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Love, Gender Relations, and Women’s Education in Louisa May Alcott’s “Anna’s Whim”—A Close Reading of Intertextual Allusions

Julia Nitz


This paper explores how Louisa May Alcott, in her 1873 short story, “Anna’s Whim,” invokes a particular concept of love and conjugal bliss to express her stance on the relation between the sexes in direct response to ongoing discussions about the woman question and the role of education in her time. Alcott positions herself on these subjects by invoking a variety of authors and texts and then providing her own fictional response to them. Intriguingly, she situates her discourse on love, gender relations, and women's education intertextually within a broader transatlantic discussion of nineteenth-century notions of woman's proper sphere of action.

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  • 1 Alcott directly alludes to the following authors and texts in “Anna’s Whim”: William Shakespeare’s (...)

1In her 1873 short story, “Anna’s Whim,” Louisa May Alcott engages with nineteenth-century separate spheres ideology, notions of essentialist womanhood, and accompanying education debates. In the late nineteenth century, concepts of Republican Motherhood established in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century were still widely accepted. They included the notion that women should receive some basic education to be proper wives and good early educators for their male offspring. Although writers such as Margaret Fuller, whom Alcott knew personally from her childhood days when Fuller was teaching at her father's Temple School, had advanced beyond this; already in the 1840s, she had demanded equal education for women as a right not just to make them better mothers. To Alcott’s aggravation, mid-century society and education reformers still largely agreed that women's education should make them better mothers and wives, to raise patriotic sons, and keep their husband's immorality in check. As the article elaborates, Alcott explicitly enters this debate through intertextual allusions, in her lesser-known story, “Anna’s Whim.”1 By invoking Tennyson’s Princess along with theories of women's equality by John Stuart Mill and Thomas Henry Buckle, she provides her own fictional commentary on the woman question, love and, conjugal bliss. It emerges that while Alcott’s oeuvre is full of literary allusions that highlight characters’ leanings and nature, in “Anna’s Whim” she positions herself within intertextual discourse on the woman question.

2“Anna’s Whim” was first serialized in The Independent on December 18, 1873, reprinted in the Woman's Journal, Feb. 21, 1874, and finally collected by Alcott in Silver Pitchers (1876). At the outset, the main protagonist, the young, rich, and beautiful Anna West complains to her friend Clara about well-to-do women (including themselves) who are taught to be shallow and flirtatious and about men who treat women like fools. She wishes to be treated like a man, and her wish is granted by her boyhood friend, Frank, who unnoticed by Anna overhears her complaint and secretly sets out to test her.

  • 2 For the wide spread practice of putting songs and lyrics from The Princess to music in the second h (...)

3The kind of experiment that Anna undergoes in the story would not have been entirely novel to contemporary readers. Her desire to be treated as an equal to a man and her realization that she needs education to achieve it is very much reminiscent of Princess Ida’s similar attempt in Alfred Tennyson's narrative poem The Princess, published in 1847. The poem's popularity surged again in the second half of the nineteenth century, when several of its songs and lyrics were put to music, most famously, “Tears, Idle Tears, I Know Not What They Mean.”2 Alcott makes sure that we do not miss the connection by having one of Anna's admirers read Tennyson to her.

4There are several striking parallels between the two texts: in both, two young, privileged women are exasperated by what women have become, i.e., spoiled, self-centered, idle, and shallow, by being treated like foolish idols and by being denied a proper education in their patriarchal societies. Tennyson’s Princess, tells the tale of young Princess Ida, who turns her back on men and founds a college for women. Her father calls these actions a “wild whim,” an idea that Alcott takes up in the title of her story about a young girl who wishes to be treated like a man. In both tales, the women—Anna and Ida—are chastised for taking too extreme measures in emancipating themselves from men, but both are also “rewarded” with marriage and “true love,” having in the process taught their future spouses to respect women's right to self-determination and growth.

5Both texts evince the mistreatment of women in patriarchal society, and both experiment with their desire for gender equality. As Anna puts it, when “the whim” of wanting to be treated like an equal by men takes hold of her: “Why don’t men treat me like a reasonable being?—talk sense to me, give me their best ideas, tell me their plans and ambitions, let me enjoy the real man in them, and know what they honestly are? I don’t want to be a goddess stuck up on a pedestal. I want to be a woman down among them, to help and be helped by our acquaintance” (48). Anna wishes for a relationship with men that is mutually respectful and mutually beneficial. She claims that when men idealize women, they deny them the status of fellow human beings and thereby make reciprocal usefulness impossible.

