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Little Women

Little Women


by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women Chapter 34 Summary

READ THE BOOK: Chapter 34

A Friend

  • While she lives in New York and works at Mrs. Kirke's boarding house as a governess, Jo still finds time to write.
  • Motivated by the desire to contribute to her family, especially to provide comforts for Beth in her illness, Jo tries to earn as much money as she can from writing.
  • When Jo won a prize for her short story, she became really enthusiastic about writing; but after the disaster with her novel, she stopped for a while.
  • Now Jo is back to writing regularly, trying to make her way as an authoress. She decides to write sensational stories – whatever will sell.
  • Jo takes one of her sensation stories to Mr. Dashwood, the editor of a paper called the Weekly Volcano.
  • Jo finds Mr. Dashwood in a smoky, dingy office with two other seedy-looking men. She tells him that she's bringing a manuscript for a friend of hers.
  • Mr. Dashwood flips through Jo's manuscript (the "friend," of course, is imaginary) and notices that she has some writing experience because of the way it's formatted. He tells her that she can leave it with him and come back next week for his answer.
  • Jo doesn't want to leave the manuscript behind, but she doesn't know what else to do, so she agrees.
  • When Jo goes back, Mr. Dashwood, alone this time, tells her that he will publish the story if she agrees to some editorial changes. Jo is surprised to discover that he's taken out the moral of the story, but Mr. Dashwood tells her that morals don't sell very well.
  • Mr. Dashwood agrees to pay Jo $25-$30 for the story, which is a lot more than she was earning before. (Don't forget that the dollar is worth a lot more in the mid-nineteenth century than it is now.)
  • Mr. Dashwood tries to learn Jo's name, but she asks him to publish the story anonymously. They arrange for her to keep submitting stories to the Weekly Volcano. Mr. Dashwood advises her to make them short and exciting.
  • Jo spends a lot of time and energy working on her stories. They are "sensation fiction" – pure entertainment and very unrealistic, about terrible crimes in haunting Gothic locations.
  • Jo is a little uncomfortable because she hasn't told anyone, not even her family, that she is writing sensation fiction. She starts to get more and more involved in the details of her writing and researches methods of murder, details of crimes, and other immoral and un-feminine things.
  • While Jo is being slowly corrupted by the fiction she's writing, she is also starting to realize what a good man Mr. Bhaer really is. The narrator thinks this might be the effect of studying character, especially in Shakespeare.
  • Jo tries to figure out why everyone likes Mr. Bhaer so much. He is poor, plain-looking, and strange, but universally admired. She decides that it is because he is such a generous, positive person.
  • When one of Mr. Bhaer's friends comes to visit him from Vienna, Jo learns that he is actually Professor Bhaer, a prominent German intellectual, widely respected for his learning and knowledge.
  • Jo's friend Miss Norton takes Mr. Bhaer and Jo to many cultural and intellectual events in the city. One evening, they go to a symposium together.
  • The symposium is being held in honor of some of the intellectual celebrities of the day, including a poet, a novelist, a theologian, and some scientists. Jo is disappointed to learn that they are only human – the poet is a greedy eater, the novelist drinks too much, the theologian is flirtatious, and the scientists gossip.
  • At a refreshment break, Jo and Mr. Bhaer find themselves caught up in a philosophical conversation that downplays the importance of religion.
  • Jo isn't sure what to think – the philosophy is dazzling, but feels wrong to her somehow.
  • Mr. Bhaer tries to be polite, but finally feels morally obligated to argue with the philosophers. He defends traditional religious values and belief in God. Jo feels relieved.
  • This conversation is only one of many incidents that strengthen Jo's respect for the professor. She wants him to like her, and she wants to be worthy of his respect.
  • One evening, the professor comes in to give Jo her German lesson, having forgotten that he is still wearing a paper hat that Tina made.
  • Jo laughs at the hat and the professor takes it off. When he looks at it, he realizes that it's made from a copy of a sensational newspaper – not the Weekly Volcano, but something pretty similar. He denounces the paper and says that things like it are morally corrupting for children and young people. You know, the kind of stuff people say today about video games and TV.
  • Jo feels ashamed, because she writes similar material. The professor sees her blush and starts to realize what she has been writing; he's met her downtown sometimes around the newspaper offices.
  • Trying to influence Jo, Mr. Bhaer continues to talk about the bad influence of sensation stories.
  • Jo objects and says that sensation stories are only silly, not actively bad, and reminds him that there is a demand for them. Mr. Bhaer disagrees and tells Jo that there is a demand for lots of things, but that doesn't make them right. He burns the paper.
  • Jo and Mr. Bhaer go back to their German lesson. That evening, Jo re-reads the stories she has written. She decides that Mr. Bhaer is right; the stories are too sensational, and they have corrupted her and her readers.
  • Jo burns all the stories that she wrote for the Weekly Volcano. She thinks about whether she should keep the money she earned from them. Eventually, she decides that it's OK because she didn't do much harm yet, and her family can use the money.
  • Jo wishes to herself that she didn't have a conscience – it's pretty inconvenient.
  • Next, Jo tries writing heavily moralistic stories, but Mr. Dashwood won't publish them, and neither will anyone else.
  • After that, Jo tries writing children's stories, but she can't find anyone to publish these the way that she's written them, either.
  • Jo decides to stop writing for a little while; if she can't write anything good, she's not going to do it at all. What she doesn't realize is that Professor Bhaer has been observing her moral dilemma and is proud of her for her decision.
  • Jo stays with Mrs. Kirke through the winter and spring and leaves the boarding house in June. Everyone is sorry to see her go.
  • Jo invites Mr. Bhaer to come and see her in her hometown. He is pleased by the invitation, but when she mentions Laurie's upcoming graduation he gets depressed.
  • Mr. Bhaer sees Jo off at the station, where she is glad to think that, even if she didn't earn a fortune or publish a great book, she has made a true friend.

READ THE BOOK: Chapter 34

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