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Sacramental Shopping
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

$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.

“One chapter of Sacramental Shopping is devoted to Little Women, the remaining four to The House of Mirth, but Sherman’s meticulous, granular exegesis of both novels is illuminating at every... [continued in Reviews below]”—American Literature

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

“One chapter of Sacramental Shopping is devoted to Little Women, the remaining four to The House of Mirth, but Sherman’s meticulous, granular exegesis of both novels is illuminating at every point. Those skeptical of the value of close reading are advised to consult Sherman for thick interpretation at its literary, anthropological, and historical best.”
American Literature

“A highlight of this book is Sherman’s attention to how Wharton constructs Lily’s complex and contradictory self-perceptions, giving us occasional glimpses of an ideal Lily that might have been. Given Wharton’s intense interest in the “republic of the spirit,” her ghost stories, and her ongoing fictional investigations of the intersections between inner and outer worlds, Sherman’s book opens our eyes to the possibilities of taking Wharton criticism in new spiritual and philosophical directions.” —Edith Wharton Book Review

“[Sherman] deftly manages a massive amount of Wharton scholarship, providing some smart and stirring readings of crucial moments in The House of Mirth. . . . Recommended.”

“[A] masterful piece of historicized literary criticism. . . . Learned and well researched. . . .  Sacramental Shopping . . . is a weighty, unnerving examination of the ways in which modern consumerism is an obstacle and even a lethal threat to identity, [it] also reveals how consumer culture destabilizes the self and undermines identity formation.” —Legacy 32.2

“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

“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

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

Mon, 18 Jun 2018 12:11:54 -0500