Aesthetics and Gender in American Literature: Portraits of the Woman Artist

By Deborah Barker | Go to book overview

4
Louisa May Alcotts Women Artists:
“Proving Avis in the Wrong”

TWO YEARS AFTER PUBLICATION OF THE STORY OF AVIS, LOUISA May Alcott began her novel about women visual artists, drawing upon numerous elements of the life of her sister, May, who had studied art in Paris (and who had also served as a model for Amy, the artistic sister, in Little Women). In referring to May's marriage to Swiss businessman Ernest Nieriker, Alcott writes in a letter: “May says—'To combine art and matrimony is almost too much bliss.' I hope she will find it so and prove ‘Avis’ in the wrong.”1 In Diana and Persis, Alcott sets out to prove Avis in the wrong about a woman's ability to combine art, matrimony, and motherhood. In many ways Alcotts Diana and Persis provides an ameliorative to the depiction of the woman artist in both Hawthorne's The Marble Faun and Phelps's Avis. Alcott preserves Hawthorne's oppositional female artists (Hilda, the modest copyist, and Miriam, the passionate creator) in her depiction of the chaste artist, aptly named Diana, and the more sensual, warm-blooded Percy. The differences in the two women's temperaments are reinforced by the artistic mediums that they choose: Diana works in cold marble, while Percy works in warm color. Nonetheless, Alcott does not associate their differences in temperament to differences in their artistic ambition, unlike Hilda and Miriam. Like Phelps's Avis, both Diana and Percy desire to produce original works of art. But, in contrast to the isolation Avis experiences in pursuing her art, Percy lives and studies with other American women artists and is part of an art circle that includes men and women, Americans and Europeans. By presenting two dissimilar women artists, Alcott does not suggest that creative women are limited to two mutually exclusive options—only that these are two unconventional women who attempt to integrate love and art in their own distinctive manner.

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Aesthetics and Gender in American Literature: Portraits of the Woman Artist
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Contents 5
  • Acknowledgements 7
  • Introduction 9
  • Reproducing Culture 25
  • 1: Cultural Reproduction and the Female Copyist 27
  • 2: Domesticating the Sublime 39
  • 3: The Riddle of the Sphinx 64
  • 4: Louisa May Alcotts Women Artists 94
  • 5: Kate Chopin's Awakening of Female Artistry 120
  • 6: Edith Wharton's Portrait of a Lady in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction 142
  • 7: Authenticating the African-American Female Artist 162
  • Notes 199
  • Bibliography 239
  • Index 255
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