Behind a Mask Discussion

picture of books on shelves, including several titles by the Brontes and Jane Austen

Following up on our earlier plan, the pseudo-romance book club held our discussion of Louisa May Alcott’s Behind a Mask (1866) last night. You can relive the entire thing on Twitter via the #MuirFTW hashtag, but here are some (spoilery!) highlights:

Continue reading “Behind a Mask Discussion”

Pseudo-Romance Book Club: Behind a Mask


Following up on our discussion of The Odd Women, we’re going to tackle Louisa May Alcott’s Behind a Mask (1866). (Yes, I also own two paper copies of it.) Behind a Mask is a novella of about 40K words or a 100ish pages, which Alcott published under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard. It’s essentially a feminist retelling of Jane Eyre, but I don’t want to say much more because you don’t want to read any spoilers. Trust me: it’s tremendous fun.

I can’t find as many e-editions, but it is free at Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo (I can’t find free editions at B&N or Google Play). But fear not! At Project Gutenberg, you can download a range of file formats and then side-load them onto your device. If you want to add it on Goodreads, you can do so here.

Because it’s short, I think we can get away with a single discussion though I wouldn’t be surprised if it runs more than an hour. I propose Monday, June 27, at 9 P.M. EST. I’m not good at pithy hashtags; leave a comment if you can come up with anything good. I’ll see you then!

ETA: Just a note to say “retelling of Jane Eyre” is probably too strong. Alcott has clearly read Jane Eyre, and I feel like Behind a Mask is concerned with that book’s problem: how does a woman who is “poor, obscure, plain and little” make her way in the world? Both Jean and Jane are governesses, they both have multiple suitors, and some other scenarios occur in both. But Jean ain’t Jane, and thus her story has a different ending. I can’t wait to talk about it with you in June.

The Odd Women, Chapters 20 – 31


We held our final discussion on George Gissing’s The Odd Women last night. If you’re looking for them, here are my notes on part 1 and part 2. Since I know some people are still reading, I’m going to hide this under the fold. Read on at your own (spoiler) risk!

Continue reading “The Odd Women, Chapters 20 – 31”

The Odd Women, Chapters 10 – 19

Last night we had our second of three discussions on George Gissing’s The Odd Women (my notes from part 1 are here). We talked about important topics such as:

  • How does Gissing feel about his female characters? Does he like them? Are they caricatures? And specifically, how does he feel about working-class women? Is the book ultimately hopeful about the odd women finding purpose and happiness?
  • Who are the most redeemable and positive characters? (At the moment, Mary Barfoot, Mr. and Mrs. Micklethwaite.)
  • Is Monica’s marriage a cautionary tale? Was she right to leave her job and was Widdowston a viable alternative?
  • How scandalous was Everard’s “free union” proposition (e.g., Rochester’s offer to take Jane Eyre as his mistress, Mary Wollstonecraft’s tumultuous life, etc.)? And how repentant did Everard seem when discussing his scandalous past?
  • Where does Rhoda’s passion for her social reform come from since she is also unsympathetic to anyone who won’t adhere to her code (e.g., the young woman she turns away who later dies of suicide)? Was her fight with Mary caused by the same things as her fights with Everard? And is Rhoda an example of what literary scholar Laura Wexler called “tender violence“?
  • How did the language in Monica and Widdowston’s wedding scene reference virginity?
  • What is the book’s political message and is it uncut by Gissing’s artistic choices (e.g., whose point-of-view we get)?

For next week, I want to know if Everard truly changed. Will Rhoda agree to “a free union”? Will anyone find happiness? Will Virginia say, “Screw you all” and go read “feebler fiction” and drink brandy? See you for our conclusion Monday!

The Odd Women, Chapters 1 – 9

Last night, a motley crew discussed the first nine chapters of George Gissing’s The Odd Women. You can relive (or live) it by reading the hashtag #oddgals, but here are some of the highlights:

  • Dr. Madden: latter day Mr. Bennet (a la P&P)?
  • What is the relationship between work (or maybe purpose) and healthy and beauty?
  • Is Alice Madden’s vegetarianism about poverty or creeping progressivism?
  • We talked about the use of description; at times there’s lot of it, but then it goes missing during pages and pages of dialogue. Why is that? What effect does it have on a modern reader?
  • Why did so many Madden sisters die in chapter two?
  • The text criticizes “feebler fiction.” What’s up with that? (And what books was Virginia reading? Where can we find them?)
  • What is the text saying about morality and the city? How does London–or an existence outside of a traditional family/social structure–shape the lives and loves of the titular odd women?
  • Courtship vs. stalking: where is the line? And is there intentional critique in the text, or are we bringing it with us?
  • Predictions: Widowwson will be bad news, Everard is dissolute, and the money situation is going to get more dire for the Madden sisters.

We also discussed the emotional connection we felt (or not) to our protagonists Monica and Rhoda. The Gissing expert, Clarissa Harwood, suggested that we’d be more engaged emotionally, and not just intellectually, in their journey next week.

So chapters 10 – 19 for next time!

Odds and Ends

  • Our not-quite-romance book club on George Gissing’s The Odd Women (1893) starts on Monday. Here are the details. I’d love to see you there.
  • We’re less than a month away from the release of Earth Bound. It isn’t going to be available on Netgalley, so if you’re a reviewer and you’d like to take a look at it, please email me at author.emma.barry (at) gmail.
  • Star Dust is in a promo celebrating Sassy, Sexy, Smart historical romances. Seriously, these books are so good. (I’m trying to keep all my squee inside about this and it isn’t working.) You can get all eight for FREE here. This deal is only good through April 25 though, so click fast.


  • ETA: and I forgot one! Carina Press is running a 30% sale on all the books at their site, which includes The Easy Part series (my DC-set political romances). The deal is good through April 30; use the code RT3016 when you check out. These books rarely if ever go on sale.

Go for Gissing!

Following up on my earlier post, there’s enough interest to commit to a book club on George Gissing’s The Odd Women (1893) to commence on Twitter on April 25. We chatted for about an hour starting at 9 PM EST last time; does that still work? And is #oddgals an okay hashtag?

The first nine chapters gets us through the first third, so let’s make that the goal for our first chat. Digital copies are available for free at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Project Gutenberg, iBooks, Google PlayKobo, and perhaps elsewhere.