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Puritans, Nuns and Love: Reflections on L. M. Alcott and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

Aušra Paulauskienė


Despite their artistic and generational differences, Louisa May Alcott and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman subscribe to the new, revivalist evangelical, understanding of marital love in their critique of the Puritan view of love and marriage. In A Marble Woman (1865) and Work: A Story of Experience (1873), Alcott defines love as an involuntary attraction and sees it as the only reason for marriage. In Pembroke (1894) and the early short fiction, her younger New England compatriot, Freeman, echoes the idea that it is better to remain a metaphorical nun than marry for any other reason but mystical love. In an absence of a God-given mate, female protagonists transform their love to compassionate care. On the other hand, in the texts of both writers, most male characters battle the vestiges of Puritan will before succumbing to the unguarded expression of romantic love, usually in dramatic conversion-like transformations.

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1Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888), an intermittent resident of Concord, Massachusetts, was only a generation younger than Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (1852-1930), born in, and a long-time resident of, Randolph, Massachusetts. Alcott published A Marble Woman (1865) (under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard) and Work: A Story of Experience (1873) as an established author, at the time when Freeman was only sharpening her writer’s pen. However, the links among their texts are not just geographical but also temporal. Freeman’s stories of A New England Nun (1891) portray quaint New England hamlets stuck in the outdated beliefs and customs of their Puritan ancestors, while the novel Pembroke (1894) is deliberately set in the 1830s and the 1840s, the time of the author’s parents’ generation. Alcott in Work, too, takes a look into the past by recording “the changes and the continuity of woman’s experience from 1833 through 1873” (Elbert x) and remembering a “simpler, preindustrial” America (Yellin 538). The time and location in A Marble Woman, however, are obscure due to the undefined context of her sensation tale.

2While both writers portray mid-century New England, they belonged to different artistic movements. Alcott’s name is rarely, if at all, mentioned among those who tackled the Puritan legacy in fiction but looms large among representatives of sentimental fiction. Freeman, on the other hand, earned a reputation as a historian and sociologist of nineteenth-century New England and is called a regionalist and a realist. Yet, according to Perry D. Westbrook, Freeman offers a “sentimental” solution to the “sickness” of the will in Puritan descendants, whose once useful tenacity has morphed into rigidity and stubbornness (50). The “sovereign remedy” for such “ills” of pride and habit is love, often in the form of empathy for another (50). The healing power of sympathetic love adds a sentimental touch to Freeman’s realism, while a similar portrayal of post-Puritan character links Alcott to Freeman. It is precisely the subject of love that links Freeman to the acknowledged sentimentalist, Alcott.

3Differently from Freeman, who descended from Puritans, Alcott had Puritan ancestry only on her mother’s side. However, my reading of her texts side by side with Freeman’s suggests Alcott’s familiarity with Puritan values and character. Abigail May Alcott fashioned her children’s religious education after the one she had inherited from her parents (LaPlante 81), while her worldview “combined orthodox Puritan values with liberal Unitarianism” (88). Possible Puritan influence on the offspring in the Alcott family was diluted by the father’s eccentric religious views. Amos Bronson Alcott abandoned his Episcopal roots and embraced a “personal theology similar to Unitarianism” and later delved into the philosophy of transcendentalism (LaPlante 81). It should be noted that Bronson’s transcendentalist belief in inherent goodness did not clash with Puritan-like emphasis on conscience and will. In his seventh birthday note to Louisa, he wrote: “You feel your CONSCIENCE, and have no real pleasure unless you obey it.... How it smiles upon you... when you Resolve to Obey it!” (LaPlante 93). Other journal entries, however, recorded Bronson’s frustration with Louisa’s willful self, allegedly inherited from her mother (71).

4It may be surmised that even Louisa’s writing talent derived partly from her Puritan roots. She started writing at eleven by keeping a diary, “a long habit” with Abigail’s family “beginning with the male Puritans who regularly recorded their observations and feelings” (LaPlante 118). While Puritanism and Unitarianism and transcendentalism all influenced her upbringing, Alcott, like Freeman, experienced the Puritan legacy in the culture of rural New England.

