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Written by Louisa May Alcott under the pseudonym A.


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M Barnard and described by her as one of her 'Blood and Thunder' novels, this is an intriguing tale which subverts the portrayal of such passive heroines as Jane Eyre. It is a story of a strong, intelligent and not always a very nice woman, but always a fascinating one. Fan of this book? Help us introduce it to others by writing a better introduction for it. This is hilarious and fun. I read a recent article about Louisa May Alcott's "other" writings, and knew I had to read one of them written under the pen name Barnard. It is the exact opposite of the moralistic tone of her more famous books in this one, the bad person wins.

I don't think it was written quite as well as her other pieces, but what fun to read one of her less known works. Dec 14, Catherine Mustread rated it liked it Shelves: Obvious trickery wins the prize but is it a happily ever after scenario? Listened to on Classic Tales podcast. Mar 22, Emilee rated it really liked it. I was held in suspense until the end. It felt like something Alcott thought up as a romantic teen.

Feb 11, Jeremiah rated it it was amazing.


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A cup of tea that slightly burns your tongue. Apr 12, Julian Gyll-Murray rated it it was amazing. Having not grown up with Little Women, I do not have the same fondness for Alcott which millions of others seem to have. With this text one of her "blood and thunder" genre novels however, I'm fully on board. This story is wicked and moral; fast-paced but layered.

The main character is an immediate favourite; a ruthless and conniving woman who goes about the novel ridiculing and subverting Victorian notions of class and gender. The fact that Alcott had to hide behind a mask of a male pseudonym Having not grown up with Little Women, I do not have the same fondness for Alcott which millions of others seem to have.

The fact that Alcott had to hide behind a mask of a male pseudonym just makes its message all the more potent. Jun 16, K. Barnard is, of course, Louisa May Alcott. If I remember correctly, it is this sort of fiction that she had always wanted to be writing.

Alcott was steered to write didactic children's fiction with the assurance that if she did, her aspiring author father would also receive a publishing contract. Regardless, if you've read Little Women , this its amoral, cynical cousin. There's a family involved and that's where the similarities end.

I have a big ol' literature boner for morally grey, manipulative characters - it's a flaw of mine that I have come to accept. Miss Jean Muir is a Top Bitch and really could work as a high level spy - she's got the acting, the disguise, the ability to achieve emotional rapport with an audience very, very well.

Beware of me in time. Now love me at your peril. Oct 16, Sally rated it liked it Shelves: This is a story of secrets, betrayal, deception and sexual intrigue. Jean Muir is a delicate and demure governess who, on recommendation of a family friend, has come to stay with the Coventry family and tutor the only daughter, Bella.

Behind a Mask, Or, a Woman's Power by Louisa May Alcott

Before the introductions are barely over she manages to gain the affections of Mrs. Coventry, her charge Bella, the youngest son Edward and Sir John, their rich uncle. But not everyone is captivated by her. Jean is a survivor; she has to stay one step ahead of everyone as her secrets are slowly revealed. What is she really up to? What is her objective? A fast-paced read, the tale twists and turns. Whether Jean succeeds or fails remains in doubt until the very last page. May 28, Angele rated it really liked it. One of Alcott's "forgotten" but now celebrated Victorian thrillers, first published under the pseudonym A.

This tale to which I listened on www. Jean Muir comes into the wealthy Coventry family disguised as a demure year-old governess; in reality, she is a human time bomb. But for all her manipulations and outright lies, for all the passion and violence that lie beneath her calm and competent surface, Jean--a skilled actress waging a battle agains One of Alcott's "forgotten" but now celebrated Victorian thrillers, first published under the pseudonym A.

But for all her manipulations and outright lies, for all the passion and violence that lie beneath her calm and competent surface, Jean--a skilled actress waging a battle against age and poverty--is more sympathetic than the Coventrys, who display as a group all of the seven deadly sins. The narrative twists and turns that lead to Jean's muffled triumph not only kept this listener rapt, but spurred--as they have in contemporary critics--important reflections on class, gender, and the scope of female agency.

Feb 29, Bellezza rated it really liked it Shelves: Quite different from the Little Woman series of books and 8 cousins and the books that we part of that series. This book is about a woman looking for security in a society that discriminates against them. When a woman with no family had limited options and was held to a much higher standard of conduct then others. Miss Alcott writes with much attention to detail that is not overbearing or too wordy, and with a keen understanding of what it is like to be powerless in one sense and use one's streng Quite different from the Little Woman series of books and 8 cousins and the books that we part of that series.

