The man for Jo March: Theodore Laurence, Friedrich Bhaer, or…

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

screen-shot-2016-02-25-at-3-31-02-pm
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

38aaea256bad5a58bfa8d3490be840cb-hugh-jackman-head-shots
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 

 

Author and book sale PIC

6 thoughts on “The man for Jo March: Theodore Laurence, Friedrich Bhaer, or…

    1. I disagree that Laurie is the man for Jo. She says it herself when she talks to Meg after Beth dies; “Boys go nutting, and I don’t care to be bagged by them.” Jo and her mother agree that she and Laurie aren’t suited to one another temperamentally, that Laurie is too much of a “weathercock” to be relied on at that stage of his life, and that their quarrels would be more serious if they were marriage partners. Jo realizes that she is not the elegant and refined mate that could grace Laurie’s home and position in life, and she quite clearly states that “she couldn’t bear a rich husband.” She knows instinctively that she and Laurie do not “fit” together.
      On the other hand, Jo is immediately attracted to Bhaer because of his kindness, his love of people, and his intellect. She doesn’t realize it at the time, but her hero worship of him in New York gives birth to her falling in love with him after Beth dies and she is lonely for a man to love. Perhaps the reader is disappointed in the physical plainness of Mr. Bhaer (that’s why movies always clean him up a little) but Jo takes pleasure in his oddities, and she admires the fact that he is a German. She has always been “topsy-turvy” and so is he. She finds his nephews more interesting than her female charges at Mrs. Kirke’s, and she just can’t help regaling her folks with his activities when she writes home.
      Jo needs Bhaer’s maturity, and Bhaer needs her youth, and they just “fit” together as Jo and Laurie never would have. Bhaer helps her to fulfill her dream of taking in boys and being a mother to them. On the other hand, Laurie helps Amy to fulfill her dream of being rich enough to help struggling artists by sharing the Laurence wealth. Jo is very happy with her life as “Mother Bhaer,” and Amy is very happy playing “Lady Bountiful.” With the exception of Bhaer, the other characters have grown into their eventual roles in life, especially Jo, who never thinks twice about giving up her liberty for this “mortal man.”
      Since Jo cares nothing for Laurie’s good looks or wealth, she can find only friendship in her heart for him; besides, she has played “mother” to him for years, and mothers don’t generally fall in love with their sons. By no stretch of the` imagination can Jo be the woman Laurie needs for his place in society, but Laurie sees that Amy fits the role perfectly once he is away from Jo for awhile. Since Alcott makes it very clear that all parties are infinitely happy at the end of LITTLE WOMEN, why not quit debating the Laurie/Jo question and just enjoy the book? I do hope the MASTERPIECE version coming out in 2018 won’t completely dissect the novel and make it into something quite different than what Alcott wrote. At least, I hope they get Jo and the Professor right.

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      1. Thanks so much for commenting, what an incredible argument indeed for Jo and the Professor! I think one of the ways I enjoy books is to debate what happens to who and why, and think about the what ifs and the things that are uncertain or could have been different (though that’s not everyone’s cup of tea undoubtedly!). I too am looking forward very much to the new version of Little Women – I agree, I hope it is faithful to the narrative in capturing the wonderful connections between all the characters, the emotion, and dare I add the morality of the novel.

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        1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. You mentioned the morality of the original story. I just finished reading JO’S BOYS, and I was struck by the many references to the Lord and quotes from Scripture Alcott used. In this novel, Jo and the Professor even have prayers together. As a mater of fact, the ending had me tearing up because one of the boys had ruined his life and, although possessed of a great love for Laurie’s daughter Bess, could never hope to have her. He repented, of course, but his consequences were truly heartbreaking. He ended up being a missionary to Indians in the West and died trying to defend them.
          Mark Stanley, a 29-year-old actor, will be playing Bhaer in the Masterpiece series. I had never heard of him, but he apparently is popular in England. I’ve heard him speak in an interview on YouTube, and I believe putting on a German accent will be challenging for him, as well as looking and acting about fifteen years older than Jo. We shall see.
          I live in Southeast Texas, where Hurricane Harvey dumped –I think they said 33 trillion
          gallons of water, flooding and doing terrible damage to lives here. Our home was spared, thanks be to God, but during the days of unrelenting rain I amused myself by binge-watching five film and TV versions of LITTLE WOMEN. I was so vexed that Bhaer was limited in his screen time that I wrote my own “screenplays,” adding plausible scenes that would flesh out the Jo/Professor relationship. If I were able to talk to a Christian producer, I would propose a screenplay for a more “Christian” film using the material often overlooked when others have tried to adapt the novel. Great ideas but, alas! no outlet for them!
          Thanks again for your comment. Blessings!

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        2. As far as the Masterpiece adaptation is concerned, I am a little uneasy about the fact that LITTLE WOMEN is an American work, and the British may not capture the American spirit in their version. The made-for-tv piece done in the ’70s was just a little shrill, and rearranged some of the action. One thing I can say for it, however, is that they had the most accurate presentation of Professor Bhaer of any of the filmed versions I have seen. Unfortunately, Bhaer doesn’t get enough screen time in most films; we don’t see how their relationship develops. Just for fun I have written “scenes” that would put more meat on the bones of the relationship that would explain how the Professor could fall in love with Jo–and she with him finally. Anyway, I wish there were a way to hurry up the American viewing of the Masterpiece LITTLE WOMEN. The suspense is making me nervous!

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