5Both authors lived in a time and place that witnessed a major shift in the cultural understanding of romantic love. According to Zsuzsa Berend, nineteenth-century revivalist evangelicalism “reversed” the Puritan “view” of love and marriage (937). Seventeenth-century Puritans based the choice of a marriage partner on “friendship and esteem,” two “solid foundations” for the love that would follow (937). Therefore, to be married meant to learn to love one’s partner and to sustain that love (936). The beginning of the nineteenth century ushered in the understanding of love as mystical and involuntary (937). Love came to be understood as a “mysterious and unintentional” attraction and the only acceptable reason for marriage (936).

6The texts mirror how the two writers subscribe to the new understanding of marital love, described by Berend. Marriage for love, even in poverty, is imagined as being happy by both Alcott and Freeman. Moreover, both writers extend Berend’s claim that middle-class women were “severely selective in choosing husbands” beyond them to the lower class by turning a laundress and a farmer’s wife into proponents of marriage for love (940). Mrs. Wilkins’ statement in Work, “Better to wait patiently for love than marry without” (406), is echoed by Sarah Barnard of Pembroke, “It’s better to be an old maid than to marry somebody you don’t want” (268).

7In Work, Christie Devon’s ability to wait for true love is tested by her having to choose between a rich and a poor man. Christie is tempted by Fletcher’s ability to give her a life of luxury, novelty, and pleasure (392). She mistakenly thinks that “hearts could be managed like children, and when one toy is unattainable, be appeased by a bigger or a brighter one” (391). Her dilemma is solved by Mrs. Wilkins’ advice: a woman should not marry “for a living” (395) but trust to Providence that true love will come along: “Be sure you’re right as to there bein’ love enough, then go ahead, and the Lord will bless you” (396). A poor laundress becomes a spokesperson for Alcott’s ideology of love.

8In Pembroke, after a broken engagement to Barnabas Thayer, Charlotte Barnard’s love stands a similar test as she is courted by Thomas Payne, a college-educated squire’s son. She rejects him but, for an instant, feels fear of disloyalty to her former fiancée: beside Thomas, Barney appears at such a disadvantage that “even her love [cannot] cover him” (164). She is convinced that Thomas is “the better man of the two, although she [does] not love him” (164). After Thomas stops the courtship at her request, almost a decade later, she feels pain as she imagines him with some woman “out West” (302). Her fancy yet again places the two men “side by side:” Thomas appearing “handsome and stately” and “full of generous bravery,” in contrast to Barney, “vaguely crouching beneath some awful deformity” (302). Despite her mind and instincts, Charlotte remains true to her “soul” that “cleav[es] to her old lover” (302).

9In A Marble Woman, young Cecil, admitting that she “know[s] nothing of love except in marble” in the form of a Cupid she had carved, asks the neighbor Alfred for a definition of love (145). While she listens to his confession about his longing and desire to be with her, a troubling realization that she loves her guardian Yorke awakens her “quiet heart” (146). Alfred proposes love and marriage, while her guardian offers a nunnery of two; but once she knows she loves Yorke, there is no other choice but staying with the one she loves, be it as a ward or a fake wife.

10Barbara Welter, while discussing the mid-century tenets of true womanhood, pointed out that “marriage was best” but “not absolutely necessary” (169). Berend concurs by entitling her article “The Best or None.” She convincingly argues that nineteenth-century women often forwent marriage not because of a lack of opportunity but a lack of love for an available partner (936). Alcott and Freeman revise Berend’s slogan “the best or none” to the best or nun. In the texts under discussion, both authors make direct references to this mostly Catholic term with similar metaphorical connotations. As the female protagonists are waiting for their God-given mate, they live in chastity and isolation, in other words, like nuns.

11The narrator of Alcott’s Work explains Christie’s spiritual quest by going to “many churches” and studying “many creeds” as looking for “God’s friendship to earn happiness in human love” (162). Christie’s room at the Sterlings’ is “plain and white and still as a nun’s cell” (243). To David, his ward looks like a “peaceful, pious nun” (306). To earn true love, Christie possesses a “chaste heart and a quiet mind” and lives in an “inner world of deep feeling, high thought, and earnest aspiration” (407) exhibiting “patient endeavor, hard-won submission, and unselfish love” (412). Christie’s “loyalty to love” (407) and the “nunnery of chaste heart and quiet mind” (407) is rewarded with marriage, since the “dear Lord requites some faithful hearts” (412).

