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Chapter 46: Under the Umbrella

"While Laurie and Amy were taking conjugal strolls over velvet carpets," (if you know what I mean) (AND I THINK THAT YOU DO) (but I don't) "as they set their house in order, and planned a blissful future, Mr. Bhaer and Jo were enjoying promenades of a different sort, along muddy roads and sodden fields." (if you know what I mean) (AND I THINK THAT YOU DO) (but I don't.)

In case it's not clear enough that everything in this chapter will be a veiled sexual analogy, here's a sentence from page 2: "And no one seemed to have the slightest suspicion that Professor Bhaer, while talking philosophy with the father, was giving the daughter lessons in love."

"For a fortnight, the Professor came and went with lover-like regularity," but then the avuncular ursine stops showing up. Jo gets "very cross," just like Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear.

Jo tarts herself up in a new bonnet and goes down to the docks, "where gentlemen most do congregate," but she can't find the Professor in this avenue of sin. "It serves me right! what business had I to put on all my best things and come philandering down here, hoping to see the Professor? Jo, I'm ashamed of you!" she thinks to herself. Jo, I'm not ashamed of you! Better off philandering with all these dirty-fingered but essentially clean-minded porters and stevedores than waiting around for some old prof who so enjoys "promenades of a different sort". And is he a real professor anyway, and have we seen his diploma? Why not? Is the University of Bearlin even a real school? or Bearvaria, or Hambearg, or Gentle Bonn, or wherever he claims he went?

It begins to rain, and just as Jo's bonnet is about to be ruined, Bhaer (I now hesitate to call him "Professor" Bhaer) shows up with an umbrella to save Jo. Buy, is she happy! You know what, I bet the bonnet was ruined, but Alcott didn't have the heart to tell us. You know how the young ladies dress today, with their impractical, ribbon-festooned, water-soluble bonnets, especially when they're looking for assignations down at the Street of Gentlemen.

Bhaer escorts Jo on her errands. Finally, he summons up the courage to ask Jo a question. A BIG question.

"Yes, sir." And Jo's heart began to beat so hard she was afraid he would hear it.

"I am bold to say it in spite of the rain, because so short a time remains to me."

"Yes, sir." And Jo nearly crushed the small flowerpot with the sudden squeeze she gave it.

"I wish to get a little dress for my Tina, and I am too stupid to go alone. Will you kindly gif me a word of taste and help?"

"Yes, sir." And Jo felt as calm and cool all of a sudden as if she had stepped into a refrigerator.


Three things to notice about this passage:

1) Waah, waah!

2) Refrigerators have been invented! I suppose we are talking about, like, ice houses or something? I'm guessing the Marches don't have a Frigidaire.

3) Who are the creepiest couples where one calls the other "sir?" Vote in the comments.
   Jo and Prof. Bhaer
   Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester
   Marcy and Patty
   "To Sir With Love"

Jo blows hot and cold, trying to hide her true feelings, until Professor Bear reveals that he has gotten a job at a college out West (where they are more lax about teaching credentials). She starts crying. Now we get the true love-confession moment:

Mr. Bhaer saw the drops on her cheeks, though she turned her head away. The sight seemed to touch him very much, for suddenly stooping down, he asked in a tone that meant a great deal, "Heart's dearest, why do you cry?"

Now, if Jo had not been new to this sort of thing she would have said she wasn't crying, had a cold in her head, or told any other feminine fib proper to the occasion. Instead of which, that undignified creature answered, with an irrepressible sob, "Because you are going away."

"Ach, mein Gott, that is so good!" cried Mr. Bhaer, managing to clasp his hands in spite of the umbrella and the bundles, "Jo, I haf nothing but much love to gif you. I came to see if you could care for it, and I waited to be sure that I was something more than a friend. Am I? Can you make a little place in your heart for old Fritz?" he added, all in one breath.

"Oh, yes!" said Jo, and he was quite satisfied, for she folded both hands over his are, and looked up at him with an expression that plainly showed how happy she would be to walk through life beside him, even though she had no better shelter than the old umbrella, if he carried it.


So, reader, take a moment to decide: can you make a place in your heart for old Fritz? I must take a moment as well. I certainly liked kid-version Jo March, with her scraped knees and her blood-and-thunder plays. I suppose that many of the qualities I liked in Jo were immature qualities. She has to grow up, and I suppose she must get paired off. Bhaer provides a more conventional lifestyle than I'd hoped for her, but at least he's more intellectual than Laurie. I suppose he'll encourage her writing, though he'll probably try to channel it away from piratical gorefests and towards pious domestic stories - and who would want to read those? but I dunno. It could work out. Later in the chapter, he calls her "Professorin", which is fun.

It's hard to think of what male archetype would be more fit to swoop her off her feet at the last minute. A Civil War chaplain? A swashbuckling Polish revolutionary? A photographer of the bridges of Madison County? I dunno. I guess Bhaer is alright. I'll give him a passing grade. A C. Maybe a C-. No, a C is fine.

Anyway, Jo, and Louisa, are also unable to think of another suitable match for Jo:

While Jo trudged beside him, feeling as if her place had always been there, and wondering how she ever could have chosen any other lot. Of course, she was the first to speak intelligibly, I mean, for the emotional remarks which followed her impetuous "Oh, yes!" were not of a coherent or reportable character.

"Friedrich, why didn't you . . ."

"Ah, heaven, she gifs me the name that no one speaks since Minna died!" cried the Professor, pausing in a puddle to regard her with grateful delight.


Wait, the Professor's last wife was Mina Harker? Maybe this is an alternate history where Mina married Prof. Van Helsing, and then she died, and then Van Helsing went overseas to marry a March girl. Though it's also possible, I suppose, that Prof. Bhaer is Dracula.

Chapter 45: Daisy and Demi

"I cannot feel that I have done my duty as humble historian of the March family, without devoting at least one chapter to the two most precious and important members of it." Based solely on this opening sentence, I'm guessing that Alcott is not actually very excited about writing about the babies. There's something perfunctory about it. Also, I'm reading the chapter online, and the scroll bar for this chapter is really short. I'm expecting maybe one antic per baby, tops. Let's see if I'm right! For those of you keeping track at home, I am predicting two (2) antics.

The Skywalker twins - I mean the Brooke twins - are 3 years old. (What is the rate of conception of twins in literature that's primarily about the parents? I believe it is about 1 in 3. Higher than the national average, that's for sure. The only explanation is that literature parents have an unusually high incidence of fertility drug use.) The Force is strong with the twins. Demi is a mechanical genius. He makes a "`sewinsheen', a mysterious structure of string, chairs, clothespins, and spools". He also hoists Daisy up the back of a chair in a basket. "Why, Marmar, dat's my lellywaiter, and me's trying to pull her up!" That's an antic!

What is a lellywater? It seems like Demi is trying to build a dumbwaiter, but "lellywaiter" doesn't sound like baby talk for "dumbwaiter". Is there some regional synonym for dumbwaiter? ... OHH! Elevator, of course! Demi must be ahead of his time, because elevators weren't super common in 1869 when Little Women part 2 was published. The first Otis passenger elevator was built in 1857 in New York City, in an office building, only 12 years before. Did three-year-old Demi visit a lot of NYC office buildings?

Daisy is Beth Part Two. "'Me loves evvybody', she once said, opening her arms, with her spoon in one hand, and her mug in the other, as if eager to embrace and nourish the whole world." Indeed, her stupid old "grandfather often called her `Beth'".

