THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S FICTIONS: Professor Matteson feels Jo's pain!

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2020

Though Jo didn't feel it herself:
Anthropologists frequently pose the question, most often at 2 in the morning:

Were we humans—we so-called rational animals—ever really rational in our essence? Or was it just a succession of tribal fictions—scripted narrative all the way down?

In fairness to these future experts, they always draw a firm distinction between matters of technology and engineering as opposed to everything else. Early last month, they called our attention to Professor Matteson's essay in The Atlantic.

Frankly, how apt! Two weeks before that piece appeared, The Atlantic's David Sims had published a crackpot conversation with Aaron Sorkin, in which the two men reached several strange points of agreement.

Most strangely, the fellows agreed that Harper Lee's famous novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, ends with Atticus Finch covering up a murder—the murder of Bob Ewell! Stating the obvious, you'd pretty much have to be out of your mind to read the book that way.

(Earlier, it had been even stranger. In an essay in New York magazine, Sorkin had actually said that Lee's fictional Atticus Finch "believes in the fundamental goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists." Sorkin quickly linked this very strange claim to Donald J. Trump's famous statement about there being "fine people on both sides." So it goes when the rational animal, at times of tribal agitation, sets out on the prowl.)

Sims and Sorkin voiced that strange belief about Atticus Finch on December 17. Two weeks later, Professor Matteson's piece appeared, in which he discussed Little Women.

Is the rational animal ever rational? Or is it always tribal script—narrative all the way down?

We can't answer your sensible question. But Professor Matteson, a Pulitzer-winning Alcott biographer, strangely told readers this:
MATTESON (1/1/20): Among children’s classics, Little Women is virtually unique in its lack of a personified villain. The prevalent reading of the novel is that the chief evil that must be fought and subdued is the flaw in each character’s own breast, whether Jo’s temper, Laurie’s laziness, or Beth’s shyness. While these inner struggles are amply addressed in the film, Gerwig convincingly proposes an alternative reading: A considerable source of pain in Alcott’s world is the disapproving masculine gaze, so often clad in the guise of moral judgment, that can bruise a woman’s self-esteem and steal her self-expression.

Alcott’s novel presents two powerful instances of such criticism. Laurie chides Meg for her attire at a party, which she considers beautiful and he deems immodest; and Professor Bhaer arraigns Jo for publishing lurid stories that he regards as a waste of her talent and that he fears will subvert her readers’ morals. In the novel, these scenes occur far apart, with no obvious linkage. Gerwig has heard the similarities between them; her film makes the two moments rhyme thematically and lingers on the hurt and indignation that the two men heedlessly cause.

What makes Gerwig’s take so notable is that she sees both sides of the situation with equal conviction. Laurie and Bhaer speak in good faith, yet are largely oblivious to the depth of the pain they are causing...
Forget the episode involving Laurie. Let's focus on Professor Bhaer, and on the power of script.

According to the real-life Professor Matteson, the fictional Professor Bhaer causes a great deal of pain in Alcott's novel. It happens when he "arraigns Jo for publishing lurid stories."

According to Matteson, the fictional Bhaer "heedlessly" causes a great deal of "hurt and indignation" when he exposes Jo to "the disapproving masculine gaze" in this manner. He's said to be "largely oblivious to the depth of the pain" he has caused. The professor bruises Jo's self-esteem and steals her self-expression.

In fairness to Professor Bhaer, at least he hasn't been accused of covering up a murder. In fairness to Professor Matteson, he gives a fairly accurate account of a set of events which occur in Greta Gerwig's "adaptation" of the Alcott book.

That said, these events don't occur in Louisa May Alcott's famous novel, which Matteson has presumably read.

Given his status as a Pulitzer-winning Alcott biographer, it's hard to believe that Professor Matteson hasn't read Alcott's actual book. Has his understanding been swept away by the narratives of the moment?

In Alcott's actual book, does Professor Bhaer engage in the hurtful conduct the real professor describes? Does he heedlessly cause hurt and indignation by arraigning Jo? Is he oblivious to the depth of the pain he has caused?

Sadly, no, that doesn't occur in Alcott's actual book.

That reinvented set of events is offered for our tribal pleasure in Gerwig's "updated" film. But a very different set of events and reactions unfolds in Alcott's actual novel. You can see this by forcing yourself to read Chapters 33 and 34 of her very old book.

In Alcott's actual book, Professor Bhaer never reads any of Jo's "sensation stories." He does tell her, at one point, that he disapproves of this tabloidy genre as a general matter, but it's already perfectly clear that Jo holds the same general view.

What's up with Jo's "sensation stories?" This is the way the scene is set at the start of Chapter 34, with Jo now working as a governess in New York City:
ALCOTT (chapter 34): Though very happy in the social atmosphere about her, and very busy with the daily work that earned her bread and made it sweeter for the effort, Jo still found time for literary labors. The purpose which now took possession of her was a natural one to a poor and ambitious girl, but the means she took to gain her end were not the best. She saw that money conferred power, money and power, therefore, she resolved to have, not to be used for herself alone, but for those whom she loved more than life. The dream of filling home with comforts, giving Beth everything she wanted, from strawberries in winter to an organ in her bedroom, going abroad herself, and always having more than enough, so that she might indulge in the luxury of charity, had been for years Jo's most cherished castle in the air.

The prize-story experience had seemed to open a way which might, after long traveling and much uphill work, lead to this delightful chateau en Espagne. But the novel disaster quenched her courage for a time, for public opinion is a giant which has frightened stouter-hearted Jacks on bigger beanstalks than hers. Like that immortal hero, she reposed awhile after the first attempt, which resulted in a tumble and the least lovely of the giant's treasures, if I remember rightly. But the "up again and take another" spirit was as strong in Jo as in Jack, so she scrambled up on the shady side this time and got more booty, but nearly left behind her what was far more precious than the moneybags.

