Coding Gender in Romance Cultures

by Uta Felten (Volume editor) Tanja Schwan (Volume editor) Giulia Colaizzi (Volume editor) A. Francisco Zurián (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection 358 Pages
Series: Romania Viva, Volume 32


The book reunites transdisciplinary studies investigating the questions of construction and deconstruction of gender in filmic, literary, and television Romance cultures by referring to a corpus that stretches from plays of travesty in 18th century opera to non-normative masculinities in recent television series.
One of this book’s main objectives consists in inviting its readers to follow the traces of a transmedial and transnational historiography of media that offers figures of nomadic thinking in order to escape the binary concepts of normative biopolitics and offer instead alternative cartographies of gender and desire.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • | Contents |
  • | Preface | Prefacio |
  • | Women, Gender, Cinema, and the Arts |
  • Comedy, Modernity, and the Politics of Gender in Alice Guy-Blaché (Veronica Pravadelli (Rome))
  • Pensive Spectatorship: Reading of Two Women (de Sica, 1960) (Giulia Colaizzi (Valencia))
  • From flâneur bourgeois to Real flâneuse: Urban and Rural Cartographies of Female Desire in the Cinema of Eric Rohmer and Catherine Breillat (Uta Felten (Leipzig))
  • The Feminine Gaze. Women Filmmakers during the Spanish Transition (Silvia Guillamón Carrasco (Valencia))
  • Latin American ‘Women Films’ (Isabel Maurer Queipo (Siegen))
  • Can (the) Suffering Speak? The Im/Possible Discourse of Pain in the Aesthetics of Frida Kahlo as Described in Slavenka Drakulić’s Frida’s Bed (2007/2008) (Tanja Schwan (Leipzig))
  • Heterotopias & Heterologies in Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution by Miriam Fougère (2012) (Émilie Notard (Berlin))
  • Amor y placer en el dial: Micropolíticas del habla y prácticas radiofónicas feministas (Júlia Araújo Mendes (Valencia/Alagoas))
  • | Mediatized Images of Masculinity and Femininity |
  • The Spanish Television Fiction Comes Out of the Closet (even Zapatero Presidency) (Francisco A. Zurian (Madrid))
  • Coding Gender and School Imaginary in Spanish Postelevision Culture (Jorge Belmonte Arocha (Valencia))
  • Derecho de voz(s): Women, Photography, Violence, and Revictimization (Hernando C. Gómez Prada (Madrid))
  • When Time and Place Fall into the Abyss. The Art of Failing Queerly Québécois Identity in Bouchard, Greyson, and Dolan (Christoph Behrens (Dijon))
  • Bd-SM : comment s’agenrer ? (Bernard Andrieu (Paris))
  • | Relectures of Gender Coding in 18th, 19th, and 20th Century Literature, Theater, Opera, and Performance |
  • Travestimenti e trasformazioni nella commedeja pe museca (Paologiovanni Maione (Napoli))
  • A Balance Lost. Staging the Body and Controlling Social Mobility during the French Revolution (Inge Baxmann (Leipzig))
  • Sterben in Schönheit? Weiblichkeit, Tod und Ästhetik in Verdis La Traviata (Tanja Schwan (Leipzig))
  • “Emerging from the Closet of Representation”. The First Attempts to Show Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage on the Musical Theater Stage: Jacques Offenbach’s L’île de Tulipatan (1868) and Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience (1881) (Kevin Clarke (Berlin/Amsterdam))
  • Ugly Male High Culture and the Absorption into Tumorous Female Popular Culture: Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman (Anne-Marie Lachmund (Leipzig))
  • Erotisierung und Exotisierung des weiblichen und männlichen Körpers – Humberto Solás’ Relektüre des Nationalmythos Cecilia Valdés (1982) (Anne-Berenike Rothstein (Konstanz))
  • Series index

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| Preface | Prefacio |

Writing voluntarily from the margin, from a culture of resistance, of “dissidents”1, from a position beyond the “grand marché à la bonne meuf”2, from a position opposed to normativity and the binary of gender, constitutes a common model of orientation for many artists of Romance culture.