OK, back to Demi! Louisa May Alcott is bored with Daisy after only two paragraphs. Demi asks a lot of questions, and Mr. Alcott is always ready to teach a lesson. When told that his mind, like the cogs in a watch, makes him go, he says, "Open me. I want to see it go wound." Mr. Alcott explains that he can't open Demi: only God can wind Demi up. Maybe Demi can also be would by his creator, Doctor Noonien Soong. (Data is a twin too!)

There might have been cause for maternal anxiety, if Demi had not given convincing proofs that he was a true boy, as well as a budding philosopher, for often, after a discussion which caused Hannah to prophesy, with ominous nods, That child ain't long for this world, he would turn about and set her fears at rest by some of the pranks with which dear, dirty, naughty little rascals distract and delight their parent's souls.

Meg made many moral rules, and tried to keep them, but what mother was ever proof against the winning wiles, the ingenious evasions, or the tranquil audacity of the miniature men and women who so early show themselves accomplished Artful Dodgers?


Apparently precocity and virtue is dangerous, because the cook is always telling the parents that their child is sure to die, and she doesn't get yelled at for it. (People are also worried that Daisy is going to die because she is so good, by the way.) Luckily, Demi gets into scrapes, which is the mark of a "true boy" and the path to robustness and health. Also scrapes are a lot like antics. Let's see if any are forthcoming!

OK, here's the scrape the little villain gets into!

Demi wants raisins. Meg denies him raisins. Demi concocts a plan: he acts good! Meg is so impressed that she says "You've been good children, and I'll play anything you like." Demi "corners her by the cool reply... 'Then we'll go and eat up all the raisins.'"

My rating for this scrape is: WEAK. It relies on a) the parent doing something stupid: promising to fulfill an unknown favor; b) the parent specifically rewarding the children for not getting in trouble, and c) a really weird definition of "playing". Meg could easily argue that eating all the raisins is not a game. Sorry, Demi, Not an antic!

OK, we have time for one more anecdote before we turn this chapter around and drive back to the garage. It's about Demi, of course. Daisy is probably floating around the rafters being ethereal.

The kids like Aunt Jo ("Dodo"), who pays them a lot of attention except when Professor Bhaer is around. They like "the bear-man" anyway, because he gives them chocolate.

For some reason, Mr. March is really stupid, and doesn't realize that Prof. Bhaer likes Jo. He thinks he visits every day to talk philosophy with him. Then one day Demi's innocent prattle gives him a clue. Out of the mouths of babes come obvious things!

Demi has been visiting a playmate named Mary. "'She kissed me, and I liked it. Don't little boys like little girls?' asked Demi, with his mouth full, and an air of bland satisfaction." Demi follows up by asking, insinuatingly, "Do great boys like great girls, to, 'Fessor?"

Like young Washington, Mr. Bhaer `couldn't tell a lie', so he gave the somewhat vague reply that he believed they did sometimes, in a tone that made Mr. March put down his clothes brush, glance at Jo's retiring face, and then sink into his chair, looking as if the `precocious chick' had put an idea into his head that was both sweet and sour.

Why Dodo, when she caught him in the china closet half an hour afterward, nearly squeezed the breath out of his little body with a tender embrace, instead of shaking him for being there, and why she followed up this novel performance by the unexpected gift of a big slice of bread and jelly, remained one of the problems over which Demi puzzled his small wits, and was forced to leave unsolved forever.


I am actually a little in the dark too. Sure, Jo is happy because Prof. Bhaer had to give an extremely equivocal hint that he might like Jo, but is there more to it than that? Is she happy that her dad got the picture? Was there more love talk off-screen, that we are supposed to infer?

Anyway, this scrape is marginally better than the raisins one, and I am pleased to officially name it an antic! The chapter has met its quota.

Chapter 44: My Lord and Lady

Next we get what looks to be an extremely dull chapter of Amy and Laurie at home together. To make it more fun, let's come up with questions and hypotheses about their relationship.

1) Do they truly love each other? Of course! Every March girl grows up to be great, even if they were crummy little butts for all of their lives.

2) Does Amy call Laurie My Lord at home? Yes. The name of the chapter implies such, and when someone gets a character trait (like liking Pilgrims' Progress, or being good, or saying My Lord) we're reminded of it every other paragraph. Subtlety is the only stylistic nosegay missing from Louisa May Alcott's literary bouquet.

That's where we differ. Subtlety is my gift, and my other thing is that I'm extremely good with metaphors about flowers.

3 Does Mr. Laurence love his new daughter? I bet he does, but I would not be surprised if it was mentioned that no one could take the place of Beth in his heart.

Let's read the chapter!

Laurie comes into the March house to fetch home his wife, who is being coddled and spoiled by the family, AS USUAL. Laurie can't find his bootjack or something. "Men are so helpless, Mother," says Amy self-importantly, already playing the wifely role. Did Marmee ever say that men were so helpless? Probably not. But she probably acted like they were, because her husband was so helpless. By her early training, she has been perfectly suited for her husband, who is also very useless.

Speaking of useless Laurie: Jo asks him what he means to do now. "I'm going into business with a devotion that shall delight Grandfather, and prove to him that I'm not spoiled. I need something of the sort to keep me steady. I'm tired of dawdling, and mean to work like a man." Maybe the book thinks that Laurie is going to be successful in business, but I have my doubts. Maybe he can be some sort of well-paid middle manager, like a 1950s ad exec or something. Actually, that's the perfect job for him! He can get paid to write down light frothy nothings, and he will make jokes and say naughty things with the other ad men.

Later in the evening, when his mind had been set at rest about the bootjack, Laurie said suddenly to his wife, "Mrs. Laurence."

"My Lord!"

"That man intends to marry our Jo!"

"I hope so, don't you, dear?"


Laurie, of course, raises some problems with the Jo-Bhaer match. He's too old, and too poor. Amy replies that age is just a number, and reverses her usual course by saying that people shouldn't marry for money anyway.

Laurie is pleased to discover in his wife this moral improvement. However, a reader determined to find fault with Amy might remind him that people are always ready to follow the most moral courses when leading other peoples' lives for them.

Amy, of course, didn't marry for money, because

"I forgot you were rich when I said 'Yes'. I'd have married you if you hadn't a penny, and I sometimes wish you were poor that I might show how much I love you." And Amy, who was very dignified in public and very fond in private, gave convincing proofs of the truth of her words.


That answers our question 1), do they truly love each other? You can tell they do because they have sex right on camera.

Laurie had received many compliments in his life, but never one that suited him better, as he plainly showed though he did laugh at his wife's peculiar taste, while she said slowly, "May I ask you a question, dear?"

"Of course, you may."

"Shall you care if Jo does marry Mr. Bhaer?"

"Oh, that's the trouble is it? I thought there was something in the dimple that didn't quite suit you. Not being a dog in the manger, but the happiest fellow alive, I assure you I can dance at Jo's wedding with a heart as light as my heels. Do you doubt it, my darling?"

Amy looked up at him, and was satisfied. Her little jealous fear vanished forever, and she thanked him, with a face full of love and confidence.


And she was never jealous again! Because Laurie never gave her cause! IN A PIG'S EYE!

Laurie and Amy go on to plan how to help our Professor Bhaer's career without giving insulting charity. Laurie prefers to give to "decayed gentleman better than a blarnerying beggar."

But I was going to say that while I was dawdling about abroad, I saw a good many talented young fellows making all sorts of sacrifices, and enduring real hardships, that they might realize their dreams. Splendid fellows, some of them, working like heros, poor and friendless, but so full of courage, patience, and ambition that I was ashamed of myself, and longed to give them a right good lift. Those are people whom it's a satisfaction to help, for if they've got genius, it's an honor to be allowed to serve them, and not let it be lost or delayed for want of fuel to keep the pot boiling. If they haven't, it's a pleasure to comfort the poor souls, and keep them from despair when they find it out.


