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Little Women

January 6, 2020

Greta Gerwig’s new movie version of Little Women has changed my mind about wanting a literary detective to go into the book and change the ending, in which Jo marries Mr. Bhaer, who lectures to her as she writes and has babies.

The way the timeline of the movie switches back and forth helped me change my mind, as it shows us a young Frederick Bhaer (he has a first name!) before we even see Laurie.

What I liked best is that the movie gives me the sense that Jo and Mr. Bhaer are equals. He gives her an honest reaction to some of her stories, rather than the automatic flattery she is used to from the people she has grown up with. She gives him a stiff good-day-sir but obviously keeps thinking about what he said (and what author wouldn’t?)

Jo’s attempt to discourage Laurie from proposing shows that this isn’t the first time it’s come up between them, and that she has never thought of him that way. In my other times through reading the book and watching other movie versions, I didn’t see their relationship as a one-sided romance. It always seemed to me that what she was rejecting was the idea of marriage itself, which is part of why it is so disappointing when she subsequently marries someone else, especially someone who acts paternally towards her.

At the end of Gerwig’s movie, the romantic “umbrella scene” between Jo and Frederick is so well done–we get the joy of a romantic comedy ending, but undercut by the juxtaposition of scenes showing Jo’s negotiations with a publisher who wants the heroine married at the end of her book.

Jo never does get married or have babies in this movie, at least explicitly, on stage. It’s a great ending because the viewer can decide.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. January 6, 2020 1:49 pm

    I was not going to see the movie because I have never been attached to the book and don’t need to see a movie with getting married as a happy ending. But now I am intrigued and will probably see it sometime.

    • January 6, 2020 1:54 pm

      Good! Then my work here is done.
      (Also this is something of an “I was wrong” postscript to my 2008 post.)

  2. January 6, 2020 6:49 pm

    I love the book and hope to see the movie soon. A friend and I have talked about seeing it but she recently had a grandbaby and that’s been keeping her busy.

    • January 6, 2020 7:32 pm

      I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the previous movies–I liked the Winona Ryder one when it came out–but this is definitely the best one I’ve seen.

  3. January 6, 2020 10:05 pm

    The movie fixes the book?

    I don’t get the sense from your review, nor did I from the book when I read it originally, that this ending was there from the beginning. Did I miss a developing relationship between Jo and Mr. Bhaer, who, if I remember correctly, was significantly older than Jo? Wasn’t it DR. Bhaer?

    It’s been a while – I was probably a teen when I read the Alcott books – but I remember being disappointed by the ending of the book.

    And thinking she should have married Laurie, and that probably it was unsuitable due to differences in their financial circumstances, and wondering whether Laurie’s family stood in their way.

    I also wondered whether publishers wouldn’t publish Jo because she was female.

    As I said, it was decades ago.


    • January 7, 2020 8:43 am

      Yes, the movie fixes the book!
      Mr. Bhaer is sometimes called the Professor. In the book he is significantly older than Jo (and also described as portly and not very attractive).
      I think that the potential for this ending is there from the beginning, though, if you see things as a writer like Jo might have in her day and age.

      • January 12, 2020 4:09 pm

        Optimist! I’m remembering the ‘older, portly, and not attractive’ part. Alcott COULD have written that Jo found him intellectually challenging, or her equal – but said no such thing.

        With the law of averages, women marrying older men often spend many years as widows, as men don’t live as long in general. It is far better for older women to marry men around seven years younger! šŸ™‚

  4. January 7, 2020 1:38 am

    This sound so good! I hope I can access it somehow, before too long.

    • January 7, 2020 8:45 am

      I hope so too. I guess you have to wait for movies that are in theaters here until they come out on DVD or streaming services.

      • January 7, 2020 11:58 am

        It may come to theatres but would probably be dubbed. To view it in French or German would be too weird.

  5. January 8, 2020 5:09 pm

    I’m one of those oddballs who didn’t particularly object to the book’s ending. I liked that Bhaer took Jo’s writing seriously and pushed her to improve. With him, it seemed like she could be her best self. But I completely understand why others didn’t like the ending! If I’d first read the book at a different time in my life, I might have been more annoyed by it. (Although I still don’t think Laurie and Jo would have made sense as a couple for me.)

    With the movie, I couldn’t quite decide if Gerwig brilliantly split the difference between two possibilities or was cheating and trying to have her cake and eat it, too. In the end, I think I don’t care because both possibilities end up looking appealing. And the changed timeline made it much more natural to root for Amy and Laurie to get together.

    • January 8, 2020 5:17 pm

      When I read the book, I didn’t think Prof Bhaer took Jo’s writing seriously; I thought he took it over and tried to make her writing what he wanted it to be–what he thought good writing was.
      I think the widely varying responses to Little Women (the novel) is one of the best arguments for reader-response criticism. Everyone is right to react as they do, but the trick is explaining why to other people, so it seems less idiosyncratic.

  6. January 9, 2020 1:05 pm

    I. Loved. This. Movie. It just floored me – the cast, the directing, the adaptation of the text, oh my goodness… I’ve already decided I’m buying it when it comes out on dvd!

    And Mr. Baehr was a hottie!

    • January 9, 2020 2:06 pm

      Of course the novel describes Mr. Bhaer as old and portly, but I think maybe that was just to emphasize that Jo wasn’t infatuated with him. This movie makes that point in a different way. I saw it a second time in the theater, and really enjoyed the way her family informs Jo “you’re in love with him.” She lets herself be rushed along, but never agrees.


  1. 25+ more Little Women Reviewsā€‹ā€‹ā€‹ā€‹ā€‹ā€‹ā€‹ – Hey, Men Like This Film, Too – Movies, Movies, Movies

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