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Madness and Revenge: Gendered False Consciousness in the Golden Age Crime Novel

Samantha Walton


Elaine Showalter has objected to what she sees as a tendency in Cixous's writing to reflect on hysteria as a subversive and even empowering 'act' in the confrontation of patriarchy. To Showalter, the self-destructiveness and further loss of autonomy suffered by female hysterics make it practically and ethically untenable as a form of protest: “[…] hysteria was at best a private, ineffectual response to the frustrations of women's lives. Its immediate gratifications – the sympathy of the family, the attention of the physician – were slight in relation to its costs in powerlessness and silence” (161). Taking this dissonance in feminist thought as our starting point, this essay will examine representations of madness in three golden age mystery novels by female authors – Christianna Brand's Green for Danger (1945), Gladys Mitchell's Laurels Are Poison (1947),and Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night (1935). In this account, 'madness' will not be taken to have a consistent or scientific meaning. While each text is steeped in Freud, only Brand and Mitchell use psychoanalytic terminology to diagnose their murderess's motivations. Madness can signify irrationality, unconventionality, a delusional state of mind or severe emotional imbalance. Taking these various meanings into account, this paper will assess whether madness is used as a potent metaphor for acts of resistance and negation, and whether it costs female characters in powerlessness and silence. Specifically, this paper will consider acts of revenge carried out by each novel's female antagonist because, like madness, revenge can be considered an empowered, highly insurgent act. While to Showalter madness is always a constrained form of protest, this essay will ask, can the same be said of revenge?

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ISSN 1749-9771

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