Twain, Alcott, and the Birth of the Adolescent Reform Novel

Scholars traditionally distinguish Mark Twain from Louisa May Alcott based on gender differences, but Roberta Seelinger Trites argues that there are enough similarities between the two authors' intellectual lives that their novels share interconnected social agendas. Trites does not imply that Twain and Alcott influenced each other - indeed, they had little effect on each other - but, paradoxically, they wrote on similar topics because they were so deeply affected by the Civil War, by cataclysmic emotional and financial losses in their families, by their cultural immersion in the tenets of Protestant philosophy, and by sexual tensions that may have stimulated their interest in writing for adolescents. Trites demonstrates how the authors participated in a cultural dynamic that marked the changing nature of adolescence in America, provoking a literary sentiment that continues to inform young adult literature. Both intuited that the transitory nature of adolescence makes it ripe for expressions about human potential for change and reform. Twain, Alcott, and the Birth of the Adolescent Reform Novel explores the effects these authors' extraordinary popularity had in solidifying what could be called the adolescent reform novel. The factors that led Twain and Alcott to write for youth, and the effects of their decisions about how and what to write for that audience, involve the literary and intellectual history of two people - and the nation in which they lived.