Headscratchers / Little Women

Laurie and Amy falling in love

Ok, this is not exactly a question but it's still something that makes me scratch my head. I don't understand how Laurie can fall in love with Amy. I know that out-of-universe, it's just a way of making Laurie a part of the March family without having him marry Jo, but in-universe Laurie and Amy were like brother and sister. So it's not the "marrying your unrequited love's sister" part that I have a problem with. But when you look at Laurie's interactions with Amy during the first book, you see that he acts like a saucy older brother and Amy like his spoiled little sister. It's strange to me that one can fall in love with somebody that they saw as a little sister up to that point. I have some childhood-friends-going-adopted-brothers who are near my age, but I could never think of them as anything but brothers. I know the age difference between Amy and Laurie is only three or four years, but their love and marriage would seem more normal to me if Laurie was ten years older yet they simply hadn't had much interaction when Amy was a kid.
  • In and of itself, I don't see any obstacle to the love between 2 people growing up Like Brother and Sister but who aren't actually related by blood turning into romantic love later. Does it always turn into romantic love? Of course not, but I'm simply of the camp who doesn't find that a turn-off - to each their own. However, you're right that it makes no sense in this case because the argument given for why Jo and Laurie can't get together is because: they are actually Like Brother and Sister. Jo sees Laurie as a brother, therefore it's impossible for her to love him romantically; at the same time, Amy and Laurie love each other Like Brother and Sister, which blossoms into romantic love. You can't use these 2 contradictory theories in the same Love Triangle.
    • The reason Jo and Laurie can't get together isn't because they're Like Brother and Sister, it's because they are too much alike. They both have hot tempers, and hold grudges. Jo's afraid that if they get married, and have to live together, they'll kill each other.
    • Keep in mind that Laurie hadn't seen Amy in a long time; she'd been in Europe for a year or two, long enough that the idea of her being a woman and not a little girl was a new concept to him. She'd changed a lot and this drew a starker contrast. And that the given reason for Jo not falling in love with Laurie is that they're too similar in personality, not that they she sees him as a brother. They're both too snarky, tempestuous, and argumentative, and while that's okay for people who are just really close friends, it wouldn't make for a harmonious marriage. Amy is strong-willed, stubborn, and unafraid of telling Laurie if she thinks he's out of line, but she's also more refined and polished than Jo. Both Laurie and Jo are all sharp tongues and sharp edges, and they would clash a lot if they were married and living together— and this is a time period where divorce was not unheard of, but still carried a heavy negative social stigma. Amy doesn't clash with Laurie; she stands up to him, but she does it in such a way that doesn't always put him on the defensive. She's more level-headed than Jo and that invites Laurie to be reflective and listen to her, not just keep arguing and make up later once they've both cooled off. Laurie fell in love with Amy for her personality.
  • Hey there, OP here. I understand why grown up Amy's personality would be attractive to Laurie, if they hadn't been as close as they were when she was a child, but I don't agree that Laurie's relationships to Jo and Amy were in any way similar. They were very different from the beginning. Jo and Laurie were the same age and already in their mid-teens when they met, so they were always more like buddies rather than brother and sister, and most of their interactions contained some playful flirtation (usually initiated by Laurie and received somewhat ambiguously by Jo). Whereas Amy, being the youngest, was universally seen and treated as a mere child. I simply couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that one could fall in love with someone they viewed as a child and not as their peer. In my opinion, the perception of that other person being like a little sibling wouldn't change however attractive they became later on, as it doesn't change for cousins and other family members. But perhaps it's just that the Westermarck effect is particularly strong with me.
    • Two years not seeing each other at all. When Amy left, Laurie saw her as a little girl, when they see each other again, she's all grown up. Isn't there a trope about that?
    • Yes there is, and what I'm suggesting is, two years apart after spending half your childhood in a relationship akin to being brother and sister shouldn't be the foundation for a She's All Grown Up plot.

Just what does Laurie do to offend Amy so badly in this passage in "New Impressions"?
"With the first burst of the band, Amy's color rose, her eyes began to sparkle, and her feet to tap the floor impatiently, for she danced well and wanted Laurie to know it. Therefore the shock she received can better be imagined than described, when he said in a perfectly tranquil tone, 'Do you care to dance?'
'One usually does at a ball.'
Her amazed look and quick answer caused Laurie to repair his error as fast as possible.
'I meant the first dance. May I have the honor?' "