12In A Marble Woman, the protagonist’s life as a nun has two stages: one of innocence about love and her feelings, and the second of knowledge about her love for Yorke. The neighbor Alfred sums up Cecil’s first five years with Yorke as “a nun’s life” (145). However, to Christie the life of solitude and work was pleasant and peaceful, until the “first glimpse of passion” ever seen upon her face “disturb[s] its quietude” (146). Yorke casts her in the role of a nun in a meeting with Germain, later to be revealed as her father. At Yorke’s request, she wears “a plain gray gown” of a virgin who has given up the world instead of her usual “more becoming” white dress associated with the virginity of a future bride (153). Yorke himself arranges her hair by gathering “the dark locks plainly... into a knot behind” with the same purpose of erasing her sexuality (153).

13After Cecil shatters the Cupid and her dream of a requited love, her life becomes “more nunlike than ever” (152). Her face grows more “cold and colorless,” and her manner and mood “quieter” with fewer smiles and words (152). But the loss of innocence about love means that the pleasant quietude of “[her] nun’s life” has been lost (146). The passion of love needs to be concealed by a woman who only appears “calm as the marble Psyche” (174). The “longing look” that Basil misinterprets as an opium addict’s withdrawal is, in truth, a longing for her beloved, according to the definition of love she learned from Alfred (192).

14In Freeman’s Pembroke, after being jilted by Barnabas, Charlotte “walk[s] her solitary maiden path” (305). As she grows older, she “settl[es] into the patient single-woman position” of assisting future brides with her needle work (310). Although her “faithful” needle pricks at the old wound in her soul, she never shrinks, “smiling like a soldier over her work” for the happiness of others (311). Her nun-like chastity of body and soul keeps her as young-looking as ten years ago when her engagement was broken. She “[does] not grow old at all” and “her girlish bloom never fad[es] under her sober bonnet” (311).

15The choice of self-cloistered life by women in the texts of Freeman and Alcott denotes either a temporary or a permanent purity in an absence of true love or the unavailability of the chosen love object. The above quotes suggest that nunnery is associated not only with sexual chastity in an absence of a suitable marriage partner but also with the virtues of this vocation, such as patience, submission, and unselfish love, compatible with the Catholic understanding of a nun’s calling. Thus, both writers emphasize love’s spiritual aspect and its centrality for human happiness.

16When matrimony is unavailable, spiritual love, “a necessary ingredient in true marriage,” according to Berend, may be re-directed to loving missions outside the family (940). Westbrook calls it finding a “substitute for love or marriage” (51). Charlotte redirects her love by doing useful work for the community with her needle work. Likewise, Christie redirects her energies for public good and Cecil to sculpting. In none of these texts set in nineteenth-century New England can love be redirected to another. Because love cannot be transferred to another, there are many self-cloistering characters, or “nuns,” in a broader gender-neutral sense, in Freeman’s early fiction and in Alcott’s two narratives. Westbrook refers to such Freeman’s characters as “love-cracked” or “rendered queer by disappointment in love” (51). Similar victims of unhappy love populate Alcott’s texts discussed in this paper.

17In both writers’ works, usually male characters earn such epithets. Masculine love stays true to the ideals of spirituality and exclusivity of love; however, self-cloistering men do not redirect love, and often become bitter and reclusive. They willfully choose the track of loveless-ness and tenaciously remain stuck in it to their own harm. As Westbrook notes about Freeman’s characters, the “stern” will “warp[s] [their] whole nature into one groove” (Westbrook 69).

18Barnabas Thayer of Pembroke blames God’s will, not his own, for his failed relationship. Although he loves Charlotte and has no doubts about her love for him, he cannot overcome his pride after an insult from her father on the eve of their wedding. After breaking his engagement to Charlotte, he lives like a “hermit,” taking “solitary meals” in his unfinished house (167). He sits “at his solitary table, around which there would never be any faces but those of his dead dreams” (116). Working alone, “half a mile away” from other wood cutters,” he “amuse[s] himself miserably” with his “old dreams” (313). He does not go home for lunch as other men do and eats “nothing from morning until night” (314). His home and life are devoid of anything but “bare actualities” (312). Even when the weather is “too severe” for other wood cutters, he works in a swamp “with the snow heaping itself upon his bowed shoulders” (315).

