feminism AND transcendentalism? in my assigned reading?

To be quite honest, I didn’t particularly enjoy Alcott’s Moods, especially when compared to the other works we’ve read so far (much like our beloved Susan Bailey). Moods felt very slow-moving to me, and I did not grow to care as much for the characters as I typically do (and did in “La Jeune” and Behind a Mask). I didn’t dislike Sylvia, but she seemed a bit flat to me, and I didn’t have much of an opinion on which man she should marry (if she chose to marry either). I do think, however, that Moods offers readers an interesting look into Alcott’s own feminist and religious views. During her lifetime, Alcott was an avid supporter of women’s rights, and her spirituality was highly influenced by both the transcendentalist movement and the Unitarian Universalist faith that she and her family practiced.

Regarding feminism, Moods displays Alcott’s belief that girls (and women) should have the freedom to go on adventures, have male friends, and choose for themselves whether or not they marry (and should have this choice respected, as it is by Sylvia’s father in Moods). Somewhat shockingly, Alcott’s Sylvia is allowed to do all of these things. Quite early in the novel, she tells her father that she isn’t ready for love or marriage, but instead would like to just be friends with some of the men in her life. Instead of telling her that she should marry now or that such friendships would be inappropriate, he says, “Then Max shall be forbidden to bring a single specimen” to court her (168). Then, soon after, Sylvia’s father allows her to go on an overnight trip with two men to whom she is not related. Since these events are not necessarily realistic, there is an implication that this is what Alcott feels should be realistic. I can imagine, too, that Moods offers commentary on the women’s movement that are simply not as recognizable to me, as someone living in the twenty-first century rather than the nineteenth and the fourth wave of feminism (in my opinion!) rather than the first.

Regarding religion, Alcott’s transcendentalist views are evident in Moods as well. I believe that her appreciation for nature is a major reason for the ample pastoral scenes present in Moods. Alcott’s admiration for human nature and the mundane is also shown in both Moor and Warwick falling in love with Sylvia, despite that she does not follow societal norms and is relatively free during their trip (and is, therefore, acting true to her nature). In some ways, transcendentalism’s belief in self-reliance could also be seen in Sylvia’s wish to remain single, at least for some time. In addition, I believe that both of these themes of Alcott’s feminist ideas and spiritual views represent the historical discussion Moods participates in, but in opposite ways: her feminism is a bit ahead of its time, in my mind, while her transcendentalism is very representative of the time and place in which she lived and wrote. 

In my reading of Moods, I utilized and combined both feminist (as usual) and new historicist criticisms. As I mentioned earlier, in my mind Moods is quite ahead of its time in how it portrays marriage as a choice that is (and should be) in the hands of women, not just men, and also in how it portrays platonic relationships between men and women. Although Sylvia’s relationships with Moor and Warwick do not remain platonic, the text still presents their friendships as appropriate and relatively normal. Even now, there is debate about whether men and women can truly have wholly platonic relationships, so I think that Alcott writes these relationships as platonic (even for part of the novel) is somewhat progressive. To apply a new historicist, “presentist” perspective to Moods as well, I thought that the novel’s title and its theme that Sylvia changes her mind frequently, shows emotion, and is at times unsure of both her feelings and opinions could be interpreted in a few different ways. In one sense, it could be interpreted as substantiating stereotypes about women, which say that they are moody, overly emotional, and therefore unreliable. Another way of looking at this theme, however, would be that Moods portrays emotion, realistically, as part of human nature (again, showing Alcott’s appreciation for human nature), and that any negative connotation given to emotion or different moods is one placed upon them by the reader, not by Alcott or nature. Finally, I think that you could view Alcott’s portrayal of emotions as a way of reclaiming the aforementioned negative stereotypes about women, especially if you apply a presentist view to the novel. In perhaps slightly exaggerating the moods, emotions, and reconsiderations of young women, Alcott seems to say, “yes, women are emotional – and what is wrong about that?”

Works Cited

Bailey, Susan. “Louisa May Alcott’s Brand of Feminism: Final Thoughts on ‘Moods,” Thanks to Sarah Elbert.” Louisa May Alcott Is My Passion, 22 May 2013, louisamayalcottismypassion.com/2011/07/05/louisa-may-alcotts-brand-of-feminism-final-thoughts-on-moods-thanks-to-sarah-elbert/. 

“Unitarianism Explained.” The Unitarians, http://www.unitarian.org.uk/pages/unitarianism-explained.

4 Comments

  1. Great insights. I agree that Moods fell flat. I didn’t like the whole subplot of the Cuban lover in the old version but I hated the ending of the revised one – it felt trite. Actually, both endings felt trite! My favorite part was the boat trip. I do agree that even though Louisa denied it, that book was about male-female relationships and marriage.

    Liked by 1 person

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