She took to writing sensation stories, for in those dark ages, even all-perfect America read rubbish.
She told no one, but concocted a "thrilling tale", and boldly carried it herself to Mr. Dashwood, editor of the Weekly Volcano.
According to Alcott's text, Jo March had taken to writing rubbish in pursuit of money and power.

In our own modern times, many people who "adapt" famous texts are, of course, perhaps engaged in the same general pursuit. But it's clear in Alcott's text that Jo feels or knows that she shouldn't be producing such tabloidy "rubbish," and Alcott's narrator directly says the same thing.

If you fight your way through the whole of Chapter 34, you'll see the repeated appearance of questions concerning Jo's "conscience." In fact, Jo shares the professor's view of these tabloidy "sensation stories." She also knows that her parents wouldn't approve of such efforts.

As the chapter unfolds, Jo's regard for Professor Bhaer continues to grow. Things are quite different in Gerwig's film, where he rather rudely tells Jo that he disapproves of her stories.

Hotly, Jo tells the professor off. Instantly, she's called back to Concord, where her sister Beth has taken a turn for the worse.

These exciting modernized events don't occur in Alcott's book.

In Alcott's actual book, Jo goes to her room and burns her "rubbish" stories after her conversation with Professor Bhaer. But she isn't angry with Professor Bhaer; she agrees with his general assessment of "sensation stories:"
ALCOTT: [W]hen nothing remained of all her three month's work except a heap of ashes and the money in her lap, Jo looked sober, as she sat on the floor, wondering what she ought to do about her wages.

"I think I haven't done much harm yet, and may keep this to pay for my time," she said, after a long meditation, adding impatiently, "I almost wish I hadn't any conscience, it's so inconvenient. If I didn't care about doing right, and didn't feel uncomfortable when doing wrong, I should get on capitally. I can't help wishing sometimes, that Mother and Father hadn't been so particular about such things."

Ah, Jo, instead of wishing that, thank God that 'Father and Mother were particular', and pity from your heart those who have no such guardians
to hedge them round with principles which may seem like prison walls to impatient youth, but which will prove sure foundations to build character upon in womanhood.
Do you see any "indignation" there? We can't spot it either!

In fact, Jo agrees with Professor Bhaer's view, and so does Alcott's narrator. For ourselves, Jo's repeated thoughts about "conscience" recall the great female-oriented undercard in On the Waterfront, in which the Marlon Brando character rails against the Eva Marie Saint character's constant references to conscience, even after he has come to see 1) that she is a better person than he is, and 2) that he wants to be more like her.

In Gerwig's film, Jo thrillingly tells the professor off, and the pair part on bad terms. That isn't what happens in Alcott's book.

In Alcott's book, the professor continues to "help [Jo] in many ways, proving himself a true friend, and Jo was happy, for while her pen lay idle, she was learning other lessons besides German, and laying a foundation for the sensation story of her own life."

When Jo finally leaves for home, the professor is dreaming that he might some day win her love. She hasn't yet discovered the depth of her own feeling for him—it's skillfully signaled through both New York chapters—but Chapter 34 ends like this:
ALCOTT: Early as it was, he was at the station next morning to see Jo off, and thanks to him, she began her solitary journey with the pleasant memory of a familiar face smiling its farewell, a bunch of violets to keep her company, and best of all, the happy thought, "Well, the winter's gone, and I've written no books, earned no fortune, but I've made a friend worth having and I'll try to keep him all my life."
Professor B's in love. She still isn't—or, at the very least, it hasn't quite dawned on her yet.

In Gerwig's film, Jo angrily tells the professor off, then goes away on bad terms. According to leading experts, some people engage in such "adaptations"—produce such modernized "sensation stories"—in their own search for money and power!

This brings us back to Professor Matteson's odd presentation in The Atlantic. As with Sorkin, so too here, or so some experts have said.

At times of major tribal stress, tribal stories take control, these future experts have told us. Clear vision tends to disappear. It's replaced by the mandates of scripted tribal tales, leaving us with "narrative all the way down."

Atticus Finch is involved in a murder! And not only that—Professor Bhaer has heedlessly bruised Jo's self-esteem! Plus, the fellow is too fat, a key perspective we're able to gain at Vox.

"The human mind was wired this way," future experts have said. "This sort of thing rarely ended well," they've often despondently added.

Tomorrow: Toy story

Two different yet similar partings: When Jo finally leaves New York, it could be imagined that she's unaware of her actual feelings.

Professor Bhaer is plainly in love. It seems that Jo still isn't:
ALCOTT: Early as it was, he was at the station next morning to see Jo off, and thanks to him, she began her solitary journey with the pleasant memory of a familiar face smiling its farewell, a bunch of violets to keep her company, and best of all, the happy thought, "Well, the winter's gone, and I've written no books, earned no fortune, but I've made a friend worth having and I'll try to keep him all my life."
So Chapter 34 ends. We think of a certain lady's departure from Yalta in The Lady With the Lapdog, Chekhov's famous story.