6Princess Ida also complains about the hypocrisy of men who mock women with flattery only to subordinate them in unequal relationships. When the Prince to whom Ida had been betrothed in childhood enters her college to claim her, she refuses, deeming such pre-contracts void. He then tries to woo her with love poetry, but receives a sobering rebuke:

Knaves are men,
That lute and flute fantastic tenderness,
And dress the victim to the offering up,
And paint the gates of Hell with Paradise,
And Play the slave to gain the tyranny.
Love is it? I would this same mock-love, and this
Mock-Hymen were laid up like winter bats
Till all men grew to rate us at our worth,
Not vassals to be beat, nor pretty babes
To be dandled, no, but living wills, and sphered
Whole in ourselves and due to none. (75)

7Ida mocks love that is based on physical attraction and views idealization that culminates in a relationship of pretense (marriage) as similar to enslavement. She expresses ideas akin to Anna's, of wishing to be treated as a human being with a heart and a mind instead of being judged a fragile ornament.

8In contrast to the Prince, Frank in “Anna’s Whim” is not enamored by Anna’s beauty alone but, on the contrary, loses interest and his regard for her because he discovers her to be “as spoilt as the rest” and nothing but a “belle” (51). Ida is the Prince’s unconditional love interest from the start, and he is simply waiting for her to return his affections. Anna instead must earn Frank’s regard and love. In short, in Alcott's tale, true love is not possible between men and shallow/mindless womanhood.

9The Tennyson reference occurs after Anna has first gone through the ordeal of being treated as a male friend by Frank, as they take a boat trip together. When Frank offers to help her row, Anna refuses and is shown as very capable in maneuvering the vessel but also as stubborn in refusing his aid. In the end, she has to acknowledge that she is too exhausted to steer them back to harbor, and the physically superior Frank takes over. The scene emphasizes that mutual interest and respect are well-guided, but doggedly refusing cooperation is potentially destructive to both parties. Importantly, Anna is given a chance to find out her own limitations. She finds her space of action independently of male proscription.

10Anna is very much attracted to Frank, especially so because he does not treat her like a fragile ornament. Nevertheless, after their outing, she falls back into her way of wanting to be flattered and spoilt. At this point, one of her male devotees reads Tennyson “to her inattentive ears” (57). Anna is swinging in her hammock and keeps thinking of Frank and the way he greeted her like a fellow chum with “Hullo, Anna,” in the morning. As the narrator points out, she is entirely oblivious to the fact that somebody is “softly reading Tennyson to her.” While readers may take note of the Tennyson connection, Anna remains unconscious (inattentive) of it. Therefore, we might assume that Anna may be repeating Ida's erroneous experiment of a female society in some way. According to the poem, Ida's fallacy is her complete refusal to cooperate with men because they have denied women equal civil rights; therefore she “set her face / Against all men and lived but for mine own” (117). The poem gives Ida credit for criticizing men's tyranny; however, it also emphasizes that a woman's claim for absolute equality with men violates her natural womanhood.

11In Tennyson’s vision, men and women are different by nature, and treating women like men would prevent love and lead to social disorder. Instead, he imagines a noble union between the sexes, in which each fulfils their role while learning from the other, and in unison they create an earthly paradise. The Prince asks Ida to let go of her insistence on “equal” and in turn promises her to support woman's education and social advancement (159).

12Tennyson reiterates one of the basic premises of nineteenth-century separate spheres ideology and woman's sphere rhetoric, namely that men and women are essentially different by nature—as a “true woman,” she is pious, pure, submissive, and domesticated; he, the doer, mover, and actor. He is there to run the world, and she is there to guard his and society’s morality. In this respect, Tennyson’s work is very much in tune with nineteenth-century conservative notions of gender relations; however, his verdict on the need for women's education and viewing man and woman together as two halves of an equation lends a more liberal note to his musings.