19A similar image of a self-flagellating ascetic hermit emerges in the character of Nicholas Gunn, the protagonist of “A Solitary,” a story from A New England Nun. He, too, leads a solitary existence with bare essentials like a “Buddhist monk” (215). As in Pembroke, the symbolism of snow and cold is used to represent a freezing of his human emotions. He sits passively on his doorstep “beneath the storm,” the falling snow forming a “tall white crown” upon his “old cap” (215). He had led this life of denial “for the last six years” (218). The conversation at the store reveals that “his wife run off with another fellar, or somethin’, and he’s cracked” (220).

20The bitter reclusive type of Freeman’s Barnabas and Nicholas can be found in A Marble Woman. As Nicholas’ barely furnished “fireless hermitage” (224) has a “shelf full of books” (217), “full shelves” of books are the only “society” that enliven Bazil Yorke’s “solitary” meals (A Marble Woman 135). He works in the tower of his mansion where “nothing but the sun and sparrows can see him” or his statues (134). The rumor has it that Mr. Yorke “had a love trouble and can’t bear women, so none dare go near him” (135). Yorke confirms what Cecil had heard from the neighbors: “Twelve long years since I saw her last, and then gave up the world” (138). An early wrong “had embittered a once noble nature” (143).

21Only Alcott’s Work portrays a man who, although physically reclusive, is charitable and communal in his work. If David sees Christie as a pure nun, she imagines her host as “retired from the world to nurse his wounds in solitude” (248). It turns out the wound was inflicted on his pride by the “nearest and dearest creature in the world,” his sister Letty. To atone for the wrong of choosing retribution over forgiveness, he redirects his brotherly love to strangers who stand in as substitutes for his supposedly deceased sister. David manifests his “sterling” qualities of spiritualized love by becoming a “brother” to young women who need home to “recover themselves after the wrongs, defeats, and weariness” (274).

22However, his Quaker spirituality combined with his sensitive conscience make him feel not ready for, or undeserving of, romantic love, while his strong will fights his growing love for Christie. When he runs into his former ward at Mr. Powers’ and finds her changed from a nun to “good and lovely” and wanted by another man, Mr. Fletcher, he is momentarily “off guard” (389). Christie’s understanding of David in this rare moment is that of a passionate but repressed man. His eyes are averted but “full of fire,” while his “whole attitude and expression” are “of a man intent on subduing some strong impulse by a yet stronger will” (389). When months later David finally gives way to his feelings, he explains that he had given a vow to “never love or marry as a punishment for [his] cruelty to Letty” (425). Now he sees the vow as “foolish,” a judgement seconded by Christie (425). “You might have done it months ago,” she gently reprimands, “if you had not been a dear, modest, morbidly conscientious bat” (425). Westbrook valued Freeman for her “analyses” not only of will but also of “post-Puritan conscience” (xi). It is interesting to discover Alcott’s mild critique of David’s excessive conscience in Work.

23Even if David is an exception among reclusive male characters, he discovers the outlet of charitable love after transforming his anger and pride into love for the sister he had shunned. “When I knew that she was dead,” he confesses, “I forgave her with a vain forgiveness, and mourned for my darling” (418). Similar transformation of hurt pride into love, moved along by a strong emotion, such as grief, remorse, or compassion, unites all male characters under discussion. Westbrook notes that Puritan “divines,” such as Jonathan Edwards, recognized the role of emotion in “any act of will that sweeps one into a wholly new path, say, that of conversion” (68). Sudden and powerful “acts of volition” are often caused by some preceding fit of emotion, such as a sudden grief over a misfortune, or even a loss, of loved one (68).

24Conversion defined as an “overwhelming, emotionally charged surge of conviction of the reality of Christ and a consuming love for him” was of utmost importance among Calvinists and their religious descendants, Congregationalists, the religion in which Freeman was raised (57). Freeman, although already a convert, had subjected herself to such “agonizing soul-searching” as a student of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (58). According to Westbrook, Calvinism “only slightly modified was far from extinct in most of the villages, and nowhere in New England was its spirit dead” (57).