Gurov will discover later that he's in love with the lady. But as her train leaves him behind, he still doesn't know this:
CHEKHOV: The train moved off rapidly, its lights soon vanished from sight, and a minute later there was no sound of it, as though everything had conspired together to end as quickly as possible that sweet delirium, that madness. Left alone on the platform, and gazing into the dark distance, Gurov listened to the chirrup of the grasshoppers and the hum of the telegraph wires, feeling as though he had only just waked up. And he thought, musing, that there had been another episode or adventure in his life, and it, too, was at an end, and nothing was left of it but a memory. He was moved, sad, and conscious of a slight remorse. This young woman whom he would never meet again had not been happy with him; he was genuinely warm and affectionate with her, but yet in his manner, his tone, and his caresses there had been a shade of light irony, the coarse condescension of a happy man who was, besides, almost twice her age. All the time she had called him kind, exceptional, lofty; obviously he had seemed to her different from what he really was, so he had unintentionally deceived her.

Here at the station was already a scent of autumn; it was a cold evening.

"It's time for me to go north," thought Gurov as he left the platform. "High time!"
So ends one part of the story. Later, the truth would emerge, within. Two different, quite similar partings.

98 comments:

  1. From Taegan Goddard (Political Wire):

    "A new Harvard study finds growing evidence that Americans are polarized not only in their views on policy issues and attitudes toward government and society, but also in their perceptions of the same, factual reality.

    The differences in perception of reality between Trump and non-Trump voters “are wider than between Democrats and Republicans overall.”

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Be nice if you guys stuck to the topic here. Bob's take on the book and film is brilliant.

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    2. Somerby is an asshole and he has already talked this subject to death. Move on.

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  2. The Rude Pundit's last post is about how President Trump's overall goal is to erase all accomplishments of Obama's presidency.

    I believe Somerby's overall goal is to prevent liberals from discussing current events that are important to our nation and the upcoming election. That's why he persists with discussing Little Women. This is Somerby's contribution to Trump's reelection.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Trump needs no help from Somerby to win and if liberals are prevented from discussing important current events because of essays about Little Women, they don't deserve to.

      Delete
    2. Somerby’s actual contribution to Trump’s re-election is his belittling of the Democratic candidates, his belittling of the Iowa caucus and its voters, his constant repetition and defense of right-wing talking points and talkers, his giving hat tips to assholes like Bill Maher, calling liberals every name in the book, falsely accusing them of all kinds of things, all while pretending to be writing as a liberal, his twisting of liberal views in ridiculous ways. Shall I go on?

      Delete
    3. You would have to first prove a connection between his readership and its ability to impact a national election and then you would have to provide a basis for your claims of false accusations. Then you would have to provide a list of the talking points and prove them to be both right wing and false and then ... shall I go on??? ;)

      Just joking ... it's boring. Believe what you want.

      Delete
    4. Mr Freebus, I have been doing exactly this a long time. When I first started, people used to defend Somerby. Now it is just deadrat (who likes being oppositional) and the various conservatives and occasional bigot who his blog seems to attract lately (despite being supposedly a liberal blog).

      Delete
    5. You have been proving a connection between his readership and its ability to impact a national election exactly for a long time?

      Just joking. :)

      But can you point me to the list of right wing talking points and their falsity you have been providing for a long time? Thanks,

      Delete
    6. “I believe Somerby's overall goal is to prevent liberals from discussing current events that are important to our nation and the upcoming election.”

      Will the tyrant who had tied this poor anonymouse to Somerby’s blog so as to prevent he/she/it from discussing its fav issues, undo the fetters, please.

      Let freedom ring...

      Delete
    7. Every time I hear Somerby repeat one of the talking points on the right, I point it out, as a conservative meme, here is blog comments. You can browse back and see how many there are. Whatever the conservative take on something is, Somerby will reflect it here.

      It isn't only that he attacks liberals, but that he attacks liberals using right-wing arguments. Plenty of liberals attack other liberals (the Bernie left attacks the moderates and vice versa), but Somerby has been doing it using right-wing arguments.

      This latest series on Little Women has been defending traditional gender roles (a right-wing evangelical theme, not just conservative) and decrying PC culture (a term that is a conservative invention -- no one on the left talks about PC) and wokeness (a conservative meme since liberals think being woke is a good thing) in the context of his Gerwig discussion.

      You will find the talking points on Fox News each day. Then notice how Somerby echoes them. I suspect that he spends as much time watching Fox as our president does, then it comes back in his blog, just as it does in Trump's tweets.

      Delete
    8. You feel he has been defending traditional gender roles when writing about Little Women?Why, where?

      Do you think his arguments are not valid because they are conservative talking points? Do you think woke and PC culture are above any criticism at all because they are, to you, conservative talking points? Because that would be very weak line of reasoning on your part. It would be stronger to face his criticisms directly.

      A criticism of liberals is not automatically invalidated because it is a conservative talking point.

      Even Obama has spoken about PC culture saying "I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of views.” It's juvenile to assert that liberals can't criticize other liberals because it includes a conservative talking point.

      I would re-examine where you stand on this matter. Juvenile is actually a polite word for this unique line of reasoning.

      Delete
    9. No more PC culture?
      Awesome.

      BTW, God is a figment of dim-witted imaginations.

      Delete
    10. This would be a valid point if Somerby were not consistently and frequently espousing conservative talking points. There may be a liberal who occasionally says the same thing as a conservative, but most liberals hold different views than conservatives. That's what makes them liberals, and not conservatives -- their disagreements on core issues. I think that when a liberal talks like a conservative as frequently and uses the specific arguments of the conservatives on Fox News (and it is no accident they all say the same things), that he is not actually liberal at all, but is pretending to be a liberal criticizing liberal views from the left, in order to make those arguments more acceptable to liberal readers. Because otherwise, liberals might automatically discount whatever comes from a conservative source.

      I have seen Somerby say things here that not one liberal in many thousand would ever say. And he does it day after day, not once in a while.

