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's fiction has appeared in 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, Joyland Magazine, and elsewhere and nonfiction has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, The Negatives, Electric Literature, Fiction Advocate, and elsewhere. He is the Deputy Editor of The Rumpus, holds an MA in English from Rutgers University, tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →