Behind a Mask or a Woman’s Power
Louisa May Alcott
Novels
4:52 h
Level 6
Behind a Mask, or A Woman's Power is a novella written by American author Louisa May Alcott. The novella was originally published in 1866 under the pseudonym of A. M. Barnard in The Flag of Our Union. Set in Victorian era Britain, the story follows Jean Muir, the deceitful governess of the wealthy Coventry family. With expert manipulation, Jean Muir obtains the love, respect, and eventually the fortune of the Coventry family. This story belongs with many other thrillers and mysteries that Alcott published under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard. Of all her stories of femme fatales, Behind a Mask is considered Alcott's masterpiece in the genre of sensation fiction. Critic Christine Doyle Francis describes the novel as "owing most to Alcott's reading of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and William Thackery's Vanity Fair. In this light, Jean Muir becomes a subversion of the classic governess character in protest to the British class system and in praise of America as a "land of opportunity".

Behind a Mask or a Woman’s Power

by
Louisa May Alcott


Chapter I
Jean Muir

“Has she come?”

“No, Mamma, not yet.”

“I wish it were well over. The thought of it worries and excites me. A cushion for my back, Bella.”

And poor, peevish Mrs. Coventry sank into an easy chair with a nervous sigh and the air of a martyr, while her pretty daughter hovered about her with affectionate solicitude.

“Who are they talking of, Lucia?” asked the languid young man lounging on a couch near his cousin, who bent over her tapestry work with a happy smile on her usually haughty face.

“The new governess, Miss Muir. Shall I tell you about her?”

“No, thank you. I have an inveterate aversion to the whole tribe. I’ve often thanked heaven that I had but one sister, and she a spoiled child, so that I have escaped the infliction of a governess so long.”

“How will you bear it now?” asked Lucia.

“Leave the house while she is in it.”

“No, you won’t. You’re too lazy, Gerald,” called out a younger and more energetic man, from the recess where he stood teasing his dogs.

“I’ll give her a three days’ trial; if she proves endurable I shall not disturb myself; if, as I am sure, she is a bore, I’m off anywhere, anywhere out of her way.”

“I beg you won’t talk in that depressing manner, boys. I dread the coming of a stranger more than you possibly can, but Bella must not be neglected; so I have nerved myself to endure this woman, and Lucia is good enough to say she will attend to her after tonight.”

“Don’t be troubled, Mamma. She is a nice person, I dare say, and when once we are used to her, I’ve no doubt we shall be glad to have her, it’s so dull here just now. Lady Sydney said she was a quiet, accomplished, amiable girl, who needed a home, and would be a help to poor stupid me, so try to like her for my sake.”

“I will, dear, but isn’t it getting late? I do hope nothing has happened. Did you tell them to send a carriage to the station for her, Gerald?”

“I forgot it. But it’s not far, it won’t hurt her to walk” was the languid reply.