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Free Study Guide: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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FREE NOTES FOR: LITTLE WOMEN BY LOUISA MAY ALCOTT

Chapter 33: Jo’s Journal

Summary

Jo writes a series of letters telling about her activities in New York. She makes friends with Mrs. Norton, a spinster lady who helps her get acquainted and frequently invites her to the family style evening meal in the large, apartment-like boarding house.

The most important person she meets is Professor Bhaer (later called Fritz) who tutors a number of children in German; he is homely and has some uncouth mannerisms, but Jo likes him for his good nature and his love for the children. She and Mrs. Kirke do a little sewing for him because they feel sorry for him when they see him darning his own socks. Mr. Bhaer insists on returning the favor by giving Jo lessons in German. After the first four lessons, however, Jo is hopeless confused by the grammar. At length, Mr. Bhaer tosses down the grammar book and teaches Jo by reading German fairy tales with her, a method which seems to suit her much better.

Jo finds her self taking an interest in other people and working with a will. She participates in a New Year’s Eve masquerade and has some of the snobbish young men deciding that she is an "actress." Professor Bhaer gives Jo an anthology of Shakespeare’s work for a Christmas present.

Notes


The narrator seems to be using a little more subtlety in this chapter. The professor in nearly 40 and thus would seem much too old for Jo. However, the romance for which this chapter prepares us is of the best kind. Jo and Mr. Bhaer become dear friends long before she thinks of him in any romantic way.


Chapter 34: Friend

Summary

Jo begins writing sensational stories for the Weekly Volcano. Mr. Dashwood, the editor, accepts the first story she gives him, but cuts out all the parts that Jo refers to as morals. She pretends to be submitting the stories for a friend who wants to remain unnamed, but Mr. Dashwood sees through it although he never confronts her. We are never given the details of any of her stories, but are told they come from the lower elements of society and are similar to other "sensation" rubbish of the time.

Jo’s exploration into this type of writing along with an evening at a Literary Society Club which Miss Norton belongs to, nearly dispossess Jo of many of her own values and traditional beliefs. She is excited about meeting some prominent literary personages, but those who attend the party drink too much, behave vulgarly, and debate a lot of nonsense. Several would-be philosophers get into a discussion on religion in which they proclaim intellect to be the only god. Their arguments seem logical until Professor Bhaer stands up and eloquently refutes them. He doesn’t actually defeat them, but he is so articulate and so convincing for Jo that things seem to fall back into their rightful places again.

A few days later, Jo is conscience stricken about the stories she is writing. Bhaer comes to her German lesson wearing a little hat which one of the children made from a sheet of one of the despised tabloid newspapers. After indulging in a laugh about the hat, the professor launches into a gentle lecture against such trashy papers. Although she doesn’t speak, Jo’s momentary expression of panic that the paper might be a copy of the Volcano gives her away. Professor Bhaer has been concerned for some time that she might be doing work she is ashamed to own. He doesn’t scold her directly, but shares his strong feelings of distaste for the tabloids. Jo later takes another look at her own stories and decides that each is more "sensational" than the one before, and that she doesn’t want her writing to sink to that. She devotes the rest of the school year to the boys and to her lessons with Mr. Bhaer and writes no more stories for the Volcano.

Notes

Jo realizes that her admiration for "prominent" writers is a little misplaced, and that other writers are just as human as she is. We are never told any details of the stories Jo was writing for the tabloid, but LMA may have had in mind a similar type of story which she wrote under a pseudonym. At any rate, her subsequent attention to the boys at the home helps develop her own later desire to operate a home for boys.


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