13As Leonee Ormond points out in her recent study The Reception of Alfred Tennyson in Europe, Tennyson’s championing of women's education with his story of a women’s university “ought to have aroused controversy.” Instead, as she explains, “with its romantic ending in a marriage between the educated Princess Ida and her suitor, the Prince, it proved popular with the public in Britain” (7); and as I would add, even more so across the Atlantic. In “Tennyson Across the Atlantic,” Barbara Clerk confirms Tennyson’s great popularity in the United States. Concerning the reception of The Princess, she points out that some read it as a satire of women's rights campaigns, whereas others saw it as a defense of the movement (3). Many intertextual references in a variety of texts and by a range of different authors testify to the existence of oppositional readings of the poem. George Eliot, for example, in her discussion of Mary Wollstonecraft’s and Margaret Fuller’s writings on women’s rights, sees The Princess as a “wisely stated demand to disencumber her [woman] of the parasitic forms,” linking it directly to Margaret Fuller’s “calm plea for the removal of unjust laws and artificial restrictions, so that the possibility of her [woman’s] nature may have room for full development and education” (988).

  • 3 Queen Victoria promoted Alfred Tennyson to the position of poet laureate after William Wordsworth's (...)

14For others, such as Queen Victoria, however, The Princess served as a corrective to women's rights activism, a subject that, as she proclaims, would make her so furious that she could not contain herself. In a letter of May 29, 1870, to her husband’s biographer, Theodore Martin, the queen castigates women suffragists: “Tennyson has some beautiful lines on the difference of men and women in ‘The Princess.’ Woman would become the most hateful, heartless, and disgusting of human beings were she allowed to unsex herself, and where would be the protection which man was intended to give the weaker sex?” (70).3

15George Eliot and Queen Victoria refer to the exact same passage in the final crisis of the poem, when the Prince tries to explain to Ida that he will not be a tyrant to her but that she must stop acting against her feminine nature. He concedes that he is perfectly willing to “leave her field to burgeon and to bloom / From all within her, make herself her own / To give or keep, to live and learn and be / all that not harms distinctive womanhood” (160). This oft-quoted passage highlights the probable reason for the various interpretations of the poem. On the one hand, it implies that women have a specific God-given nature that differs from that of men. Part of that nature, according to the poem, are maternal feelings and a special talent for care-giving. At the same time, the poem makes room for the idea that women should be allowed to develop their mental faculties to the fullest and to live self-determinedly (“to give or keep, to live and learn”). The only check on this self-determination is “all that not harms distinctive womanhood.” What readers seem to differ about is what this harm may be exactly.

16For Queen Victoria, demands for women’s suffrage and women’s activism definitely harmed what she considered “distinctive womanhood,” and she uses the poem to point this out. For Eliot and Fuller, the poem is a reminder that women's education and more just laws governing marriage would not harm woman's nature. In Women in the Nineteenth Century published the same year as The Princess, Fuller almost echoes the Prince’s idea that the two genders together, when both are given room to be educated and developed, will create a “ravishing harmony of the spheres” (37). Fuller however argues that “man should esteem himself the brother and friend, but nowise the lord and tutor of woman” and calls instead for an intellectual companionship, a “harmony of mind” (61) that allows for their natural differences, which do not however make men superior to women.

17Linking her story explicitly with Tennyson’s Princess, Alcott encourages the comparison, joining the controversy as to the meaning of the poem. It is noteworthy that the Boston coterie, foremost among them Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Russell Lowell, read Tennyson’s work enthusiastically. Edgar Allen Poe was another great champion of his work. As a consequence, The Princess was very favorably received, continuously reprinted, and widely read throughout the nineteenth century in the USA (Mazzeno 13–15). After invoking the tale of The Princess, the narrator tests Ida's whim against that of Anna. In Tennyson, women’s submissiveness is not questioned, and education is promoted not as an end in itself (this is destructive) but as a means to improve gender relations and mankind in general. Woman remains the musical accompaniment to man.

  • 4 Which is what Fuller is claiming the state of the sexes already, except that Buckle is arguing from (...)

18Alcott further explores this notion of the goal of woman’s education and the relation between the sexes when she has Anna stop reading novels and “sentimental poetry.” Instead she reads “Buckle, Mill, and Social Science Reports” (71). Out of all available philosophers and social scientists, Alcott pointedly selected Henry Thomas Buckle and John Stuart Mill, two theorists who were well known for their stance on women's rights and for their plea for the advancement of women’s education. In 1858, Buckle delivered a talk at the Royal Institution on “The Influence of Women on the Progress of Knowledge,” published posthumously in 1872, one year prior to “Anna’s Whim.” In this lecture, he argued that men and women contribute equally to the knowledge of humankind, but that they supposedly do so by essentially different methods. Men, he thought, work inductively, collecting empirical facts. Women, he assumed, proceed deductively, starting with a general theory and judge the world and phenomena by applying that idea. As Buckle put it: “They [women] are more emotional, more enthusiastic, and more imaginative than men; they therefore live more in an ideal world; while men, with their colder, harder, and austerer organisations, are more practical and more under the dominion of facts” (7). Buckle hoped that “the imaginative and emotional minds of one sex [would] continue to accelerate the great progress, by acting upon and improving the colder and harder minds of the other sex” (19).4

