Moods was Louisa May Alcott’s first serious novel and her”baby,” most likely the book that Jo referred to in Chapter 27 of Little Women, “Literary Lessons.”
Louisa describes Jo’s writing process which likely mirrors her own. “Falling into a vortex,” as she calls it, it’s like Louisa/Jo steps into another dimension, oblivious to the outside world:
“Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and ‘fall into a vortex’, as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace.”
This other dimension had its share of rituals for Jo, and I wonder if they didn’t hold true for Louisa as well:
“Her ‘scribbling suit’ consisted of a black woolen pinafore on which she could wipe her pen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with a cheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks were cleared for action. This cap was a beacon to the inquiring eyes of her family, who during these periods kept their distance, merely popping in their heads semi-occasionally to ask, with interest, “Does genius burn, Jo?”
If we are to assume that the descriptions of Jo as writer are accurately paralleling Louisa’s actions, then I must say that, always an actress at heart, Louisa had a flair for the dramatic as demonstrated by her need to visually show how she was doing:
“They did not always venture even to ask this question, but took an observation of the cap, and judged accordingly. If this expressive article of dress was drawn low upon the forehead, it was a sign that hard work was going on, in exciting moments it was pushed rakishly askew, and when despair seized the author it was plucked wholly off, and cast upon the floor. At such times the intruder silently withdrew, and not until the red bow was seen gaily erect upon the gifted brow, did anyone dare address Jo.”
Eminently practical, Louisa/Jo found it necessary to “chop up” her “baby” if it was ever to see the light of day as a published book”
“Having copied her novel for the fourth time, read it to all her confidential friends, and submitted it with fear and trembling to three publishers, she at last disposed of it, on condition that she would cut it down one third, and omit all the parts which she particularly admired . . . So, with Spartan firmness, the young authoress laid her first-born on her table, and chopped it up as ruthlessly as any ogre. In the hope of pleasing everyone, she took everyone’s advice, and like the old man and his donkey in the fable suited nobody.”
And therein lies the origins of Moods, albeit probably romanticized in Little Women as many things were. There was no doubt, however, that she had to do violence to her first novel, cutting out nearly half of it. Published originally in 1864, Louisa revisited the novel again in 1882 and restored some of the lost chapters, and changed the ending. She felt the book had been misunderstood and took advantage of her fame to “give my first novel, with all its imperfections on its head, a place among its more successful sisters: for into it went the love, labor, and enthusiasm that no later book can possess.” (from the preface of the 1882 version of Moods).
She goes on to say, “When Moods was first published, . . . it was so altered, to suite the taste and convenience of the publisher, that the original purpose of the story was lost sight of, and marriage appeared to be the theme instead of an attempt to show the mistakes of a moody nature, guided by impulse, not principle.”
After Moods was first published, Louisa addressed a letter from a Mr. Ayer who apparently “so entirely misunderstood Moods that I am anxious to set you right as far as I can in a hasty letter” (pg. 109 The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott, edited by Joel Myerson, Daniel Shealey and Madeleine Stern). (I had the privilege, by the way, of seeing this letter when I visited the Special Collections Room of the Concord Free Public Library; it was one of the ones I hand copied in part – here are my two posts on that visit: part one and part two). She goes on to explain again how the state of marriage was not her point (and she makes quite an eloquent case for the importance and sanctity of marriage, despite the fact that her parents had such a difficult relationship), but rather “to show the effect of a moody person’s moods upon their life . . .” (pg. 110 The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott). I intend to revisit this letter in another post.
So what’s the point here? I felt it necessary to go over a very brief history of Moods because I am reading both versions. I was lucky enough to find a free copy in Google Books of the 1864 version, and Barnes and Nobles’ Nook has the 1882 version (yes, I have crossed over into eBooks since acquiring the iTouch, but that’s yet another whole post. ) I intend to compare, contrast both versions, and express my final preference.
Here is a brief summary of the plot of Moods, showing the differences between the two versions, as described on the website, Fantastic Fiction:
“Like her later works for children, Alcott’s first novel is well and imaginatively written, highly moralistic, unlikely, and moving.” –The Antioch Review Moods, Louisa May Alcott’s first novel, was published in 1864, four years before the best-selling Little Women. The novel unconventionally presents a “little woman,” a true-hearted abolitionist spinster, and a fallen Cuban beauty, their lives intersecting in Alcott’s first major depiction of the “woman problem.” Sylvia Yule, the heroine of Moods, is a passionate tomboy who yearns for adventure. The novel opens as she embarks on a river camping trip with her brother and his two friends, both of whom fall in love with her. These rival suitors, close friends, are modeled on Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Aroused, but still “moody” and inexperienced, Sylvia marries the wrong man. In the rest of the novel, Alcott attempts to resolve the dilemma she has created and leaves her readers asking whether, in fact, there is a place for a woman such as Sylvia in a man’s world. In 1882, eighteen years after the original publication, Alcott revised and republished the novel. Her own literary success and the changes she helped forge in women’s lives now allowed her heroine to meet, as Alcott said, “a wiser if less romantic fate than in the former edition.”
I have since read 2 chapters of each version and found interesting differences already. The 1864 version opens with a subplot that was dropped from the 1882 version in which Adam Warwick is “taking a break” (to use a modern phrase) from a Cuban lover who he feels has deceived him. The second chapter (which is the first in the 1882 version) then goes on to describe Sylvia. Already in this chapter, I see slight changes, such as her brother Mark being referred to as Max in the new version. She also changes the way Geoffrey Moor first perceives Sylvia as she is out gardening – the original version makes it out like Sylvia is a lad, but the 1882 version states that he sees a “girl.”
Right away I felt like Louisa was trying to soften Sylvia by calling her a girl rather than a lad. I rather liked the idea that Moor mistook her for a young boy as she worked in the garden. To me it added to her charm.
Now in the next chapter of the first version, called “Afloat,” I am reading a most delightful description of Sylvia’s time in the boat with Moor, Warwick and her brother. Being a kayaker myself, I found Louisa’s descriptions of floating in the boat to be so much like my own. I loved Louisa’s descriptions of the other boaters, the houses and people on the shoreline, and Sylvia’s own happiness. I felt like I was Sylvia because I have felt all those things too. Louisa must have loved the water very much, as I do.
It’s confusing flipping back and forth between the two books and I see that in the second version, Louisa devotes chapters to Moor and Warwick, so I will have to go back and read those before I post next time.
So far I am preferring the 1864 version but I imagine that could soon change.
I know some of you have read Moods already, what are your thoughts about Louisa’s “first born?” Which version did you read?
Note: Thanks to Harriet Reisen for sending me the original book cover of Moods.