That reminds me of a delightful essay by that Malcolm Gladwell fellow about how nearly every artist needs patrons, even in the modern era, even if the patron is a supportive spouse or a seedy entitled Eurotrash college grad like Laurie. I'm sure Gladwell mentions Laurie by name, although I can't find the quote now.

Amy and Laurie are two of a kind, for Amy expresses a desire to help out middle class young women with "artistic tendencies."

And that's the end of the chapter. The couple agrees to give to charity. But we don't see them actually donate dinar one.

Chapter 43: Surprises

Jo is lying on a couch feeling lonely and sorry for herself. That's just good American fun. But what brought on this surge of sorrow on the sofa of self-pity? It's her BIRTHDAY TOMORROW girlfriend! And you know what that means! Drinking with her friends Samantha, Carrie, and Charlotte? No! Sex and the City hasn't been invented yet, and anyway, Charlotte died. Jo's birthday means she is AGING! She is nearly 25, and what has she accomplised? She has not yet written the Great American Novel (except I think she has.) No one loves her (except I think someone does). There are some clues in the first paragraph that Jo is going to find out that it's a wonderful life after all. Here's the passage that tipped me off: "Almost twenty-five, and nothing to show for it. Jo was mistaken in that. There was a good deal to show, and by-and-by she saw, and was grateful for it."

So Jo is worried that, at 25, she is going to end up an "old maid", a "literary spinster" like that horrible old Louisa May Alcott. Older and wiser members of the audience will chuckle at the idea that, at 25, Jo was old. But to be fair, in Civil War times, life expectancy was shorter than it is now, because at 30 the crystal in your palm blinks red and you Pass On in a Carousel ritual.

There follows a passage that it's easy to interpret as poignantly personal, if you're inclined, as I am, to find biography in fiction:

Thirty seems the end of all things to five-and-twenty. But it's not as bad as it looks, and one can get on quite happily if one has something in one's self to fall back upon. At twenty-five, girls begin to talk about being old maids, but secretly resolve that they never will be. At thirty they say nothing about it, but quietly accept the fact, and if sensible, console themselves by remembering that they have twenty more useful, happy years, in which they may be learning to grow old gracefully. 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. And looking at them with compassion, not contempt, girls in their bloom should remember that they too may miss the blossom time. That rosy cheeks don't last forever, that silver threads will come in the bonnie brown hair, and that, by-and-by, kindness and respect will be as sweet as love and admiration now.


Jo falls asleep ("as I dare say my reader has during this little homily", the author says amusingly), and is woken up by Laurie! Laurie accidentally-on-purpose breaks the news that he has married Amy!

"You've gone and got married!"

"Yes, please, but I never will again," and he went down upon his knees, with a penitent clasping of hands, and a face full of mischief, mirth, and triumph.


Laurie's first piece of information about his marriage is that Amy's pet name for him is "my lord". "That's like her," Jo says. And it is. It is nonsense! What kind of thing is that to call someone? Who is Amy even imitating? Do English ladies even call their husbands "my lord"? Is it a S&M thing, like Peppermint Patty and "sir"? What can their relationship possibly be like that that seems appropriate? Does Amy revel in subservience? Is it ironic? I can only hope that we see it in action.

I guess my theory is that she says it in public in situations where she wants to call people's attention to the fact that she is married.

Laurie tells about his engagement, inserting, as always, some "but i will always love you" and "we could have an affair if you want" that will undoubtedly be a trial for Jo every time the families get together for cookouts.

"Mrs. Carrol had got English notions about chaperons and such nonsense, and wouldn't let Amy come with us. So I just settled the difficulty by saying, 'Let's be married, and then we can do as we like'."

"Of course you did. You always have things to suit you."

"Not always," and something in Laurie's voice made Jo say hastily . . .

"How did you ever get Aunt to agree?"


The wedding was six weeks ago, "a very quiet wedding of course, for even in our happiness we didn't forget dear little Beth." That's good, although I remember being appalled at the lapse of time between Amy and Laurie getting the news about Beth and them kissing on the lake. I seem to remember it was, like, later that day.

Then they have one last frank talk about how Laurie will always love her - get used to it, Jo, especially when Laurie is drunk, which will be often - and Laurie feels "that out of the grave of a boyish passion, there had risen a beautiful, strong friendship to bless them both." Unless she wants to have an affair? In which case - what? never mind.

I'll throw this quote in too: "I flatter myself I'm a 'gentleman growed' as Peggotty said of David, and when you see Amy, you'll find her rather a precocious infant," said Laurie, looking amused at her maternal air." I will take this opportunity to link to Caolan's literary blog, which includes a David Copperfield section! I have high hopes that it will be more frequently updated than this one! If you like spoilers, you should totally read it every day!

So then the rest of the family comes in and they have a big dinner party with the newlyweds, parents, Meg's kids, Mr. Lawrence, etc. Everyone has a good time and thinks about how ladylike Amy looks.

"Will Miss Amy ride in her coop (coupe), and use all them lovely silver dishes that's stored away over yander?"

"Shouldn't wonder if she drove six white horses, ate off gold plate, and wore diamonds and point lace every day. Teddy thinks nothing too good for her," returned Jo with infinite satisfaction.


Alcott keeps on saying how happy Jo is to see Laurie and Amy married off, in a way that makes me think it is an open question. She was depressed about her life at the beginning of the chapter. Sure she's happy, but surely seeing other people get married (her semi-boyfriend and wretched sister in fact) memento moris her a little bit? The beginning of the chapter was like "she would soon realize her blessings". Is this her blessings? Her family moves on with their lives? Also I bet everyone forgets her birthday and just thinks about the great married couple.

This chapter is called "SurpriseS". Maybe Mr Bear will come by and runneth over the cup of blessings.

OK, I just started reading again, and in the next paragraph:

She stood a minute looking at the party vanishing above, and as Demi's short plaid legs toiled up the last stair, a sudden sense of loneliness came over her so strongly that she looked about her with dim eyes, as if to find something to lean upon, for even Teddy had deserted her. If she had known what birthday gift was coming every minute nearer and nearer, she would not have said to herself, "I'll weep a little weep when I go to bed."


That present is going to be a bear!

I am so great at predicting twists in Little Women/being outraged because something doesn't happen one paragraph before it happens. I'm not reading ahead, I swear! I'm writing my thoughts paragraph by paragraph, in the hallowed tradition of the most responsible livebloggers.

OK, Mr. Bhaer shows up on the doorstep! Jo is so happy to see him. Mr. Bhaer doesn't want to intrude on the family gathering, but "If I shall not be Monsieur de Trop, I will so gladly see them all. You haf been ill, my friend?"

Nice move, Bhaer. Ladies love it when the first thing you say to them is "you look like you have been sick!" Earlier on, Laurie noticed some "lines" on Jo's face. These guys are being pretty rough on Jo! No wonder she was worried about turning 25. Such an age culture around here.

Everyone greeted him kindly, for Jo's sake at first, but very soon they liked him for his own. They could not help it, for he carried the talisman that opens all hearts, and these simple people warmed to him at once, feeling even the more friendly because he was poor. For poverty enriches those who live above it, and is a sure passport to truly hospitable spirits.


So here's something I learned about Louisa May Alcott: SHE LOVES POOR GERMANS

I recently read a short story she wrote, "The King of Clubs and the Queen of Hearts, where an American girl falls in love with an awkward, poor German, August Bopp, who is also a professor. I couldn't find the date of publication, but my guess is it is earlier, and a character study for Bhaer. If it was written later, it's just weird, like she can't stop talking about Germans and how sexy they are, with their threadbare coats and little Freud beards.