      And I have also said that Somerby doesn't like women much and he especially doesn't like the traditional conservative shibboleths, such as women's studies and feminism, and when a female professor is saying such things, it enrages him even more. And he was a huge defender of traditional gender roles such as teenage marriage to men in their 30s (with mama's permission of course), punishment of the woman who alleges sexual assault, not the man who assaults her, and shaming whores such as Stormy Daniels, JLo and Rachel Maddow for being sex positive in their careers. And he clearly thinks that women have no business being politicians and that Hillary should have baked those cookies.

      Delete
    11. Obama's criticism of PC-culture was his appeal to the moderate center. Obama ran to the right of Hillary. He needed to reassure white voters that he wasn't some kind of radical, that he was safe for them to support. This was a trivial throw-away criticism that signaled that he wouldn't rock the boat too much.

      Delete
    12. Somerby's talking about how these new revisionists (bowdlerizers) completely mangle the original book, and try to make the author say or suggest things that they didn't do and weren't ever true to begin with.

      In other words, idiotic misreading.

      Delete
    13. "And he was a huge defender of traditional gender roles such as teenage marriage to men in their 30s (with mama's permission of course), punishment of the woman who alleges sexual assault, not the man who assaults her, and shaming whores such as Stormy Daniels, JLo and Rachel Maddow for being sex positive in their careers. And he clearly thinks that women have no business being politicians and that Hillary should have baked those cookies."

      Your complete misreading of Somerby (or imaginary) is a perfect example of what he's talking here about regarding the modern manglers of this book.

      Doesn't it ever bother people that they don't get things right, and that their dumb and vulgar misunderstandings of the things around them are also terrifically clumsy?

      Delete
    14. You can only call someone else's interpretation a "misreading" if you assume that you know the correct reading. Since there is no way to establish that, you are just attacking those who disagree with you (or who you disagree with) by calling them wrong, when you have no way to establish that your opinions are truth.

      Does it upset you that other people on this earth see things differently than you do? That might be a good topic to discuss with a therapist, because the world isn't going to change so that other folks stop having all those annoying opinions and start agreeing with you.

      Delete
    15. Anon 10:46 It's not a matter of there being a reasonable disagreement with you. What you constantly espouse is total nonsense. You have a disconnect with reason. Your views are analogous to those who claim the earth is flat (see the Netflix documentary). I just don't have the time to go point by point, but an example is your claim that TDH "clearly thinks that women have women have no place being politicians and that Hillary should have baked those cookies." That's utterly ridiculous. I would add that there is hardly anyone who has defended H. Clinton more than TDH over the years, there are numerous posts where he has debunked her many attackers (particularly the NYT). The fact that he recently faulted her for her deplorables remark and that she has some flaws as a politician is not the same as saying that women shouldn't enter politics and that Clinton should have stayed home and baked cookies - unless you are incapable of applying reason.

      Delete
  3. "Forget the episode involving Laurie."

    Why? It is an excellent example of the way men of that day controlled women with moral preaching. What can be immodest? But then, Somerby comes off a rant a few days ago in which he chided JLo for her halftime show. For immodesty that he called demeaning to women! So, men haven't given up on that tactic yet. Why not discuss it?

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    Replies
    1. How do he "control" her? He was a scholar with opinions. She eventually liked both them and him.
      That's the point of the book.

      Jesus, the cheesy dumbness of so many of you. The movie makers had to change the plot in order to push forward an incredibly false, trite theme. And maybe the professor was correct about her old work being trash. Jo ended up agreeing with him!

      Or is reviewing and criticism itself now unspeakably repressive? It's all about self-expression now?

      Delete
    2. He controls her by shaming her.

      It doesn't matter whether she agrees with him or not. In fact, if she didn't agree, she would be immune to his shaming. When men determine what is right or wrong and impose that on women, that is control. When women are blamed for displaying writing ability and for earning money to support the family, that seems pretty wrong to me. And it is always odd that Jo is blamed for writing adventure stories but it is men who read them. Who do you think is the audience for that stuff?

      In the book, there is an old novel that was not accepted for publication and Jo switches to writing stories she knows will sell because they are like the work already being published (written by others). When the Professor criticizes her, she stops writing entirely. The movie version has her writing a novel much the way Alcott wrote Little Women. It isn't because of the Professor's encouragement because he was only discouraging to her. He did tell her to write something deeper, something real, which is what we assume Little Women was. I see that as the success of the movie. It corrects the unreality of the book.

      The main difference between the novel and the film is that the nature of the happy ending is different.

      Delete
  4. "According to Alcott's text, Jo March had taken to writing rubbish in pursuit of money and power."

    Not for herself, but in order to buy nice things for her family. It is in the quote. Somerby leaves that part off in order to make Jo less appealing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. “Not for herself, but in order to buy nice things for her family. It is in the quote. Somerby leaves that part off in order to make Jo less appealing.”

      I don’t know why people here bellyache about Somerby writing on subjects that capture his interest, rather than their own. It’s not like these same people ever manage to read and go argue against what Somerby has actually said. Let alone read what Alcott actually wrote and said.

      The gist of the controversy over Jo writing pulp fiction was that the professor thought it was corrupting to the standards of the people who read it, and that JO AGREED with him.

      Since this is the sincere belief that Jo and the professor hold, it would not be exculpating in their eyes to argue that she’s contributing to the lowering of standards in order to make life easier for herself and her family. Alcott distanced herself from her own pulp writing days, and though she did want to sell books, and agreed to Jo being married, she wouldn’t have viewed marriage as a corrupting influence on society in general.

      This is what Somerby meant when he pointed out that some of the moral lessons that Alcott sought to share, were waved away in order to focus on the pop mores of our time.

