Madeleine Stern: Memorialized in NYT Mag. as celebrated Alcott researcher

Historians in the News

Madeleine Stern was a renowned antiquarian book dealer, but her most important discovery was not a book at all. It was a series of lurid stories, all published in gaudy popular journals, all written under a pseudonym, all by New England’s fresh and hearty Louisa May Alcott.

During her lifetime, the last vestiges of Victorianism gave way to modernism, to pop, to postmodernism. Cars replaced horses. Television, computers, cellphones, the Internet all came to conquer the world she grew up in. She traveled to Europe just before World War II and after. Revolutions came, and revolutions went. But Stern barely registered these changes, for she was creating her own revolution.

Stern invented herself. She was the Gatsby of pedants. A fervent but utterly apolitical feminist in a world where feminists were bluestockings and then bra burners; a devoted scholar with a thriving business in a world where scholars were either academics or independently wealthy gentlemen; an innovative and revered entrepreneur in the leather-armchair world of gentlemen antiquarian book dealers; unmarried in a world where women were wives, Stern lived in a universe in which it was not possible to live the way she wanted to. She simply ignored that impossibility, created her own universe and, in a small but exquisite way, changed the world....

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