Friday, May 15, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Jo's Journal (Ch. 33)

This is one of my favorite chapters.  And a long one, too!  I love how you can see Jo's affection for Professor Bhaer even though she hasn't really realized the extent of it yet -- such good writing, subtle but clear.  

And my goodness, he's "almost 40," and she's only what, 20?  Let's see, if we assume "almost 40" means he's 38, then if we adhere to the half-plus-seven rule for an "acceptable" age difference, half of 38 is 19, plus 7 is 26, and if Jo is 20, then yeeeeeeeah, he's really a little "too old" for Jo.  HOWEVER!  I happen to adore May-December romances (or April-September, as might be more the case here), so that may be why I've always loved them getting together.  Or maybe my early love of this story helped shape my predilection for romances with big age gaps?  Who knows!

Anyway, brave Jo, packing up and going off to a big city like New York to be a governess.  I'm not sure I'd have the guts to do that.  Yes, I went to college a thousand miles away from home, and I didn't know a single person there, but a tiny Christian college in a small midwestern city is not the same as a job in NYC, even the NYC of back then.  I'm impressed.


Favorite Lines:

I've got sense, if I haven't style, which is more than some people have, judging from the remarks of the elegant beings who clattered away, smoking like bad chimneys.  I hate ordinary people! (p. 301)

"Read him well, and he will help you much, for the study of character in this book will help you to read it in the world and paint it with your pen" (p. 307).  (Prof. Bhaer about Shakespeare)


Possible Discussion Questions:

Jo begins the December entry with "My Precious Betsey" (p. 304), which I took to mean she was addressing Beth, but then at the end, she says, "You see Beth manages [Laurie] better than I did," and "Thank Heaven Beth continues so comfortable" (p. 306), which doesn't sound as if she's directly addressing Beth at all.  Any thoughts?

15 comments:

  1. I totally forgot about the age difference! Why do authors do this?!? It just makes the love story awkward! (Like Amy Dorrit and Arthur...) And I had never heard that marriage age rule before!! That's awesome!

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    1. Ashley, I've never really found them awkward, though I suppose if you think of the inevitable "and then one day he turns 80 and she's only 62, and she's stuck taking care of this elderly guy" it could get sad. But not sad enough for me to not love large age gap marriages.

      But yes, the half-plus-seven rule is really handy, and generally makes good sense.

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  2. haha. Large age differences never bother me much...probably because I grew up with not only Jo and the professor but Elsie Dinsmore and Emma Woodhouse. Plus, my great-grandparents were over 20 years apart in age (either 24 or 26 years, I think) so maybe I'm just accustomed to it?

    Anyway, I love Jo and the Professor :) And I don't think I've commented on any of these Little Women posts before, but I'm really enjoying them, even if I'm not actually currently reading the book :)

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    1. Hayden, I'm not only not bothered by large age differences, I have a definite fondness for them! Jo and her professor, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, Maxim de Winter and his second wife, Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley -- all delightful! I love them!

      I'm glad you've been enjoying the posts :-) Comment whenever you like!

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    2. ...Marianne and Conel Brandon... That particular match always disturbed me somewhat, especially when I was seventeen and around friends of my parents who were about 37 - Conel Brandon's age... I just don't think I could do that! But you just can't help loving the sweet relationship between Jo and 'Her Professor'! So adorable:)

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    3. I kind of think it depends on the people--some can handle a large age-gap well and be happy, and some should really stick with a spouse their own age. For myself, I think I'd be okay with up to ten years' difference, but not more than that.
      I personally think Marianne and Colonel Brandon will be just fine, especially after watching the '08 movie where they were SO PERFECT together :)

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    4. Kelly-Anne -- yes, in the book, Marianne is 16 at the beginning, and Colonel Brandon is 35, so that's a HUGE age difference, and feels a bit awkward. However, by the end, I think her experiences have aged her and given her an emotional maturity beyond her physical age, so it doesn't bother me quite so much.

      Jessica -- yes, I think it definitely depends on the people.

      And I think much depends on the time they live in! If it's the custom for men to establish themselves before seeking a wife, they're going to be upper 20s or older before they want to be married. Whereas if a woman is expected to bear 5+ children because childhood diseases can be counted on to kill quite a number of them, then she's going to need to get married in her late teens to get a head start on all that child bearing. Not to mention it's a lot easier to survive childbirth when you're a healthy 20-year-old than a 30-year-old. So I think that there have been times when large age gaps in marriages were pretty common, and not seen as icky or weird at all.

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    5. Right! If it's already the custom of the society for men to marry girls who are significantly younger than them, then everybody will be used to it, and will have a better understanding of how to make it work.

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  3. Oh, I LOVE Jo and the Professor together -- and I love, love, loooove this chapter! (Okay, was that strong enough? ;D) Also, Jo's line that you highlighted, "I hate ordinary people!" Such a deliciously felicitous turn of phrase. :)

    And I noticed that, too, on the letter! I hadn't before, but I did this time. Can it possibly be one of those insidious, unhappy editing typos sliding through even in a classic? (Come to think of it, that's rather an encouraging thought actually.... :P)

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    1. If you must know, Heidi, Professor Bhaer is one of my favorite characters in all of literature, and that he gets together with another of my favorite characters is almost too wonderful sometimes! I actually love Little Men much more than Little Women, and it's largely because there's so much good Bhaeryness in it.

      And yeah, the letter... dunno what's up with it. She wrote these quickly, so perhaps it's just an oversight on Alcott's part that's just been perpetuated eternally? (And yes, that's rather an encouraging thought.)

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  4. Just a thought I had...if we go on to the chapter 'Heartache', Jo says that she was ''Homely and awkward and odd and old.''. Old. She says so herself, so perhaps that is why the Professor didn't think too much of the fact that he was way older than her because she acted older and had developed her mind and taste much more than the average 20 year old of that age...?

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    1. Good point, Kelly-Anne! Jo seems to be one of those people who was "born older," as George Bailey's father said to him in It's a Wonderful Life. So in emotional maturity and her perspective on life, she's probably a lot closer to her Professor.

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    2. Also, later on, he's still described as 40, but she's 25, so I think perhaps his "almost 40" was more like 35 here.

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  5. Wonderful and interesting chapter!
    Always love to hear Jo's descriptions and opinions of people.
    I really like how her relationship with Professor Bhaer starts out in this chapter with them being good friends.

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    1. Rose, yes, Jo has such an interesting point of view, doesn't she? I like the way she isn't afraid to laugh at herself or others when they're being ridiculous.

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