By Anne K. Phillips and Gregory Eiselein
As we bring the Little Women 150 blog to a close, we offer some concluding thoughts on the project and the amazing year in Alcott it has been.
We are deeply grateful to our fifty-three contributors for their insightful reflections on the chapters of Little Women. Every post offered food for thought, including observations about Alcott’s life, her family’s interpersonal dynamics, her writing process, her attitudes toward gender, race, class, and ability, her reform impulses, and the contexts for her work, among other topics. We have delighted in premiering these posts on Monday mornings each week since July 2018, and we feel some sadness at having come to the end of the book.
We are very grateful to our readers, who shared responses with us (often while extending access to our posts through their social media). Some of our participants and friends have used the blog postings as teaching tools, and student responses have been shared with us, for which we express thanks while hoping that the posts might continue to prompt student discussion and reflection. Writing about Sandra Harbert Petrulionis’ observations about Chapter IV, “Burdens,” for instance, Karenah Harewood wrote that the post “really opened my viewpoint on the March girls. Before I thought that I could see myself actually sympathizing for them but after reading this, it makes me not want to sympathize for their decrease in fortune.” Detailing her concerns about the March sisters’ complaints despite their evident privilege, and taking exception as well to Hannah’s uneducated speech, Harewood concluded by expressing appreciation for the way that Petrulionis made her “think critically about what’s going on.” Petrulionis’ observations about Hannah’s race, by the way, prompted much debate among Alcott scholars, and that debate has led to additional and forthcoming scholarly activity.
In another enthusiastic response, Mary Shelden has written:
I especially loved Marlowe Daly-Galeano’s piece on Jo’s knowledge of her own mind, and Kristen Proehl’s piece on considering Elbert and Trites with her students. So refreshing! I tried to work in a back-and-forth with these actual blogs in my post, but in the end, couldn’t spare the word count — so if you have the chance, please share my appreciation with them, as they truly helped me get to the point where I could say what I’ve said here. Love this project!
Some of the responses have come from international audiences. Niina Niskanen shared thoughts about Friedrich Bhaer’s reference to Jo as “Professorin.” Her perspective was so interesting that we begged permission to share it with you:
I was 17 when I read Little Women II (also known as Good Wives) for the first time and there was something in the proposal under the umbrella that always bothered me and now after a decade later I found out that it was a translation error. In this beautiful scene Friedrich tells Jo that he is traveling to the west to provide education for his nephews Franz and Emil and Jo is heartbroken because he is leaving and they finally reveal their true feelings for one another. They both agree to work hard to build their life and future together. As a symbol of this Jo takes some of the parcels he is carrying. In the Finnish translation that I’ve read Friedrich gives Jo the title of ‘professorin rouva’ which literally means ‘professor’s wife.’ I found this very strange. There is all this talk about them being equal to one another and then this. I’ve come to known Friedrich as a man who mends his own socks, has re-built his life in a foreign country and as someone who has managed to raise two young boys by himself. He is not possessive over women, especially not over Jo for whom he has utmost respect (and a heart full of love). Friedrich is like Jo, someone who doesn’t think that marriage should be a goal of one’s life but a union between two people based on love and trust. Neither of them represents the traditional role of men and women of the time and their marriage is going to be unique because of that.
I recently read Little Women I and II for the first time in English and in the English version Friedrich gives Jo a German title of Professorin. I happen to speak German and I know that Professorin doesn’t mean professor’s wife. It is not even close to it. It means a female professor. By giving this title Friedrich makes Jo equal to him and Jo is delighted because as a woman (and coming from a poor family) she has not been allowed to continue to higher education. Little Women II takes place [at a time when] women were allowed to participate on university lectures and exams but they were not allowed to matriculate or graduate . . . Friedrich’s attraction to Jo is as well both physical and intelligent. He knows she is very well-read and has a sharp mind. Her interests hardly fit within the domestic sphere; she can achieve many great things if she wants to and he is more than willing to support that. I nearly missed all of that because of a translation error which completely changed the meaning of his words.
Finally, if you have enjoyed this project and remain hungry for further discussion of Little Women, we would encourage you to seek out the latest issue of Legacy (vol. 36, no. 1), arriving this month, which contains a delightful and diverse “Forum: Little Women at 150,” with an introduction by Jennifer Putzi and contributions from a wealth of scholars, including Donna Campbell, Randi Tanglen, Katherine Adams, and Anne Boyd Rioux, among other eminent voices.
Thank you for joining us as we say goodbye to our sesquicentennial celebration and hello to future readings, editions, interpretations, retellings, and engagements with Louisa M. Alcott’s beloved masterpiece, Little Women.