Miss Alcott writes with much attention to detail that is not overbearing or too wordy, and with a keen understanding of what it is like to be powerless in one sense and use one's strengths to ones advantage. Apr 05, Sally Whitehead rated it it was amazing Shelves: I first read this fantastic little novella for my Literature degree back in the mid nineties and I remember being incredibly surprised by the "Alternative Alcott" for that is the name of the anthology my copy appears in I was presented with having only ever really associated her with "Little Women" previously.

This is an utterly delicious story and so deftly and delightfully woven it literally made me grin to reread it. This is Alcott having fun, and it's wicked and theatrical and I still love I first read this fantastic little novella for my Literature degree back in the mid nineties and I remember being incredibly surprised by the "Alternative Alcott" for that is the name of the anthology my copy appears in I was presented with having only ever really associated her with "Little Women" previously.

This is Alcott having fun, and it's wicked and theatrical and I still love it! Excellent Excellent rainy afternoon read. The reader will root for "governess" until the end. The outcome is left in doubt until the last few pages. I can see this made into a movie if the right actress could be found. Jun 24, Gina rated it it was amazing. An inverted Jane Eyre! Ma non riesco a non divertirmi con la produzione 'nera' di Louisa May Alcott.

Apr 04, Jack rated it it was ok. This novella is more interesting than enjoyable because the main character is both antagonist and protagonist. I found myself rooting against her but also wanting to see how she pulled off her ruse, so that indicates a certain level of my engagement.

But it also means that she is not really likable, which is always a tough sell for me. In fact, all of the characters have sympathetic and obnoxious facets as in real life , but all are still hindered by their frustrating repression and assumption This novella is more interesting than enjoyable because the main character is both antagonist and protagonist.

Usually, ideas are intertwined with values. Most novels are products of many woven ideas together. When one of the ideas seems to be the main one for the work, it is called the theme. In literature, theme is important to reveal the story. Birkerts says theme is the heart or soul of a work of fiction It's that concept that generates everything about the story. The theme of the story is the most significant aspect of a literary work.

The theme is what the work is about. What is the author trying to convey by writing the work? Fictional works are not random creations. The structure of the work, the characters, the plot, and the setting should all relate back to the central theme.

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Themes are therefore as equally important as plots, characters and the setting. Laurence Perrine's definition of theme is more specific: The theme of a piece of fiction is its controlling idea or its central insight. It is the unifying generalization about life stated or implied by the story Generally, themes are as important as plots.

It is theme that gives writers the opportunity to share their experiences concerning the topic. There are two different kinds of themes: The second is what might be called an "implied truth". Implied theme is not specifically stated by the author, and the reader is left to draw his own conclusions as to what the theme is. An unstated theme is one that readers must determine on their own by analyzing other story elements. Because people respond to literary works in different ways, different readers can discover different themes in the same story.

A fictional work can also have more than one theme. A theme may sometimes be stated directly or symbols. To derive the theme of a story, we must ask what its central purpose is: Though literary themes might be difficult to find, there are some ways to identify them. Here are approaches that will serve a reader to identify the theme of a literary work. Before we read a work, we must look at the title. Does it give any clues as to what the book will be about? We identify how the characters relate to the central topic. As we read the story, we have to try to see how the characters relate to the central topic.

We pay attention to key events, dialogue, ideas, metaphors, and changes in a character's actions or beliefs. In Little Women, for example, Meg is faced with her poverty when she attends a party. The other girls dress her up like a doll and she begins to act like someone that she is not.

Behind a Mask; or, a Woman's Power by Louisa May Alcott

When she is confronted about this by another character, she becomes ashamed and alarmed at her behavior. Sometimes there are instances where the title of a work relates with the story. We get a theme depending on what the story is. By way of this work, she projects what she feels about the Victorian women in general and the Victorian society in particular.


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In this chapter an attempt will be made to discuss the various major themes the author wants to convey through her literary. Alcott means to be woman. For her, a woman is capable of achieving goals. Power was seen as something only men have. She looks pretty good, though she is portrayed as being both young and old, when approaching men, but she never pitied the men. This means the roles she plays are imposed from the outside, the reason she needs to hide or disguise herself is, one or the other, an imposed one by culture and society. The moment a woman discovers her sexual power can be dangerous but also exciting.

All felt a touch of pity at the sight of the pale faced girl in her plain black dress, with no ornament but a little silver cross at her throat. Small, thin and colorless she was, with yellow hair, gray eyes, and sharply cut irregular but very expressive features. Poverty seemed to have set its bond stamp upon her, and life to have had for her more frost than sunshine. As we get closer to the end of chapter one, Jean begins to remove her mask and wants to uncover her real image.

