THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S LONGINGS: Reinventing Professor Bhaer...


...while fixing Little Women:
Does Jo March marry Professor Bhaer at the end of Little Women?

If we're speaking about Louisa May Alcott's famous novel, then yes, she plainly does. You can confirm this fact in the Project Gutenberg text, which appears online, free of charge.

Because it was published so long ago, Little Women is now in the public domain. Anyone can publish the book, or borrow its name, or change its events all around.

That said, in the actual book which Alcott published, Jo March does marry Bhaer. It happens in the book's final chapter—and the lovebirds are even said to have two children before the chapter ends!

Briefly, let's take a look at the record concerning these fictional facts.

In the penultimate chapter (Chapter 46), the aforementioned fictional persons do agree to marry. According to Alcott's narrator, the fictional Jo, newly engaged, "was very far gone indeed, and quite regardless of everything but her own happiness."

The professor was said to be happy as well. The moment when he and Jo agreed to marry "was the crowning moment of both their lives." Or so Alcott fictitiously wrote.

In the book's final chapter (Chapter 47), an engagement of several years takes place. Eventually, Aunt March dies and leaves her Plumfield, her sprawling estate, to Jo. Jo decides to turn into "a school for little lads."

Things move rather quickly from there. The book's fictional values seem clear:
ALCOTT (Chapter 47): It was a very astonishing year altogether, for things seemed to happen in an unusually rapid and delightful manner. Almost before she knew where she was, Jo found herself married and settled at Plumfield. Then a family of six or seven boys sprung up like mushrooms, and flourished surprisingly, poor boys as well as rich, for Mr. Laurence was continually finding some touching case of destitution, and begging the Bhaers to take pity on the child, and he would gladly pay a trifle for its support. In this way, the sly old gentleman got round proud Jo, and furnished her with the style of boy in which she most delighted.

Of course it was uphill work at first, and Jo made queer mistakes, but the wise Professor steered her safely into calmer waters...
Thank God for Professor Bhaer! Or so Alcott had it, for better or for worse.

That's the way things actually went in the actual fiction. Alcott notes that Jo did no more writing at this point, although she'd already written a novel, receiving payment of $300, facts which had been conveyed to readers way back in Chapter 27.

Jo does no more writing? For better or worse, for whatever reason, that's what Alcott devised at the end of her book.

Two books later, in Jo's Boys (see chapter 3), we learn that things have changed. Jo, now a mature women, has returned to writing and has published a highly successful novel based upon her own life.

"A book for girls being wanted by a certain publisher, she hastily scribbled a little story describing a few scenes and adventures in the lives of herself and sisters," Alcott fictitiously writes. "The fame she never did quite accept...The fortune she could not doubt, and gratefully received; though it was not half so large a one as a generous world reported it to be."

Quite a few years later, Mrs. Bhaer has returned to writing, but nothing of this kind occurs at the end of Little Women. The successful book about her own life is published many years later—and, as Professor Matteson notes, "the Professor not only tolerates Jo's writing, but creates conditions under which it can flourish."

(We'll hear more from Matteson before our week is done.)

The book Little Women ends with a marriage and with the creation of a school. For better or worse, and for whatever reason or reasons, those are the fictitious events which occur in the actual book.

Also for better or worse, those events suggest the values, however dull or disappointing, which the actual book seems to endorse.

That said, the book is now in the public domain. Anyone who wants to change it around can do so without the kind of legal fight which descended on Aaron Sorkin's head when he decided to transform To Kill A Mockingbird, based in large part on some crazy ideas.

The book Little Women ends with a marriage and also with a school—but for better or worse, Greta Gerwig seems to have had a better, or at least a different, idea. When Jessica Bennett discussed Gerwig's Oscar-nominated yet Oscar-snubbed film in the New York Times, she quoted Amy Pascal, one of the film's producers, telling a tale out of school:
BENNETT (1/2/20): “One of the first things Greta said to me was, ‘You know we can’t actually have her marry Professor Bhaer,’ ” said Pascal.
Say what? We can't have her marry the professor? Why the Sam Hill not?

We'll answer your understandable question as the week proceeds. But this resolution apparently led to the ending, or the meta-ending, of Gerwig's film, in which some viewers think the pair of lovebirds get married and some folk feel sure that they don't.

Whichever! In the hands of Gerwig's many admirers, the ending to her film presents an analytical challenge which matches that confronting Mayor Pete when he decided to tackle Finnegan's Wake in the original middle Norwegian.

At Slate, two observers argued over whether a marriage does or doesn't take place. Warning though:

If you decide to click this link, you may end up feeling Schwedeled!

Did Gerwig really make that statement to Pascal? We have no way of knowing! But Gerwig's improvements on Alcott's book help us ponder the longings of the rational animal at this dangerous point in time.

Gerwig is hardly alone in her desire for change. In his Broadway adaptation, Sorkin improved To Kill A Mockingbird in endless ways, based in part on the crazy idea that Harper Lee's famous book actually ends with a murder.

