By Trix Wilkins

In The Courtship of Jo March, does Mr Bhaer ever come into the picture? Do Laurie and Jo’s marriage end up as dramatic as their friendship? Etain, A Homeschooling Life

We are into Post 3 of answers to questions from The Courtship of Jo March Comment Challenge, and I have to just say a big thank you to Etain for these particular questions – I really had fun with them! Having an excuse to delve into the love life of Jo March? It’s almost like getting to write the novel all over again 🙂 Writing this reply, I had to stop myself from waxing random like…now.

The best friend: Theodore Laurence

Theodore Laurence PIC
Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures (1994)

I’m afraid that just as the original only lightly touched on Jo’s marriage, so does this variation. It opens on Laurie in college, Amy in Europe, and Meg having just had twins Demi and Daisy (and in order to have certain historical events available for the plot, it is set in the early 1870s instead of the 1860s). The novel closes exactly ten years after the events of the original Little Women chapter “Castles in the air.”

So no huge details on what Jo and Laurie might have been like married. What the novel does cover is that tense, ambiguous stage between friendship and matrimony – those tricky scenarios in which it would have been plausible for them to interact, to have the sort of conversations they needed to have, yet also conduct themselves within the bounds of propriety (or at most only a whiff of scandal).

The friendship

Jo laurie friendship PIC

In Little Women, as friends, Jo and Laurie had to learn to communicate effectively, negotiate conflict, and resolve tension and disagreements. They had passionate quarrels and misunderstandings, encounters which we were rarely given privy to witnessing firsthand although we were informed somehow that they happened.

Despite the turbulence, there was also repentance, forgiveness, and restoration of a deep and enjoyable friendship. Jo and Laurie remained fiercely loyal to and protective of each other no matter the quarrel.

I expect that in any relationship where there is open communication and a feeling of safety to be oneself without fear of losing affection, there are bound to be disagreements. No two people being identical in thinking, there are bound to be misunderstandings. And conflict being an inevitable part of any relationship, there is bound to be the need to develop skills to negotiate it lovingly and effectively.

The courtship

Jo Laurie courtship PIC

One of the main ideas of the variation was to place Jo and Laurie in the circumstances in which they would have grown and matured into people who not only fit well together, but struck the balance between challenging each other to greater heights whilst remaining a safe harbor for one another.

I would say that in one sense their relationship in the variation is even more turbulent than their friendship in Little Women, there being stronger emotions involved in a courtship than a friendship. In another sense, it is less. In Little Women, Jo and Laurie had been teenagers with very set plans for their lives and a general unwillingness to compromise. They wanted fame and fortune above all else.

In The Courtship of Jo March, Beth March and Frank Vaughn play a significant role in Jo and Laurie’s rethinking these ambitions, as well the ways in which they related to one another. How often it is that we can only imagine another way something can be done, when we see someone we love and esteem doing it first! So yes, Jo and Laurie have dramas – but they are better equipped to handle them well.

The Professor: Friedrich Bhaer

Photo courtesy of the Paris Review. I haven’t used the photo from the 1994 movie because Professor Bhaer has yellow hair. William Shatner doesn’t have yellow hair either, but it’s at least a bit lighter and he has the accurate build.

Does he come into the picture in the variation? Yes, he does. I should warn however that while his appearance is significant to the story-line, he does not play the sort of role that he does in Good Wives. What I can tell you is that Laurie and the Professor do discuss Jo; all three interact before anyone is married to anyone else; and all three happen to attend the same ball at a point in the story.

(I actually quite like Professor Bhaer, and it was a brilliant stick to the social establishment for Louisa May Alcott to have written her heroine’s lover as a man whose attractiveness was solely internal – he was all character; no looks, no wealth, no status. Still, despite the Professor’s merits, I thought Laurie suited Jo better. And so continues the hundred and fifty year old debate ;))

The fellow writer: Tommy Chamberlain

Photo courtesy of Miramax (2001). No, he wasn’t in the movie, this is of Hugh Jackman from Kate and Leopold, but I imagine Tommy would’ve looked like him.

Does anyone recall Tommy Chamberlain from the original Good Wives? He is mentioned only once during a conversation between Jo and Amy, and for some reason I have always been curious about this character. Why was he mentioned at all? What sort of friendship did he and Jo have and how did she come to know enough of his character to approve it?

Since details were scanty, just about everything about Tommy Chamberlain in The Courtship of Jo March is my speculation as to the sort of character Louisa May Alcott intended him to be. All Good Wives tells us is that he was poor and the grocer’s son – as well as the fact that Jo liked him. He plays a significant role in this variation as Jo’s friend, a fellow writer and an aspirant journalist.

Previous Comment Challenge answers…

To write or not to write: Little Women and the making of a novel
Why we like to dislike Amy March 

The Courtship of Jo March
Photograph courtesy of Greg Bridges

Trix Wilkins is the author of The Courtship of Jo March: a variation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, for all who have ever wondered how things might have worked out differently for the beloved March sisters. Available in paperback and an eBook package from $4.95. Other formats available from Kobo, Scribd, Apple, and Angus & Robertson. Sample chapters free to download here.