She puts away her makeup. Let us look briefly how she talks to herself. Come, the curtain is down, so I may be myself for a few hours, if actresses ever are themselves. She challenges the double standard of Victorian society. Here Alcott demands that we question what we know as true-what truths might instead be a role that is being played? The truth is , according to Alcott, that woman can perform better than their counterparts. Victorian woman had indeed no chance of acceptance in society.

It was after the American civil war that Alcott published the book. To begin with, the story begins at the house of the Coventry where the Coventry family members meet an exceptional and extraordinary woman. It centers on Jean Muir. She quits the stage and goes into service as a governess hoping thereby to attract a wealthy husband. Jean Muir, the protagonist uses her sexuality to manipulate the three main male characters of the story and disguises herself as a much younger woman to achieve her goal.

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In the story, a female character named Bella, who is lonely young girl of the Coventry loves Jean Muir. And then they will come under her control. At the beginning chapter of the story, we will get that she has some interviews with the Coventry family for her job qualifications. She initially appears as sweet and meek and one with no doubt feels a great pity for her. Madeline Stern and other critics have pronounced "Behind a Mask" Alcott's "most extraordinary" story; Elaine Showalter has hailed the tale as the "most skillful" of the lot; and, since the story's twentieth-century republication, a number of persuasive and contrasting positions have been taken regarding the motivations, limitations, and powers of the story's remarkable heroine, Jean Muir.

This leads us into the social and financial pressures that resulted in women getting married. Women often marry because their parents search for a man who would be wealthy, have a title and could advance their social status. This was the case in eighteen and early nineteen century Europe and America.

In Behind a Mask, most famous and skillfully crafted gothic story, the protagonist manipulates or controls situations in an attempt to achieve power. Jean, the protagonist must play the role of beauty but act with the calculation of a predator, in order to get the title and wealth she seeks. Jean knows that she must secure her fortune on her own, whatever that means. In Alcott's thriller, as Showalter argues, women do not play the expected role of victim but are instead assertive heroine who uses whatever powers she possesses to succeed against all odds. She is often conscious of the mask that she is wearing, and of the power that is not hers.

When her "self" is everything that society considers pitiful- poverty, femininity, and youth—the woman realizes that she must use those weaknesses to her advantage, and hide whatever cannot be used behind the personality that society expects her to show.

Behind a Mask, Or, a Woman's Power

Whether the mask Alcott's heroine wears is that of beauty, innocence, and youth, or that of the respectable married woman, she is all a consummate actresses. Alcott used pen name to in an effort to disguise her gender. The fact that women were not encouraged to write had possibly made many women, including Alcott, to use pen names for their writings. As one literary historian noted, Alcott's characters are frequently not what they appear to be.

As such, the women are quite capable of manipulating emotions and controlling situations in a manner that was considered unbecoming to middle-class Victorian women. Still, despite their seemingly unbecoming traits, Alcott portrays her scandalous women sympathetically. She does not seem to judge them for their acts of violence, revenge, and what society would call immorality. When reading Alcott's stories, one comes away with sense of Alcott's admiration for the protean ability of the woman to guide her own fates rather than to let others rule her.

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Alcott does seem to have less moral indignation at the actions of immoral women. This is perhaps the most important question readers may ask. This is because she is more understanding because she, too, has been pushed to her limits by economic necessity. By sympathetically defining the situations of the women, Alcott offers a step-by-step exploration of how an innocent girl can be forced, often through economic circumstances, into what society would call immorality, but what the heroines call necessity.

By compassionately depicting her gothic heroine in unacceptable situations, Alcott sets up her own definition of "true womanhood. Alcott's characters reveal, through their actions, that they are aware that there is a difference between what society expects of women and what society actually rewards; Alcott seems to sense that those differences actively made all women actresses, because they cannot claim power outright and must do so in subversive ways.

Women, according to Alcott, can be successful only if they can power, specifically in taking financial control of their own lives. Alcott reveals, directly in some of her gothic stories and more subtly in others, her affinity for actresses and all women who must perform in public because of economic necessity. Even women who are performing the roles public in the sense that these roles require leaving one's home of governess or nurse are clearly linked to those who work on stage.

The women of Alcott's stories do not content themselves with remaining in the private sphere; instead, they reveal themselves in a number of public displays that are meant to seem private, causing us to question the distinctions between public and private acts.