they feel good about both themselves and the other person?


When Jo Falls For Friedrich

Alcott received her copy of "Wilhelm Meister" from her friend, philosopher Waldo Emerson, and she annotated it with comments and scribbles. By infusing Goethean themes into her own works, Alcott altered this obsession with the author. When Jo sees Friedrich for the first time he is singing "Kennst du das land" (Do you know the land), the first line of Mignon's love song from Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. A few years later they perform this song together when Friedrich visits Jo and comes to court her.

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Alcott makes an emotional link between herself and Goethe as well as a clear connection between Jo and Goethe by having Friedrich sing Mignon's song to himself.

Alcott seems to have been thinking a lot about Wilhelm Meister’s female connections.

She highlighted the following part:

As Meister grows in life & advances in wisdom, he becomes acquainted with women of more & more character, rising from Mariana to Natalia who expresses the Minerva side of things, Mignon, the electrical, inspired lyrical nature …

Listen Episode 150 Year Laurie Problem

Failed Composer

When Laurie starts to harass Jo, Jo's mother states that she doesn't think Jo and Laurie are a good fit because they are too similar, which is when Jo leaves for New York. In the novel, Jo also experienced mood swings when she was younger, but she, unlike Laurie, learned to control her anger.

Book Jo travels to New York because Laurie is harassing her. In every Little Women film made between 1933 and 2019; Jo travels to New York after Laurie has proposed, yet, in the original novel, Laurie proposes a year after she has returned and has already begun to fall in love with the professor and even stands up for him while Laurie is disparaging him.

"Yes, I will live and die for him, if ever comes and make me love him, despite myself and you must do your best"

In the book, Laurie is highly forceful and demanding when he makes a marriage proposal to Jo. In the book, Laurie is not portrayed as being a mean person; rather, it demonstrates that he had a very different relationship with Jo than with Amy. He and Jo played practical jokes on other people; they acted more like brothers, and Jo had very maternal feelings toward him. The fact that Jo loved to mother boys is frequently highlighted in the book. She was submerged in internalized misogyny.

Jo begins to doubt her and Laurie's behavior. There are scenes in the book, where they make fun of the girls he flirts with.


Sorrows Of Young Werther

Goethe, a German poet, was a favorite of Alcott's, and she even sent her publisher letters to let her know whenever new copies of Goethe's books were released. His debut novel "The Sorrows of Young Werther," published in the 18th century in Germany, was one of the works that catapulted Goethe to fame. The story of Werther is about a young nobleman who falls in love with Lottie, a rural girl who is engaged to another man named Albert. Werther is always distressed emotionally. He first encounters Lottie while watching her tend to her small siblings in their comfortable house.

Laurie falls in love with Jo's family when they first meet, and Jo in a way adopts him and raises him as a mother. Young Polish musician Ladislas Wisniewski, one of the real-life Lauries whom Louisa May Alcott encountered while travelling and working abroad, referred to her as his "Little Mama."

Werther threatens to hurt himself when Lottie says no to him. Laurie follows his suit. When Jo says no, he threatens to hurt himself and even says that "women say no when they mean yes, simply for the fun of it." In the end, Werther commits suicide. Readers at the time regarded this conduct to be unsettlingly romantic.

By developing from a youngster into a man, Laurie finds redemption. At the book's conclusion, he even apologizes to Jo, which is never in the movies (along with Laurie's character arc that is also missing).


Heir of Redcliffe

The plot of Amy and Laurie is found in Mary Yonge's "Heir of Redcliffe," which was published when Louisa May Alcott was 21. It tells the story of Sir Guy Morville, a wealthy young man, who falls in love with Amy Edmonstone, his cousin. Given that Laurie and Guy are both orphans who reside with their grandfathers, their similarities are immediately apparent. Guy is a very unsure young man, and Amy helps him in the novel to choose the direction he wants to go in.

In the chapter “Lawrence boy” Jo has been reading the “Heir of Redcliffe”.


Alcott's Desire To Marry

Jo always sees Laurie as a boy and Friedrich as a man. In contrast to Laurie, he supports her ambition of opening a school and even provides the objective criticism of her work that she so desperately wants. Amy serves as a catalyst for Laurie's personal development. She encourages her to work and put an end to daydreaming by refusing to mother him in the same manner that Jo does. Jo encourages Friedrich to leave his job and look for jobs he enjoys more, and Laurie nudges Amy to marry for love rather than money. Little Women's marriages symbolize the characters' development to be their best versions of themselves.

Alcott never got married, but she seems to have wanted to. She expresses her belief in the afterlife and her expectation that in her next life, she will receive her prize and have a spouse and children of her own in her diaries, where she also writes about being jealous when seeing her sisters being happily married. Alcott was a millionaire during the time she wrote these diary markings, money did not bring her happiness.

This is also written into Little Women:

“don’t laugh at the spinsters, dear girls, for often very tender, tragic romances are hidden away in the hearts that beat so quietly under the sober gowns, and many silent sacrifices of youth, health, ambition, love itself, make the faded faces beautiful in God’s sight. even the sad, sour sisters should be kindly dealt with because they have missed the sweetest part of life, if for no other reason.”

Listen Episode: Alcott's Quotes On Envying Her Sister's Marriages

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© 2022 Niina Pekantytar

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