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Louisa May Alcott, Edith Wharton, and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism
Sarah Way Sherman

Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies

New Hampshire
2013 • 336 pp. 6 1/8 x 9 1/4"
Literary Criticism - American / Women Authors

$40.00 Paperback, 978-1-61168-437-7
$85.00 Hardcover, 978-1-61168-422-3

$39.99 Ebook, 978-1-61168-412-4

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

(Cloth edition is un-jacketed.
Cover illustration is for paperback edition only)

“This is a very fine reading of Alcott’s Little Women and Wharton’s The House of Mirth, two novels that have been much analyzed, but the author has a number of illuminating insights no one else has made. . . . Even readers who know both novels well will be enlightened by such an insightful reading, and for those who don’t know the novels, this is a perfect introduction to them.”
—Elsa Nettels, Mildred and J. B. Hickman Professor of English and Humanities, Emerita, College of William and Mary

Illuminates modern consumer culture and its challenges to American identity and values in two classic novels

Written a generation apart and rarely treated together by scholars, Little Women (1868) and The House of Mirth (1905) share a deep concern with materialism, moral development, and self-construction. The heroines in both grapple with conspicuous consumption, an aspect of modernity that challenges older beliefs about ethical behavior and core identity.

Placing both novels at the historical intersection of modern consumer culture and older religious discourse on materialism and identity, Sarah Way Sherman analyzes how Alcott and Wharton rework traditional Protestant discourse to interpret their heroines’ struggle with modern consumerism. Her conclusion reveals how Little Women’s optimism, still buoyed by otherworldly justice, providential interventions, and the notion of essential identity, ultimately gives way to the much darker vision of modern materialistic culture in The House of Mirth.

Electronic notes referenced in the book are available here (PDF format, 206kb).

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements:

“Two eminent writers—Louisa May Alcott and Edith Wharton—are the focus of this study about the struggle between moral and material values in American culture. Sherman’s analysis of Little Women and The House of Mirth makes clear how both novels rework Protestant discourse. Her connections between these writers and texts are original, penetrating, and illuminating. . . . Professor Sherman has produced meritorious, well-researched study that will permanently change readers’ understanding of Little Women and The House of Mirth.”—Carol Singley, professor of English, Rutgers University–Camden

“[Sherman] deftly manages a massive amount of Wharton scholarship, providing some smart and stirring readings of crucial moments in THE HOUSE OF MIRTH. . . . Recommended.”

“Sherman has produced an innovative and provocative study, making it well worth one’s time to engage with her wealth of ideas.”—Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature

SARAH WAY SHERMAN is an associate professor of English and American studies at the University of New Hampshire.