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Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women: The Gothic

Berry's Got Louisa!

OVERVIEW

Only the housemaids were astir when Miss Muir left her room next morning and quietly found her way into the garden. As she walked, apparently intent upon the flowers, her quick eye scrutinized the fine old house and its picturesque surroundings.

"Not bad," she said to herself, adding, as she passed into the adjoining park, "but the other may be better, and I will have the best."

Walking rapidly, she came out at length upon the wide green lawn which lay before the ancient hall where Sir John Coventry lived in solitary splendor. A stately old place, rich in oaks, well-kept shrubberies, gay gardens, sunny terraces, carved gables, spacious rooms, liveried servants, and every luxury befitting the ancestral home of a rich and honorable race. Miss Muir's eyes brightened as she looked, her step grew firmer, her carriage prouder, and a smile broke over her face; the smile of one well pleased at the prospect of the success of some cherished hope. Suddenly her whole air changed, she pushed back her hat, clasped her hands loosely before her, and seemed absorbed in girlish admiration of the fair scene that could not fail to charm any beauty-loving eye. The cause of this rapid change soon appeared. A hale, handsome man, between fifty and sixty, came through the little gate leading to the park, and, seeing the young stranger, paused to examine her. He had only time for a glance, however; she seemed conscious of his presence in a moment, turned with a startled look, uttered an exclamation of surprise, and looked as if hesitating whether to speak or run away. Gallant Sir John took off his hat and said, with the old-fashioned courtesy which became him well, "I beg your pardon for disturbing you, young lady. Allow me to atone for it by inviting you to walk where you will, and gather what flowers you like. I see you love them, so pray make free with those about you."

Louisa May Alcott called her Gothic tales "potboilers" or "necessity stories," and insisted that she wrote them only for the money. But years later, in private conversation with a friend, she confessed her deep engagement with her Gothic works: "I think my natural ambition is for the lurid style." Then she went on to explain why she dared not "set ... before the public" her "gorgeous fancies."  "To have had Mr. Emerson for an intellectual god all one's life is to be invested with a chain armor of propriety ... And what would my own good father think of me ... if I set folks to doing the things I have a longing to see my people do?" Alcott wrote all of her Gothic thrillers either anonymously or pseudonymously. Like her Gothic heroines, she too was assuming a mask of propriety, which concealed her own illicit ambitions and desires. (Halttunen, 1984)

Read Behind a Mask online at:

FURTHER READING