Study Guide

Little Women Chapter 33

By Louisa May Alcott

Chapter 33

Jo's Journal

  • This chapter is made up of entries in Jo's journal while she is living in New York and working at Mrs. Kirke's boardinghouse as a tutor and seamstress. The journal is a collection of letters addressed to Marmee and Beth, not a secret diary.
  • Jo says that when she left home, she was sad at the beginning of the journey, but quickly got distracted by a woman with four fussy kids. Every time they started to cry, she would "accidentally" drop gingerbread treats for them to snatch up.
  • Mrs. Kirke welcomed Jo warmly and gave her a snug, sunny room with a stove in it. The girls that Jo is tutoring, Kitty and Minnie, are a little spoiled but mostly nice.
  • As Jo went down to the dining room that first evening, she saw a gentleman take a heavy load of coal from one of the maids and carry it up for her.
  • Jo was pleased by this chivalry and asked Mrs. Kirke who it was, and Mrs. Kirke said it was an expatriate German professor, very poor but kind. He teaches to support himself and his orphan nephews, who had an American father.
  • Jo says that she's interested to know more about this professor, but she assures her mother that it's not improper – after all, the professor is almost 40.
  • A few days later, Jo is having trouble with her girls, who have way too much energy. She makes them do some gymnastics to tire them out. In the afternoon, the maid takes them for a walk and she sits alone sewing.
  • Jo hears someone come into the parlor singing in German. She peeps through the curtain on the door and sees Professor Bhaer arranging his books. She notices that he's not handsome, but has good teeth, and his clothes need mending.
  • There is a knock at the door, and a little girl called Tina comes in. She asks the professor for a hug and then she starts to study her lesson. She bends very seriously over a book. Jo wonders if she is the professor's daughter.
  • Two young women come in and Professor Bhaer gives them a German lesson. Jo goes back to her sewing and tries not to eavesdrop, but she hears him getting more and more frustrated with their stupidity.
  • Finally, the women leave. Jo peeps in again and sees Professor Bhaer tired out and Tina asleep on the sofa.
  • That evening, Jo eats dinner at the table with the rest of the boarding house guests. She's curious about them, but not especially interested in any of them as friends, except one woman.
  • The professor is at the other end of the table carrying on two conversations and eating hungrily.
  • As she goes back to her room, Jo hears two of the young men talking about her and criticizing her lack of style. At first she's angry, and then she decides she doesn't care.
  • A few days later, Jo records that she spent the day quietly teaching, sewing, and writing.
  • Jo discovers that Tina is the daughter of a French woman who does the ironing. Tina, Kittie, and Minnie all love Professor Bhaer, who is very good with children.
  • Jo gets to know the one woman who interested her, Miss Norton. She's a wealthy, educated woman who takes a fancy to Jo.
  • Jo gets introduced to Mr. Bhaer by Minnie, and they immediately hit it off. Later that day, she accidentally knocks his door open with her umbrella, to reveal him in his dressing gown darning a sock. She feels bad that he has to mend his own clothes.
  • A few days later, Jo records that Miss Norton has offered to take her to lectures and concerts, and she has gratefully accepted.
  • Jo also records that one day she came into the nursery to find Prof. Bhaer playing with Tina, Kittie, and Minnie, pretending to be an elephant while one of them rides on his back and another leads him on a rope.
  • The girls explain to Jo that on Saturday their mom lets them play however they want. Professor Bhaer promises to be quiet if they bother her, but she enjoys their rambunctious playtime. When the girls are sick of games, Professor Bhaer tells them fairy tales.
  • Jo signs off, asking her mother to forward Amy's letters as soon as the rest of the family has read them.
  • Jo's next letter is specifically to Beth. She says that the girls she is tutoring are coming along fine, although she prefers Tina and Professor Bhaer's nephews, Franz and Emil.
  • Jo confides to Beth that she and the professor are very good friends now and that she has started taking German lessons from him.
  • One day, Jo comes across Mrs. Kirke going through Mr. Bhaer's den, trying to tidy up his books and find his handkerchiefs. Jo goes in to help her and they find three of the handkerchiefs – one over a bird cage, one covered in ink, and one burned because it has been used to hold something near the fire.
  • Mrs. Kirke laughs and says that he uses them for all sorts of things. She says that she agreed to do Mr. Bhaer's washing and mending, but he often forgets to give her his laundry and she forgets to look for it, so it doesn't work out very well.
  • Jo asks Mrs. Kirke to let her do Professor Bhaer's mending. She says it can be in return for borrowing books from him.
  • Jo hoped that Mr. Bhaer wouldn't find out she was doing his mending, but he caught her darning a sock and eavesdropping on one of his lessons, trying to learn German by overhearing him. He offered to give her the lessons she wanted in return for all the little secret tasks she's been doing – sewing buttons back on, putting heels in his socks, and so on.
  • At first Jo didn't do very well learning German, and worried that she was irritating the Professor when he threw the book on the floor and marched out of the room.
  • However, a moment later he came back into the room with an edition of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales in German.
  • With this more interesting material, Jo has started to do much better. She enjoys the stories and learns the grammar as she goes.
  • Jo ends her letter by saying she's glad to hear Laurie is doing well and thinks Beth must manage him better.
  • The next entry/letter is for the whole family, including the Laurences. Jo wishes everyone Happy New Year and thanks them for their Christmas presents.
  • On New Year's Day, Mr. Bhaer gave Jo a nice edition of the collected works of Shakespeare. He said it was like a library in one book and told her to study the characters. She writes that she's appreciating Shakespeare a lot more now that Mr. Bhaer is there to explain it to her.
  • Jo wasn't sure what to get Mr. Bhaer, so she got him several presents and hid them around his room.
  • The boarding house had a masquerade party on New Year's Eve. Jo wasn't going to go because she didn't have anything to wear, but then Mrs. Kirke and Miss Norton found some old brocade and things and dressed her up. She had a great time acting while masked, and nobody recognized her at the party until she took her mask off!
  • Jo ends by wishing her family love and saying that she is happy working hard.