      Somerby critiques his tribe as having abandoned these age-old ideas, he sees my tribe as never having had them in the first place at worse, or as having used them as a soulless charade.

      He’s right to one extent or another on all counts.

      Delete
    2. Alcott is writing for children. Moral lessons are part of that genre, especially in that time period. If you have read any of Robert A. Heinlein's stories for young boys, you will see the same preaching and focus on values. There is the same thing in books like Black Beauty, another children's classic. Of course there are not going to be the same values portrayed in Alcott's book as in today's kids books or in Gerwig's film. Those values would be odd to everyone today's including conservatives who supposedly hold traditional values. Imagine anyone burning money the way Jo contemplates! But I remember my parents differentiating between tainted money. That doesn't mean that today's values are "pop mores" as Somerby calls them, insultingly.

      It is hard to argue that Senate Republicans and Trump supporters care about any values given their behavior over the past month or so (and continuing). But Somerby cannot use Gerwig's immorality as an attack on modern feminism. Arguably, it is immoral to force a woman to choose between writing and being a wife. It is immoral to abandon your wife and children, especially during a war. It is immoral to tell a girl she is shameful for wanting to be pretty. The values in Alcott's book coming out of the Professor's mouth are not the values of the author herself. They are a depiction of the limitations being forced on women at that time, and Jo is right to want to escape them. They are disguised as moral content for children, but I never hear Somerby decrying the horrible content of Hollywood action-adventure and superhero films (the equivalent of Jo's pulp fiction) and I never hear the slightest criticism of Tarantino, king of violence porn for men. Somerby is only making this argument to bash Gerwig and her crime is being female while directing, not introducing society to loose morals.

      Delete
    3. Great summary Cecilia. You're right.

      Bob's being pretty brilliant here in outlining one of the current big problems in literary evaluation. I.e., getting the book or (old) film all wrong.

      Delete
    4. "The values in Alcott's book coming out of the Professor's mouth are not the values of the author herself. They are a depiction of the limitations being forced on women at that time, and Jo is right to want to escape them."


      Ha! She didn't eventually want to escape them. Not in the book. That's the whole point. She liked them and him.

      What evidence too do you have that Alcott didn't share these values?

      Delete
    5. Alcott's biography and her own life choices. Haven't you been reading the comments here?

      Delete
  5. Objectively, what is wrong with writing the kind of sensationalist stories that Jo was able to sell? They were essentially lurid, action adventure stories about pirates. These are the kind of stories that men like to read, which is why Jo was able to sell them.

    Morality that condemns such reading, at the time, was on the grounds that reading fiction was a waste of time and that young women in particular should read sermons and religious essays, not romances or adventure stories. In a time period when there was always work to be done, wasting time in frivolous leisure activities was itself immoral.

    But isn't part of the problem that Jo was writing the kind of stories that boys and men enjoy, engaging in nontraditional behavior for a woman? Her parents would disapprove of that particular kind of writing, as Bhaer did, because Jo was female, not because she wasn't good at it or because the stories themselves were lewd (they are not described that way ever). You always have to ask whether she might have been encouraged if she had been male.

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    Replies
    1. Not by Bhaer. And he never wanted her to write sermons.

      The book is highly subtle and intelligent. The current movie version is extremely hackneyed and dumb.

      Delete
    2. The book is a children's book. If you find children's literature "subtle and intelligent" you are not the best judge of such things. The current movie is interesting because it does inventive things, especially compared to previous versions, and because it brings the author's life into her fiction, correcting the false ending demanded by her publisher. The current movie makes each of the girls real human beings with their own goals and feelings instead of caricatures of womanly virtues and flaws, as they are portrayed in the novel, and the current movie explores the relationships and rivalries among sisters which are family dynamics viewers may identify with, giving the novel more life and realism. Nothing hackneyed or dumb about that. And it was fast-paced and well shot, interesting to look at, compared to the static drabness of previous versions, including the 1994 one, which was very Masterpiece Theatre-ish. But you go ahead and defend Somerby. He needs his army of stooges.

      Delete
  6. The Lady with the Lap Dog (Toy Dog) is about adultery. There is nothing immoral in what Jo does. It is very odd that Somerby compares these two. The main similarity is that they both occur on a train.

    Gurov (Gomov) intends to toy with the lady, a flirtation. Jo intends nothing with the Professor. She hopes he will admire he writing ability and help her improve it, as anyone does who shows their writing to another person.

    Somerby doesn't tell us whether she showed the Professor her failed novel or her adventure stories. No one, not even readers, considers Jo's real writing to be those stories that she sells for money. Her real writing is her novel and the one she writes subsequent (which is presumably Little Women, Alcott's semi-autobiographical work, which was done for money).

    But doesn't it seem odd that anyone would chastise a woman for making money or for having money-making as a goal? Is it evil to strive to make a living? For women it has been, historically. Husbands feel diminished when their wives work. It is intolerable to them when a woman brings home a bigger check than a man. Upper class men and women both were not supposed to work for a living. But Jo needs money. It is OK for her to be a governess because she is doing traditional work of caring for kids, and won't make much money. But when she writes for pay, she is doing man's work and she is stepping over a "moral" line.

    The oddness is that Somerby considers her to be doing something immoral, like Gurov (Gomov), something shameful.

    And shame is how men control women. When it has been internalized to the point that she burns her own stories, that shows how religion and moral teachings are used to control women's behavior, to make that straitjacket inescapable except for those few women who are willing to risk their reputation and ignore the opinions of others, men and women alike, who condemn them.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Somerby's linking of the train scene in Chekhov with the train scene in Alcott's book, is an example of loose associations. Schizophrenics do this, but so do people who don't think closely about what they are comparing.