The present volume reunites transdisciplinary studies from numerous experts who investigate questions of construction and deconstruction of gender in filmic, literary, and television Romance cultures by referring to a corpus that stretches from plays of travesty in 18th century opera to non-normative masculinities in recent television series. One of this volume’s main objectives consists in inviting its readers to follow the traces of a transmedial and transnational historiography of media that offers figures of nomadic thinking – in the sense of Deleuze –, figures of thinking that escape voluntarily the binary concepts of normative biopolitics in order to offer instead an alternative cartography in which “our genders can mean different things at different times, and […] they are not set in stone. We’ll see them as just another set of colors that we can play with in our vibrant arsenals of finger paints.”3

This volume is the product of an intense and fruitful cooperation of the editors that are connected thanks to the research centers GECA (Género, Estética y Cultura del Audiovisual) at the Complutense University of Madrid, CGR (Coding Gender in Romance Cultures) at Leipzig University, and the competitive project I+D+i IBiTec (Interculturalidad, Biopolítica y Tecnologías de Género) at the University of Valencia, financed by the Conselleria de Educación, Investigación, Cultura y Deporte de la Generalitat Valenciana. We would like to thank Anne-Marie Lachmund and Kristin Mlynek-Theil for their proofreading and editing services.


Escribir voluntariamente desde el margen, desde una cultura de resistencia, de “disidentes”4, desde una posición más allá del “gran mercado de la buena chica”5, ←9 | 10→desde una posición opuesta a la normatividad y del binarismo de los géneros, constituye el común modelo de orientación para muchas artistas de la cultura de lengua romance.

El presente volumen reúne estudios transdisciplinarios de múltiples expertas y expertos que investigan cuestiones de construcción y deconstrucción de género en la cultura fílmica, literaria y televisiva de las lenguas románicas abarcando un corpus que va desde los juegos del travestismo en la opera del siglo dieciocho hasta las masculinidades no normativas en las series televisivas actuales. Una de las metas principales del volumen consiste en invitar a sus lectores a seguir las huellas de una historiografía transmedial y transnacional de los medios que ofrecen figuras de un pensamiento nomádico –en el sentido de Deleuze–, figuras de un pensamiento que huye voluntariamente de los conceptos binarios de una biopolítica normativa para ofrecer en vez de ello una cartografía alternativa en la que “nuestros géneros pueden significar distintas cosas en distintas ocasiones, y […] no están grabados en piedra; los veremos como un vibrante arsenal de colores con el que podemos jugar.”6

El volumen es producto de una larga e intensa cooperación de los editores y editoras que están vinculados entre sí bajo la conexión de los grupos de investigación GECA (Género, Estética y Cultura del Audiovisual) de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid, CGR (Coding Gender in Romance Cultures) de la Universidad de Leipzig y del proyecto competitivo I+D+i IBiTec (Interculturalidad, Biopolítica y Tecnologías de Género) de la Universitat de València, financiado por la Conselleria de Educación, Investigación, Cultura y Deporte de la Generalitat Valenciana. Le agradecemos a Anne-Marie Lachmund y Kristin Mlynek-Theil por su ayuda en la elaboración de las galeradas.

Leipzig, Madrid, and Valencia,

January 2020 | The Editors

1 Cf. Goytisolo, Juan: Disidencias, Barcelona, 1977.

2 Despentes, Virginie: King Kong Théorie, Paris, 2006, p. 9.

3 Dopp, Sarah: “endnote”, in: Gender Outlaws. The Next Generation, ed. by Kate Bornstein/S. Bear Bergman, Berkeley, 2010, p. 277.

4 Goytisolo 1977.

5 Despentes, Virginie: Teoría King Kong. Traducción de Beatriz Preciado, Madrid, 2007, p. 7.

6 Dopp, Sarah: Back Cover, en: Disidentes de género. La nueva generación, ed. por Kate Bornstein/S. Bear Bergman, Madrid, 2018.

