April 29, 2010

the writer and the professor

PBMG No. 10: Jo March and Professor Bhaer from Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women"

Title: Little Women
Author: Louisa May Alcott
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap, Inc., New York, N.Y.
Edition: 1947 (originally published in two parts in 1868 and 1869)

Set during the U.S. Civil War and shortly after, "Little Women" tells the story of four sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March — growing up and overcoming their flaws to find a place in their society. The girls face poverty, illness and judgement along the way.

The scoop on Jo and Fritz
Jo, the novel's protagonist, is the second oldest March girl. Described as a tomboy, she struggles to find a place in her 19th century world. She cannot attend college, like the neighbor boy Laurie, or go to war, like her father. Like many of her contemporaries, finding a rich husband seems to be the only course expected for her, but one she does not wish for herself.

Instead, Jo hopes to become a writer. Throughout "Little Women," she tries her hand at poetry, sensational short stories and a novel.

Professor Friederich Bhaer, also called Fritz, is an older well-educated, but poor German. The professor teaches language at the boarding house in New York City, where Jo works as a governess. The two develop a friendship and respect for one another during the winter they spend together.

Professor Bhaer also serves as the guardian for his two orphaned nephews. They are the reason he left his homeland, and who he struggles to support.

WARNING: The following text contains spoilers.

The meet cute
Jo first sees Professor Bhaer when she arrives in New York to be a governess for Mrs. Kirke at her boarding house. She writes of it to her mother and sister.

As I went downstairs, soon after, I saw something I liked. The flights were very long in this house, and as I stood waiting at the head of the third one for a little serventgirl to lumber up, I saw a gentleman come along behind her, take the heavy hod of coal out of her hand, carry it all the way up, put it down at a door near by, and walk away, saying, with a kind nod and a foreign accent:

'It goes better so. The little back is too young to haf such heaviness.'

Wasn't it good of him? I like such things, for, as father says, trifles show character.

From there, Jo goes on to spy on the professor as he teaches and cares for the young children at the boarding house. They meet at last one evening, when they are introduced. He readily offers to help her should she need it along the way.

Their paths naturally continue to cross, and Jo often mentions him in her letters home. She defends this by writing, "On reading over my letter it strikes me as rather Bhaery; but I am always interested in odd people, and I really had nothing else to write about." (441)

Hardly over-the-top romantic, but acceptable coming from a no-nonsense young woman.

Scene stealer
The best part of Jo and Professor Bhaer's love story comes toward the end of "Little Women," in the rain, under an umbrella.

The good professor has come at last to visit Jo and meet her family. Jo, whose sister Beth - her closest friend and confidante - recently passed away, welcomes her dear friend readily. Only, perhaps now she feels a little more nervous around him and finds herself blushing more.

We readers of course know how Professor Bhaer feels about Jo, but nothing has been said on his part.

On the evening before old Fritz will leave, he and Jo bump into each other in town at the market. Both feel awkward, and neither says anything much. Their encounter seems to be near a close, when Jo lets a tear slip, and the two confess their feelings.

The professor, we learn, came to Jo upon hearing of her sister's death. He saw one of her poems published in a newspaper, and although it was printed anonymously, he knew she was the author. He came to see her, and hoped to find she might love him, too.

Despite their lack of funds, Jo's stubborn desire to stay single and the professor's commitment to raising his nephews, the two decide to give it a try.

"Haf you patience to wait a long time, Jo? I must go away and do my work alone. I must help my boys first, because, even for you, I may not break my word to Minna. Can you forgif that, and be happy while we hope and wait?"

"Yes, I know I can; for we love one another, and that makes all the rest easy to bear."

Not too bad for a woman who didn't ever see herself settling down, right?

Why I love them
It's hard for me not to love two people who are so clearly awkward on their own, but who make sense when put together.

I must confess that like many of the novel's other readers, I did always like the idea of Jo ending up with her childhood friend Laurie. However, that would've likely been too neat of an end, and independent Jo needed someone more unique in her life.

Neither Jo or Professor Bhear could qualify as a heartthrob. Both are well-respected by those who know them, but are not sought after prizes. It's nice to see that even the awkward and seemingly hopeless can find love.

I also like what this couple goes on to do once married. They start a school to care for abandoned boys. Jo provides the love and care while the professor provides the education. Together, they make a great team, and one I dig.

