Good Wives is the sequel to Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, & Amy, often published together in the same book. Nowadays, most people don’t realize they are reading two very different books, but there was a year’s gap between the original publication of part one and part two, and it seems the choices Louisa May Alcott made for the sequel were not necessarily planned ahead of time.
She doesn’t seem certain there will be a sequel, since the first volume ends by stating “[T]he curtain falls upon Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Whether it ever rises again, depends upon the reception given the first act…”
When I first read the two volumes, I took everything more or less at face value, but rereading them late last year made me realize how off-course the whole thing became. First, Beth’s near-death in book one was, I always felt, the stronger ending for her character. It was moving, it was sad and meaningful; it would’ve given all kinds of character-growth opportunities for her sisters. Her partial recovery just felt unsatisfactory, because she never becomes a major character again. (In my young imagination, I always had her live and go on to marry Laurie, because if he couldn’t marry Jo, I wanted him to marry someone else other than Amy. Click here for my defense on Jo and Laurie as a good couple that should’ve happened.)
Still, Ms. Alcott does a great job making such a mismatch believable. So here, in six easy steps, is her recipe to marrying off the wrong couples.
- Give yourself a nice gap of time between the first and second novels. There’s nothing like time to explain away changes. By sending Laurie off to college, and mentioning his flirtations there, Ms. Alcott helps make any change in Jo’s attitude towards Laurie more believable.
- Start throwing your new couple together, in little throwaway lines that no one sees as important. As soon as the second volume gets underway, we start seeing Laurie paired off with Amy as frequently as possible without becoming heavy-handed. At the wedding, he takes her hand and goes off promenading (leaving Jo behind; nothing is mentioned of it). He gives Amy a charm as a joke after her luncheon disaster; earlier, he never gave presents to her. He goes with her father to see her off on the boat that takes her to Europe, and we hear she says her last words to him, not her father, strangely enough.
- Introduce the other candidate for marriage before the first fellow proposes. Mr. Bhaer gets a chance to win our hearts before we see him as the reason for Laurie’s rejection. Jo runs off to New York and spends a winter there, and she and Mr. Bhaer become friends. This helps keep Mr. Bhaer from feeling like a complete afterthought.
- Don’t let your “red herring suitors” ever get a real scene. While in Europe, Amy reconnects with Fred Vaughn, a young man she’d met in the first volume. He’s changed from the cheating, competitive, freakish youngster he’d been, but we never get to actually see him. He’s mentioned in the correspondence between Amy and her family, and then in a summarized passage later, so we never have a chance to get to know the new Fred, and root for him and Amy to be a couple. This way, he doesn’t even have a chance.
- Keep the right couple, which you don’t want together, away from each other. Jo goes off to New York, and then, right after she gets back, Laurie goes off to Europe to join Amy. If he’d stayed in America, Jo and Laurie’s mutual attraction would’ve been very difficult to overcome, but since he was gone, he could easily forget his love for Jo, and we could be reconciled to such a state of affairs. Also, he could develop a relationship with Amy without Jo’s presence there to overshadow and throw things off.
- Make it seem inevitable. Lines like “Amy felt that no one could comfort and sustain her so well as Laurie” and “Amy was the only woman in the world who could fill Jo’s place and make him happy” make us feel bad if we still demand a different outcome. After all, Jo was trying to get Meg to marry Laurie in the first volume, to keep everyone she cared about in the family. In the second volume, she tries to get out of the way for Beth to marry Laurie, and then thinks Amy would be a good match. When Amy and Laurie are finally engaged, everyone in the book is happy about it. Why shouldn’t we be, too?
- Marry off the wrong couple with as little writing as possible. We don’t have much of a proposal between Amy and Laurie, and we don’t get to attend the wedding. We rarely get to see the two of them together at all after they fall in love with each other, so we can’t critique their behavior and whether it’s really love this time or just contrived.
- Don’t let your heroine fall in love with anyone until the end of the book. This keeps the fans happier. In Jo’s case, there are hints that Mr. Bhaer cares for her more than as a friend, but he says nothing until we know that Laurie is already married to Amy. Thus, the fans of Laurie are kept from seeing Mr. Bhaer in an evil light, as an interloper and a pest. Jo doesn’t love anyone when she turns down Laurie’s offer, so it isn’t his fault that Laurie got rejected.
So there you are. It may make some readers unhappy, but at least it doesn’t feel completely fake and contrived.
Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren
13 thoughts on “The Good Wives Recipe to Marrying Off the Wrong Couples”
Reblogged this on Christina Wehner and commented:
On Friday, Andrea Lundgren and I are going to have a Laurie vs. Professor Bhaer blog debate over which man Jo March from Little Women should have chosen for her husband. As a warm up, here is a very funny, but also insightful, post by Andrea on how an author can skillfully steer a story in the direction they want, despite not having set up the direction properly.
I love this post! Its so dead on, lol. While I feel that Jo and Bhaer weren’t an ideal couple (I think it would have been preferable to let Jo remain single and independent if she couldn’t marry Laurie), I thought Laurie and Amy’s marriage was really a mistake. As you mention, it seemed like Alcott didn’t really know what to do with them, so we barely see Amy after they are married (except that one dull chapter My Lord and Lady), and all of Laurie’s scenes still seem to be with Jo.
I do wonder – if Alcott wasn’t going to allow Jo and Laurie to be married, why did she insist on having Laurie fall so deeply in love with her? She could have easily explained it away as a crush, not delved too deeply into it and just gotten Laurie and Amy married. Instead, we get “Heartache” which is such a truly emotional and heartbreaking chapter. Bit I guess its a good thing that she did – it makes us all the more invested in their relationship 🙂
If Laurie didn’t fall for Jo, I think he would probably have ended up a far different character, because everything in Little Women is more or less Jo-centric. If he falls for Amy, then he is outside the focus of the book and would have become a bit like Mr. Brooke, probably, or even older Mr. Laurence. Someone we hear about, every now and then, but only as a distant character, a friend of the family. It was because he was so close to Jo, and cared so much about Jo, that the author cared so much about him and included him as much. I think we would have lost him, as a character, if he didn’t love Jo.
LOL!!! I love the detail in this post, and the format in which it is written. A recipe for making couples who don’t seem to belong together seem plausible and even desirable. Well done 🙂
Thank you! Humor was one way of venting my literary frustration, and, as you pointed out in your comment on When The Author Gets It Wrong, Alcott really did besmirch Laurie as part of the strategy to not want Jo and he together. Unfortunately, the damage was already done; she’d created a strong, likeable character that readers loved.
Wow! I’ve just read several posts on your blog that reference Little Women or Louisa May Alcott’s writings. It seems you know and understand her writing very well. I have greatly enjoyed all this reading today. I have to say, I’m especially impressed with your wittiness in this post about how to marry of the wrong couple in a book. LOVE. IT. (You really pinned it down!)
I’ll have to stick around for more of this literary wisdom. I look forward to reading more of your blog in the future.
You might like to know about the Louisa May Alcott reading challenge, hosted on my blog. It lasts through the end of June. Do stop by if you’re interested!
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Sounds great! I’ll have to drop by and read up on it. Thanks!