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Angel In The House: Gladys In "A Modern Mephistopheles" By Louisa May Alcott

1579 words - 6 pages

In 1877, Louisa May Alcott went to Boston's Bellevue Hotel for a few weeks to write A Modern Mephistopheles, a gothic thriller that was a major change from Little Women and her other youth books that Alcott called "moral pap for the young" (Strickland, 1). A Modern Mephistopheles is the story of nineteen year old Felix Canaris, a poet on the brink of starvation, until Jasper Helwyze helps him. Helwyze promised Felix fame and fortune in return for complete control over his life. When Felix falls in love with Olivia, Helwyze's companion, he is instead forced into a marriage with Gladys, a young girl who loves him, but he does not love in return. Overtime, Gladys wins the heart or admiration of everyone in the story, and even in death influences other characters' choices. By the end of the book, it is clear that the hero is not Felix, who lies about writing his famous book of poetry, but Gladys, the "angel" (Alcott 1-258). In A Modern Mephistopheles, Alcott expands on the idea of the Victorian "angel in the house" (Strickland 1), describing not only Gladys' inner angelic traits, but her angelic appearance:"Through the shadowy hall there came a slender creature in a quaintwhite gown, who looked as if she might have stepped down from themarble Hebe's pedestal, for there was something wonderfully virginaland fresh about the maidenly figure with it's deep, soft eyes, pale hairand features clearly cut as a fine cameo. Emerging from the gloom intoa flood of sunshine, which touched her head with a glint of gold..."(Alcott, 18-19). Alcott also stressed her love for flowers and the fact that she seems at home among th flowers, saying that "there was something peculiarly innocent and fresh about her then, as if the woman forgot her griefs, and was a girl again" (156). Being at peace with nature is almost always viewed as an angelic or goddess-like trait: angels are often portrayed as being surrounded by flowers, and there are goddesses of the earth and nature, Gaia, Ceres, Demeter, and others. By putting Gladys in a garden tending the flowers, Alcott made her seem like an angel frolicking among wildflowers or a goddess, overseeing the balance of nature. At one point in the book, Helwyze gives Gladys the drug hashish for "quiet slumber, delicious dreams, or utter oblivion for a time" (Alcott 159). Instead of having the possibly harmful side effects it could have had on her, it just made her glow like an angel: "It seemed as if some angel had Gladys in especial charge, bringing light out of darkness, joy out of sorrow, good out of evil. For no harm came to her--only a great peace, which transfigured her face till it was as spiritually beautiful as that of some young Madonna" (Alcott 187). Just as angels hold power over mortals, Gladys held power over the characters in the book. She gained this power by being herself and through the "irresistible influence of a lovely womanhood" (Strickland 1)....

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