Working Girls of Laura Jean Libbey


Katja Jylkka, writing over at The Toast, looks at the working girl novels of Laura Jean Libbey—19th century love stories featuring “innocent,” “bewitching” heroines. Though these pretty young women were able to attract “the wolfish attention of every male in [their] vicinity” just like modern-day manic pixie dream girls, Libbey’s working girls differentiate themselves by exerting agency:

…the original Mary Sues tended to show young women and ethnic minorities in positions of leadership and power, where before they were relegated to minor roles. So in all their obnoxiously saucy-Jessie-Bainness, Libbey’s heroines show the working girl reader her literary counterpart as ideal, as desirable, but not easy.

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →