Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies
University of New Hampshire Press
Illuminates modern consumer culture and its challenges to American identity and values in two classic novels
Written a generation apart and rarely treated together by scholars, Little Women (1868) and The House of Mirth (1905) share a deep concern with materialism, moral development, and self-construction. The heroines in both grapple with conspicuous consumption, an aspect of modernity that challenges older beliefs about ethical behavior and core identity.
Placing both novels at the historical intersection of modern consumer culture and older religious discourse on materialism and identity, Sarah Way Sherman analyzes how Alcott and Wharton rework traditional Protestant discourse to interpret their heroines’ struggle with modern consumerism. Her conclusion reveals how Little Women’s optimism, still buoyed by otherworldly justice, providential interventions, and the notion of essential identity, ultimately gives way to the much darker vision of modern materialistic culture in The House of Mirth.