She wants her escort to see her dance, but when he flatteringly asks her to dance, she becomes so offended that they spend the rest of the evening playing silent mind games with each other. What terrible nineteenth-century breach of etiquette did Laurie just commit there? Implying that Amy wasn't good enough to get another partner or already have the Count lined up, as she next informs him? Not using the self-effacing phrase "May I have the honor?" Maybe it's due to Time Dissonance or Values Dissonance, but I really don't understand why Laurie asking her to dance shocked her and offended her.
  • I think Amy is being sarcastic because he asks if she wants to dance at a ball. The way he asks implies he didn't think of it as "hey, let's dance" but more as "huh, I wonder if you want to dance." I'm not sure if I'm saying it right, but that's what I got out of the exchange. Also, I think the mind games were meant for Laurie because he didn't really pay any attention to Amy when they first arrived, despite being her escort and thus lackey. From what I know, being an escort in that day and age meant you were at the beck and call of your lady, and Laurie doesn't seem to even notice Amy is there at first.
  • I know she was being sarcastic; I'm just wondering why she was "shocked" that he asked her to dance. This exchange is what initially sets her off, not his inattentiveness later in the evening, which corresponds with Amy dancing with the Count and others as if to show him what he's missing. This apparently shocking offense occurs as they walk into the ballroom, before their arms have a chance to unloop. Asking your lady to dance with you would be the opposite of inattentive, right?
    • The problem seems to be that he didn't ask her in (she felt) the proper manner, but instead asked, as the above troper says, nonchalantly and in a way that suggests he isn't really all that interested in dancing with her personally. She's doing her best to indicate that she wants to dance, and he asks as though he doesn't notice - or, worse, has noticed but doesn't care all that much. So it's partly finicky nineteenth-century etiquette, but it's mostly the combination of Laurie being kind of insensitive and Amy being immature and oversensitive about it.
      • Both characters are behaving badly here. Amy, whose vanity is a running problem in the novel, wants to show off. But because Laurie brought Amy to the ball, he must request the first dance. From a nineteenth-century POV, Amy's shock makes complete sense: Laurie is blithely disregarding a basic rule of nineteenth-century ballroom etiquette. (See the Library of Congress for a huge selection of digitized dance and ballroom etiquette manuals.)
  • Amy's shock could also be because Laurie is acting out of character - the 'old' Laurie she knew would not put on languid fine-gentlemen airs, and would probably be as eager to dance as Amy was.
    • Indeed this seems to be as above. Amy knows Laurie and he's acting like she's not interesting and that it's not good to see her.

Just what does Beth die of?
She had Scarlet Fever, but she got over that. It's said that Beth is "weakened" and frail after her illness, but people don't just die for no reason. Did she have cancer? Did she have a bad heart? Did the fever cause her immune system to fail? What exactly did her in?
  • In those days, it didn't really matter what finally did it. So they felt no need to be specific.
  • Yeah, classic literature is full to bursting of people (usually women/girls) dying slowly of nonspecific sicknesses whose only identified symptoms are a fever and the Incurable Cough of Death.
  • We still don't know what really killed real people in the 19th century (Alcott, Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe...). Less medical knowledge back then means less certainty (and for the people in that time, less expectance of certainty).
  • The scarlet fever weakened her entire body forever after; she lost the will to live when everyone else started moving on with their lives and left her alone.
  • You know that book Jo was writing?
  • Scarlet Fever has many horrible side effects if not treated with modern medicine. For one it could weaken the heart and even open her up to secondary infections. This isn't even mentioning the harm maintaining a very high fever for several days can do to the brain. It could even be a culmination of all the childhood diseases that one went through back then. To get to the age of 20 she would have had to have had the measles, mumps, whooping cough, chicken pox, several colds all in the time that colds could kill, and the small pox vaccine when it made one have a minor bout of small pox. Plus, it was stated in the beginning that she was never very strong to begin with.
  • So it seems the most accurate answer to the question is "From a little bit of everything — literally."
  • The "real" Beth died a bit more quickly, but like Beth in the book, it was a lingering illness (though she was substanially less a Purity Sue in the process—like with the rest of her family Alcott did a lot of whitewashing there) as a result of never quite recovering from Scarlet Fever. The most likely culprit would be secondary infections of weakened systems (cardiac or pulmonary would be especially nasty.) But another possibility is the medicine itself. LMA herself is now considered to have probably died as a result of long-term complications of mercury poisoning. The mercury was part of the medicine she was given when she contracted typhoid as a Civil War nurse. Medicines commonly contained calomel (mercury), lead, and other poisons that we now know could kill you quickly or kill you lingeringly just as easily as the original disease.
    • LMA believed she was ill from mercury poisoning, but modern theories include that she had lupus.
  • Victorian Novel Disease, of course.

