Originally published under the pen name A.M. Barnard in 1866, Behind a Mask breathed new life into the critical consideration of the career of its author when republished under her actual name more than a century later. The 1975 re-issue kickstarted a wholesale re-evaluation of Louisa May Alcott that eventually led to a highly acclaimed theatrical adaptation of her most famous work Little Women in the 1990’s and culminated in the semi-official recognition of artistic worth that comes with being the subject of an episode of the PBS series American Masters in 2009.
Behind a Mask was published in novella form as part of the volume The Flag of Our Union originally an it’s story of a manipulative governess who manages to insinuate her way into the good fortunes of a wealthy family despite her deceit and scheming seemed as far away from the beloved tales of the March sisters as one could get as a female author at the time. But then, Behind a Mask was not immediately apparent as the work of a female writer if all one had to make such a judgment was a pair of initials.
How much differently might a reader familiar with Little Women have felt toward the protagonist of a story hiding behind a psychological mask that allowed evil not only to go unpunished, but be rewarded if they knew that those initial of Mr. or Miss Barnard were also a mask behind which Louisa May Alcott was hiding? That is an answer that must remain a mystery, but what is known for sure is that the unmasking of the true identity of A.M. Barnard in the post-feminist 1970’s turned out to be nothing short of a very good thing for the legacy of the daring writer of Behind a Mask.