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Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott [Paperback]

Madeleine B. Stern
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Olympic Marketing Corp (May 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688033709
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688033705
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,567,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Characters hardly "Little Women" 24 Mar 1998
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
In this collection of four short stories, Louisa May Alcott reveals herself as a racy, infinately readable author. Each story features strong women, with sharp tongues and sharper wits. Every plot has an unexpected twist, and a decidedly dark touch of irony. If you couldn't read Little Women because of its flowery prose, here is a second chance to aquaint yourself with an incredible American author. Every story is a page turner to the very end, and each short enough to be read in an evening.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Hidden life of Louisa 2 Dec 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
We found out about these stories written by Louisa Alcott under a pseudonym on a visit to the Alcott house in Concord, Mass this autumn and I was intrigued to read some of them. This book contains 4 of several she wrote. The introduction to how and why she wrote them is quite useful - we had heard a lot of it on our visit to the house but otherwise it would all have been new. They are good pageturners - and pretty well contrived. Not too serious stuff but a good read - and nothing like Little Women!
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
50 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Characters hardly "Little Women" 24 Mar 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In this collection of four short stories, Louisa May Alcott reveals herself as a racy, infinately readable author. Each story features strong women, with sharp tongues and sharper wits. Every plot has an unexpected twist, and a decidedly dark touch of irony. If you couldn't read Little Women because of its flowery prose, here is a second chance to aquaint yourself with an incredible American author. Every story is a page turner to the very end, and each short enough to be read in an evening.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remeber Jo's "naughty stories?" 15 Mar 2002
By Kimberly Wells - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In Little Women, remember the stories that Professor Bhaer convinces Jo aren't worthy of her? These stories, written under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard, are sort of those, just as Jo was "sort of" Alcott's alter ego... Alcott loved these short stories, considered quite scandalous, and she felt they were better work than the "moral pap for children" (her words, not mine) for which she is more famous.
While I love Little Women (read it a million times), and am really glad she wrote that "moral stuff," these stories have a darker edge than the happy March home-- thrillingly scandalous. Some of the short stories are a little bit less finely crafted than others, but all of the ones in this collection are fabulous. Actresses! Poisoners! Exotic Locales! Revenge-seeking scorned women! Wicked Women in general! This is one of many collected by Stern-- so get them all, and learn about the darker persona of the famous "girl's writer."
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deffinately no Little Women... but better 31 Dec 2004
By Jaylyn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
What a trippy book. I was in highschool when my mother gave me this book for Christmas. I was a girlie girl and a fan of Little Women. My best friend and I were even into the spin off stories from that book and when we found out there was a collection of "dark", unknown Louisa May Alcott stories that were being published we had no idea what we were about to sit down to. I must of read each story twice. From an old witchie woman driving the men of a family mad to smoking hash, a whole new world was being opened up to me. Reading this turned me on to short stories, and I wanted to read more like it which led me into discovering author's like Graham Greene and James Baldwin. I was also devoting myself to go to English and Literature class and trying out some of my own short stories. I think if you have a young women in your home who's into reading and dabbles in things like poetry and writting this is a good book to add to her collection... right next to Little Women
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling! 31 Jan 2002
By Lisa K. Mckinney - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Every story in this book is a page-turner! You will boo the villains and cheer the heroines -- who sometimes happen to be one and the same. Three cheers for Madeleine Stern for resurrecting these rousing tales.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Louisa May Alcott's dark and stormy night 9 Sep 2010
By P. B. Sharp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The Gothic novel has been titillating readers since the mid 1700s. Gothic tales require a decaying mansion, a Byronic hero, emotions gone amok, ghosts, secrets, terror, intrigue and revenge...the works.