Best lines
But after the boys were abed, he sat long before his fire, with the tired look on his face, and the heimweh, or homesickness lying on his heart. Once, when he remembered Jo, as she sat with the little child in her lap and that new softness in her face, he leaned his head on his hands a minute, and then roamed about the room, as if in search of something he could not find. (468)

She wondered what the business was that brought Mr. Bhaer to the city, and finally decided that he had been appointed to some great honor, somewhere, but had been too modest to mention the fact. If she had seen his face when, safe in his own room, he looked at the picture of a severe and rigid young lady, with a good deal of hair, who appeared to be gazing darkly into futurity, it might have thrown some light upon ght subject, especially when he turned off the gas, and kissed the picture in the dark. (594)

"Jo, I haf nothing but much love to gif you; I came to see if you could care for it, and I waited to be sure that I was something more than a friend. Am I? Can you make a little place in your heart for old Fritz?" (620)

And, three times a day, Jo smiled at her Fritz from the head of a long table lined on either side with rows of happy young faces, which all turned to her with affectionate eyes, confiding words, and grateful hearts, full of love for 'Mother Bhaer.' (635)

Coming up next...
The girl from the wrong side of the tracks and local royalty.

April 28, 2010

project boy meets girl

Most love stories have a basic formula. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back. And then they live happily ever after. Why? Because it works.
I think the late Kate Duffy, romance editorial guru, said it best: "These two crazy kids are going to work it out. Even if she's a human and he's a demon, those two kids are meant to be together."
No matter how many times I see this formula, it gets me. If the two characters are dynamic and likable, and I enjoy their adventure together, I eat it right up.
I spent the weekend organizing my book collection, and along the way, skimmed through some of my favorites. A lifelong fan of love stories, I thought it might be fun to take a close look at my 10 favorite literary couples.
As I count down my top 10, I will look at: • The hero and heroine (their good and bad qualities); • The meet cute; • Major obstacle(s); • Words that melt my heart; • The scene that steals the show; • And the overall effect.
I hope through this project, I will learn more about what works and doesn't work for me in main characters to tell a compelling story. I can apply it in my own writing adventures and use it as motivation. At the very least, it will be fun spending some time with old friends while I review their stories.
UPDATE — Here's the complete list: 10. Jo March and Professor Baher of Lousia May Alcott's Little Women 9. Bella Swan and Edward Cullen of Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series 8. Annie Laurence and Max Darling of Carolyn G. Hart's "Death on Demand" series 7. Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley of Jane Austen's Emma 6. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre 5. Anne Elliot and Capt. Wentworth of Jane Austen's Persuasion 4. Becky Bloomwood and Luke Brandon of Sophie Kinsella's "Shopaholic" series 3. Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe of the L.M. Montgomery's "Anne of Green Gables" series 2. Elizabeth Bennett/ Bridget Jones and Mr. Darcy/ Mark Darcy of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and the Bridget Jones series 1. Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" series

April 27, 2010

my collection

As mentioned in my previous post, I reorganized my bookshelves (only to discover I need more — they won't all fit). Over lunch, today, I decided to do a quick inventory. Mind you, I did this quickly, and could be off plus or minus a few.

Here's the summary of the books currently on hand in the "Laura Chapman Collection":
• 301 fiction (adult and young adult)
• 60 non-fiction/ anthologies (I cheated in counting these. This includes non-fiction books, such as biographies, plus volumes of short stories, reference books, etc.)
• Seven cookbooks
• Three stylebooks (AP, APA and MLA)
• Three Bibles (New King James, New Revised Standard and New International)
• Three bound newspaper volumes
• One baby naming book (it's a resource)
• One dictionary
• One bartender's mixed drink guide
• One music book

That comes to 381 total, if my math is correct.

Interesting. I probably have that many more on my list of books I would like to own.

I don't know for sure what this says about me — especially considering the fact that I donated about 50 books to libraries and charitable organizations in the past couple of years.

Now, what would really be interesting is how many of these books I've read once, more than once or never. That would be the real scoop.

April 26, 2010

meeting old friends

I continue to find excuses not to blog — or work on my book. Between a hectic travel schedule, heavy workload and recent visit from my parents, it's been far too easy not to write.

I've got to get myself focused. So, I decided to start with something easy — reorganizing my book colleciton.

I moved and organized my bookshelves this weekend with a little help from Jane and Bingley (see photos).

I had the chance to skim through some of my favorite books. I love doing this, and don't get to as often as I'd like. For me, skimming or re-reading a book feels like spending time with old friends.

It got me thinking about what makes these books my favorite. It also inspired me to start a project...