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Veronica Pravadelli (Rome)

Comedy, Modernity, and the Politics of Gender
in Alice Guy-Blaché

Alice Guy-Blaché and Film History

Alice Guy-Blaché was the first woman filmmaker. But even if her pioneering status is now certain, for decades her name remained obscure. From 1896 to 1920, she directed, wrote, and produced nearly one thousand films. Guy penned her own cinematic memoire in La fée aux choux: Autobiographie d’une pionnière du cinéma published posthumously in 1976. Many consider this work an example of counter-history in line with the methods and goals of Women’s History. Here Guy-Blaché is both the historian and the historical agent since, much like Canadian pioneer Nell Shipman, she “had to write [her] own histor[y]; because no one else was doing it”1.

But Alice Guy is not only the first female director, she is also a key figure in early French cinema, and therefore cinema itself. Indeed, her status is comparable to that of her contemporaries, Méliès and the Lumière brothers. As we learn from her memoire, between 1894 and 1895 Guy begins to work in the same Parisian studio as Léon Gaumont, the Comptoir général de Photographie. She initially works as a secretary, but quickly learns to perform more technical tasks and gets to know all the clients who came to the Comptoir. Among the more recognizable patrons, she meets Emile Zola and the Lumière brothers, because by then photography already reigned supreme2. Guy even participates in the birth of cinema, attending the Lumières’ demonstration of the cinematograph on March 22, 1895 at the Société d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale à Paris3. While Gaumont, who had since become her boss, was not interested in “the educational and entertainment values of motion pictures,” young Alice was struck by the demonstration and asked Gaumont if she “might write one or two little scenes and have a few friends perform in them”4. From that moment, Guy’s work-life would be divided between secretarial tasks and filmmaking.

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Naturally, it is rather difficult to understand how much memory and retrospection influenced Guy’s account of her role in cinematic history. Psychological dynamics play a formative role if we consider the fact that Guy began to write her memoire in Switzerland during World War II with the explicit purpose of gaining long overdue recognition for her role in the history of cinema5. Nevertheless, Alison McMahan’s research (2002) has resolved many doubts and demonstrated the substantial reliability of Guy’s memoire.

Guy’s narrative conception of cinema is also extremely significant. She declared that one could do far better than recording “parades or railroad stations […] which served as demonstration films [and] were both brief and repetitious”6. Indeed, with “railroad stations” she makes explicit reference to L’arrivée d’un train à la Ciotat (1895) and critiques the Lumières’ documentary use of film. Instead, Guy believed in the story-telling potential of cinema, continuous with the novel and dramatic theater. Having read widely and done a little amateur theater, she thought that fictional stories would better exploit the power of cinema.

Alice Guy’s preference for narrative helps us to introduce and problematize one of cinema’s founding episodes. According to Guy, her first fictional film, La fée aux choux, was very likely filmed between April and June 18967. This first version – the film was re-filmed by Guy in 1901 – is about a woman dressed as a fairy who discovers some babies hidden behind wooden cabbage heads. In the center of the frame the fairy graciously gestures and tip toes toward the first row of cabbages where she finds one little baby and then another. She then places the babies in front of the cabbages and sees a third on the left side of the frame. But this one, which turns out to be a doll, gets placed further behind the cabbages to indicate that it is not yet mature enough to pick.

It is common to attribute pioneering status to the Lumière brothers for documentary film and to Méliès for fiction. Indeed, the first public screening of the Lumière brothers’ films on December 28, 1895 at the Gran Café on the Boulevard des Capucines traditionally inaugurates the official birth of cinema. Méliès was present at the screening and shot his first films toward the middle of 1896. According to recent hypothesis, then, this means that Alice Guy made her first film, La fée aux choux, before Méliès. But this is not enough to make Guy-Blaché the primogenetrix of fiction film because on that same December 28, the Lumières also screened L’arroseur arrosé (1895) and it too is a work of ←14 | 15→fiction. Jane Gaines is not discouraged, however, and has proposed a reading of Guy’s film that perhaps assures its author a record. Gaines distinguishes between the concept of fiction and that of narrative, lamenting the fact that scholars have often considered them interchangeable. But if we compare La fée aux choux and L’arroseur arrosé in relation to their degree of fictionality on the basis of artifice in the mise-en-scène, there is no doubt that Guy’s film “would win hands down as the first fiction”: with its painted backdrop, constructed objects (wooden cabbages), costumes, and reconstructed action, it is much more fictional than the Lumières’ film which is shot in the natural space of a garden8. One can also add that the Lumières’ film requires no interpretive act, while the gender discourse in Guy’s film strongly anticipates the author’s subsequent film productions.