19Frank repeats such essentialist sentiments of women’s idiosyncratic way of thinking and perception when he claims that Anna’s subtle instincts have not only saved him from growing too hard and selfish but also have opened up new brave visions of the world to him. Now as with Buckle, this belief is not about guarding society’s virtues but about knowledge production. While these ideas ring of the old saw about women making men morally better, the invocation of Buckle shifts focus onto women's intellectual faculties and their importance for the progress of humanity instead. Notions of True Womanhood and Republican Womanhood assumed that women were by nature morally superior to men and should therefore be the guardians of men’s and society’s morality, exerting their influence as mothers and wives from home. Buckle stressed that a sole focus on empirical facts, the province of men, will not advance society enough; he believed that for a civilization to progress one needs the woman’s deductive approach to achieve real greatness. He did not challenge the essential man-woman-divide but made room for women's intellectual work outside of the domestic sphere. Frank and Anna express similar doubts as to the “natural” deficiencies of women when they blame society's normative expectations for men and women and the unequal education men and women receive for the state of shallow womanhood.

20In her fictional plea for women's education, Alcott deliberately opts for a rich and beautiful young woman as main protagonist. Anna is shown as financially and socially at eyelevel with Frank. By taking a well-to-do woman as a case in point, Alcott highlights that it is education or rather the lack thereof, that limits female growth and advancement, as not even a rich woman can attain education but is turned into an ornament by social convention. Wanting to stress social convention and the bias contained therein towards women’s education may explain Alcott’s somewhat unusual disregard for issues of class and race in the story.

21In fact, at the time of writing, educational opportunities for women in the USA had improved considerably. In the 1860s, higher education institutions increasingly admitted women. However, concerns remained strong that education was detrimental to women's maternal and reproductive capacities. Edward H. Clarke’s controversial book Sex Education (1873), in which he argued that higher education diverted too much blood from women’s reproductive organs to their brains is a case in point. Alcott actively writes against such notions of education as unsexing women by showing Anna as improving in attraction and womanliness in the course of her (self-)educational journey. As the narrator points out, her new educational regime had “touched [her lovely features] with new beauty” (77), a phenomenon that echoes Platonian notions of the beauty in the soul. In a similar vein, defenders of women's education challenged Clark’s and others’ assertions about the injury education supposedly inflicted on women’s womanly and maternal nature. Nonetheless, for most of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, while it was possible for financially well-off women to attain college degrees, convention and societal biases forbade such endeavors as unwomanly.

22So far, we have explored ideas of women’s education and knowledge production as well as gender relations; however, we need to come back to the concept of love invoked in “Anna’s Whim” to get at the core of Alcott’s response to the texts and ideas she references. In The Princess, love becomes possible when Ida accepts her essentialist nature as a woman, and at the same time, the Prince promises to refrain from limiting her intellectual development.

  • 5 Such notions of love and marriage as trusting friendship is very much in line with a maxim expresse (...)

23Anna’s and Frank’s union offers a parallel to this version of true love: essentialist gender assumptions and free educational space for women. However, there is one significant difference. Ida must abandon some of her independence and becomes part of a male-female union as “they grow, / The single pure and perfect animal, / the two-cell'd heart” but “distinct in individualities” (161). In contrast, Anna and Frank unite as two separate entities “working” together instead of merging into one. In fact, it is Anna’s gained intellectual and emotional independence and her ability to stand alone without him that makes her love strong and capable of being part of a mutually supportive and equal couple. In contrast to her initial infatuation with Frank that had made her play her charms to enamor him, “real love” means that Anna is ready to give him up, wishing him to be happy with whomever he chooses. As the narrator points out, “real love had banished all her small coquetries, vanities, and affectations” (73). This maturation is possible only because Anna has undergone a process of self-recognition and self-reliance. What we witness here is real love between two independent individuals. In the story, woman is not elevated by marriage but needs to elevate herself to be able to enter a successful, love-based marriage.5

