Louisa May Alcott Notes


Alcott and the “Woman Cult”

1830s

•    Home as haven: cult of domesticity

•    Way of pacifying separate but equal

1850s-1860s

•    Novels and stories the reflected the dominant ideology of woman’s culture: veneration of motherhood, intense mother-daughter bonds, intimate female friendships

•    By 1850s: women writers producing most of the best selling fiction—Brontes, Susan Warner, Elizabeth Gaskell, Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Eliot, and George Sand.

•    Quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne (1855): “America is now given over to a damned mob of scribbling women and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash.”

Woman Culture

•    Artifacts, spaces, and images of 19th Century American culture: Kitchen, mother’s garden

•    Matriarchal critique of patriarchal institutions—from slavery to Christianity

•    Advocated mothering influence—gentle, nurturing, sweet control, educating power

•    Writing as profession, as work—not art

End of the 19th Century

•    Woman’s culture breaking down

•    1870s: relationships between mothers and daughters were strained as daughters pressed for education, work, mobility, sexual autonomy, and power outside female sphere

Louisa May Alcott

1.    Little Women, 1868

•    Tension between female identity and artistic freedom (Jo)

•    Patriarchal model of literary career

•    Girl’s story: moralistic—bridge between schoolroom and drawing room

•    Recommend docility marriage, obedience, used Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress to explore women’s experience

•    Based on training, experimentation, professionalism, and self-fulfillment

•    Model of egalitarian marriage

2.    Work, 1873

•    Woman’s experience at work: extols very different virtues than Little Women

•    Shows range of careers for women

•    Challenge to “the canon”

•    Does a “muted” culture have a literature of its own, or must it always revise the conventions of the dominant?  What do women write about? –concern for social reform, women not to be exploited