YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 18, 2017

Is Little Women still relevant?

Louisa May Alcott stamp 1940

Madelon Bedell’s populist-progressive scholarly “Introduction” to Alcott’s now classic Little Women (1868) evades the mixed messages that modern women receive for an explanation of Alcott that will not please 1. lesbians (who are convinced that the obviously autobiographical character of “Jo” and her attachment to “Marmee” as proof that Alcott was one of them) or to 2. Freudians (who would see Little Women as minimizing the attachment to Father, especially in her choice of a much older intellectual husband, but also her choosing to educate poor boys, not girls at the conclusion of the book). [On mixed messages delivered to women, see https://clarespark.com/2017/10/27/moral-chaos-of-womanhood-the-harvey-weinstein-scandal-and-lolita/.%5D We are asked to surmount the contradiction between virgins and whores all why we knock ourselves out to “realize our potential” –but as what?)

Bedell does however throw bones to anti-capitalism, the fashionable feminist theory of “domestic feminism” (i.e., women get power and status in the revitalized domestic sphere), unconscious motivation AND to behaviorism. It is as if Bedell wants to please everybody—a typical female tic that I recognize within myself.

L’il Friends of Kelly

But perhaps the greatest lapse in this College Edition is Alcott’s obvious connection to sentimental reformism of the American antebellum period, which Bedell ignores in her Jazz Age-style dismissal of the moralism of Alcott’s life and art, an attachment to melodrama that persists today as political figures portray themselves in the archetypes of Christianity* (Alcott mentions in passing, the large nose of a Rothschild, while emphasizing “Amy’s” turned up nose. See https://clarespark.com/2015/06/15/hillary-clinton-and-second-wave-feminism-looking-backwards/, https://clarespark.com/2015/11/07/the-change-of-heart-explanation/, and https://clarespark.com/2013/08/09/melodrama-and-its-appeal/.)

What would an unconfused feminist write today? Is such an outcome even possible, given the overriding value placed on family/state cohesion and stability?

*Ann Douglas denounced Protestant reformism in her widely reviewed The Feminization of American Culture (1977), but she let Catholicism off the hook. Now I view her as being an apologist for a Christian consensus (in the spirit of Rerum Novarum, 1891) and a rehabilitator of the happy family that, as a feminist, she should not have done. See https://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/.

Madelon Bedell, biographer of Alcott family

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