In the minority about Little Women ending

Had I not read that Jo marries Laurie in an upcoming Little Women spinoff, I may not have admitted that I’m one of the readers who want that ending.

Ours isn’t the enlightened position today. In author Louisa May Alcott’s day, it was the majority wish. Now, you can find plenty of online comments that Jo, the tomboyish aspiring writer, made the right call in turning down a proposal from the charming neighbor who had been her best friend since early adolescence.

Alcott intended Jo to remain a “literary spinster” like herself. After she published part 1 of Little Women in 1868, she noted in her journal, “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only end and aim of a woman’s life. I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please any one.”

If you’ve seen the current movie adaptation, know that the scene where the publisher insists on the March sisters acquiring husbands is based on fact. Alcott wrote a friend that she came up with a solution “out of perversity”: the “funny match” of Jo and the much older, physically unattractive but intellectual Professor Bhaer in part 2. In most of the movie adaptations Bhaer is younger, more attractive, and less moralizing than in Alcott’s novel, making Jo’s marriage easier to accept.

I would have preferred marriage to no one if it couldn’t be Laurie — and with the current movie’s ambiguous ending, writer/director Greta Gerwig leaves open the possibility that Jo did not marry. You don’t know whether the love scene really happened or you’re watching an ending Jo wrote for her book.

But why couldn’t Jo marry Laurie? They are kindred spirits. They share secrets, devise rebellious schemes together, make each other laugh, and have each other’s backs. Jo understands Laurie and manages him. He stirs her emotions — like gaiety and anger — more than Bhaer is likely to. I can’t swallow Jo’s reasons for turning down Laurie’s marriage proposal — that they were too alike, they argue too much, she didn’t love him as a wife should. (That last reason persuades me only if Jo, as some people have suggested lately, was a lesbian. Since Alcott reportedly said that she was never the least bit in love with a man, maybe she projected her inexperience onto her surrogate Jo.)

Two middle-aged women commented on a website that rooting for Laurie was a mark of their teen years; from the perspective of the long married, they find Laurie a bad choice. He would have expected Jo to be a socialite — a role that Jo’s sister Amy, whom Laurie eventually marries, was happy to fill. In the long run Bhaer will be more supportive of Jo’s writing and independence.

From Laurie my thoughts turn to love for Jane Austen’s novels. I always say that I like Austen’s unique style, her wit, her understanding of human nature — oh, and her happy endings. But are the happy endings really the main draw? Honest readers will admit that not all the people Austen pairs off seem right for one another. Yet I feel exhilarated after finishing an Austen novel, not doubtful about anyone’s future happiness. Maybe I’m fooling myself that I’m not a stars-in-the-eyes romantic.

From Laurie and Jane Austen my thoughts turn to wondering how this seeming sentimentality would play out in real life. Considering an unlikely scenario, if Mr. Charming-but-Wrong were to come into my life, would I make another mistake? Or if a sober Professor Bhaer, would I be able to see beyond his dullness to his good qualities?

Impossible to answer in the abstract. I go back to wondering whether I’m the only woman who considers herself a feminist who still wants Jo to marry Laurie. I find a website announcing that authors Melissa de la Cruz and Margaret Stohl have cowritten a novel, Jo & Laurie, that is set to be published in June. Penguin Random House promotes the book as “righting the wrongs of fictional history” by bringing us “the story generations of Little Women fans have always wanted – a romance starring Jo March and her best friend Laurie.”

“Almost everyone who reads the original book struggles with the same question we had — why would Jo refuse Laurie? . . . If, like us, you’ve ever been frustrated that Jo and Laurie don’t end up together in the original, this is the book for you,” Stohl says.

A book I want to read, I think. Then I notice that it is a young adult novel. Maybe the middle-aged married woman who was mentioned above is right: A Jo-Laurie romance is a teenager’s fantasy, not a mature woman’s idea of a union likely to succeed.



“From the eruption of the Ukraine controversy in September to the Senate trial that official began on Thursday, relentless deceit has seemed to be Trump’s primary defense strategy in the court of public opinion.”
— Daniel Dale, CNN


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  • Maybe I just read the book too early; it was one of my mother's favorites. (I had three aunts.) I don't remember the romances mattering all that much in the story.

  • From what I understand about Louisa May Alcott, she'd probably be pleased to hear you say that. If what you remember are Jo's writing ambition and the relationships within the March family, those are certainly important.

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