Somewhere or other, many years ago, I read that there was a name for the type of book written by the likes of L.M. Alcott. That they were a backlash against the novels of the time and meant to teach moral lessons.

Is this true, and is there a name for the genre?


2 Answers 2


The "Little Women" series is foremost a bildungsroman, literally 'education novel' from the German (where it originated, in the first half of the 18th century), meaning a 'coming of age' narrative in which the protagonist(s) mature in either or both age, wisdom and/or morality. Morality is a very significant part of this genre and the progression of the protagonist(s) to (a) moral and wise character(s) is depicted as a key part to the narrative. This can be exemplified in Jo's heartbreaking rejection of Laurie's marriage proposal, in which she shows wisdom far beyond her years as she recognises that Laurie's fierce passion for her is not a good basis for a marriage. Instead she eventually marries Professor Bhaer, an older but a much more sensible husband than the charming but impulsive Laurie. This is a stark contrast to Joe's characteristic of being somewhat childish (in a good way!) behaviour seen earlier in the novel, such as her over-enthusiastic renditions of plays. She also metamorphoses from being rebellious, outspoken and often angry to a profoundly psychologically mature woman.

This psychological progression of Jo's is characteristic of the bildungsroman genre. Dickens is another novelist who widely uses this technique, especially in Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. In terms of L.M Alcott's novels being a backlash to immoral works of the period, this could be referring to the boom in Gothic or Sensation Novels in the 1850s-60s which were written to achieve the goal of shocking and scaring readers. Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species was also written in this period which was and still is a controversial work. Her novels remained innocent, as a silent protest to her contemporaries. For more about the bildungsroman genre, this site explains it well.

  • Hi, welcome to the site. I've been impressed with your contributions so far, but it's always a good idea to cite sources. As a reader who knows nothing about the topic but would want to verify what you write here, citing a source that describes the history of the bildungsroman genre and the genres qualities would be very helpful.
    – user111
    Nov 24, 2017 at 15:25
  • Sure, sorry! Added link :)
    – Fabjaja
    Nov 24, 2017 at 16:01
  • sorry to nitpick so much, but do you have a more reputable link? That website has the same problem; it doesn't have a reputable source.
    – user111
    Nov 24, 2017 at 16:22

One type of novel written by L. M. Alcott was the suspense novel. The wikipedia article on her A Long Fatal Love Chase describes the plot

...a discontented maiden who lives on an English island with only her bitter old grandfather for company and who begins the novel by rashly declaring: "I often feel as if I'd gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom." Right on cue, a man...

Is this what you mean?

  • No, I am talking more about the likes of 'eight cousins' and the 'little woman' series. Sep 9, 2017 at 5:47
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    Oh. Have you read the Wikipedia article whose Reception section bandies phrases like literature for self-authorization and women's fiction was being idealized with a "hearth and home" children's story. Sep 9, 2017 at 13:09
  • Interesting. I find it a little difficult to get my head around the slight feminist spin that that section seems to be placing on the book though. But I may be falling into the same trap that I generally despise of judging old morality by modern standards. Sep 10, 2017 at 15:00
  • So I suppose "hearth and home" is a possible answer to your original question. Little Women seems to have been a turning point in kid lit that has evoked complex responses over the passage of time: it is no surprise that modern commentators use a modern terminology in discussing it. I have no trouble in thinking of Little Women as a novel of agency, even though the term is a modern one. With regard to your original question: Would you class it with the L.M. Montgomery books, or Jean Webster's books, with LMA's LW? Sep 10, 2017 at 16:06
  • I haven't read any L.M. Montgomery. I have actually been thinking about it a lot since your last comment. And I can definitely see the validity. I think my mind actually was just closed to the idea, perhaps because I first read them as a very young child, perhaps I was just being ignorant. Sep 11, 2017 at 6:26

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