    In any analogy, a loose association would consist of ignoring the deeper structure and essence, the meaning of two events and instead fastening on some superficial detail that is the same in two situations. Gurov is married, so he only intends to flirt with and seduce the lady, not fall in love with her. Jo is uninterested in marriage or romance, so she construes the Professor's attentions as friendship because that is all she wants. Somerby is correct that neither is available for marriage, but that (and the train) is the only similarity, and I doubt it is the one Somerby is thinking about. In Chekhov's story, the lady too is married, so the story is about the irony that a rake falls in love with someone he cannot have. There is no such irony in Little Women because the point is about the virtues imposed on women by society and men and the constraints that imposes on their lives. Gerwig understands the novel, so her adaptation makes sense to women, who also grasp the point of the book. Somerby understands neither. He is focused on the train (insignificant details that are beside the point) and denies that women, then or now, have anything to complain about.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. T"here is no such irony in Little Women because the point is about the virtues imposed on women by society and men and the constraints that imposes on their lives. Gerwig understands the novel, so her adaptation makes sense to women, who also grasp the point of the book."

      There's no evidence for that. It's a modern projection you're making, and quite a dumb and trite one.

      The professor thought junk writing was junk writing. Nothing constraining about that. And he was even tougher on himself.

      I suspect too that millions of women in the past would not have read the book as you do.

      Delete
    2. Millions may not, but there was an active feminist movement in that time period who would have read the book that way. The book's author was a member of that movement.

      Delete
  8. “According to the real-life Professor Matteson, the fictional Professor Bhaer causes a great deal of pain in Alcott's novel. “

    That isn’t what Matteson says. He says that that is an “alternative reading” that Gerwig “convincingly proposes”, based on a couple of incidents in the book. It is also based on the entire character of Jo, an independent spirit who provides for her destitute family by writing that so-called “rubbish” (for which she has obvious talent) and who dreams of nothing more than being a writer, until she is made, by Alcott, to give that up for the more traditional, “respectable” position of wife, thus losing her independence.

    What is ultimately the harm in what Gerwig has done? Is Somerby really offended by her film? Is the book sacrosanct?

    Gerwig has combined elements of Alcott’s life with the semi-autobiographical elements in the book to create something a bit different than the original. The overarching point of interest is that Alcott herself chose to be an unmarried writer, making a fortune in the process, and that she married off Jo to Bhaer as a sop to public sentiment. And the Bhaer character is complete fiction, whereas other characters, such as Laurie, have real life counterparts. Alcott had a Laurie in her life that she, like Jo, refused to marry.

    Somerby is unable to read anything into the book other than what is printed on the page, even though students of literature are taught to distrust the narrators in books.

    It must also be said that, in Gerwig’s film, Professor Bhaer ends up teaching at Jo’s school, so they obviously reconciled.

    Also, Matteson says this:
    “Gerwig’s screenplay is the farthest thing from a polemic against the oppressiveness of men. Rather, she convincingly makes a more universally human point: that we blossom under the encouragement of those we love, and we wither when that approval is withheld.”

    Somerby implies the film is rubbish, but as he constantly says, it’s a matter of opinion.

    Again, what is the actual harm in what Gerwig has done? Somerby never spells it out. Her film has most likely prompted more people to read or re-read Alcott’s book. They can decide for themselves whether they prefer Alcott or Gerwig.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. “ The overarching point of interest is that Alcott herself chose to be an unmarried writer, making a fortune in the process, and that she married off Jo to Bhaer as a sop to public sentiment.”

      Have you considered that your overarching point about Alcott remaining unmarried may have been less about her independence and more that she wasn't attracted to dudes?

      Delete
    2. That is speculation, of course. It is also irrelevant. A woman couldn’t publicly be a lesbian then without suffering consequences. Most lesbians in 1868 were still dependent upon men, and were still expected to conform to social norms, because they were still female. Many lesbians did marry men, just as gay men married women out of social necessity.

      The fact is that Alcott chose not to marry because she wanted to remain independent, and she made a fortune writing, which allowed her to do that.

      If she was a lesbian, that’s all the more reason to question the way she plotted out the lives of her main characters.

      Delete
    3. The harm in what Gerwig is doing?

      Easy. She's dumbed down the book, made the hero a young French stud instead of an older scholar, and completely altered Jo's slow intellectual development. All in service to the "politics of resentment" that Harold Bloom so rightly pointed out is an attempt to make literature serve as axe-grinding.

      Delete
    4. Sorry but Jo is the hero of the book and the Professor is a minor character.

      Delete
    5. I’m sure lesbians did have more pressure to marry men in those days since the structure of having their own family was the chief semblance of autonomy and social presence for women.

      It was also the solely acceptable way for physical intimacy for men and women of all means and backgrounds.

      Alcott chose not to marry because she had the talent that afforded her that independence, and it’s likely that she had none of the imperatives of physical and emotional attraction toward men that beset most women of all financial situations and personal abilities...

      I’m not arguing that Alcott wasn’t a feminist or that she didn’t pattern Jo on herself as she patterned the March sisters on her own sibs. However, it was not Alcott’s intent to suggest that Jo was somehow lessened by her marriage or suppressed via the velvet gloved pressure of the professor.

      With the help of her friend, partner, love, she went on to accomplish all the things that had been in her heart as a girl. That’s a wonderful message. It wasn’t intended to be a compromising one.



      Delete
    6. Cecelia, there have been bohemian women who lived independently and took male and/or female lovers, during all time periods. They got away with it if they were wealthy and upper class socially and were reasonably discreet.