24I would like to argue that Alcott here most closely aligns herself with British philosopher and politician John Stuart Mill, whom Anna is explicitly shown reading in addition to Buckle, and whom Alcott met personally on her second trip to London in 1870. Mill expressed strong sentiments for women's equal rights in The Subjection of Women (1869). In this text as elsewhere, he denies the natural differences between men and women and sees women’s subjugation as detrimental to society as a whole. He was an outspoken proponent of women's suffrage and divorce rights. The ending of “Anna’s Whim” echoes Mill’s idea of the “partnership” between men and women in which nobody is master (71). In The Subjection of Women, Mill demands equality of married persons before the law, a state that he believes would be “conducive to the happiness of both,” and render “the daily life of mankind, in any higher sense, a school of moral cultivation” (78–9). Mill does not proclaim that men and women are equal but that they should be given equal opportunity and freedom to arrange things amongst themselves and to develop their faculties to the fullest. What differentiates him from Tennyson and Buckle, and also to some extent from Fuller and other proponents of women’s education, is that Mill refrains from talking about a woman’s essential nature, even though he never challenged ideas about women’s presumably natural aptitude for mothering and their obligation to do it. For him, fixed gender notions are merely remnants of historical practice. He believes that what is considered “unnaturally” in women “generally means only uncustomary and that everything which is usual appears natural” (22–3). He adds, “if people believe that women have a certain nature why would they not allow her free development and choice,” instead of putting her in similar conditions to those of slaves, making her the subject of legal (marital) sexual abuse, deny her property rights, and tyrannize her by unjust custody and divorce laws (58–70).

25In 1874, in a letter to fellow abolitionist and long-time friend Maria S. Porter, Alcott expresses very similar sentiments as to allowing women free reign to discover what their nature is:

  • 6 Louisa May Alcott in a letter to Maria S. Porter (1892).

Let us hear no more of ‘women’s sphere’ either from our wise (?) legislators beneath the State House dome, or from the clergymen in their pulpits. I am tired, year after year, of hearing such twaddle about sturdy oaks and clinging vines and man's chivalric protection of woman. Let woman find out her own limitations, and if, as is so confidently asserted, nature has defined a sphere, she will be guided accordingly, but in heaven's name give her a chance! Let the professions be open to her, let fifty years of college education be hers, and then we shall see what we shall see. Then, and not until then, shall we be able to say what woman can and what she cannot do, and coming generations will know and be able to define more clearly what is a ‘woman's sphere’ than these benighted men who now try to do it.6

26Alcott is fed up with men who want to limit women's activities because they claim to know what woman's nature is. In “Anna’s Whim,” she illustrates how a young girl refuses to be defined by men but accepts guidance from a male friend that helps her toward self-discovery. Only when she is ready to “see my way,” and is no longer in need of guidance does she feel happy and ready to venture out into a limitless sphere as she “looked above the level sands and beyond the restless sea” (77). There is no indication of a real or metaphorical space that Anna would be confined to. She enters into a loving relationship with Frank on an entirely equal footing, and they set out on their life journey together. On several occasions, Anna's story seems like a fictionalized account of Margaret Fuller’s vision of gender relations, in which woman's rights freed men too. There is no explicit allusion to Fuller. Albeit, those acquainted with the debate on woman’s education could not have missed the connection. It seems that instead of invoking another fellow female voice, Alcott makes a point of relying on established male voices to carry the argument of her and likeminded women for ceasing to reign in women's creativity.

27“Anna’s Whim” seems designed by Alcott to mirror and to challenge established notions of womanhood. She aligns herself with Tennyson’s idea that women should not reject female nature but should be given (educational) room to discover and develop it to the fullest. She does not go so far as to reject essentialist notions of womanhood but maintains along with Mill that we will not know what that nature is if women are not allowed free intellectual growth and an independent sphere of action. Alcott also rejects Tennyson’s vision of woman as accompaniment to men and replaces it with equal partnership, adding her own twist to the argument about marital bliss. Alcott anchors her story intertextually within contemporary discussions of woman's nature, the rhetoric of separate spheres, and the role of women’s education. Intertextual allusions make her point all the more convincing because she knew that not only would readers recognize the allusions she was making but also that because they were contestable stories and characters, she could make her own opinion on the debate clear. Ultimately, we see her vision of married partnership play out in Jo’s Boys, which was in progress during the 1870s and 1880s, finally appearing in print in 1886. The married couple, Jo March and Professor Bhaer, who share in the education of their pupils, are the literary realization of the partnership envisioned between Frank and Anna. Through the character of Dora West (including a rowing scene), who is described as a “jolly little thing” that “doesn’t bother about anything but keeping step” (320), Alcott invokes Anna West and potentially illustrates what she would have become without the educational journey she experienced, namely an ornament that pleases men but does not contribute to “the great work of the world” (Jo’s Boys 284), as she should in Aunt Jo’s and, arguably, in Alcott’s opinion.