In terms of auterial poetics, La fée aux choux also establishes themes related to femininity and gender through comedic register. This convergence remains central in Guy’s work. Of course, many of the director’s themes and formal choices resemble that of her contemporaries. But what sets them apart is a female gaze that overturns or questions models of behavior, clichés, and lifestyles. After having developed her comic vein at Gaumont (1902–1907), Guy would continue to make the same types of films at Solax in the United States. She tried her hand at many different genres, including melodrama, westerns, and religious films. But her feminist point of view was clearest in the comedies. Other genres also contained strong female characters in traditionally male roles, most notably a series of Westerns made at the beginning of the 1910s. These films stand out as particularly effective in relation to the construction of strong female characters. Indeed, they transformed the renowned Olga Petrova from a theater actress into a film star. Unfortunately, all of these films are lost. Yet we do have evidence of their plots of espionage and international intrigue, in which the female heroines are the agents of action and “like the female heroes in the comedies of crossdressing, disguise and assumption of a whole new identity are usually involved”9. Indeed, in 1917, Petrova went on to explicitly declare herself feminist as a result of acting in these films.

As mentioned above, however, the most fertile terrain for defining Alice Guy-Blaché’s gendered point of view lies in her comedies. Here, the dynamics of power in male/female relationships are central. Finding herself in a position of primary importance at Gaumont and then Solax at the beginning of the 20th century, Guy must have always been conscious of her sex/gender. Even Guy’s ←15 | 16→personal experience nourished this self-awareness. She married Herbert Blaché, nine years younger than her, when she was already an established director. The two married in 1907 and left for America that same year. In the beginning Alice simply followed her husband, but after a brief hiatus, she established a new film studio. The two worked together for many years, dividing and sharing different tasks. Guy profoundly believed in the equality of the sexes, demonstrated in many of her films and in her personal life. But when her marriage ended – her husband left the family to be with an anonymous actress in California – she suffered greatly. Her film career finished shortly thereafter, and with that her residence in America. Alice Guy returned to France with her two children in 1922.

Femininity, Pleasure, and Modernity between France and the USA

Of those that survived, many of Guy-Blaché’s comedies directly confront the roles of men and women as a couple. The narrative dynamics work toward the systematic deconstruction of codes and rules. But Guy’s representation of femininity and gender relations changes over time in relation to several contexts. If we compare her French and American comedies, the difference is striking. French films such as La fée aux choux (1896) and Madame a des envies (1906) center on birth, pregnancy, and bodily experience thus engaging ante litteram with women’s “sexual difference.” On the other hand, if we consider Guy’s American comedies, the discourse veers toward the paradigm of “the equality of the sexes,” and more broadly the relation between femininity and modernity. A House Divided (1913) and Matrimony Speed Limit (1913) are key examples here. But Guy’s involvement with modernity is not totally reconciled. In The Ocean Waif (1916), a feature length with a more complex dramaturgy, she will go back to a more traditional model of gender relations and relegate the image of the modern and active woman to the margins.