      Alcott in real life was a Transcendentalist (friend of Thoreau and Emerson) whose father was eccentric and flaky, which made the family poor and odd. She heard sermons growing up and lived without material wealth, finally having to write to support the rest of the family. She liked writing sensationalist stories and didn't like writing Little Women. She didn't want Jo to marry and she herself never married. Jo did not fulfill her dreams in the novel because she didn't become a writer. She may have loved her husband and family, but giving up an ambition is still a compromise. Alcott saw writing as a way to make money (which she didn't burn), not as a road to fulfillment. She was definitely and explicitly a feminist. Whether she was attracted to men or to women, there was nothing to prevent her from engaging in sex, since she was (1) poor, and (2) part of a fringe philosophical/literary group of like-minded individuals living outside mainstream society.

      Sophie Gilbert writes in 2018: "Jo’s creativity, her nonconformism, and especially her anger—that energy constantly undercuts the sanctimony Alcott dreaded in a genre that she, without blood and thunder, found ways to sabotage in Little Women. Her ambivalence emboldened her to unsettle conventions as she explored women’s place in the home and in the world—wrestling with the claims of realism and sentimentality, the appeal of tradition and reform, the pull of nostalgia and ambition. Her restless spirit is contagious. The more Alcott’s admirers seek to update her novel, drawing on her life as context, the more they expose what her classic actually contains."

      https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/09/little-women-louisa-may-alcott/565754/

      Delete
    7. George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans, the writer who had a long relationship with a married man), George Sand (author and mistress of Chopin), Dora Carrington (an artist who dressed like a boy and loved Lytton Strachey), Mary Wollstonecraft (who was a writer and lived with John Stuart Mill), Anais Nin (a writer who had two husbands, one on each coast), Gertrude Stein (gay poet and writer who nurtured other artists such as Hemingway), Emilie du Chatelet (scientist & physicist who had a lifelong affair with Voltaire), Elizabeth Holloway Marston (who lived in a menage-a-trois and helped produce the Wonder Woman comic)...

      And there are many more. These are just off the top of my head.

      Delete
    8. ‘“The more Alcott’s admirers seek to update her novel, drawing on her life as context, the more they expose what her classic actually contains."’

      That these people would assume that this would be tolerable to any writer, is a testimony to the true level of respect they harbor for the independence of Louisa May Alcott.

      Jo does go back to professional writing. Read Little Men and Jo’s Boys. They aren't coming to a theater near you. and are not the recipients of passionate blogboard proclamations of how influential and treasured they still are in modern girlhood.

      While you’re at it, read Eight Cousins and Rose In Bloom too. Maybe you’ll get a feel for the progressive Alcott that isn’t based upon the biases of our time.

      Delete
    9. All novel adaptations involve changing things from the book version to the screen because film is a visual medium. A book can just describe what a character is thinking. A film needs to show the viewer things that are internal in the book. So motives, intentions, goals, wishes, fantasies, all need to be translated in some way. There is always some rearranging in order to do this. It is show vs tell.

      Delete
  9. I think this is a pretty good essay:

    https://digbysblog.net/2020/02/how-gops-vicious-threats-help-them-avoid-justice-in-the-future-spockosbrain/

    ReplyDelete
  10. "Were we humans—we so-called rational animals—ever really rational in our essence?"

    As I have said here before, the answer to this question is NO.

    There was an expectation during Aristotle's time and up to the mid-20th century, that human reasoning (at its best) would conform to formal logic. The ways in which it does not were documented in a series of classic reasoning and decision making studies. People do tend to reason similarly to each other, but they do not conform to formal logic. Some theorists have proposed that human reasoning is probabilistic, in conformance with probabilities embedded in a situational context. There is good evidence for that, so people are not irrational or even inconsistent (although all human behavior has a lot of variability), but different than Aristotle's logic (or that of logicians up to the point where they started trying to model human thinking). So, human beings have their own logic and it is not Somerby's or Aristotle's. This understanding of how people reason has become the foundation of modern behavioral economics too.

    Somerby would know this is he weren't too busy wasting his time re-reading Wittgenstein -- or had ever taken a psychology course.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This chart is interesting too. It shows that Bill Clinton didn't win in a single primary until the 6th primary (Georgia), yet he won the nomination and presidency.

    https://cannonfire.blogspot.com/2020/02/it-aint-over-its-barely-begun.html

    ReplyDelete
  12. It is at least possible that Alcott’s book is rubbish, or that it started out well and then became rubbish by the end, or that Alcott imposed some rubbish towards the end.

    She did want to sell books, after all.

    ReplyDelete
  13. It is clear that Somerby no more cares for Alcott’s book than he does for Gerwig’s film.

    The more he prolongs this tirade, the more unhinged and foolish he looks.

    Gerwig is becoming Somerby’s new Maddow, mystical bête noire.

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    Replies
    1. Any woman will do to kick around, apparently.

      Delete
    2. He was right about Maddow though: "a skilled performer, routinely makes inaccurate, doctored, massaged and misleading claims, not obsessively honest, phony forced laughter, self-involvement, bordering on narcissism, has had a life-long problem with "cyclical depression." etc etc.

      All true.

      Delete
    3. The problem is that Maddow is far from the only performer on a cable politics show to have those characteristics. So why her? Chris Matthews is arguably worse. So is Brian Williams -- it is why he lost his network job.

      When Somerby focuses only on this female narcissist who occasionally make a mistaken claim (that everyone else did too), it becomes pretty clear what his agenda is.

      What is the relevance of "cyclical depression"? It has nothing to do with her competence or lack of it. It is generally considered to be a disability. Do you think it is OK to attack people with disabilities?

