and Authorship
The Case of Louisa May Alcott
Nineteenth-Century Authorship
► Not
a true profession for gentlemen—or ladies.
► Ideology of “the Angel in the House” (Coventry
Patmore) and “True Womanhood” kept women
out of the public sphere and in the private
► To step outside domesticity for reasons of
ambition threatened one’s reputation as a
“womanly woman”
► Writing for necessity—to earn a living—was
acceptable for women authors.
Socially Acceptable Outlets for
Women’s Writing
► Writing
for church papers
► Writing for reform (abolitionist tracts, prison
reform, temperance). Example: Harriet
Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)
► Writing on domestic issues: Catharine
Beecher’s The American Woman’s Home
► Woman’s fiction, also called “domestic
fiction” or “sentimental fiction”
Domestic Fiction, 1830-1865
Young girl who is orphaned or otherwise forced
to go out into the world on her own.
► Heroine embodies one of two types:
 The angel in the house
 The practical woman
► These
contrast with two types who fail to help
or sometimes torment her:
 The passive woman (incompetent, cowardly,
ignorant; often the heroine's mother is this type)
 The "belle," who suffers from a defective education.
► Heroine
must learn self-mastery and self-
Domestic Fiction, continued
► Immersion
► Marriage
in feeling (rather than reason) a
 Reforming the bad or "wild" male, as in Augusta
Evans's St. Elmo (1867)
 Marrying the solid male who already meets her
► The
novels may use a "language of tears"
that evokes sympathy from the readers.
Cummins, The
Lamplighter (1854)
► Susan Warner, The Wide,
Wide World (1850)
► Warner’s book sold well
over 100,000 (and some
sources say 1,000,000)
copies in 1850 when The
Scarlet Letter sold 10,000.
► Maria
Hawthorne’s Reaction
► Hawthorne
to his publisher, 1855: “America is
now wholly 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–and should be
ashamed of myself if I did succeed. What is
the mystery of these innumerable editions of
the ‘Lamplighter,’ and other books neither
better nor worse?–worse they could not be,
and better they need not be, when they sell by
the 100,000.”
Alcott’s Work as “Alcott”
Flower Fables (written for Ellen
Little Women (1868) and Good
Wives (1869)
An Old-Fashioned Girl (1870)
Little Men (1871)
“Transcendental Wild Oats”
Work, a Story of Experience
Eight Cousins (1875) and Rose in
Bloom (1876)
Jo’s Boys (1886)
Alcott’s Work as “A.M. Barnard”
“Pauline’s Passion and
Punishment,” $100 prize from
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated
Newspaper in 1862.
“V.V.; or, Plots and Counterplots”
► The Mysterious Key, 1867
► “A Marble Woman: or, The
Mysterious Model,” The Flag of Our
Union, May-June 1865.
► “Behind a Mask: or, A Woman’s
Power,” published in The Flag of
Our Union on October 13, 20, 27,
and Nov. 3, 1866
Alcott on Alcott
► On
her children’s fiction: “Moral pap for the
► On her thrillers: “I think my natural ambition
is for the lurid style. . . . And my favorite
characters! Suppose they went to cavorting
at their own sweet will, to the infinite horror
of dear Mr. Emerson [?]”

Nineteenth-Century Women and Authorship