Was there really only one class of Little Men?
  • Jo's Boys seems to indicate that there was only ever the one class of fourteen boys and two girls; namely Nat, Dan, John/Demi, Tommy, Rob, Teddy, Emil, Franz, Ned, Jack, George/Stuffy, Dick, Billy, Adolphus/Dolly, Daisy, and Nan. Why? Jo indicates that she'd love to have all the boys in the world stay at Plumfield, but money and space constraints exist. My rough calculations indicate that every year there should be a turnover of two boys (growing too old, moving away, etc.) The ten years between Little Men and Jo's Boys would thus allow for a total Plumfield alumni population of at least thirty, if not forty.
    • Jo refers to them in Jo's Boys as her "original set." Maybe there were more boys after this first "set," and Jo, her family, and the staff at Lawrence College are helping and guiding them before, during, and/or after the events we see in Jo's Boys, but the author doesn't show them to us because, theoretically, we wouldn't be interested because we never met them.
    • Do we get an exact date for when Lawrence College opened? While there's 10 years between the two books, Mr Lawrence probably died soon after Little Men (he was mentioned being sick and elderly at that point) and the college would have been established soon after that. And Jo and Bhaer seemed to stop taking in boys to help teach and run the college. So it's possible the college started being planned/built/established only a couple of years after Little Men, they focused on that rather than taking on new boys. Especially as Jo implied they'd reached their limit with 12 - even if a few of the older boys finished, they might have kept on with a slightly smaller number.

Aunt March calling Mr March, her nephew, "March".

  • Aunt March's late husband is known as Uncle March, so Aunt March is another Mrs March (besides Marmee). Why refer to her nephew as "March", rather than his first name?
    • Because that's how honorifics worked, back then. Especially of women it was expected they always address those around them (unless they were close female friends) the proper way. In Wuthering Heights, housekeeper Nellie even calls Heathcliff, who is more or less her foster son, "Mr Heathcliff" when he comes back as a Self-Made Man.
    • Propriety. Calling him by his given name would be too informal, but calling him "Mr. March" would be too formal, or possibly show him more respect than she intends. Remember, Aunt March has a soft spot for Mr. March and his daughters, but she spends a loooot of time pretending not to. The parents in Pride and Prejudice always address each other as "Mr. Bennet" and "Mrs. Bennet."

Meg's Problem with Nat

  • In 'Jo's Boys' what exactly is Meg's problem with Nat? She's utterly opposed to him marrying Daisy, while the rest of the family thinks he's a perfectly good guy. (They agree it would be wise to wait a while, but otherwise imply Nat and Daisy would be very happy together). Meg is fine with Demi (who is the same age as Daisy) proposing to Alice, so what's this dislike of Nat? Dan and Bess were justifiably a no-go because she didn't love him and he was a wanderer, with no real skill and committed accidental murder, but Nat's case is nothing like that! He's a hard-working, kind-hearted guy whose been raised by Meg's sister and is practically part of the family. Yes, he has his faults but name a character who doesn't. If it's that he used to be a homeless orphan - which Meg mentions - that seems harsh and out of line with the March's usually charitable views. (And does no one remind her that she chose to marry a poor man instead of a rich one - and her parents supported that.) Yet she makes Daisy horribly unhappy because she can't marry the man she loves, right until the end. Why?
    • As you say, it's made very explicit in the book: Nat may well be a great guy, but his background means he's also a totally unknown quantity—not only in terms of social standing but character. In the time and place at which these books were set, class distinctions were very real, and based around a complex moral doublethink that's nearly inconceivable today. The Marches are an old and prominent family, hence of reliably 'good breeding' (yes, very much along the same lines as a pedigreed animal). These families thus felt an obligation to help the less fortunate... at the same time assuming that the less fortunate must also be less morally/intellectually/spiritually reliable. Even decent-seeming offshoots like Nat could have some sort of hereditary weakness; you just never knew. Hence it's understood even by sympathetic, unconventional 'Aunt Jo' that Nat will be thoroughly tried and tested before he can conquer the exalted heights. See also Alcott's later Rose in Bloom, in which this entire scenario plays out much more explicitly when Rose's cousin Archie falls in love with her maid, the former poorhouse orphan Phebe. Though Phebe is a paragon of beauty and goodness to the point of Sue-ness, the 'old family name' must be kept pure at all costs, and she must similarly 'earn her welcome'.
    • Meg is a bit of an overprotective mother. Remember, she's also totally against Josie's acting and Demi's newspaper beat. The common thread here — Josie's acting, Demi's journalism, and Nat's music — is that all of these jobs are just as much luck-based as performance-based. Being good isn't always good enough. Meg wants honorable stability and prosperity for her babies, but she'll settle for the former if she can't get the latter. In the case of Josie's acting, she admits to Demi it's entirely hypocritical, as she loves acting and very likely brought it upon herself because she often played with her kids by teaching them skits.