"Dear old fellow! He couldn't have got himself up with more care if he'd been going a-wooing," said Jo to herself, and then a sudden thought born of the words made her blush so dreadfully that she had to drop her [yarn] ball, and go down after it to hide her face.

The maneuver did not succeed as well as she expected, however, for ... the Professor ... made a dive after the little blue ball. Of course they bumped their heads smartly together, saw stars, and both came up flushed and laughing, without the ball, to resume their seats, wishing they had not left them.


Classic Rom/Com moment! Directors take note.

Then they have a good old sing along! All in all, a pleasent chapter, which should come as no .... surprise???

42. All Alone

We take leave of those silly little mayflies Amy and Laurie, who are embracing on a lake, and who in all likelihood will continue to do so for months, until either they are again featured in a chapter or their boat is overturned by Flotsam and Jetsam.

Jo is at home, actually feeling sad about Beth, not just mooning around in all sorts of boats. "Some people seem to get all sunshine, and some all shadow; it was not fair, for she tried more than Amy to be good, but never got any reward, only disappointment, trouble, and hard work."

Where did Jo get this system of morality where good works are supposed to be rewarded in this life? That doesn't sound like St. Bunyan. I thought this life was, like, a Narrow Path and eventually you come to a River and once you're over the River, everything's hunky dory. But until then, it's all vales and sloughs of this and that. If you're lucky, you'll get to spend some time at Vanity Fair. That's if you're LUCKY.

Once again, it's Marmee to the rescue! When Jo feels like she can't handle it, Marmee comes to hug and cry with her. "Sacred moments, when heart talked to heart in the silence of the night, turning affliction into a blessing, which chastened grief and strengthened love." Oh yeah, Papa is helpful too. They talk in the study. But while Marmee gives "sacred moments," Papa just gives "happy, thoughtful times."

Meanwhile, Meg helps in the way that married people always help single people: by telling them how great it is to be married. Marriage is "just what you need to bring out the tender, womanly half of your nature, Jo." Also, here is a slideshow of my kids at Disneyworld!

There follows an extensive metaphor where Jo's heart is figured as a chestnut, "prickly outside, but silky-soft within, and a sweet kernel, if one can only get at it." Jo insists no one will ever get her nut. Meg thinks someone will get her nut. I don't know, guys. This all seems slightly distasteful to me.

After some more about people shaking her nut and bagging her nut, and how she shuts up her nut from boys, a "man's hand reached up to pick it from the burr, and [found] the kernel soft and sweet."

I was expecting Professor Bear's arm to be immediately attached to the nutting hand, but next section is about Jo resuming her writing career. So I guess the nutty stuff is foreshadowing, Prof. Bear is hiding at the end of this story about Jo's writing, which I haven't finished reading yet. There's a monster at the end of this book!

So Marmee, seeing how Jo doesn't seem quite fulfilled by devoting "her life to Father and Mother," and giving "up her own hopes, plans, and desires", suggests, "Why don't you write? That always used to make you happy. [...] Write something for us, and never mind the rest of the world."

So Jo gets back into writing her blog! Just kidding. She writes some story that is not about high adventure, but some family thing.... perhaps very much like the book you are holding!!! "Jo never knew how it happened, but something got into that story that went straight to the hearts of those who read it, for when her family had laughed and cried over it, her father sent it, much against her will, to one of the popular magazines, and, to her utter surprise, it was not only paid for, but others requested."

So now we've gotten up to the part in the semi-autobiographical novel where the heroine writes the semi-autobiographical novel (in which, I imagine, the heroine writes a novel, and so on recursively?) and we are told, in an amazing piece of self-promotion, that it "went straight to the hearts of those who read it."

To be fair, if this story actually represents any part of Little Women, it probably represents a draft, piece, or short story, or at most the first half, Little Women, not Good Wives, the part I am reading now. So Louisa May Alcott is marveling over the success of an earlier work, not predicting the success of her current project. It just seems that way because I'm reading a single volume containing both books.

Jo continues to write little homely stories about home, and the royalties start rolling in! Or, the stories "send home comfortable tokens to their mother", which is how you describe royalties if you are writing a homely book about homes.

Well, that's the end of the story of Jo's rejuvenated literary career, and no one has nutted her yet. The next section is about Amy and Laurie's little engagement. Maybe this is how Jo will be romanced. Maybe Jo will be the maid of honor at the wedding and Prof. Bear will be the best man and there will be a comic misunderstanding involving... Jo's 27 bridesmaid dresses and... three more weddings and a funeral? Or maybe Bhaer and Owen Wilson will be wedding crashers and... um... Romancing the Stone? Maybe I'd better read and see what happens.

"When Amy and Laurie wrote of their engagement, Mrs. March feared that Jo would find it difficult to rejoice over it," because, you know, when you turn someone down, you don't want them to Win by getting engaged first. But Jo is the better man and she is happy for the couple.

Marmee also confesses that she thought that Jo, who is so lonely now, might have accepted Laurie if he asked again. "I am lonely," admits Jo, "and perhaps if Teddy had tried again, I might have said 'Yes', not because I love him any more, but because I care more to be loved than when he went away."

"I'm glad of that, Jo, because it shows that you are getting on," says Marmee, which is not the response I expected. She's happy that Jo is willing to accept any old offer? "There are plenty to love you, so try to be satisfied with Father and Mother, sisters and brothers, friends and babies, until the best lover of all comes to give you your reward." gross

"Mothers are the best lovers in the world"

Gross

"but I don't mind whispering to Marmee that I'd like to try all kinds."

GROSS

Jo reads the letter from Amy about how great Laurie is, and she starts feeling lonely again. She wanders around in the attic, and starts looking through her memorabilia. She finds a note from Professor Bhaer, the Monster at the End of This Chapter. And then she cries.

"Was it all self-pity, loneliness, or low spirits? Or was it the waking up of a sentiment which had bided its time as patiently as its inspirer? Who shall say?"

It's definitely possible to read this book and feel unsatisfied with Jo's ending up with Professor Bhaer: he sort of seems like he's just someone who happens to be somewhat available at the time when Jo is feeling lonely and unfulfilled in her life as a Beth replacement for her parents.

But maybe I'm influenced by modern ideas about the sacredness of romantic love, and I should be thinking more about the prevailing culture of Alcott's time, which was less about falling in love and more about getting married? And maybe at some point, you want to have babies, and the babies need a dad.

Still

maybe be more selective re: nuts.

Chapter 41: Learning to Forget

Hi! I'm back, after the requisite two-month grieving period for Beth. This time of sadness wasn't quite enough to make me put the book in the freezer, like Joey Tribbiani, but it did harrow the depths of my soul so much that I could not lift pen to paper for quite some time. Also we moved and I lost the book for a while. Or... I "learned" to "forget" where the book was. Healing is happening!

We're back to Laurie and Amy in Italy. "Amy's lecture did Laurie good, though, of course, he did not own it till long afterward." If you've been following along at home, you probably won't remember Amy's lecture because it was months ago, but it was something about how his foppishness was passing from charming to appalling. Anyway, he did not own the lecture because "Men seldom do, for when women are the advisers, the lords of creation don’t take the advice till they have persuaded themselves that it is just what they intended to do." SPOILERS AHEAD! This is just like the plot of Inception when they make Cillian Murphy think he gained emotional closure when he didn't.

Laurie inceives this idea: "Go and do something splendid that will make her love you."

Wow, what could Laurie possibly do that was splendid? I don't think there's an Olympic gold medal for insouciance. This guy is not going to, like, start a railroad. This guy has no known talents, although you never know: lots of characters are secretly great at horsemanship, offscreen. Maybe he'll become a jockey. Or invent a way that horses can wear lemon-colored gloves.