Madame a des envies is probably Guy’s most famous film. Indeed, it is a little masterpiece particularly dear to feminists. If La fée aux choux had explored the theme of birth by showing newborns, Madame a des envies tackles the issue of pregnancy (and birth) from the woman’s perspective. Made at the very beginning of cinema, La fée aux choux betrays all the features of the seventh art in its primitive stage: a unique shot with a fixed camera, the film incites the viewer’s curiosity in the typical form of the “cinema of attractions”10. The fairy picks up the infant ←16 | 17→hidden behind a cabbage and raises it in order to make it visible, showing it to the audience: it is a performance, an exhibition, as Tom Gunning called it, rather than a narrative with a story line. But showing babies implicitly calls attention to motherhood, female subjectivity and body. At a time when “making things visible” was cinema’s main strategy, Alice Guy’s choice to show newborns and by extension “women’s sexual difference” is important. In 1906 the early period is approaching its end. Soon cinema will enter its “transitional” phase which will last from 1908 to 1917, before classicism arises. Historians of US cinema agree that the transitional period “witness[es] the most profound transformation” in movie history. During these years, “cinema initiated the visual grammar and industrial structures it would retain” till the end of the studio era. “Films gained mounting formal complexity as codes of continuity editing and narrative storytelling developed”11. Madame a des envies may be seen in this context. While the mode of attraction does not disappear, the film is much more elaborate from a dramatic and formal point of view than La fée aux choux. Such a complexity is essential to the feminist stance of the film.

The protagonist is a woman in the advanced stages of pregnancy shot while walking in various public places, followed by her husband who pushes a pram with their first baby inside. The woman is taken by uncontrollable desire after seeing strangers sucking objects. To satisfy her craving, she steals every comestible that enters her field of vision. Her gesture annoys the strangers, and with great difficulty her husband tries to calm them and excuse his wife. The most interesting and transgressive element of the film is the mise-en-scène of the woman’s pleasure. The version I have viewed is comprised of three different episodes shot in the same manner. In the first, the protagonist walks in a park where an old man and a child sitting on a bench suck lollypops. The woman gets closer to them, takes the lollypop from the child and begins to suck it. The sensual gesture of the woman is shot at close range, almost as if it were a classic close-up. The woman, with abundant bosom, repeatedly sucks the obviously phallic lollypop, demonstrating an erotic pleasure. It is interesting that Guy chooses a white wall as background for the close shot, making the woman’s figure and her gesture stand out. In the preceding frames, the representation of space is naturalistic. When the camera moves to get closer to the sucking protagonist, the background becomes neutral, abstract, with clear intention of attracting the spectator to the erotic gesture, and to female pleasure in sucking. The frame has no other object of interest so the spectator’s gaze must concentrate on the image ←17 | 18→of the woman sucking. This modality is repeated in two other scenes, when the woman appropriates first a cigar and then a pipe, two classic indexes of masculinity. Again, the camera focuses on the woman’s pleasure in sucking. As in the first episode the protagonist is connoted in a “masculine” way: she is active, leads the action and satisfies her desire. The comical vision “of women undergoing physical […] transformation haunted the silent screen”12 and is certainly indicative of women’s increasing power and visibility in the modern metropolis. The woman’s force is also exacerbated by her husband’s passivity. During the whole film, he appears subordinate to her. He seems to be more of a servant than companion. Not only does he follow her timidly at a distance, but he is also physically minute. The man is overshadowed by his wife in all ways. In Freudian terms the protagonist is a bisexual subject combining male and female traits, while her husband is feminized as he is ruled by passivity. And yet, Guy’s little masterpiece is irreducible to Freud’s patriarchal vision of female sexuality. The thought of feminist psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray is a theoretical alternative that offers more helpful insights for a reading of Madame a des envies.

Stressing at the same time the woman’s pregnancy and her sexual pleasure in sucking allows Guy to define femininity as an irreducible duality. In this light “female sexuality and mothering, a distinction that ‘culture’ might perhaps have effaced”13, appear as two distinct experiences in the life of a woman. At the same time, Madame’s sucking activity is a potent form of autoeroticism. In one of her most famous passages, Irigaray argues that female sexuality and desire is “always at least double” and “goes even further: it is plural.” While “woman has sex organs more or less everywhere14 the richness of female sexuality and desire stems from the biological fact that “her genitals are formed of two lips in continuous contact [and] that caress each other”15. Autoeroticism would thus define female pleasure almost ontologically. The autoerotic nature of Madame’s pleasure is made all the more evident by the presence of the useless husband. Resorting to one of comedy’s most recurrent codes – the opposition between characters in terms of bodily shape and size –, the male figure is far from the standards of phallic masculinity.