      Delete
    4. It's because she is the most influential paid and popular. Her vagina has nothing to do with it.

      Delete
    5. She's more influential and better paid than Chris Matthews? I don't think so. Further, he was attacking her well before her ratings went up. He doesn't like it when she stuffs things in her pants, apparently.

      Delete
    6. Yes she's much much much much more popular and influential than Matthews. It's not even close. She's the cornerstone star of the whole network. And facts are facts. Whether it be a vagina or penis lodged between her two stumpy legs, she is, as the biggest and cornerstone star of the network, a skilled performer who routinely makes inaccurate, doctored, massaged and misleading claims and is not obsessively honest, embarrassingly squeaking out cringe-worthy phony forced laughter who portrays self-involvement bordering on narcissism and has had a life-long problem with "cyclical depression. The last of which may explain her oddness and awkwardness and maybe even her inability to fathom the damage she does to her party and the world.

      Delete
    7. There is sober, measured criticism.

      Then there is Somerby, whose unhinged rants border on an obsessive monomania.

      Delete
    8. 6:58 Look who's talkin'!!!

      Delete
    9. Who’s talkin’? You are, 7:06!!!

      Delete
    10. @6:45, you claim that Maddow is dishonest but you give no examples. When Somerby has claimed this, his examples have been trivial nitpicks or selective quoting. Unconvincing. Please cite some examples of Maddow's supposed dishonesty.

      As I said, I don't think that attacking someone for being diagnosed with depression is OK.

      Delete
    11. 6:45,
      If that's true, Maddow should be paid 5 times more than Matthews.
      If she's not, that's probably what all the talk about women being underpaid in comparison to men is about.

      Delete
    12. Making a big deal about Trump's tax returns, the Steele Dossier and Russiagate, which we know from the Mueller report was a big nothing, were all part her dishonest, disgraceful performances. She's either dishonest or dumb or insane or a combination. Right? I'm sure you would agree. Why would she spend so much time on Russiagate? She honestly thought there was a story there?

      Who gives a shit what you think about depression?

      Delete
    13. 8:12 PM

      Source please.

      Delete
    14. Somerby has probably written 50,000 words about the inane Chris Matthews.

      Women I guess are immune to criticism?

      Delete
    15. "He doesn't like it when she stuffs things in her pants, apparently."

      How about maybe Bob doesn't like stuffed shirts? That's more like it.

      Delete
    16. A stuffed shirt is a conservative, pompous person.

      I have seen no evidence that he dislikes such people.

      Delete
  14. Bill Maher is actually very good. More people should pay closer attention to what he is saying.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You mean his constant demeaning of red state voters, that Somerby calls everyone else out for? Like that?

      Delete
    2. I don't think Bill Maher is very good, except for an occasional rant at the end of his New Rules segment. His jokes are stale (or low hanging fruit) and he thinks it is OK to say racist stuff if he chides his audience for booing. His broken record remarks about anti-PC (which is a made-up conservative meme to attack colleges) and his health fadism are tired too, and he is wrong about his health notions (as wrong as the anti-vaxxers). It hurts to watch him fawn all over the conservatives he invites on his show and I always wonder why he is giving them a podium then letting them walk over him. And he is too smug for words. If people listened closely to what he is saying, he wouldn't be considered any kind of liberal, and barely a comedian. I hope his live stand-up show is better.

      Delete
    3. You mean his constant demeaning of red state voters...

      You mean like Donald J Chickenshit, Acting President, just mocked Senator Manchin from WV saying he "couldn't understand" the transcripts because he's a dumb yokel from WV? Is that what you mean?

      Delete
    4. When Donald J Trump demeans someone, the demeaning is perfect. Not like when liberals do it.

      Delete
    5. mm - ram it up your ass dumbshit idiot. you prove over and over and over again what fucking retard you are. go fuck your mother, then go fuck your sister, then go fuck your grandmother jackoff cock sucking moron. you don't know shit.

      Delete
    6. Speaking of unhinged rants—anon 7:08, cough, cough...

      Delete
    7. 7:08,
      It's no wonder women won't fuck you.

      Delete
    8. I wish you all realized that some of us are too young to hear this stuff.

      Delete
  15. The interest in “Little Women” derives from the little women themselves (and their mother Marmee), during the time after the father and head-of-household has foolishly lost all his money, and he is absent from the family. The little women must fend for themselves, including Jo, who becomes the principal provider with her writing.

    There is a profound and dispiriting sense of disappointment that sets in, for many readers, once the little women are asked to conform themselves to contemporary social norms by giving up their independence (such as Jo giving up her writing) once they reach “adulthood”.

    It is legitimate to offer a critique of the book (or series of books) which rejects the later aspects of the story as a cop-out by Alcott, or, on the other hand, to search the text for clues that Alcott meant this as a commentary on the roles imposed on the women of her time. Alcott’s own life is a clue.

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    Replies
    1. I wouldn't mind Somerby turning this blog into a book discussion group, but he really should announce the next book title in advance so we can all read it.

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    2. Those clues simply aren't there. Jo ended up loving the professor. He didn't need to look like a French male model, either. That's the true pandering hypocrisy/stupidity of the movie.

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    3. Jo isn't a real person. If she loves the professor, it is because the author wrote the book that way. Her publisher made her do that. She herself displayed a different attitude toward marriage, which was exemplified by her life.

      https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/09/little-women-louisa-may-alcott/565754/

      Delete
  16. Somerby feels Jo's pain too. He hasn't attempted to write any more books since his last effort failed to find a publisher.

    ReplyDelete
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