There follows a montage of Laurie failing at stuff. He tries to write a requiem. As we are all 100% sure, that goes nowhere. He tries to write an opera. El fail-o. Finally he has to admit to himself: "Talent isn't genius!" and he tears up his opera. After all, if you don't have immediate fantastic success, you should quit! So says Louisa May Acott, WORST GUIDANCE COUNSELOR EVAR

Now that Laurie's artistic dreams, like those of the other characters, have been revealed to be childish self-delusions, what should Laurie do? He's alone in Europe, with nothing to do: there is really one thing to do: go to the dogs! Gamble on the ponies! Join a race of Italian mole men who drink absinthe out of wine skins made of human bladders! Become executive producer on the biggest, most lavish porno he can fund! Bum fights!

Yes! But... no. Laurie will be good. He wants his women to be proud of him!

Very likely some Mrs. Grundy will observe, "I don't believe it, boys will be boys, young men must sow their wild oats, and women must not expect miracles." I dare say you don't, Mrs. Grundy, but it's true nevertheless.


Louisa May Alcott goes on to chastise Mrs. Grundy for her low opinion of boys; if we held the gentlemen to a higher standard, they might rise to it.

Who the heck is Mrs. Grundy? According to wikipedia:

Mrs Grundy, a character from Thomas Morton's play Speed the Plough (1798), was considered by English-language authors to be the personification of the tyranny of conventional propriety. By the mid-nineteenth century, Mrs Grundy was so well established in the public imagination as a canonical character that Samuel Butler, in his popular novel Erewhon, could refer to her in the form of an anagram (as the goddess Ydgrun). As a figure of speech she was eventually familiar to readers all over Europe. As such, the expression (or grundyism or Mother Grundy) is an eponym for an extremely conventional or priggish person.


So, conventional propriety has it that men, left on their own, will be rakes who do all sorts of bad stuff, but as long as society doesn't have to take official notice if it, it's all OK. Laurie is holding himself to a higher standard. As if!

Laurie tries to hold himself under the waters of heartache until he tragically drowns, but his spirit is too buoyant. Despite himself, he recovers from his love for Jo. His affections are slowly transferring to Amy.

Meanwhile, Amy turns down eligible bachelor Fred. She had thought she wanted to marry just for position in society, but now, hints Alcott coyly, she is falling in love with Laurie. The two are sending each other flirty emails and instant messages.

Finally the two fools get letters that Beth died! Laurie rushes to Amy's side to comfort her. I guess that's appropriate.

I think everything was said and settled then, for as they
stood together quite silent for a moment, with the dark head
bent down protectingly over the light one, Amy felt that no
one could comfort and sustain her so well as Laurie, and
Laurie decided that Amy was the only woman in the world who
could fill Jo's place and make him happy. He did not tell her
so, but she was not disappointed, for both felt the truth,
were satisfied, and gladly left the rest to silence.


Or, more explicitly,

They both knew that Amy would always be second-best to Jo, but that was fine with them both as long as they never talked about it. Depressing!


Laurie cheers Amy up by chatting to her and speaking to her in the "half-caressing, half-commanding way that Amy liked"... in other words by acting as he used to when she thought of him as an older brother. Great!

So this goes on for a while, until one day, the kids are rowing in a lake:

"How well we pull together, don't we?" said Amy, who objected
to silence just then.

"So well that I wish we might always pull in the same boat.
Will you, Amy?" very tenderly.

"Yes, Laurie," very low.

Then they both stopped rowing, and unconsciously added a
pretty little tableau of human love and happiness to the dissolving
views reflected in the lake.


It's just like that part of The Little Mermaid where those animals sing "Kiss the Girl," except in this scenario, Eric already loves Ursula the Sea Witch, and Ariel is his rebound.

40. The Valley of the Shadow

Today is the 2nd anniversary of this blog! I'm on chapter 40 of Little Women today; 7 chapters left after this. Happy birthday! And what better way to celebrate than to read the chapter where Beth almost certainly dies.

One of the disadvantages of reading a book as slowly as I am is you get a little confused about continuity. Like, I totally though Beth was already dead. But here she is, fading slowly over the course of page 474.

The family "put aside their grief, and each did his or her part toward making that last year a happy one." It's happy, perhaps, but as full as pathos as one would expect. Besides the immediate family, secondary characters help out too: John "quietly set apart a little sum" to buy Beth fruit. Hannah tries to make food that Beth will eat. I guess not eating is one of the symptoms of Death Disease.

Here, cherished like a household saint in its shrine, sat Beth, tranquil and busy as ever, for nothing could change the sweet, unselfish nature, and even while preparing to leave life, she tried to make it happier for those who should remain behind. The feeble fingers were never idle, and one of her pleasures was to make little things for the school children daily passing to and fro, to drop a pair of mittens from her window for a pair of purple hands, a needle book for some small mother of many dolls, pen wipers for young penmen toiling through forests of pothooks, scrapbooks for picture-loving eyes, and all manner of pleasant devices...


What do you think scrapbooks were like at this time? Presumably the Marches don't have a huge budget for stone-faced daguerrotypes of them all standing around a seated Papa March. But there are pictures in the scrapbooks apparently, since they are for "picture-loving eyes". Amy's art? (Do other people draw at all?) Pictures cut out of the newspaper or magazines?

There's a painful passage I won't quote extensively (you're welcome) where Beth is in pain. Then Beth apparently feels better - sloughed off more flakes of mortality from her soul, I guess. She is ready to Cross the River. (Pilgrim's Progress talk. We haven't seen as much of that lately. I wonder if it is a theme that is more common when Beth is around? After this chapter, will we see it again at all?)

Jo is spending all her time taking care of Beth. The author claims that Jo now recognizes Beth's true quality: "For with eyes made clear by many tears, and a heart softened by the tenderest sorrow, she recognized the beauty of her sister's life -- uneventful, unambitious, yet full of the genuine virtues which `smell sweet, and blossom in the dust'".

This is a nice passage, but we all know that Jo was already fully aware of Beth's good qualities. Jo idolizes Beth so much. I bet Jo likes Beth better than God. DEFINITELY more than she will ever like that Prof. Bear.

Speaking of bears, Beth finds a poem by Jo called "MY BETH" all about Beth's courage and how it makes Jo's sadness easier to bear. The poem really bares Jo's soul. Beth is happy that Jo seems to be on a path towards Christian resignation. She asks Jo for a promise:

"You must take my place, Jo, and be everything to Father and Mother when I'm gone. They will turn to you, don't fail them, and if it's hard to work alone, remember that I don't forget you, and that you'll be happier in doing that than writing splendid books or seeing all the world, for love is the only thing that we can carry with us when we go, and it makes the go easy."

"I'll try, Beth." And then and there Jo renounced her old ambition, pledged herself to a new and better one, acknowledging the poverty of other desires, and feeling the blessed solace of a belief in the immortality of love.


Another nail in the coffin of Jo's writing career! I guess the fictional world of the Marches will never see the likes of "A Long Fatal Love Chase 2: Back on the Love Hunt". Beth is right, love IS great, and love and artistic success ARE incompatible.

Finally Beth dies. The family "thanked God that Beth was well at last."

Happy birthday to me! Not such a festive chapter. I will amuse myself by speculating on what will happen in the last 7 chapters.

I couldn't finish Chapter 40 without seeing that Chapter 41 is called "Learning to Forget" so that is an easy one:

41: Learning to Forget: Everyone (mostly Jo) is really depressed but finally is is time to get on with life.