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Alcott, Louisa May. “Anna’s Whim.” Silver Pitchers: And Independence, A Centennial Love Story. Roberts Brothers, 1876, pp. 47–78.

---. Jo’s Boys, and How They Turned out. A Sequel to “Little Men.” Little, Brown, and Company, 1910.

Clark, Barbara. “Tennyson Across the Atlantic.” Tennyson Research Bulletin, vol. 5, no. 1, 1987, pp. 1–8.

Clarke, Edward H. Sex in Education; or, A Fair Chance for the Girls. James R. Osgood and Company, 1873.

Buckle, Thomas Henry. “The Influence of Women on the Progress of Knowledge: A Discourse Delivered at the Royal Institution, on Friday, the 19th of March, 1858.” Published in Fraser's Magazine, April 1858. Miscellaneous Works and Posthumous Works, Longmans, 1872, pp. 1–19.

Fuller, S. Margaret. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Greeley & McElrath, 1845.

Eliot, George. “Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft.” The Leader, vol. 6, 13 October 1855, pp. 988–9. Rpt. in Essays of George Eliot, edited by Thomas Pinney, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968.

Martin, Theodore. Victoria as I Knew Her. William Blackwood and Sons, 1901.

Mazzeno, Laurence W. Alfred Tennyson: The Critical Legacy. Camden House, 2004.

Mill, John Stuart. The Subjection of Women. Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1869.

Ormond, Leonee. “Introduction.” The Reception of Alfred Tennyson in Europe, edited by Leonee Ormond, Bloomsbury, 2017, pp. 1–20.

Porter, Maria S. “Recollections of Louisa May Alcott.” New England Quarterly, vol. 6, 1892, pp. 13–14.

Tennyson, Alfred. The Princess; A Medley. William D. Ticknor and Co., 1848.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects. Peter Edes for Thomas and Andrews, 1792.

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1 Alcott directly alludes to the following authors and texts in “Anna’s Whim”: William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (“white wonder”; Act III, Sc. III; Alcott 64), Thomas Morton’s Speed the Plough (1798) (“Mrs. Grundy”; Alcott 49) and Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby (1838–1839) (66). Furthermore, she invokes Alfred Lord Tennyson’s œuvre and the nonfiction works by John Stuart Mill and Thomas Buckle.

2 For the wide spread practice of putting songs and lyrics from The Princess to music in the second half of the nineteenth century, see Ormond (14).

3 Queen Victoria promoted Alfred Tennyson to the position of poet laureate after William Wordsworth's death in 1850, probably by the initiative of her husband, Prince Albert, who was one of the most vocal British admirers of the poet.

4 Which is what Fuller is claiming the state of the sexes already, except that Buckle is arguing from flawed science that described women's brains as small and smoother than men's and invokes theories of why the sexes thought differently, whereas Fuller’s was not a biological discussion but a cultural one—that is learned, not inherited.

5 Such notions of love and marriage as trusting friendship is very much in line with a maxim expressed 80 years earlier by Mary Wollstonecraft. In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), she claimed that with equitable laws and education for men and women, "marriage may become more sacred: your young men may choose wives from motives of affection, and your maidens allow love to root out vanity" (xi).

6 Louisa May Alcott in a letter to Maria S. Porter (1892).

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Electronic reference

Julia Nitz, “Love, Gender Relations, and Women’s Education in Louisa May Alcott’s “Anna’s Whim”—A Close Reading of Intertextual Allusions”European journal of American studies [Online], 17-3 | 2022, Online since 26 October 2022, connection on 29 November 2022. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Julia Nitz

Julia Nitz is Associate Professor of Anglo-American Cultural Studies at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and co-founder of the Intercontinental Crosscurrents Network for the study of transatlantic women’s networks in the long nineteenth century. Her publications include Towards a Historiographic Narratology (2011), Intercontinental Crosscurrents: Women’s Networks across Europe and the Americas (2016) and Women and US Politics (2020).

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