“Is the Young Lady Mad?”: Psychiatric Disability in Louisa May Alcott’s Fiction

  • Karyn Valerius
Part of the Literary Disability Studies book series (LIDIST)


This chapter identifies psychiatric disability as a recurring but under-analyzed feature of the fiction Louisa May Alcott wrote for adults. Valerius explores how a disability studies approach prioritizing representations of mental health and illness complicates established readings of Alcott’s fiction. The discussion focuses on three texts that invite readerly identification with female characters variously described as mad, moody, melancholy, or insane: Alcott’s anonymously published sensation story “A Whisper in the Dark,” her first published novel Moods, and the autobiographical novel Work. Read together, these texts map the intricate intersections of psychiatric disability and gender inequality in the lives of nineteenth-century women, challenging reductive associations between madness and femininity and positing alternative, more affirmative narratives of women’s experiences with disordered moods and depression.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karyn Valerius
    • 1
  1. 1.Hofstra UniversityNew YorkUSA

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