By Leonard Unger

Covers Jane Addams to Sidney Lanier

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Extra info for American Writers Supplement I, Parts 1 & 2

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Jean's scheme is not effectively exposed; her pulse is Alcott's. Behind a Mask is not plotted, it is about plot; plot has become subject as well as technique in this, Alcott's best sensationalist work. Deception is an effort of the will so intense as to be tantamount to a constant vigilante against the emotions. Mark Twain once remarked that the pleasure of telling the truth is that one doesn 't have to remember what one says. But the memory enforced by deception, memory as relentless attention, a persistent hangover of the most aggrandizing curiosity, a constant lashing of the mind to the objects it perceives, is exactly what Jean Muir—and Alcott—want.

Deception is an effort of the will so intense as to be tantamount to a constant vigilante against the emotions. Mark Twain once remarked that the pleasure of telling the truth is that one doesn 't have to remember what one says. But the memory enforced by deception, memory as relentless attention, a persistent hangover of the most aggrandizing curiosity, a constant lashing of the mind to the objects it perceives, is exactly what Jean Muir—and Alcott—want. The plot of the sensation story provides an uncanny parallel to the dynamic by which the mind desperately strives for some conscious hold on essentially unconscious material.

Notably, however, Alcott chose to play on stage the role not of the persecuted maiden but of the male villain; in other words, she acted as the agent of the plot, not as its victim. What interest these plays still possess derives from their author's compulsive if unskilled rush from one rhetorical high to another: characters speechify and declaim until they faint (they would have to). Here is Count Rodolpho, ''A Haughty Noble,'' threatening in vain the fair Leonore in Norna; or, the Witch's Curse: Rodolpho.

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