42: I bet it's back to Amy in Valrosa! Laurie is gone and now Amy realizes that she misses him a lot. Does she... love him? My guess for the chapter name is "A Lonely Traveller".

43: Hmm, we haven't checked in on Meg and John in a while. Their lives seem like they're all settled, so maybe there's a boring chapter about growing together as a couple or something. Chapter name: "A Sympathetic Friend"

44: Oh, I almost forgot, we have to get Jo married off to Bhaer. I don't know how that's going to happen. Let's say that Jo hears from some mutual friends that Bhaer is in the area, and they meet and talk about the silly misunderstanding that kept Bhaer from pressing his suit. He immediately does just that. Chapter name: "A Proposal from Brian Blessed"

45: We gotta get Amy and Laurie knotted up too. Laurie visits, and Amy bullies him into proposing. Chapter name: "A Welcome Visit"

46: Let's say it's Bhaer's and Jo's, and Amy and Laurie's, double Wedding. Chapter name: "A Festival of Happiness"

47: I've flipped to the end of the book often enough (while gauging how far I am in my blogging project) that I know that Chapter 47 is called Harvest Time. I believe that this chapter is about all the surviving characters standing around and talking about how great everything is and how it is a wonderful life after all.

39. Lazy Laurence

"Laurie went to Nice intending to stay a week, and remained a month." Laurie just loooves Nice! Maybe that's because Louisa May Alcott has just tons to say about Nice.

As I mentioned, I read "A Long Fatal Love Chase," one of Louisa's Gothic novels. In a shocking development, the characters go to Nice!

Here's a compare and contrast: Let's look at the beginning of Chaper 37 of Little Women next to chapter 7 of A Long Fatal Love Chase. Bold text is identical.

LITTLE WOMEN

At three o'clock in the afternoon, all the fashionable world at Nice may be seen on the Promenade des Anglais--a charming place, for the wide walk, bordered with palms, flowers, and tropical shrubs, is bounded on one side by the sea, on the other by the grand drive, lined with hotels and villas, while beyond lie orange orchards and the hills.

Many nations are represented, many languages spoken, many costumes worn, and on a sunny day the spectacle is as gay and brilliant as a carnival. Haughty English, lively French, sober Germans, handsome Spaniards, ugly Russians, meek Jews, free-and-easy Americans, all drive, sit, or saunter here, chatting over the news, and criticizing the latest celebrity who has arrived--Ristori or Dickens, Victor Emmanuel or the Queen of the Sandwich Islands. The equipages are as varied as the company and attract as much attention, especially the low basket barouches in which ladies drive themselves, with a pair of dashing ponies, gay nets to keep their voluminous flounces from overflowing the diminutive vehicles, and little grooms on the perch behind.


A LONG FATAL LOVE CHASE

At five o'clock in the afternoon, all the fashionable world at Nice may be seen on the Promenade des Anglais, so called because laid out and kept in repair by contributions from the English. It is a wide walk, bordered by palms, roses, and tropical shrubs, with seats all along, bathing pavilions on the beach which it overlooks and a fine drive between the walk and the hotels and villas standing on the outer curve of the bay along whose edge the Promenade extends.

Every nation is represented, every language spoken, every costume worn, and of a sunny day the spectacle is as brilliant as any carnival. Haughty English, gay French people, plain phlegmatic Germans, handsome Spaniards, uncouth Russians, meek Jews, free-and-easy Americans, all drive, sit, or saunter here, chatting over the news, and criticzing the latest celebrity, be it the wicked old king of Bavaria, the dusky queen of the Sandwich Isles or Princess Dagmar mourning for her lost Czarovich. The equipages are as varied as the company and attract as much attention, especially the low basket barouches in which ladies drive themselves, with a groom or page in the little seat behind, a pair of dashing ponies, a parasol, whip and a net to keep their voluminous flounces from overflowing the diminutive vehicles.


The afterward to A Long Fatal Love Chase, by Kent Bicknell, talks about how Louisa May Alcott went to Europe in 1865 as a lady's companion. (A Long Fatal Love Chase was written in 1866 and Little Women in 1868.) She spent time in Nice and saw an opera with the singer Ristori (mentioned in the Little Women passage). While in Europe, she met a Polish freedom fighter named Ladislas (or "Laddie"), and she and Miss Weld, for whom she was ladily companioning, seem to have vied for his affections. There is a noble freedom fighter in A Long Fatal Love Chase, and apparently Alcott said the Laurie was partially based on Laddie as well.

When Louisa got home from Europe, she immediately wrote A Long Fatal Love Chase, but the publishers said it was TOO SENSATIONAL. It didn't get published in her lifetime - not until the 1990's in fact.

So in these parallel passages, Louisa isn't really plagiarizing herself - she is repurposing part of an unpublished, rejected novel. It's only now that both are in print that it becomes at all weird.

Has anyone noticed this parallel text before? I find no reference to it on The Internet. This concludes the Original Research portion of my blog. Back to Lazy "Laddie" Laurence!

Amy makes Laurie feel at home in Nice. "He missed the 'petting' he used to receive, and enjoyed a taste of it again,"
and before I can protest that surely Laurie gets into all sorts of wild petting scenes in Europe, the narrator clarifies that "no attentions from strangers, no matter how flattering", can compete with that girl-next-door American charm. Interestingly, "Amy rose daily in the estimation of her friend, but he sank in hers." What's going on here? Is Laurie sinking because Amy used to idolize him and is now seeing him as a real person, or because he is basically a lazy old crumbum who is no earthly good to anybody?

Laurie felt that "all women owed him a kind word because one had been cold to him." Also, "He felt he could not change the opinion she was forming of him, and he rather dreaded the keen blue eyes that seemed to watch him with such half-sorrowful, half-scornful surprise." OK, it's because he is a lazy old dissipated crumbum.

Amy wants to go to Valrosa, but Laurie drawls slowly, staring into the shaded salon, where no doubt, handsome Spanish donas are standing ready to ladle absinthe into his half-open mouth, "isn't it rather warm for such a long walk?"

"I'm going to have the little carriage, and Baptiste can drive, so you'll have nothing to do but hold your umbrella, and keep your gloves nice," returned Amy, with a sarcastic glance at the immaculate kids, which were a weak point with Laurie.


Interesting! Not because Laurie is exposed as degenerate fop (which is a given) but because Baptiste was the name of the evil servant in A Long Fatal Love Chase who drove the unwilling heroine on so many midnight kidnaps and tricky switcheroos. I wonder if it is the same Baptiste: like his day job?

Valrosa well deserved its name, for in that climate of perpetual summer roses blossomed everywhere. They overhung the archway, thrust themselves between the bars of the great gate with a sweet welcome to passers-by, and lined the avenue, winding through lemon trees and feathery palms up to the villa on the hill. Every shadowy nook, where seats invited one to stop and rest, was a mass of bloom, every cool grotto had its marble nymph smiling from a veil of flowers and every fountain reflected crimson, white, or pale pink roses, leaning down to smile at their own beauty. Roses covered the walls of the house, draped the cornices, climbed the pillars, and ran riot over the balustrade of the wide terrace, whence one looked down on the sunny Mediterranean, and the white-walled city on its shore.


That's Little Women's Valrosa. Rose, the heroine of A Long Fatal Love Chase, also goes to Valrosa, and sees some of the same sights, in similar words:

Valrosa was the loveliest of all; in truth "a nest of roses", blooming as luxuriantly though January in that climate of perpetual summer. Roses overhung the archway and thrust their sweet faces through the bars of the great gates, luring all passers-by to stop and long to enter there. Roses fringed the avenue that wound up through the orange and lemon groves to the broad terrace that ran round the villa. Roses covered its walls with bloom, draped every cornice, climbed every pillar, and ran riot over the balustrade. Every green nook, where seats invited one to stop and rest, was a mass of bloom, every cool grotto had its marble nymph smiling from a veil of flowers and every fountain was fringed about with beauty.


The similarity of the setting does not extend to the male companionship, though. In A Long Fatal Love Chase, Rose goes to Valrosa with (I kid you not) Philip Tempest, a classic romance-novel piratical domineering lustful type who has swept her off her feet, willy nilly. Amy goes to Valrosa with Laurie, who pricks his finger on some rose thorns and complains.

"Try lower down, and pick those that have no thorns," says Amy. And this passage is a key to Laurie and Amy's relationship, for: "'Thank you, I will,' he answered in jest, and a few months later he did it in earnest."

So the author is coming out and saying that Laurie is going to settle for Amy because he can't get Jo.

It can be fun to read a text subversively and try to draw inferences that aren't there (Laurie is gay?), or are there but weren't necessarily intended by the author (Bhaer is a creep?), or that were possibly intended but obfuscated by the author (Jo is gay?) Sometimes, though, the author just comes out and says stuff. It is a little weird for Laurie, who can only be called the male lead in this book, to end up in this slightly tragic, slightly pathetic situation where he is settling for someone. It's not high drama or a happy ending: more like an ordinary, slightly disappointing life. Seems out of place in what is, on the whole, a pretty didactic book. On the other hand, perhaps not: perhaps Laurie is an example of what you get when you don't exert your Protestant work ethic?

After picking roses, Amy tries to exert her moral influence to get Laurie to take some interest in his own life. Amy's affection, mixed with disappointment and contempt, is well-drawn. Alcott is sometimes guilty of telling, not showing, but I think this scene is unusually subtle.

Amy tries to inspire Laurie by setting before him Jo's good example, but "now she looked up in time to catch a new expression on Laurie's face--a hard bitter look, full of pain, dissatisfaction, and regret." It's unclear whether Amy has figured out that Jo is the cause of Laurie's depression, but now she is on a new tack, worried that Laurie has "wasted money at that wicked Baden-Baden, lost your heart to some charming Frenchwoman with a husband, or got into some of the scrapes that young men seem to consider a necessary part of a foreign tour." I bet Laurie got all that out of his system on his first trip to Europe, so he can now do all those things without suffering any emotion at all.

Laurie changes the subject and asked how Amy's art is going. Amy replies that she has given up art! "Rome took all the vanity out of me, for after seeing the wonders there, I felt too insignificant to live and gave up all my foolish hopes in despair."

This is pretty significant, but gets about three paragraphs! If Amy has given up her art, which was her defining characteristic to the point of extreme irritation for 450 pages of the book, that's another strongly-held childhood dream abandoned. (Although it's not clear to me yet whether Jo has given up writing, or just given up writing adventure fiction.) Is one of the premises of this book that a lot of dreams don't come true?

Amy says that her new ambition is to be an "ornament of society." Laurie talks to her like a Dutch uncle about her relationship with Fred Vaughn - would she marry him? does she love him? if A and not B, what would Marmee think?

The shoe is on the other foot now! LAURIE seems disappointed with AMY. Amy does not like this turn of events; she meant to be the one who was trying to improve Laurie. She hurries into a counterattack to regain the high ground. "'I wish you'd do me the favor to rouse yourself a little,' she said sharply." She threatens to try to "stir Laurie up", but he doesn't seem to take the threat seriously. "Stir away, it won't hurt me and it may amuse you, as the big man said when his little wife beat him. Regard me in the light of a husband or a carpet, and beat till you are tired, if that sort of exercise agrees with you."

Amy gives Laurie quite a lecture, telling Amy that she and Flo called Laurie "Lazy Laurence". Who's this Flo? I wonder if Louisa and Miss Weld ever talked about "Lazy Laddie." She goes on to say that she despises Laurie, and he is selfish and effeminate.

"Aren't you ashamed of a hand like that? It's as soft and white as a woman's, and looks as if it never did anything but wear Jouvin's best gloves and pick flowers for ladies. You are not a dandy, thank Heaven, so I'm glad to see there are no diamonds or big seal rings on it, only the little old one Jo gave you so long ago. Dear soul, I wish she was here to help me!"

"So do I!"


Amy picks up the hint in his fervent agreement and realizes that Laurie is in love with Jo. "She glanced down at him with a new thought in her mind, but he was lying with his hat half over his face, as if for shade, and his mustache hid his mouth." Laurie has a mustache! How interesting.

Once Amy gets Laurie to admit his love for Jo, she comes to have more sympathy for him, but she still suggests, "Why don't you do something splendid, and make her love you?" I think that Laurie is not cut out to do something splendid. He is not Heroic. He is Fun.

Amy makes use of her artistic talent (for the last time?) and shows him the portrait she has been drawing: Laurie, lazy, lying in the gress. Mustached I guess. Then she shows him an old portrait she had made of him while he was taming a horse: "Hat and coat were off, and every line of the active figure, resolute face, and commanding attitude was full of energy and meaning." Hilarious! This manly horse-taming sequence is non-canon as far as I am concerned.

returned the pictures with a smile and a bow and looked at his watch, as if to remind her that even moral lectures should have an end. He tried to resume his former easy, indifferent air, but it was an affectation now, for the rousing had been more effacious than he would confess.


The next morning, Laurie is gone, finally off to visit his grandfather (as he should). He leaves Amy a farewell note addressed to "my dear mentor" and signed, puzzlingly, "Telemachus".

I liked this chapter! There were a lot of parts that I felt like I couldn't adequately describe and had to quote, so either the writing is unusually sharp in this chapter or my critical faculties have been dulled by reading A Long Fatal Love Chase.

Also Laurie is a fun character and indolent Laurie is my favorite incarnation of that character. The mustache is just the icing on the cake.

38. On the Shelf

I started reading "A Long Fatal Love Chase" by Louisa May Alcott, which is one of her trashy sensationalist books written before she wrote "Little Women." I think it can be used as a standin for the stuff that Jo was writing that Bhaer objected to.

This is the edition that I am reading:



First of all, hilarious marketing of this edition as a modern thriller. Second of all, possible spoiler in the title?

I'm only about 80 pages in, but so far, the main character, a spirited young girl, has (spoilers ahead) a) lived in sin with a debauched villain for a year, and b) sold her soul to Satan. So i guess Jo's books were pretty shocking.

OK, time to get back to Little Women, which promises a lot fewer fatal love chases. Here we go... flippin' to Chapter 38... on the way, misreading "Heartache", I realized how similar it looks to "Moustache". But conceptually they are very different. The Flirtation's song "Nothin' But a Moustache Every Day" never would have reached 34 on the charts, and no one would pay 5 cents for a heartache ride!

Time to start reading the book: "In France the young girls have a dull time of it until they are married, when "Vive la liberté" becomes their motto." Caolan is reading "Julie" by Jean-Jacques Rousseau which I believe says the same thing as this sentence but is longer. Also, this sentence is about sex, right? I guess you can take the sensationalist out of the author but etc.

In America, says the author, things are the opposite as in France: unmarried girls can whore it up, but once you are married, no one even thinks of you as a sexual being anymore. LEAST of all your husband, right American husbands?? For a man to love his wife is the ultimate in perversity. Actually that's French husbands. I think American husbands can love their wives, they just love railroads more.

