Victorian Domesticity: Families in the Life and Art of Louisa May Alcott

Victorian Domesticity: Families in the Life and Art of Louisa May Alcott

Victorian Domesticity: Families in the Life and Art of Louisa May Alcott

Victorian Domesticity: Families in the Life and Art of Louisa May Alcott

Excerpt

"I do think that families are the most beautiful things in all the world!" exclaims Jo March at the conclusion of Little Women. This remark, and others like it in this popular children's book, has served to fix an aura of sentimentality around the novel as well as around the reputation of its author, thus assuring later and more skeptical generations that both Louisa May Alcott and her work are irrelevant to an understanding of family life in Victorian America. Of late, however, historians are beginning to uncover another dimension of Alcott's life and art, one that suggests that the author was not as sentimental as we had thought. For one thing, a close examination of Alcott's personal life reveals that she was at times more pessimistic than her heroine Jo about families, having remarked on one occasion that she knew little about marriages, "except observing that very few were happy ones." One might conclude, then, that Alcott did not believe everything she put into her fiction, but the story is a bit more complex even than that. A closer examination of her work, the work for the adult reader as well as the children's literature, reveals that her writing is more than a simpleminded celebration of togetherness. While it is true that Alcott was deeply influenced by popular currents of sentimentality, it is also true that her own experience exposed her to the confusions and contradictions generated when sentiment confronted the reality of life in nineteenth-century America. That confrontation and the way it affected Alcott's vision of family life are the subjects of this book.

Because sentiment so deeply affected both Alcott's childhood and her later work, it forms the subject of Chapter 1, which outlines the ways that sentimentality colored the perception of nineteenth-century . . .

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