By Trix Wilkins
Theodore Laurence wrote one last letter to Jo March whilst on the European Grand Tour, a second proposal of marriage. This is the letter he might have written…
This week was the eighth year anniversary of my husband’s marriage proposal. Eight years is quite a sentimental period of time to me because of Jane Austen’s Persuasion – after a separation of eight years, Captain Wentworth finally declares himself to be unwaveringly devoted to Anne Elliot in one of the most romantic letters in literature.
Inevitably I began musing happily on proposals and passionate handwritten letters – and started thinking about the last love letter Laurie wrote to Jo in Little Women. Louisa May Alcott didn’t include it in the text, referring to its existence simply as follows:
“I haven’t forgotten, I never can. I’ll try again, and if that fails, why then-” Leaving his sentence unfinished, he seized pen and paper and wrote to Jo, telling her that he could not settle to anything while there was the least hope of her changing her mind. Couldn’t she, wouldn’t she – let him come home and be happy?
What might Laurie have written in that letter? Perhaps it went something like this…
My dearest Jo,
I can almost picture your face at this moment. Not any sort of bliss or romantic sentiment – no, I cannot imagine your emotions capable of being captured with such words – rather firm resolution: to be kind, though it hurts; to do what is right, though it is hard; to sacrifice, that you may benefit another and cling to the wisdom taught you.
I have written you a letter every day. Lies, Teddy, you must be thinking – for certainly, I have sent you hardly a line since your missive; at least, no line that has truly been expressive of my heart and mind. Yet these letters are written, though I hold them still. I told you about London, Vienna, Paris, Rome, Nice…I told you of all that I had seen, all that you would have loved, all that I wished, every day, I could have shared with you.
Lately, I also told you about all you would have hated – most of which, I am ashamed to say, would have related to me. I have done nothing whilst away which I can speak of with any satisfaction. Surely you know this in your heart to be true, though you might not have heard word; you know me. You know the depths to which my soul can sink.
Nobody would knowingly give you alarm in their reports, for how could they, out of love for you? I thought the same for some time. But I can no longer hide the truth from you – what a waste, what a shadow of a man I have been without you. I cannot rest, I cannot settle with any conviction on any course of action, until I act now on the hope that has not faded.
I have known since the day you threw that snowball at my window that I would love no other but you. Perhaps I have not always known it as clearly as now – and how clearly do I now know it! The idea that you would despise me were you to see me, were you to know the full extent of not only my abhorrent behaviour but my selfish resentment…I shudder with such shame that I wonder how I dare to even hold this pen. And yet, strangely enough, it is partly due to this feeling that I owe my current resolve.
Jo, I mean for this leaf to stay turned. I will undertake duty, mortify my pride and my ambition, that I may have the privilege of contributing to the happiness and well-being of those for whom I do care, though I may not care for the work I do on their behalf. I will endeavour to fight my flaws as bravely and as fiercely as you do yours. I only ask that when I do, you may know and believe that it is you who inspires me, who enables me to persist.
To this day, with all that I have seen, all I have met, all I have been given – it is you who have done more for my mind, heart and soul than any other, and no other will ever surpass. I must thank you, and tell you how irreplaceable and indispensable you are to me.
I come to the question that I feel even as I write this, you must be dreading. And yet, though you have given me every reason to know your answer, I am compelled to ask. I must. Everything in my being demands it. A sliver of hope remains that perhaps I do not write in vain; I cling to it, for the courage to continue, and not abandon this letter to the fate of its predecessors.
You raised several objections to our union when we last conversed on this subject. I had been too angry and too resentful to have done you the justice of considering them. Now, having thought on them for some time, I claim my right to respond – for you have always asked for my honesty, and affirmed the security of our friendship, no matter the storms that assail.
Firstly, you said that we are too alike. I admit and own the flaws in my own tempestuous temper, the temper that so closely matches yours. Once I would have made excuses for it; no longer. I would have it changed, whether you choose to marry me or not. Self-control is a virtue for which we both strive, and I see no reason why we could not conquer it.
Secondly, you were adamant that I would come to despise you and long for “a fine mistress for my fine house.” I could barely contain myself, hearing that nonsensical prophetic outburst!
Is this truly what you think of me? That I could and would only be satisfied by external beauty, external graces, external elegance of speech, rather than a true elegance and refinement of mind, heart and soul? Do you really believe that I would value the former, when I have such a friend in you who exemplifies all of the latter?
I had not the words then to reply; I was affronted, I felt you had been unjust. You would have had me give you up – you, the one woman I can imagine beside me, the one person with whom I wish to share my greatest adventures and deepest joys, on whom I unreservedly depend during trials, with whom I have built every aspect of my castle in the air thus far – for a hostess?
How could you not know that I care for none of the things you seem to deem necessary for my happiness? Could we truly have been friends, if I did? If I cared more for the stains on your hands than the brilliant words they poured forth; more for mistaken salt in the strawberries than your hearty conversation; more for the burns on your dresses than the sear of your timely rebukes on my conscience?
Finally, though far be it from me to align my opinion contrary to your wise mother in other circumstances, I am compelled to now. I cannot agree with her assessment that we would not be suitable for marriage. Jo, we will learn what we need to, together. We are both so stubborn, we are bound to succeed were we to only try. I’ve seen you make a masterpiece of a manuscript; you’ve seen me of a piece of music – might we not do the same with our marriage?
I know you care nothing for money – how glad I am that there is no need to appeal to my fortune! – but you do care for friendship and loyalty, and on these I must cast my hand, and assure you that you have mine unreservedly: today, tomorrow, and all the days of my life.
For all that glitters in this world shines dull without you; every exertion feels futile; every hope of my future hinges on your being part of it. You have my ardent love and affection – Jo, will you not also accept my hand in marriage; might I not come home to you, and be happy? My dearest friend, in your answer lies all that this world could ever do for me.
Yours, in perpetuity,