ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance
Christopher A. Fahy
"Dark Mirrorings: The Influence of Fuller on Alcott's 'Pair of Eyes'"
Though seldom written about, Louisa May Alcott's early thriller "A Pair of Eyes" (1863) is notable for its outrageous wit, its thematic similarities to the novel Moods, and especially its references to both Margaret Fuller and The Blithedale Romance, a work that Fuller satirizes. The story's female protagonist, Agatha Eure, seems a prototype of Fuller's Eurydice, the ideal, modern woman who combines intellect and magnetism: with her physical nearsightedness, piercing gray eyes, and queenly bearing along with a bent for sarcasm and mesmerizing will, she even resembles Fuller herself. Alcott utilizes the connection to suggest that the prospects for a healthy union between woman and man have not improved significantly since Woman in the Nineteenth Century was published in 1845. Eure's psychic power struggle with her greedy artist-husband Max Erdmann, her subsequent demise, and her ironic (posthumous) call to that same husband indicate that masculine egotism, female rage, and the persistence of mercenary marriages continue to prevent the new Eurydice from successfully summoning her Orpheus. Written during the same period as Moods (1864), "A Pair of Eyes" exceeds that work in both its cynicism regarding the possibility of egalitarian marriage and its bold exploration of the potential for female genius. Indeed, Alcott goes beyond the stated (and conservative) emphasis on an inspirational female to limn the creative implications of the Fullerian synthesis of Minerva and Muse. Finally, "A Pair of Eyes" reverses Hawthorne's satire of Fuller in The Blithedale Romance by having its Zenobia figure, Agatha Eure, triumph over her love for the charismatic artist and at the same time subvert him with Priscilla-like sentimentality. Preoccupied, like Fuller, with demonic force and domesticity, Alcott employs "A Pair of Eyes" to examine themes that she will later make famous in Little Women.