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Chapter 34: Friend
Jo begins writing sensational stories for the Weekly Volcano. Mr. Dashwood, the editor, accepts the first story she gives him, but cuts out all the parts that Jo refers to as morals. She pretends to be submitting the stories for a friend who wants to remain unnamed, but Mr. Dashwood sees through it although he never confronts her. We are never given the details of any of her stories, but are told they come from the lower elements of society and are similar to other "sensation" rubbish of the time.
Jo’s exploration into this type of writing along with an evening at a Literary Society Club which Miss Norton belongs to, nearly dispossess Jo of many of her own values and traditional beliefs. She is excited about meeting some prominent literary personages, but those who attend the party drink too much, behave vulgarly, and debate a lot of nonsense. Several would-be philosophers get into a discussion on religion in which they proclaim intellect to be the only god. Their arguments seem logical until Professor Bhaer stands up and eloquently refutes them. He doesn’t actually defeat them, but he is so articulate and so convincing for Jo that things seem to fall back into their rightful places again.
A few days later, Jo is conscience stricken about the stories she is writing. Bhaer comes to her German lesson wearing a little hat which one of the children made from a sheet of one of the despised tabloid newspapers. After indulging in a laugh about the hat, the professor launches into a gentle lecture against such trashy papers. Although she doesn’t speak, Jo’s momentary expression of panic that the paper might be a copy of the Volcano gives her away. Professor Bhaer has been concerned for some time that she might be doing work she is ashamed to own. He doesn’t scold her directly, but shares his strong feelings of distaste for the tabloids. Jo later takes another look at her own stories and decides that each is more "sensational" than the one before, and that she doesn’t want her writing to sink to that. She devotes the rest of the school year to the boys and to her lessons with Mr. Bhaer and writes no more stories for the Volcano.
Jo realizes that her admiration for "prominent" writers is a little misplaced, and that other writers are just as human as she is. We are never told any details of the stories Jo was writing for the tabloid, but LMA may have had in mind a similar type of story which she wrote under a pseudonym. At any rate, her subsequent attention to the boys at the home helps develop her own later desire to operate a home for boys.