In several 1913 films, the apex of Guy’s career at Solax16, the director exploits the dialectic of the sexes in markedly different ways. One notes that Guy’s vision ←18 | 19→shows important cultural inflections. In the French films, the sensual and erotic element assumes a definite physicality, specific to the female experience. On the other hand, the American films focus on “the equality of the sexes.” The filmmaker seems to be inspired by the fight of the suffragettes in those years. In at least two films, unfortunately both lost, she tackles the question directly. In Les résultats du féminisme (1906), we bear witness to a total inversion of the sexes. Men take care of the house and children while women work, court the opposite sex, and drink at the pub. After a quarrel, a husband is left at home with the children and the wife goes out and has fun. As a result, a group of husbands take revenge: all the women are chased out of the pub, and men can return to their favorite pastime. In 1912, during her Solax period, Guy remade the film with the title In the Year 2000. McMahan has rightly observed that the finale could appear reactionary, or rather the result of obtaining “too many” rights for women. However, the women of the era could also have interpreted the film in the opposite way, as an invitation to revolution17. The theme of role reversal is not rare in film of this era – Why Mr. Nation Wants a Divorce (1901) by Edison, for example – and is particularly productive when it is related to suffragette films. Often role-reversal is also linked to transvestitism.

A House Divided and Matrimony Speed Limit, both of 1913, do not directly deal with the suffragette fight. But both seem to nourish themselves in the spirit of the movement, in as much as they explicitly narrate the question of the equality of the sexes. In A House Divided, husband and wife suspect each other of adultery. The man comes home from the office smelling of perfume and the wife cannot explain a pair of male gloves mysteriously found in the kitchen. The spectator knows that neither has committed adultery, but the pride of each protagonist perpetuates misunderstanding. The two go to see a lawyer where they sign a contract declaring that they will continue to live in the same house, but that they will no longer speak to each other. They will only communicate in writing. One evening an unexpected event leads to the inevitable return of peace. In some ways one could say that there really is parity between the two sexes here. The two willingly renounce speech in the name of indefatigable and mutual pride, in so far as neither party is willing to bend to the other. Even living between the same domestic walls, the wife shows no sign of subordination to her husband. From the very beginning, the marriage seems to be one of equality.

In Matrimony Speed Limit, on the other hand, narrative intrigue resides in the disequilibrium between the sexes in favor of women. The male protagonist is a ←19 | 20→businessman engaged to a rich heiress. When he loses all his money he breaks off the engagement. His fiancée offers him money to become solvent again, but the man refuses. At that point the woman comes up with a plan. She sends her fiancé a telegram informing him that he will receive an inheritance from a distant relative if he marries by noon that same day. The two begin to look for one another, but when they struggle to meet the man begins to ask the hand of strange women on the street. The deadline draws near and the man risks losing the inheritance. When the man finally does find his fiancée he agrees to marry her right away. Comically, in order to have assurance that he would carry out the deed, the woman has already brought along a priest. After the fateful event, the newly wedded wife reveals the truth to her husband and the two cling to one another in a final embrace. Of course, it is all too evident that the man initially refuses to overturn the traditional economic subordination of woman to man, and prefers to remain poor rather than accept his fiancée’s money. In the finale, however, his ultimate acceptance validates the woman and her preference for the affective side of marriage over and above finance. Independent, strong-willed and astute, the female protagonist is also a perfect example of modern woman.

