View Full Version : Was Louisa May Alcott a feminist?

Jackson Richardson
06-17-2015, 03:26 PM
I recently heard someone describe Louisa May Alcott as a feminist. I wondered. All the surviving March girls get married and have children. If she is a feminist, it ends up as using the word "feminist" to mean any woman who is not a complete doormat. Surely it means a certain critique as well?

Iain Sparrow
06-17-2015, 04:58 PM
When I think of Louisa May Alcott, it's in conjunction with the Abolitionist movement... was she a Feminist?
Perhaps not by modern standards, but let us not forget she was a novelist and liberal intellectual who questioned the religious/philosophical trends of the time, that was not something that women of the time did without considerable effort and cost. I'd say in practice she was most definitely a feminist.

06-17-2015, 06:10 PM
Wasn't the sequel to her book Little Women called Good Wives? Of course it is not impossible to be both a good wife and a feminist.

Fay Weldon wrote a book titled Big Women, which was turned into quite a good TV mini-series. It was about a bunch of 70s feminists who started a feminist magazine, somewhat similar to Spare Rib or Red Rag. Big Women must be a reference to Little Women, which suggests that Fay Weldon and 70s feminists did not think Louisa May Alcott particularly feminist.

Jackson Richardson
06-18-2015, 05:45 AM
What would be interesting is any comments by a woman.

Abolitionism - now there's a pond difference. The most famous abolitionist in Britain was William Wilberforce who politically was Tory (or Conservative as we'd say now) and an evangelical. As a Briton, I'd tend not to regard an abolitionist as very progressive, I'd just regard anyone opposing abolition as barking.

L.M. The Third
07-01-2015, 04:09 PM
What would be interesting is any comments by a woman.

Well, as a woman and a proud feminist apparently I finally have some relevancy in a discussion. Most flattering.

My initial reaction would be to say that of course Louisa May Alcott was a feminist! A colloquial, but popular definition of feminism used by third-wave feminists is "Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings". Under such a broad definition, Louisa May Alcott's portrayal of women's emotional, intellectual, and social lives tends to privilege a female perspective and justify a reading of her writings as feminist. The idea that getting married and having children is incompatible with feminism is a caricature mostly created by opponents (and a few radical feminists). Feminist criticism, however, may argue that Jo's marriage essentially puts an end to her writing career/vocation, "taming" her independent spirit. Therefore, some feminist critics are more likely to appreciate Alcott's "potboilers" which feature women taking hashish, manipulating social constructs to gain themselves the security of marriage, and otherwise asserting themselves as active agents in their own destinies, as opposed to "angels of the house". Such critics are likely to point out that Alcott herself preferred these works to the "moral pablum" she became famous for.

Growing up among the Transcendentalists of Concord, the young Alcott certainly encountered those associated with radical ideas, including those related to burgeoning feminism. Her connections--perhaps indirect--to Margaret Fuller would likely be a verdant field for research.
The "moral pablum" novels display some ambiguity. For example, "An Old Fashioned Girl" presents career women, but situates female independence in a moralistic ideal that ultimately ends in marriage. "Eight Cousins" displays various ideas derived from health reformers of the 19th century, while disavowing outright acceptance of the suffragette "bloomer" costume. In short, the really interesting questions is not "Was LMA a feminist?", but "How do her ideas on gender and performance interact with the culture(s) of her day and what do modern readings and readers of her works suggest about feminist/female consciousness?"

Jackson Richardson
07-01-2015, 05:02 PM
You had relevance all the time as far as I'm concerned and it was comments from someone like you I was angling for.