Louisa May Alcott's performative femininity
Attaway, Jennifer Kathleen
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This is an investigation of Louisa May Alcott's personal interests and experiences in the theater and the ways in which they informed her understanding of the performativity of nineteenth century womanhood. The sentimental culture was a culture of performance that supported female transparency, the belief that the internal state of womanhood was indicated through external expression. The polite middle class of the nineteenth century established prescriptive codes through which feminine transparency could be expressed, which opened up the possibility for insincere performance. An analysis of Alcott's life and writing reveals a critical perspective regarding the performativity of feminine social identity that anticipates modern feminist and performance theorists. The heroines in Alcott's sensational fiction self-consciously assume their roles as ideal women and exploit cultural conventions for their benefit. Alcott's depiction of femininity in both her sensational and domestic fictions criticizes prescriptive notions of femininity and presents alternative options for the imagination of female social identity. A close reading of Alcott's work suggests that Alcott, like the femme fatales in her blood and thunder tales, participates in the literary marketplace through a subversively self-conscious feminine identity while preserving her "true self" behind a mask.