The second ‘Gothic revival’

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Tania Modleski explains that, “After dying out for over a century, Gothic novels again became popular upon publication in 1938 of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, a novel about a woman marrying a man whom she subsequently suspects of still being in love with his (dead) first wife, but who, it turns out, has actually murdered the wife out of anger at her promiscuity. Significantly, this second ‘Gothic revival’ took place at the same time that ‘hard-boiled’ detective novels were attracting an unprecedented number of male readers. While Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler were persistently scapegoating women…, the paranoid fears of women were receiving new life. In the forties, a new movie genre derived from Gothic novels appeared around the time that hard-boiled detective fiction was being transformed by the medium into what movie critics currently call ‘flim noir’. Not suprisingly, film noir has received much critical scrutiny both here and abroad, while the so-called ‘gaslight’ genre has been virtually ignored. According to many critics, film noir possesses the greatest sociological importance (in addition to its aesthetic importance) because it reveals male paranoid fears, developed during the war years, about the independence of women on the homefront. Hence the necessity in these movies of destroying or taming the aggressive, mercenary, sexually dynamic ‘femme fatale’ whose presence is indispensable to the genre. Beginning with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 movie version of Rebecca and continuing through and beyond George Cukor’s Gaslight in 1944, the gaslight films may be seen to reflect women’s fears about losing their unprecedented freedoms and being forced back into the homes after the men returned from fighting to take over the jobs and assume control of their families. In many of these films, the house seems to be alive with menace, and the greedy, sadistic men who rule them are often suspected of trying to drive their wives insane, or to murder them as they have murdered other women in the past.” (p.21)

Modleski continues: “The fact that after the war years these films gradually faded fromt he screen probably reveals more about the [-p.22] changing composition of movie audiences than about the waning of women’s anxieties concerning domesticity. For Gothic novels have continued to this day to enjoy a steady popularity, and a few of their authors, like Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, reliably appear on the best-seller list.” (pp.21-22)

Ref: Tania Modleski (1982) Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-produced Fantasies for Women. Archon Books: Hamden, Connecticut

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