By Trix Wilkins
John Brooke is one of those men in books and in life whose virtues are sadly often overlooked – he frequently pales next to Laurie and we forget he was fashioned after Louisa May Alcott’s brother-in-law John Pratt, for whom she had the highest respect and admiration (a thing that could not be said of many men). For that reason John Brooke deserves closer scrutiny; and for his merits he shines under it.
Essentially, these are the reasons Meg says yes.
He is discreet about himself
The Marches don’t find out about the things he’s done. Mr Laurence undertakes his own investigations as to the sort of man John is (one would imagine he would have been diligent in choosing the man to whom he would entrust his grandson’s education). It is Mr Laurence who shares all this information with the Marches so they can esteem him as he deserves.
He shares what little he has
He provided financially for the woman who nursed his mother, even though he had little means of his own. He rejected a plum tutoring offer “to some nice person” so he could care for his mother until she died (the implication of his having to care for her suggests either that his father had passed away or abandoned them. In any event, he does not abandon his mother).
He’s not in it for the money
Laurie arranged Camp Laurence partly to set him up with the wealthy Kate Vaughn, and he has plenty of opportunities to pay attention and win her approval. Instead, John clearly shows his preference for Meg even though she is significantly less eligible by society’s standards. And as mentioned – he could have had a prestigious job with a wealthy family, but doesn’t take it for his mother’s sake.
He defends and speaks up for the one he loves
When Kate finds out about Meg’s being a governess, she reacts as if Meg has the most undesirable fate imaginable. John defends the dignity that accompanies the work Meg does for the sake of her family (and the fact that she is able to do it). “Young ladies in America love independence as much as their ancestors did, and are admired and respected for supporting themselves.”
He volunteers in the army and is honest about why
He volunteers on the Union side and fights against slavery for which Meg readily praises him. He could have simply accepted her approval and admiration. Instead he frankly tells her that it is not such a sacrifice as he has neither mother nor sisters to leave behind “and very few friends to care whether I live or die.”
He sends letters every day
John’s escorting of Mrs March to Washington to nurse Mr March is something that should be credited to Mr Laurence, who comes up with the pretext of sending him to attend to “business.” However, John didn’t have to send daily letters to keep the family updated so they could be comforted with good news as soon as possible.
He openly declares his intentions
No sneaky business here – he tells Mr and Mrs March about his intentions for Meg, and only asks for “leave to love her and work for her, and the right to make her love him if he could.”
He devotes himself to caring for Mr March
Mr March kindly (and rightly) gives John credit in a speech to his family at Christmas, saying “how devoted Brooke had been and how he was altogether a most estimable and upright young man.”
When he’s rejected, he responds gently
Oh how I hope this scene is included in the new Little Women mini-series! (Incidentally, I love how Louisa May Alcott describes Meg’s refusal: “The best of us have a spice of perversity in us, especially when we are young and in love.”)
Meg says no because she thinks John looks over-confident in proposing to her – she can’t stand the fact that he seems so sure she’ll say yes (can’t blame her for that one…). When she says she’d rather he not think of her, she expects him to stomp around the room indignantly a la Darcy.
Instead he says, “I’ll wait, and in the meantime, you could be learning to like me…Mayn’t I hope you’ll change your mind by and by?”
He’s a bit on the scandalous side after all
Meg told Jo she wouldn’t accept John’s proposal – so of course Jo gets the shock of her life when she comes traipsing down the stairs and finds “the strong-minded sister enthroned upon his knee, and wearing an expression of the most abject submission.”
I have to like his sense of humor here, for he must know Jo disapproves and he laughs before saying, “Sister Jo, congratulate us!”