Teaching Louisa May Alcott's Work

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Louisa May Alcott Society
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For the American Literature Association Conference, May 27-30, 2010

First published in 1873, Alcott's novel *Work: A Story of Experience* was declared a "woman's rights polemic." The success of *Little Women*, *Little Men*, and *An Old Fashioned Girl*, did not lessen Alcott's domestic responsibilities, and the double duties spurred conscious activities in behalf of woman's rights and social justice. *Work*'s heroine, Christie Devon, a young, white, spinster, busily breadmaking, declares her independence and sets out to work for her living. Each step on her pilgrim's progress presents the difficulties of finding meaningful work, earning her bread, finding home, respect, and love. Hepsey a freed slave, reminds her "there's worse things than being an servant." Trying nearly all the jobs available to women, Christie is then homeless, unemployed, despairing. Safe refuge appears in the person of "Cynthie Wilkins, Clear-Starcher" a laundress who counsels her not to "marry for a living." Her new circle of strong women, in league with Rev. Power, welcome Christie to sisterhood in woman's rights efforts. This session asks, how can we illuminate *Work* and its meanings for our students in the 21st century as they become breadwinners and breadmakers? What relevant experiences does *Work* offer to today's readers?

Please send 200-300 word proposals electronically to Mary Shelden (mlshelden@vcu.edu). Deadline for proposals is Monday, 4 January 2010 (early submissions welcome).