Meg - ah, this chapter is about Meg! I'd lost track of her. - doesn't mind the lack of male attention because she has her babies to pay attention to. "John decidedly missed the wifely attentions he had been accustomed to receive," but he likes the babies, so he doesn't mind, even though the cook, without Meg's supervision, "takes things aisy." Hey, that's Engels' motto! John "bore it very patiently for six months, and, when no signs of amendment appeared, he did what other paternal exiles do - tried to get a little comfort elsewhere." I guess American men can still whore it up after marriage.

John starts hanging out with his friend Scott and Scott's pretty wife. I'm sure the three of them have a lot of fun together. Meanwhile, Meg eventually notices John is no longer underfoot, and, keyed up from drinking tea (that "idol of American women") comes to blame John for not being around. I take it that he's not supposed to be helping with the babies, just be around.

Meg gets depressed that John doesn't love her anymore. One day Marmee finds Meg a little low and wrings a confession out of her. Marmee gives her some old-fashioned Marmee advice: You should pay attention to your husband even though you have babies. Pretend to take an interest in his hobbies! Marmee also suggests that Meg should not "shut him out of the nursery but teach him to help in it." Oh you wives! Always refusing to let the husbands handle anything themselves, and then getting mad at them for not doing enough work, just as Steve Carell says to Tina Fey in "Date Night."

Marmee also hints that keeping John at home will prevent him from falling victim to any "temptations." There is a lot of almost-frank sex talk in this chapter! Not surprising from the author of such harmful trash as "A Long Fatal Love Chase." I think "Little Women" should be banned in schools! We are much more virtuous nowadays.

Modern-day note: My sister, who is sitting next to me playing video games, just said, "Here lies a walking corpse. I kicked him so hard he died."

Meg tried Marmee's advice, as who doesn't. It turns out John is firmer and less apt to spoil the children. Also Meg decides that it is time for a "date night", like the one in the movie she just saw with Steve Carrel and Tina Fey.

Meg puts the children to bed early, puts on the little blue bow that John likes (and nothing else??) and goes down to dinner with John. John is so pleased! However, the poor fellow is doomed to date-night disappointment, because little lisping Demi comes rattling the doorknob and demanding they "opy" the "doy."

John, the strict taskmaster of old (who, let us remember, had to deal with Laurie) insists that since Demi has been sent to bed, he must go back to bed and not be rewarded for disobedience. Meg takes Demi to bed, but makes the rookie mistake of giving the kid sugar. So now Demi has learned that he can get sugar for interrupting mommy and daddy's sex time!

Sure enough, one sugar cube later, Demi is back out of bed, wanting more sugar.

It goes on like that for a while. Meg wants to spoil the kid and John is Tough But Fair. After a page or two of antics and disagreements, John wins, for "when John spoke in that masterful tone, Meg always obeyed, and never regretted her docility." Sexy!

When John is finished dealing with the kid (which he does with firmness and kindness, but without violence, as befits a paternal role model in an Alcott book) he comes downstairs, "expecting to find a pensive or a reproachful wife." However, he finds Meg trimming a bonnet. Meg asks John some questions about politics. Marmee trick #2, pretend to take an interest in hobbies!

John is no fool, and he knows that Meg is trying some trick or other. He reads her an article about politics, which Meg tries to feign interest in. John - he's such a saint! - decides that if Meg is being so nice about politics, he should ask about her hat, which he does.

By the way, American politics in the civil war or immediate postwar period? Maybe the most interesting time in American politics, Meg. I'm not interested in American politics, but at least stuff was happening. Presidents being shot, or being awesome, and whatnot.

Anyway, John is amusingly ignorant about the hat, which Meg puts on to demonstrate, and so cute does she look that "a very narrow escape the little bonnet had from utter ruin."

THEY TOTALLY HAVE SEX ON THE HAT.

HAT SEX

John and Meg's life improves, and now people come over to visit THEM. The couple learns to rely on each other and they grow closer through mutual trust and hat sex.

37. New Impressions

OK guys, I've been spoiled. I've seen a play version of Little Women, so I have found out about the last spoiler that I didn't know about. I won't ruin it for you guys; I'll just say (slyly) "It's a big 'un" and (mysteriously) "I should have seen it coming all along."

Our setting changes to Nice: there is a description of the city suitable for the first page of a kind of dated historical novel. You know, the kind with a comma-separated list of adjective-noun pairs: "Busy pickpockets, coarse Slavs, buskined wenches, stately cenobites, ugly Russians, surly barbarians from the frozen North," etc.

"Ugly Russians" is the only one of those mentioned so far in Little Women, but I don't rule out the presence of a surly barbarian or two.

A gentlemen joins the throng: "He looked like an Italian, was dressed like an Englishman, and had the independent air of an American," a combination which can only mean that Laurie is back in town! The narrator goes on to describe how all the European ladies want to be with him and the gentlemen want to be him. There are plenty of ladies, but Laurie (or whoever) "took little notice of them, except now and then to glance at some blonde girl or lady in blue." Yup, it's definitely Laurie!

Laurie finally finds the apotheosis of all his hopes in the form of a young woman in blue. LET THE GAMES BEGIN! Oh - it's only Amy. Presumably Laurie was looking for her. I guess he knew she would be in blue? She has only one dress?

Amy is driving some sort of low barouche, which is a coach of some sort, which I picture like a tiny sidecar pulled by horses. Laurie climbs in somehow and they go for a ride. Amy wants to gossip. Laurie seems world-weary - he's seen all this Europe stuff before; he's broken-hearted and all.

And - ok, this is where the spoiler was. Two pages after where I'd stopped reading.

While Laurie listlessly watched the procession of priests under their canopies, white-veiled nuns bearing lighted tapers, and some brotherhood in blue chanting as they walked, Amy watched him, and felt a new sort of shyness steal over her, for he was changed, and she could not find the merry-faced boy she left in the moody-looking man beside her.


A new sense of shyness? OK, we all know where this is going! Might as well shut the book! Amy will fall in love with Laurie, and then it will all be over. Amy always gets what she wants. All she has ever wanted was "a rich husband", "to have a cool ring", and "to burn Jo's stories." And be a good artist. Jury is out on that one? The author sometimes seems to be making fun of Amy a little on that regard? How good do you think she is, guys?

The two spend the afternoon together. Amy is very excited to be around Laurie. Laurie is by turns listless and mildly approving. By the way, Amy thinks Laurie's new attitude - surly barbarism - is VERY sexy.

There's a party tonight, to which Amy invites Laurie. There follows a page or so of Amy preparing for the party, which I will pass over even though I am sure some readers will be like WHAT THAT WAS A KEY PASSAGE. Anyway, the point is, Amy is a little affected and thinks she is pretty, but she is right!

There follows a dance. I don't like dance preparations but I do like the politics of a dance! Finding out about who's on the dance card is almost as good as finding out who scored thirty runs in such and such an inning of something or other.

Laurie escorts Amy into the dance, paying her some of those langorous compliments people are always giving to be chivalrous. Amy is like "No thanks, be your old self please," and Laurie is like "great."

Laurie engages Amy for the first dance, a boring old COTILLION. Boring. Then he doesn't make much of an effort to get her for any more dances, so Amy, as punishment, makes sure her dance card is all filled up with the Count of this and that. Laurie doesn't seem to mind. Indignant Amy dances with everyone, and her anger, combined with the exercise, make her look even more charming. She is SOO good lookin' that Laurie sits up and notices and is like "Hey that is a pretty dress! Is it a new type of fabric?" Now the game is all but over, Amy, if you have the sense to reel him in. Which we know you do. Amy would never not have the sense to reel anyone in. Sure enough, she lays on a little charm.

Now it's Amy's innings. Laurie fills up the second half of her dance card with his name. Looks like Laurie will end up with a worse March!