Friday, May 14, 2010

Behind a Mask

The title: Behind a Mask; Or, A Woman's PowerThe author: Louisa May Alcott
Publication: Wildside Press, 2005 (originally 1866)Got it from: SC, Xmas 2009

If you only know Louisa May Alcott from Little Women, you'd be surprised to discover this novella (published here as a single volume rather than in an anthology) about "romance and sexual intrigue." I certainly had a hard time remembering it was Alcott. It almost seemed like Austen in its writing, with a healthy dose of Bronte manipulation and head games thrown in for good measure.

Jean Muir is the catalyst of the whole story, a seemingly innocent, meek young woman who arrives at the Coventry household as governess only to cause jealousy and strife amongst the once peaceful household. She manages to deceive everybody in the family, but the reader of course knows better, having caught a glimpse of Jean's true self in the first chapter: "a haggard, worn and moody woman of thirty at least" (ouch). She manages to have both the Coventry brothers fight over her in a jealous rage - and I do mean fight, with knife wounds and all. But what is her true purpose? I won't spoil the story, but it certainly took an interesting and unexpected turn at the end. A must read for anybody interested in women's social standings in the 19th century.

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