Angel in the House: Gladys in "A Modern Mephistopheles" by Louisa May Alcott

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In 1877, Louisa May Alcott went to Boston's Bellevue Hotel for a few weeks to write A Modern Mephistopheles, a gothic thriller that was a major change from Little Women and her other youth books that Alcott called "moral pap for the young" (Strickland, 1). A Modern Mephistopheles is the story of nineteen year old Felix Canaris, a poet on the brink of starvation, until Jasper Helwyze helps him. Helwyze promised Felix fame and fortune in return for complete control over his life. When Felix falls in love with Olivia, Helwyze's companion, he is instead forced into a marriage with Gladys, a young girl who loves him, but he does not love in return. Overtime, Gladys wins the heart or admiration of everyone in the story, and even in death influences other characters' choices. By the end of the book, it is clear that the hero is not Felix, who lies about writing his famous book of poetry, but Gladys, the "angel" (Alcott 1-258).

In A Modern Mephistopheles, Alcott expands on the idea of the Victorian "angel in the house" (Strickland 1), describing not only Gladys' inner angelic traits, but her angelic appearance:

"Through the shadowy hall there came a slender creature in a quaint

white gown, who looked as if she might have stepped down from the

marble Hebe's pedestal, for there was something wonderfully virginal

and fresh about the maidenly figure with it's deep, soft eyes, pale hair

and features clearly cut as a fine cameo. Emerging from the gloom into

a flood of sunshine, which touched her head with a glint of gold..."

(Alcott, 18-19).

Alcott also stressed her love for flowers and the fact that she seems at home among th flowers, saying that "there was something peculiarly innocent and fresh about her then,