25The conversion of Alcott’s and Freeman’s male characters may not be religious, but given the spiritual aspect of love, it does have religious connotations and implications. A transformation as drastic as a conversion is needed to overcome the inflexible will inherited from their Puritan ancestors. Once achieved, the new course is pursued with the same utmost devotion they used to give their other, often contrary, paths (Westbrook 69). A breakthrough propelled by a strong feeling links three male protagonists of these select texts: Barnabas, Nicholas, and Bazil.

26For six years Nicholas Gunn had been “walkin’ in the teeth of [his] own will on one road” (A New England Nun 229). That road was to quit caring for anything or anybody, to “get all the feelin’ out of [him]” (232). “Well, I was all wrong” he admits (232). “I’ve fought against your comin’ as long as I could,” he explains (229). But “now you’ve come,” he tells Stephen Forster, “an’ I’ve turned the corner” (229). Initially impervious to any empathy for Stephen, who used to pass his house wheezing and coughing, Nicholas mustered “a freezing hospitality” that developed into a burning fire in the house and melted the cold in his heart.

27Paradoxically, the same will is needed to stay on the new course: “I’ve give up, an’ I’m a-goin’ to stay give up” (232). He made up his mind that “men’s tracks cover the whole world, and there ain’t standin’-room outside of ‘em” (232). He steps out of the path of a Buddhist monk “to go with the rest” (232). Love in the form of compassion for an ailing neighbor “reinstate[s] him as a member of the human race from which he has seceded” (Westbroook 49). If he was not “right” in the eyes of the village folk (A New England Nun 220), he is set right by “redirect[ing] his energies from self-hurt to helping another” (Westbrook 50).

28Barnabas Thayer, too, is set straight by compassion to his former fiancée. His inability to get over his hurt is symbolized by a bent back, at first in sensitive imaginations of some villagers, later due to an actual case of rheumatism. To Payne’s question if he hurt his back he replies, “I’ve hurt my soul” (297). It happened a decade ago when he quarreled with Cephas but he “can’t get over it” (297). He reveals his pain, “I can’t tell you—what I’ve been through, what I’ve suffered, and—what I suffer right along” (298). But he says, “I—can’t help it—before God” (297). He believes he can’t straighten his spiritual crookedness any more than Royal Bennet can straighten the hump he got from a physical injury.

29Only when the church is about to punish Charlotte for wrongly nursing Barney’s illness as an unmarried woman, does a full realization of her sacrifice and compassion for her overcome his pride. He moves his rigid body “as if it were some piece of machinery outside himself” (328) and walks “with a curious gait” as if “his own angel were wrestling with himself” (329). Mrs. Barnard, as she watches the labored progress of her prodigal son-in-law, shrieks out: “There’s Barney Thayer comin’! He’s walkin, he’s walkin’ straight as anybody!” (329)

30Bazil Yorke’s nobility briefly shines when he accepts his deceased lover’s “keepsake” by agreeing to be her guardian. However, this is not yet a conversion but a momentary softening of the will that soon shapes into a “relentless” purpose to “make the daughter pay the mother’s debt” (143). The plot of the novel is driven by the battle of two New England wills, Bazil’s and Cecil’s, to keep emotion in check. Alcott’s thriller ends with the male protagonist’s conversion from marble-like hardness to an unguarded expression of love. An “emotion” that breaks down “some barrier, set up by pride of will” in Alcott’s Bazil Yorke (A Marble Woman 141) echoes sudden emotion-induced breakthroughs in Freeman’s fiction.

31When he reads what he assumes is a lover’s summons to Cecil from Alfred, Bazil quickly hides his “pain and passion” behind “an unnatural calmness and rings for his servant “like a man who has work to do” (215). He follows his dog Judas who dashes out to pursue his mistress’s scent “wearing the vigilant, restless look of an Indian on the war trail” (215). The boat he unmoors carries a “heart more unquiet than stormy sea” (216). Bazil sets out to change his course with the same determination he had kept love at bay for two decades, “his fiery eye fixed on the desired haven with an expression which proved that an indomitable will defied both danger and defeat” (217). Convinced that Cecil had perished in the storm, he is “conscious of nothing but the love that had gone down” into the sea” (222). The chapter entitled “At Last” reinforces the victory of love over will. His New England restraint of emotion is evident during his search of Cecil. But his composure crumbles as he reveals his passionate nature to his former ward.