Guy’s feminist point of view comes across most clearly in the brief comedies made first in France and then in the United States. Toward the end of 1913, she would make the transition to feature length films. For the next five years, she would make a healthy number of films, each four to five reels long. Of the films Guy made in that period, three remain. The others are unfortunately lost. The three films all have an artist male protagonist and recount both his creative and romantic endeavors. The male character is always torn between two women. In The Ocean Waif (1916) a romantic writer falls in love with the young and immature Millie. In The Empress (1917) and The Great Adventure (1918) the protagonist is a libertine who simply wants to seduce women. These latter attempts have a negative outcome and result in a failed seduction. In all three films, gender dynamics take the form of a love triangle. In this dramaturgic model, Charles Musser sees a clear biographical inscription of Guy’s relationship with her husband. At that time, Guy’s marriage was in crisis because of Herbert Blaché’s infidelities. After shooting The Great Adventure, he would go off to Hollywood with his lover of the moment and leave his wife for good. According to Musser, the character of the second woman is a surrogate for Guy because she is always on the lookout for yet another woman. In this way, the filmmaker relives her daily experience of being repeatedly betrayed18. More generally, however, the ←20 | 21→imaginary of gender relations in these films has strong 19th century romantic and melodramatic overtones. Therefore, the representation of femininity is rather distant from the modernity of the female characters in the preceding comedies.

In The Ocean Waif, the young orphan Millie could not be more distant from the New Woman of the time. Her naïveté is in synch with the rural setting of the story. Ronald Roberts, a famous writer, takes up residence in an abandoned villa to escape the hustle and bustle of the city in order to write a new novel. Millie has taken refuge in the villa from her violent father. But the moment the girl becomes the writer’s muse their relationship becomes asymmetrical. The woman assumes a passive position as the motivator of male desire while the male assumes an active artistic role. We observe the classic structure of the gaze in which the man looks at the woman when the girl dresses up in clothes found in the attic and displays her beauty for Ronald19. But the romance between the writer and Millie is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of Ronald’s fiancée. Indeed, Ruth’s arrival and her ideological function in the film are extremely important because they contradict the basic imaginary of the film. While the gender dynamics between Ronald and Millie are antithetical to the progressive stance that Guy had represented in her previous films, Ruth is an explicitly modern female figure. When she appears on the scene, the iconography is very clear. She arrives in a sports car dressed in a causal and “masculine” way and stands in stark contrast to Millie. Ruth is an emancipated woman, sure of herself and extremely free. After seeing her fiancé kiss another woman, she does not lose composure or try to seek revenge. In fact, after it becomes clear that Ronald is seriously interested in Millie, Ruth does not hesitate to leave him for another man. Ruth is a society woman and free in an economic and emotional sense. Under this optic, Musser’s slightly sexist idea that the director lies behind the betrayed women of her mid-1910s films can acquire a positive note. Ruth overcomes her fiancé’s betrayal with security, autonomy, and coolness. In the final analysis, it is she, though not being the main protagonist, who incarnates the spirit of the modern woman of the time and of Guy’s previous feminist films.

Translated from Italian by Michael Theodore Meadows

←21 | 22→


Gaines, Jane M.: “First Fictions”, in: Signs 30, 1 (2004), pp. 1293–1317.

Gunning, Tom: “The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde”, in: Early Cinema. Space Frame Narrative, ed. by Thomas Elsaesser, London, 1990, pp. 56–62.

Guy Blaché, Alice: The Memoirs of Alice Guy Blaché, ed. by Anthony Slide, translated by Roberta and Simone Blaché, Metuchen, 1986.

Hastie, Amelie: Cupboards of Curiosity. Women, Recollection, and Film History, Durham, 2007.

Hennefeld, Maggie: “Destructive Metamorphosis: The Comedy of Female Catastrophe and Feminist Film Historiography”, in: Discourse 36, 2 (2014), pp. 176–206.

Irigaray, Luce: Speculum of the Other Woman, translated by Gillian G. Gill, Ithaca, 1985a.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (August)
transmediality biopolitics gender coding Romance Philology audiovisual culture
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 358 pp., 49 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Uta Felten (Volume editor) Tanja Schwan (Volume editor) Giulia Colaizzi (Volume editor) A. Francisco Zurián (Volume editor)

Uta Felten is a full professor, Tanja Schwan is an assistant professor for romance studies at Leipzig University. Giulia Colaizzi is a full professor at the University of Valencia, and Francisco A. Zurian is a professor at the Complutense University of Madrid, both in the domain of audiovisual communication theory and publicity.


Title: Coding Gender in Romance Cultures