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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 31, 2007

New UI Press book finds similarities in Twain and Alcott

Roberta Seelinger Trites' "Twain, Alcott, and the Birth of the Adolescent Reform Novel" will be available from the University of Iowa Press beginning Nov. 8.

Scholars traditionally distinguish Mark Twain from Louisa May Alcott based on gender differences, but 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, but 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.

She 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.

J. D. Stahl, author of "Mark Twain, Culture, and Gender," wrote, "Trites examines in depth, as no scholar has done before her, the intricate parallels between the lives, works, attitudes, and social contexts of Samuel Clemens and Louisa May Alcott. This is an important contribution by a first-rate scholar who makes her case with verve and energy."

And Gregory Eiselein, co-editor of the "Norton Critical Edition of 'Little Women,'" wrote: "In her persuasive analysis of the adolescent reform novel's emergence, Trites explores the spiritual idealism, market-driven materialism, and real-world politics that shaped Twain's and Alcott's careers. In the process, she provides much needed attention to the remarkable but overlooked similarities that bring together these authors who imagined in the adolescent's capacity for change the nation's future."

Trites is a professor of English at Illinois State University. She is the author of the UI Press books "Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature," which won the Children's Literature Association Book Award, and "Waking Sleeping Beauty: Feminist Voices in Children's Novels," which won an American Library Association Choice Award. She is currently president of the Children's Literature Association.

"Twain, Alcott, and the Birth of the Adolescent Reform Novel" is available for sale at bookstores or directly from the UI Press by phone at 800-621-2736 or online at Customers in the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East, or Africa may order from the Eurospan Group online at

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Allison Thomas, UI Press, 319-335-2015,; Winston Barclay, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0073,