32The “blind persistency” with which he carried out his revenge on the mother by making the daughter’s life “as loveless as [his] own” seems like “madness” to him now (233). Even after realizing his heart was ruled by love, his “rebellious” pride egged him along the course of “delusion” until he was “forced to own” his powerlessness against the feeling (233). Then he “gave [him]self wholly” to undoing his six years’ instruction in avoiding love by “teaching [her] how to love” with the same determination he pursued the other path (233). His pride crumbles as he promises to be Cecil’s “servant, not [her] master” and “suffer anything” for mere “hope to touch [her] heart at last” (234). Fortunately for him, Cecil’s heart had been his all along, but she had been engaged in a battle of wills and her own plot to “subdue her guardian’s proud heart” (235).

33Vestiges of Puritan will and post-Puritan understanding of love converge in these select texts of two New England writers. The mystical origin of love means that it is God-given and cannot be transferred to another love object, while devoutness or high ethical standards do not allow people to enter a marriage for any other reason but a spiritual one. Male and female lovers differ in their responses to obstacles in the path to love. While female characters turn to other forms of care while patiently waiting for a return of a departed lover, male characters become bitter and reclusive in their hurt, and willfully bar reconciliation with an abandoned lover, or resist accepting a possibility of a new God-given love. Therefore, it takes a transformation, equal in its drama to a conversion, to overcome the will’s control over emotion. It is precisely the feeling of love, mostly in the form of human compassion that breaks the dam for the unguarded expression of romantic love.

34Finally, the lingering effects of conscience and especially will, traditionally associated with Puritan character, impact central love relationships in the texts of both writers. While they were raised in different religious environments and belonged to different generations and literary styles, the shared geographical and cultural background of rural New England found its way into their literary characters. Freeman’s purposeful exploration of ancestral traits in post-Puritan societies, simultaneously critical and nostalgic, has been well researched. Careful reading reveals the presence of Puritan cultural legacy in Alcott’s sentimental plots.

35Puritanism is known to be essentially anti-Catholic—English Puritans as well as their American co-religionists sought to purify the Church of England of Catholic practices. Freeman as well as Alcott were exposed to such prejudices, if not directly then at least culturally, as residents of New England. Having in mind the negative attitude to Catholicism due to not just Puritan legacy but also immigration from Ireland to the East coast in mid-nineteenth century, the meaning both authors delegate to a Catholic religious vocation is surprisingly favorable. As singleness starts to lose its stigma owing to the idealization and spiritualization of love, nunnery becomes a metaphor for chastity and faithfulness in the absence of a soul mate.

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Alcott, Louisa May. Work: A Story of Experience, 1873. Project Gutenberg. Ebook.

---. “A Marble Woman.” Plots and Counterplots: More Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott, edited by Madeleine Stern, William Morrow, 1976, pp. 133-237.

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---. Pembroke. Scholar’s Edition. Harper and Brothers, 1894.

LaPlante, Eve. Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother. Simon & Schuster, 2012.

Yellin, Jean Fagan. “From Success to Experience: Louisa May Alcott’s Work.” The Massachusetts Review, vol. 21, no. 3, Fall 1980, pp. 527-539.

Welter, Barbara. “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860.” American Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 2, Part I, 1966, pp. 151-174.

Westbrook, Perry D. Mary Wilkins Freeman, Revised Edition. Twayne Publishers, 1988.

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Electronic reference

Aušra Paulauskienė, Puritans, Nuns and Love: Reflections on L. M. Alcott and Mary E. Wilkins FreemanEuropean 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

Aušra Paulauskienė

Aušra Paulauskienė is Professor at LCC International University in Klaipėda. Her book Lost and Found: The Discovery of Lithuania in American Fiction was published by Rodopi in 2007. Her article on Willa Cather’s My Ántonia was collected in In the Country of Lost Borders: New Critical Essays on My Ántonia (Presses Universitaires De Paris Nanterre, 2017) and a chapter on Mary. E. Wilkins Freeman will appear in New Perspectives on Mary E. Wilkins Freeman: Reading with and against the Grain.

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