Some tribal changes are brought to old texts; some contemporary changes are being brought to mere facts. Out in Tinseltown, Tarantino has dreamed a better world in which the Tate-LaBianca murders funnily didn't take place. We refer to his current Oscar-nominated film, an apparent Dumb and Dumber prequel and in that sense an homage.

Why should we tether ourselves to mere facts when we can let ourselves dream? In another Oscar-nominated film, Martin Scorsese built a very long drama about a character named "Jimmy Hoffa" out of a book everyone knows to be bogus.

Along the same lines, we recently watched The Imitation Game, an Oscar-nominated film, for the first time. Though the film was supposed to be "based on" real events, it seems the film was larded with factual readjustments.

Judged as a drama, we can say this—it had all the verisimilitude of a film in which Homer Price saves the western world thanks to his doughnut machine. It got very dumb as it went along, but nobody noticed or cared.

As Donald Trump destroys the known world, the rational animal almost seems to be lost in a type of longing. We seem to be living in Michael Moore's fictitious world, rather than a world anchored in facts and in texts.

Let's be clear! There's nothing "wrong" with what Gerwig has done, unless you think there is. There is something wrong with the silly dreams we liberals keep dreaming as Donald Trump takes down the world. Also, with our inability to come to terms with even the simplest current facts.

Gerwig changes Professor Bhaer. She also reinvents Marmee.

She changes the way the story ends, with other pleasing flips. She does retain the various characters' famous names, and she keeps the famous book's title.

As with Sorkin, so too here. Whatever else a person might think, this is surely a sound business practice. But as the wealth and fame roll in, is our society going down in the face of our childish longings?

Gerwig's fans know what to say about the various changes Gerwig has made to the famous book. They also know what to say about Gerwig's Oscar snubs, which have resulted from sexism, as with just about everything else.

Nietzche wrote about the dreamer who just wanted to go on dreaming. As we'll be noting all this week, we're currently surrounded by dreams, some of which may even be silly, Over Here in our liberal tents as our world goes down.

Tomorrow: Longings, dreams, tribal scripts


  1. 'Over Here in our liberal tents as our world goes down.'

    You mean your Trumptard tents, with your idols DJT, Roy Moore, Ron Johnson, Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan ?

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  2. "As Donald Trump destroys the known world..."

    And thank god for it. Let's hope that the long 3-year agony of your orwellian liberal-zombie "world" ends soon, and it finally disappears from our memory like an unpleasant dream.

    1. I see Mark survived another weekend.

  3. Imagine more and more black Americans getting jobs, becoming self-sufficient, and not dependent on the government! That's taking down the world as we know it, from the POV of many Democrats. OMG, self sufficient blacks might vote for Republicans!

    1. Now imagine rural white Trump voters getting off the dole and opioids without whining that the government is ignoring them.

  4. Alcott marrying off Jo was itself a sop to the public, as explained in the Times story:

    “She [Alcott] hadn’t initially wanted to write a book for girls, but when the publisher asked, she obliged, basing it on her own life. Though she remained single — it was simply not realistic to want to be a writer and a wife and a mother at the time — she married off her literary heroine because her publisher and readers demanded it. As Alcott wrote in a letter to a friend: “Jo should have remained a literary spinster but so many enthusiastic young ladies wrote to me clamorously demanding that she should marry Laurie, or somebody, that I didn’t dare refuse & out of perversity went & made a funny match for her.” (That funny match was Professor Bhaer.)”

    Apparently, the public wants what it wants, and gets it, even in 1868. Alcott, herself a staunch feminist who never married, based Jo on herself. It’s not likely she would object to Gerwig’s change, especially since Gerwig knew the details of Alcott’s life quite well.

  5. Let's elect another man for starters.

  6. “They also know what to say about Gerwig's Oscar snubs, which have resulted from sexism, as with just about everything else.”

    As opposed to Somerby, who knows that almost nothing results from sexism.

  7. “We seem to be living in Michael Moore's fictitious world, rather than a world anchored in facts and in texts.”

    (Texts, it might be added, like To Kill A Mockingbird and Little Women, which are fictional to begin with.)

    But of course that isn’t Somerby’s actual objection. He savagely attacked The Shape of Water a couple of years ago, a film with an original screenplay by the director not based on any fact or pre-existing text.

    Somerby’s actual objection is to liberal artists putting liberal viewpoints in their creative works. He doesn’t seem to concede that a creative work with an ideological point can also be esthetically worthwhile. (And that goes for conservative artists as well as liberal).

    This is illustrated by his political objections to “tribal scripts”, rather than an evaluation of the artistic merit of the works in question. He hasn’t even seen Sorkin’s To Kill A Mockingbird, for example.

    1. 'Somerby’s actual objection is to liberal artists'

      Actually, TDH's objection is to liberals, since TDH is a Trumptard.

    2. The Shape of Water was so bad.

    3. Feminists have been arguing that it is a bad thing to have a husband ever since the first days of the Suffragist movement in the USA.

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