Review of A Modern Mephistopheles in The New Age, 1877
When A Modern Mephistopheles (1877) was first published by Roberts Brothers for the No Name Series, readers were stumped as to the identity of the author. No one suspected that the person who penned this intriguing tale of good and evil, based on Goethe’s Faust, could possibly be Louisa May Alcott, who was best known for her children’s books, including, of course, the classic Little Women.
Few of Alcott’s devoted readers knew the scope of her interest in the raging forces within a human soul that could bring someone to the brink of insanity or harbor the will to cause chaos and destruction. She not only explored the dichotomy of good and evil in human nature through her “blood-and-thunder” tales — many written under a pseudonym — but touched upon that topic in aspects of her children’s literature as well.
What motivated Alcott’s examination of the dark side of humanity, and how did her interest in good and evil play out in her own life?
Growing up in a reform-minded family, Alcott learned early on that mastering the forces of evil within her own mind and soul and replacing those impulses with the innate goodness that her parents convinced her could be found and nurtured would prove to be a lifelong task for a headstrong young woman finding her way in a world that was not always kind or encouraging.
The topic of good and evil remains prevalent in today’s arts and culture: in childhood fairy tales, films and television shows, books, and the daily news. This year’s Summer Series Presenters and participants will explore the contrasts of good and evil that appear in the life and works of Louisa May Alcott, her contemporaries, and modern-day writers.