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Adulthood and Other FictionsAmerican Literature and the Unmaking of Age$
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Sari Edelstein

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198831884

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198831884.001.0001

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Little Women, Overgrown Children, and the Problem of Female Maturity

Little Women, Overgrown Children, and the Problem of Female Maturity

(p.71) 3 Little Women, Overgrown Children, and the Problem of Female Maturity
Adulthood and Other Fictions

Sari Edelstein

Oxford University Press

The third chapter exposes the exclusionary status of adulthood and the disciplinary work of age from a gendered perspective. Women were, in the words of one historian, “perpetual minors,” and this uneven distribution of rights perverted female development and preoccupied one of the most celebrated novelists of the century. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868) reveals the rhetoric of age as a core disciplinary idiom in the lives of girls and women, who must constantly calibrate their behavior and appearance to their chronological age. In Work: A Story of Experience (1873), she ventures that numerical age might serve as a viable measure of maturity for women, but she denaturalizes the seeming inevitability of gendered norms and the developmental teleology that underwrites them. For Alcott, it was essential to envision alternative versions of female maturity, departing from linear models of aging as decline.

Keywords:   women, maturity, gender, decline, Louise May Alcott, birthdays

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