Domestic Transcendentalism in the novels of Louisa May Alcott, Gene Stratton-Porter, and Jean Webster

Date of Completion

January 1993


Literature, American




"Domestic Transcendentalism in the Novels of Louisa May Alcott, Gene Stratton-Porter, and Jean Webster" examines the previously overlooked novels of three highly successful popular novelists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The fiction of Louisa May Alcott, Gene Stratton-Porter, and Jean Webster, while appealing to a diverse popular audience, also contains strategically placed allusions to the works and philosophy of the leaders of the Transcendentalist movement. Tracing the influence of Emerson, Thoreau, and other Transcendental figures on the novels of Alcott, Stratton-Porter, and Webster, this study demonstrates that the women writers both honor and temper the ideas of their literary predecessors. While the novelists retain an Emersonian insistence on individualism and a respect for the relationship between God, Nature, and humanity, they affirm the necessity of community over solitude. They also depict male and female characters, adults and children, who experience epiphanies and function as Poets, thereby suggesting in a realistic setting the practical possibilities of Transcendentalism as a way of life.^ These authors reinterpret Transcendental beliefs in diverse ways. Alcott emphasizes the educational methods advocated by her father, Bronson Alcott, in combination with her own convictions about the redemptive nature of work. Her evolving ideas about education and work are reflected in her characters' transformation from "pilgrims" into "missionaries." Stratton-Porter appropriates the Transcendentalists' emphasis on the spiritual significance of Nature, yet tempers their Idealism with her awareness of the urgency for conservation of natural resources. Jean Webster affirms Emerson's theories on self-reliance and the necessity of self-culture, yet she proposes that self-assurance is not merely the end goal for the individual but a vital aspect of a healthy community. These domestic Transcendentalists acknowledge the significance of American Romanticism. They also suggest the possibilities of Transcendentalism as an effective means of social reform. ^