Moods, by Louisa May Alcott – Book Review

“Life is a train of moods like a string of beads; and as we pass through them they prove to be many colored lenses, which paint the world their own hue, and each shows us only what lies in its own focus.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

This is the epigram that starts Moods, the first serious novel by Louisa May Alcott. As the title of the book and this epigram suggests, ‘moods’ is the main theme of the novel. A theme that got painfully diluted when the book first published in 1864. As per the publisher’s orders, Louisa had to cut her book to half and give it a more conventional ending. It must have hurt the author to alter her first book so much. So, after the Little Women had given her success and power of fame, she revisited Moods (in 1882) and published a new version of it with a brand new ending.

As she wrote in the preface of the 1882 version of Moods, “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.”

Moods, by Louisa May Alcott

The story of Moods

Moods tells the story of a young girl Sylvia. The heroine has just turned 18 and is still unsure of herself and ignorant of the world. At such a young age, she’s offered the love of two men. These two men are best friends, both are dear to Sylvia, both are worthy, both love with fervor and truth. Sylvia feels the pull off Adam’s magnetism and strong character. There lies her passion. In Geoffrey, she has a true, gentle friend precious to her heart. A misunderstanding causes Sylvia to give up the man she passionately loves and marry the man she considers her best friend.

The girl is innocent, the husband is loving, the lover is worthy and returned after having thought lost. All in all, a total tangle of emotions and loyalties. The rest of the novel is spent untangling this tangle.

The Characters:

Moods is a character-driven book. And although some of the characters seem unrealistic at times, they are so beautifully described that it is easy to fall in love with them.


Sylvia, the heroine, might be an expression of the author’s own restless spirit and desire for freedom. She is a tomboy at heart, yearning for adventures and excitement. But the Victorian values bind her to her home and quiet domestic duties. In her young heart, there’s a constant restlessness for something more. Sylvia understands neither her restlessness nor is capable of controlling her moods or stopping herself from acting upon them. She feels stifled in the narrow limits of her world and yearns for the intellectual stimulation and freedom that men enjoy. She has a sensitive nature. When she feels she has erred, she is ready to go through any pain to make amends.

Adam Warwick:

Adam is ‘the lover.’ His character is said to be inspired by Henry David Thoreau. And while reading the book, I got the feeling that the author had fallen in love with the character she herself created.

Well, Adam is a man worth loving. Somewhat similar to the William Dobbin of Vanity Fair ( check my review of Vanity Fair), he is strong of resolve and principles and has an indomitable will. Adam, is ‘vehement and vigorous.’ When he goes to war as a spectator, he emerges out of it as a savior and a hero. His eyes command, even in love. Yet, he is gentle enough to let little birds twitter at his hands and innocent enough to cry like a child when fate steals his love from him. But when principle and justice demand it, he can break his own heart and turn away from the same love.

“‘It is necessary to be just, it is not necessary to be happy,” he believes.

He is a true gentleman who ‘loved his friend more and himself less’ and who is ready to even bear his friend’s scorn just to take care of that friend in his need. Like the heroine, he too has a restless spirit. He is too strong, too high-principled, too restless, and too much a man of action. And this is neither good for his own peace, nor for the happiness of his beloved.

Geoffrey Moor (the husband): 

“Geoffrey is proud and private in all that lies nearest him, clings to persons, and is faithful as a woman.”

Moor is an intelligent, honest, and worthy man, capable of forgiveness and patience. He has strong, enduring feelings which he keeps locked in his heart. He gives up the freedom of five years of his youth to take care of his ailing sister. Geoffrey Moor has a deep sense of pride and dignity. Despite being a passionate lover, he would rather give up his greatest bliss than accept it as a charity. He is a man of gentleness and understanding. Geoffrey cannot overrule with his daunting character like Adam. But he can wait and be your friend even if it means walking through pain every day.

“His love was as indomitable as Warwick’s will,” the author tells us.

Geoffrey’s character is said to have been inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson. He is a man of feelings rather than the man of action like Adam. Yet, while Adam cries like a child when he loses in love, Geoffrey bears his loss of love in proud silence. And even though he knows he had failed in making his wife love him, he’s ready to wait even in eternity and hope for her love.

“Love is immortal, dear, and even in the ‘beautiful eternity’ I shall still hope and wait,” he tells Sylvia.

The writer likens Adam to Alps and Geoffrey to a rose. Adam is lofty, full of stern, unwavering strength. Geoffrey is gentle like a rose,  can endure resting on thorns, and still smile and love. Sylvia is like a butterfly. Her young spirit thrills for the lofty heights of the alps. But the rose is close to her heart too, and more capable of giving her happiness.

Story of friendship, as of love:

Moods is as much the story of friendship, as of love.

It states, “‘Friendship is the best college character can graduate from. Believe in it, seek for it, and when it comes keep it as sacredly as love.'”

The two rivals in love are the best of friends and remain so till the end. It shows how true friendship can rise above jealousies and even love. When Geoffrey finds out that his wife loves his best friend, this best friend is the one who comforts him and makes him strong and hopeful again.

The book also shows that women can desire and hold friendships with men. Sylvia loves Geoffrey Moor as her best friend. She loves conversing with him and learning from him. She respects him for his superior intellect and knowledge and holds him dear for companionship he gives her.

Beauty of writing:

The greatest charm of the book rests in its powerful writing. Here’s an example,

“Down fell the basket at their feet, and taking her face between his hands, Warwick bent and searched with a glance that seemed to penetrate to her heart’s core. For a moment she struggled to escape, but the grasp that held her was immovable. She tried to oppose a steadfast front and baffle that perilous inspection, but quick and deep rushed the traitorous color over cheek and forehead with its mute betrayal. She tried to turn her eyes away, but those other eyes, dark and dilated with intensity of purpose, fixed her own, and the confronting countenance wore an expression which made its familiar features look awfully large and grand to her panic-stricken sight. A sense of utter helplessness fell on her, courage deserted her, pride changed to fear, defiance to despair; as the flush faded, the fugitive glance was arrested and the upturned face became a pale blank, ready to receive the answer that strong scrutiny was slowly bringing to the light, as invisible characters start out upon a page when fire passes over them. Neither spoke, but soon through all opposing barriers the magnetism of an indomitable will drew forth the truth, set free the captive passion pent so long, and wrung from those reluctant lineaments a full confession of that power which heaven has gifted with eternal youth.”

Greater than a love triangle:

Despite being a love triangle, Moods is greater than the story of husband, wife, and lover. The book was way ahead of its time with its depiction of a woman’s desire to be free like a man, and the possibility of pure friendship between a man and woman.

Moods feels too romantic, melodramatic, and unrealistic at times. But even when the characters sound unreal, they are always lovable. The ending of the original version of Moods seems forced and a slave of moralistic conventions. But on the whole, it is the kind of book (especially its first half) that can make bookworms dissatisfied with real people and real life.

The story reminded me of A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) by Thomas Hardy. It too has similar entanglement. (A brilliant book with some very thrilling scenes and superb characterization.) If I compare Moods with A Pair of Blue Eyes, Hardy’s book has more believable characters and a better ending. But Alcott’s book shines above Hardy’s with its stress upon friendship and a woman’s individuality.

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