Spoilers for Little Women abound in this post! Read ahead at your own risk!
Jo’s rebuttal of Laurie’s marriage proposal in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has upset generations of readers. The best of friends, the two seem meant for each other. Instead, Alcott weds Jo to a man twice her age and matches Laurie with Amy, as if being denied one sister meant he would just have to try another. (Amy, of course, gets Laurie’s money.) For many, the pairings are deeply unsatisfying. Personally, I never could accept Laurie and Amy, but I have always loved Jo and Professor Bhaer.
Alcott’s choice to wed Jo to a non-traditional hero was quite deliberate. In the late 1860s, she wrote to a friend, “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.” Her original plan was to leave Jo single–or wedded to her work, if you prefer. However, her publisher insisted that Little Women would not sell if Jo remained unmarried. The middle-aged Professor Bhaer is Alcott’s attempt to subvert traditional gender roles. If Jo must marry, it will be on her own terms–not to the young, handsome, and wealthy boy readers expect.
Although I can easily imagine an alternate world in which Jo does marry Laurie, I respect Alcott’s decision to subvert readers’ expectations. So often teenage characters fall in love and immediately find “The One.” But real life does not work that way. Real life is messy. Most individuals will probably date more than one person, before they find the one they marry. I like that Little Women reflects this, that Little Women says it is okay to fall in love, but also to fall in love again.
I also like that Alcott basically responded to her publisher’s (sexist) demands with her own wicked twist. She gave her publisher a marriage, but not necessarily a romantic one. Professor Bhaer disapproves of Jo’s sensationalist stories, which, for many readers, makes him instantly unlikable. (Personally, I choose to read his disapproval as true concern for someone he cares about.) Their romance proceeds, not smoothly, but with awkwardness and misunderstandings. It ends in the mud and in the rain, under an umbrella. Prince Charming Professor Bhaer is not–indeed he seems the very opposite of the smooth, polished Laurie, who woos Amy at balls and on foreign lakes. So Alcott gets the last laugh. There is a marriage, but probably not the one her publisher wanted.
The ending is, to me, however, profoundly romantic–and that is one of the key reasons I would never wish it changed. I love that Alcott took an “ordinary” woman whose only good feature is ostensibly her hair and an “ordinary” middle-aged man who seems a bit grumpy at times and gave them a love story. I love that she took two awkward people and threw them together in a bunch of awkward moments–and that could not change how they felt about each other. I love that they profess their love to each other messy and uncomfortable in the rain. They are nothing like a fairy tale couple. They are better, because they seem real. And so Little Women tells us love is possible for everyone, not just the charming or the young or the beautiful or the rich.
In light of Alcott’s views on her characters, the news that Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz will release a retelling of Little Women called Jo & Laurie in which Jo ends up with Laurie has not resonated well with all fans. The current Goodreads reviews show a number of readers upset that reimagining the ending of Little Women is an insult to Alcott’s feminist vision. For my own part, I agree that (obviously) Jo and Laurie marrying each other is not what Alcott wanted. It is, in fact, not what I want, either, so I probably will not read this new book.
However, I see no harm in fans of Little Women releasing an alternate version of the story. That is what fans do. They take a story and they make it their own. They try out different story lines and different endings. Alcott may not have wanted Jo and Laurie married, but plenty of fans throughout the years have disagreed with her. Releasing a retelling will not take away Little Women from us. Those of us who ship Jo and Professor Bhaer will still have Alcott’s vision to delight and move us.
15 thoughts on “Why I Wouldn’t Change the Ending of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women”
Oh my holly book, this post is amazing!! “So often teenage characters fall in love and immediately find “The One.” But real life does not work that way.” SO true, I’m quite tired of books that feature 15yos who “find their soulmates.”
I read somewhere that Alcott wanted Jo to end up being a “literary spinster, like her” and… I’m joining their club.
I think it would have been very cool if Jo had ended up a literary spinster! Initially, she seems very concerned with keeping her immediate family together. Though Alcott wrote Jo as eventually seeking love in other places, I could see if she were just very active as Aunt Jo.
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Both those endings are great, and much better than if the publisher had gotten his way. Most of Jo’s story (her growth and sacrifices, and the fact that she put her family first, like you said) would have been practically erased if she’d married an obvious choice and settled comfortably.
Yes! I love how Jo grows throughout the story!
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Hm seeing as how she’s one of my favorite characters I’d read this to see solely what they do with Amy. Are they going to punish her in this narrative for getting in the way of the original (for some people)? But to be honest I haven’t been a big fan of either authors past works so I don’t expect much.
Yeah, I haven’t read favorable reviews of the authors so I haven’t read their work so far.
I wonder if Amy’s really in this book. If she’s in Europe or pursuing an art career, she doesn’t need to interact with Laurie at all. Laurie only turns to her after Jo rejects him, so maybe that plot line is just gone? The summary says Laurie has a sophisticated college girlfriend, so it seems like they’re avoiding a Jo vs. Amy showdown.
To be honest I really liked Amy and Laurie but I utterly detested Jo getting married when she spent the entire novel saying she never saw it happening. Yes it might have been because the publisher insisted on it and Alcott May have tried to do it on her own terms but I hated it. It was rushed and badly written and I would have rather it never have been included. It was one of the things that ruined the second half of the book for me (Beth’s good Christian girl death was the other).
I could easily imagine the sequels with Jo being single! She would be a writer and the best aunt!
I was always a fan of the Jo & Professor Bhaer relationship. Despite their differences, they are a good match. I know many people cheered for her to marry Laurie but that just wouldn’t make sense to me,
I think Alcott could have written a convincing No and Laurie romance, but she didn’t do here we are! I like Professor Bhaer, though, and their unconventional courtship. But I think Laurie is still more interesting in the sequels when hanging out with Jo rather than Amy.
This was wonderfully written.
Jo turning down Laurie broke my heart but I wouldn’t change the ending. Not one bit. I accept that people can love each other deeply but not be each others forever.
I had no idea a reimagining was in the works. I don’t think I’ll bother reading it.
I didn’t know there was a retelling until I learned it was controversial. I know many fans who enter a Jo and Laurie romance so I was surprised! I won’t be reading it mainly because I know the two authors have had negative reviews for other works.
I’m probably one of the few people entirely happy with the way little women ended 😉 (I like Amy and Laurie!) I really like your point about how Alcott gave a twist on Jo’s marriage (I still really like that romance though, cos I felt like she could never have respected a man who was afraid to tell her what he really thought) I completely agree that they’re better because they feel so real!! And yeah, I think it’s fine if fans want to read a fanfic new ending, but I’ve no intention of reading it.
I want to like Amy and Laurie, but somehow they both seem so much more…boring together. But I’ve never liked Amy at all so maybe it’s hard for me to root for her in general.