Think of these famous brooding stories molded in the Gothic manner (There are many more, of course)

All of Edgar Allen Poe
Frankenstein
Count Dracula
Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The Picture of Dorian Grey
Jane Eyre
Wuthering Heights
Rebecca (actually a re-working of Jane Eyre)
Psycho

And the astonishing Gothic tales of Louisa May Alcott

Alcott needed an outlet for her emotions as her family lived in poverty. The money she earned through her writing was plowed back into the family coffers. Remember Meg in Little Women saying "It's dreadful to be poor?" It was, so Alcott via her imagination went far away from Concord and the pinching of pennies into a different world where her imagination could sprout wings and carry her into a realm of delicious, dark mystery and intrigue and money...Louisa May Alcott's dark and stormy night.

Whether her Gothic tales should be considered as potboilers or pulp fiction is really in the hands of the reader. Jane Eyre was considered "coarse" by Victorian audiences, and Wuthering Heights flummoxed people so much they didn't know what to call it. Alcott writes too well, in my opinion, for her tales to be considered as vulgar potboilers and it is her sheer writing skill that gets her off that hook. But be prepared for somewhat of a shock if you taste the waters of this amazing fountain:

BEHIND A MASK: THE UNKNOWN THRILLERS OF LOUISA MAY ALCOTT by Madeleine Stern
Four stories are included in this edition, although Alcott wrote several more Gothic tales. Like the Sorcerer's Apprentice's little brushes who couldn't stop sweeping, Alcott couldn't stop writing. As Stern says in her introduction, Louisa wrote her thrillers "when her hair was down and her dander up."

BEHIND A MASK, the first story, owes a lot to Jane Eyre and it's deja vu all over again, as the Bronte classic surely was the inspiration for Jean Muir in this story of a governess who connives to make all the men in a household where she is employed fall madly in love with her. She is bent on revenge for a former affair gone sour and proceeds to try and ruin all the men. .Jean is Jane with all the stops pulled out. She confesses to one of her lovers,"you will see me as I am- old, ugly. bad and lost." Remember Jane's words to Rochester? Jean Muir is a fascinating heroine, an actress to the core and of the men she succeeds in bagging the best catch in spite of her masquerade as a sweet-tempered, guileless young girl.

PAULINE'S PASSION AND PUNISHMENT has another leopardess for a heroine and we see her first as a woman of massive discontent pacing her room back and forth, back and forth, like a caged cat. This is a great story and you have to get past the awful alliteration of the title- Louisa loves those "p's apparently, as she further describes Pauline as "pretty, petite and petulant." But Pauline is much more than that rather benign description. She is so full of hate, so bent on revenge against the perfidy of a former lover, she becomes a sort of devil. The denouement is next to a roaring waterfall in Cuba, the air vibrating with hot passions and four people in a love-hate enthrallment that binds them together with bonds of steel teeter on the edge of an abyss...and then, and then..

THE MYSTERIOUS KEY AND WHAT IT OPENED The story begins with a prophetic poem:

Trevlyn lands and Trevlyn gold
Heir nor heiress e're shall hold,
Undisturbed, till spite of rust
Truth is found in Trevlyn dust

Sir Richard Trevlyn dies,and a strange young man appears at the Trevlyn gates and the story is off to a rollicking Gothic start. Who was the young man and why although obviously well born did he accept the position of a servant? Why did Lady Trevlyn wear a locket which she never let out of her sight and what was in it? Of course there is a beautiful girl, this one is Lady Trevlyn's daughter, Lillian. There's a decaying cemetery and a moldering coffin hiding a secret, too. Lots of loose ends will be tidied up in this suspenseful story.

THE ABBOT'S GHOST [spoilers]

"Oh. Mama, what foolish creatures men are!" observes the young lady Octavia, a girl all of seventeen, although she is probably speaking for Louisa May Alcott. Octavia is the heroine of the story, but the protagonist is a young man, Maurice, crippled while saving his cousin's life. The story opens with friends and relatives gathering at an old English estate for Christmas. The cast of characters includes Octavia's narrow-minded mother,an elegant but scheming young peeress, a titled heir, a non-titled heir, a couple of pukka sahib army types and a ghost. Well, it's all pretty tame with Alcott moralizing even more than usual. Maurice is restored to health, he can't have Olivia while he confined to a wheel chair, and the titled heir, Jasper, dies rather spectacularly when his horse falls on him. An interesting story but not a great one.
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