Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute. If you’re a warm-blooded book lover with a beating heart, you’ve had a crush on a literary character or two.
Or twelve. Or two hundred forty-seven.
They may be dirk-carrying heroes in kilts (you know who you are, JAMMF) or they may be middle-aged men with crazy wives locked up in top wing of the house—but we love them. We’ve dreamt about them, swooned over their pledges of devotion and forgiven them for their sometimes reprehensible behavior. (Honestly, Darcy, what was with that first proposal?) They’ve given us hours—sometimes years–of fangirlish pleasure, so it’s only fair that we give them something in return.
Every month, we will honor these fine creatures by celebrating a different hero hunk of the page. (Hey, the rogues and rascals need love too.) Since September reminds us all of back-to-school, there is really no better choice for our first Book Perfume Hunk of the Month than the dreamiest teacher you could ever imagine.
Professor Friedrich Bhaer.
Now let’s get real. If you love Little Women, you’ve had the Team Laurie versus Team Bhaer debate. Maybe you’ve felt conflicted yourself. For those of us who read Little Women as young girls, Laurie may have seemed like the obvious choice. The boy next door. Young, playful. Heroine Jo’s BFF. Heck, in the 1994 movie, he was played by Christian Bale. Laurie was the perfect girlhood crush, but Bhaer—Bhaer is who we want as women.
From the outset, our Bhaer is just a freaking diamond. The first moment Jo sees him, he’s carrying a coal bucket up the stairs for a young servant girl because her little back is too young for such heaviness. The next time she sees him, he’s arranging his books. Arranging his books! Can’t you just see him alphabetizing, organizing by subject, wishing cell phones had been invented so he could snap a picture and put it on Instagram? It’s pretty clear that Jo should make her move and lock it down, but instead she wants to write to her family about how he has the kindest eyes she’s ever seen while harping on the fact that he’s nearly forty and his clothes are threadbare. It’s called denial, Jo. We’ve all been there. But the guy is darning his own socks in the 1800s and not asking a woman to do it, so he’s not going to be on the market forever.
As if we need any more evidence of Bhaer’s awesomeness, he supports Jo’s mind and has intellectual discussions with her. He “inadvertently” helps her with her writing by pointing out that the kind of sensationalist stories she’s penning under a pseudonym are not worthy of a true writer. He respects her mind, independence, and passions for teaching and writing. Again, in the 1800s. Put a ring on it, Jo.
Refraining from any spoilers for those who haven’t read the book (in which case, what are you doing with yourself? Go out and read Little Women!), let’s just say that Professor Bhaer is a dream for us girls who spend way too much time in our heads. He’s the kind of guy who will share his umbrella—shabby as it may be—in a rainstorm. The kind of guy who will wear a paper soldier hat that his pupil made him. The kind of guy whose pockets may always be empty, but who will always have something to give.
Essentially, he’s the reason we’re weak in the knees for those penniless, intellectual types.
It’s hard to imagine Little Women without him, but Louisa May Alcott created Professor Bhaer only after her publisher urged her to give readers a love interest for Jo. Louisa, not wanting to conform to a typical fairy tale ending, came back with the bearded academic with questionable table manners and a funny little accent. She may have thought she was pulling one over on everyone, but in the end, she gave us—and Jo—the perfect Prince Charming we didn’t know we were looking for.
Do you have a favorite Professor Bhaer moment? Are you more Team Laurie? Share your thoughts below!
Looking for a great movie version? Gabriel Byrne’s Bhaer in the 1994 adaptation is perfection, and Rossano Brazzi’s turn as the professor in the 1949 release is one not to miss as well.
17 thoughts on “Literary Hunk of September: Professor Friedrich Bhaer”
The 1994 version of LIttle Women is the perfect pleasure and Gabriel Byrne is perfectly pleasurable in it! What I love best about the Laurie vs. Professor Bhaer debate is that as readers, we don’t have to choose! I love Laurie, always have and always will. But I think LMA is a genius who knew all of her characters so well that she could project 20-30 years into a hypothetical marriage btwn Jo and Laurie and she knew they wouldn’t be able to weather all of the hard parts of marriage. Laurie and Amy, on the other hand, might not be as loud or as goofy together, but they bring out the best in one another. And Jo and Bhaer are as perfect a pairing as ever there was. One of the joys of Little Women is instead of rooting for one central couple, I get to root for 2! (Or 3, if you count Meg and John Brooke. Poor Meg and her jam!)
Agreed! I originally created a poll (Team Bhaer/Laurie/Neither, John Brooke!) but then I realized…we don’t need to choose!
I was absolutely pro-Laurie as a child. He saved Amy from freezing/drowning!! He put Meg’s sprained ankle in the snow! (Scandalous!) BUT it did bother me that he didn’t want to go to college. Who doesn’t want to go to college? With all of the books? In retrospect, it betrayed a lack of seriousness that does not mesh with Jo. Jo is, after all, the most serious of the Little Women, when all is said and done.
Which is why I am now Team Bhaer all the way. Yes, he’s “old” and poor and seems a little sad all the time, But for all of the reasons you outlined above, he is way better for Jo than Laurie (or anyone else, for that matter).
John Brooke? What a bore.
Now you’re reminding me of all of the reasons I loved Laurie so much. I feel much more justified in my girlhood choice!
I must be one of those rare people who have always been attracted to Friedrich eversince I was a teenager. I never disliked Laurie but I always thought the was too immature at times. I am now rereading books again (first time in English). Interesting to see what is my relationship to these characters as an adult.