Date of Award
Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888). Behind a mask -- Criticism and interpretation, Self in literature, Woman (Philosophy) in literature
In 1866, two years before the publication of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott wrote Behind a Mask: or, a Woman’s Power under a pen name. A collection of Alcott’s pseudonymous writing was re-published in 1975 by Madeleine Stern, and scholarship on these texts is relatively new. This recovery has challenged us to reconsider Alcott’s work. Scholars have studied these texts thoroughly through the lens of gender and biography, but I argue that there is a supernatural element that has been overlooked. I argue that Muir is endowed with supernatural abilities, and that these abilities allow her to perform what I have coined a false unmasking, where she pretends to reveal a part of her inner self but is actually revealing a mask behind a mask. Protagonist and femme fatale Jean Muir appears to be the perfect ‘little woman’, but in reality is ten years older than she claims, a divorcee, and an actress (a disreputable profession). She uses her “woman’s power” (whatever that may be), and in my reading, a sixth sense or supernatural ability, to manipulate the family for whom she serves as governess, wiling the wealthy, titled man of the house into marrying her. My research is focused on womanhood as a performance, and witchcraft both as a subversion and tool of this performance as she performs her false unmaskings. In my paper, I use existing scholarship and literary analysis to propose the existence of elements of witchcraft in the text, consider Muir’s sense of self and the position of the reader, and examine the effects of perpetually performing womanhood on women’s identities.
Davis, Jovian M., "Witchcraft and the Performance of Womanhood in L.M. Alcott’s Behind a Mask" (2017). University Honors Theses. Paper 480.