Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Belated Valentine

I began this post last week, but since Fillius Minor and I share the same computer, I wasn't able to finish it before leaving for an out of state visit to see my son and his family. So you'll just have to listen to my Valentine's Day confessions now:

I am among those few readers of Little Women who was not disappointed that Jo did not marry Laurie.

No, indeed! I fell in love with Professor Bhaer almost before Jo did and was cheering him on all during that rainy shopping trip, anxiously wondering if he would or would not have the courage to propose, "in spite of the rain, because so short a time remains to me."

My hopes, like Jo's, went up and down. Alas, the Professor's promising intro leads only to a request that she help him pick out a dress for a little girl at his boarding house -- and a warm shawl for her mother. How poignant it is when the shop clerk mistakes them for a married couple shopping for their family! Finally, Jo becomes convinced that her hopes were misplaced:

For now the sun seemed to have gone in as suddenly as it came out, and the world grew muddy and miserable again, and for the first time she discovered that her feet were cold, her head ached, and that her heart was colder than the former, fuller of pain than the latter. Mr. Bhaer was going away, he only cared for her as a friend, it was all a mistake, and the sooner it was over the better. With this idea in her head, she hailed an approaching omnibus with such a hasty gesture that the daisies flew out of the pot and were badly damaged.

"This is not our omniboos," said the Professor, waving the loaded vehicle away, and stopping to pick up the poor little flowers.

"I beg your pardon. I didn't see the name distinctly. Never mind, I can walk. I'm used to plodding in the mud," returned Jo, winking hard, because she would have died rather than openly wipe her eyes. Mr. Bhaer saw the drops on her cheeks, though she turned her head away. The sight seemed to touch him very much, for suddenly stooping down, he asked in a tone that meant a great deal, "Heart's dearest, why do you cry?"

Now, if Jo had not been new to this sort of thing she would have said she wasn't crying, had a cold in her head, or told any other feminine fib proper to the occasion. Instead of which, that undignified creature answered, with an irrepressible sob, "Because you are going away."

"Ach, mein Gott, that is so good!" cried Mr. Bhaer, managing to clasp his hands in spite of the umbrella and the bundles, "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?" he added, all in one breath.

"Oh, yes!" said Jo, and he was quite satisfied, for she folded both hands over his are, and looked up at him with an expression that plainly showed how happy she would be to walk through life beside him, even though she had no better shelter than the old umbrella, if he carried it.

It was certainly proposing under difficulties, for even if he had desired to do so, Mr. Bhaer could not go down upon his knees, on account of the mud. Neither could he offer Jo his hand, except figuratively, for both were full. Much less could he indulge in tender remonstrations in the open street, though he was near it. So the only way in which he could express his rapture was to look at her, with an expression which glorified his face to such a degree that there actually seemed to be little rainbows in the drops that sparkled on his beard. If he had not loved Jo very much, I don't think he could have done it then, for she looked far from lovely, with her skirts in a deplorable state, her rubber boots splashed to the ankle, and her bonnet a ruin. Fortunately, Mr. Bhaer considered her the most beautiful woman living, and she found him more `Jove-like" than ever, though his hatbrim was quite limp with the little rills trickling thence upon his shoulders (for he held the umbrella all over Jo), and every finger of his gloves needed mending.

Passers-by probably thought them a pair of harmless lunatics, for they entirely forgot to hail a bus, and strolled leisurely along, oblivious of deepening dusk and fog. Little they cared what anybody thought, for they were enjoying the happy hour that seldom comes but once in any life, the magical moment which bestows youth on the old, beauty on the plain, wealth on the poor, and gives human hearts a foretaste of heaven. The Professor looked as if he had conquered a kingdom, and the world had nothing more to offer him in the way of bliss. While Jo trudged beside him, feeling as if her place had always been there, and wondering how she ever could have chosen any other lot. . . .

"Ah! Thou gifest me such hope and courage, and I haf nothing to gif back but a full heart and these empty hands," cried the Professor, quite overcome.

Jo never, never would learn to be proper, for when he said that as they stood upon the steps, she just put both hands into his, whispering tenderly, "Not empty now," and stooping down, kissed her Friedrich under the umbrella. It was dreadful, but she would have done it if the flock of draggle-tailed sparrows on the hedge had been human beings, for she was very far gone indeed, and quite regardless of everything but her own happiness. Though it came in such a very simple guise, that was the crowning moment of both their lives, when, turning from the night and storm and loneliness to the household light and warmth and peace waiting to receive them, with a glad "Welcome home!" Jo led her lover in, and shut the door.

Now that's romance! Laurie's tempestuous and boyish wooing couldn't hold a candle to it.

Actually, in Alcott's novels the ordinary guy next door is the one who usually gets the girl, an element which I have always loved in books and movies. In Eight Cousins, Mac, the gawky bookworm is honest, intelligent, and loyal, but he seems genuinely puzzled that girls would rather dance than discuss geology. Yet he's the one Rose marries in the sequel, Rose in Bloom. (Though he has acquired a bit more social polish by then.) In Old Fashioned Girl Polly passes up elegant Mr. Sidney (whose respect is so difficult to win, and whom all the girls adore) for ordinary Tom.

I think I found it heartening that romance was within the reach of even the ordinary among us, that it could be found in the most unexpected places, and that it could be humorous as well as sublime.

(You can read the entire chapter, "Under the Umbella," here.)


Sherwood said...

I hve been meaning to reread the book after our talk last summer. I plan to. Hope you don't mind a link.

R.J. Anderson said...

Huzzah! I, too, was rooting for the Professor, and was well satisfied with the way things turned out.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Hi, Sherwood! No I never mind a link -- especially not when it's you.

r.j. anderson,

Now there are two of us!

Gwynne said...

Oh, it was wonderful to read that passage again - I found I knew it by heart. I was very happy that Jo married the Professor...

Esther said...

Ah yes , that is one of the sweetest, most romantic moments in literature. Note: I only appreciated Prof. Bhaer winning over Jo as I got older.