Killing a Phantom: The Rise and Alleged Demise of the Femme Fatale in US and UK Noir Fiction and a novel, The Confidence

Solomon, Suzanne A (2023) Killing a Phantom: The Rise and Alleged Demise of the Femme Fatale in US and UK Noir Fiction and a novel, The Confidence. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This creative-critical thesis reconsiders the femme fatale of noir fiction in the context of intersectional feminism. The creative component, a novel entitled The Confidence, follows a trio of teenage grifters who reunite as adults after having been initiated into crime by a mysterious confidence man, a salesman of health supplements, in their youth. Set in Manhattan and the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York in 2019- 2020 and a decade earlier, the novel examines issues of colonialism, class, gender and sexuality through a transactional lens that critiques the cultural transmission of patriarchal codes like those embodied in the femme fatale figure. The trope has survived classic noir to populate contemporary crime fiction, such as in the recent subgenre of domestic noir. Given the femme fatale’s repeated emergence during periods of social change, what explains her persistence when feminism is said to have neutralized the male gaze? The thesis’s critical component pursues that question. Chapter 1 defines key terms, ‘noir’ and ‘femme fatale’, following Horsley and others in not limiting literary noir to a historical time frame or an exclusively American form. Chapters 2 and 3 provide close readings of noir novels by Vicki Hendricks, Sarah Schulman and Jules Grant, analysing their construction of a ‘conscious’ and ‘performative’ femme fatale figure through intersecting identities of gender, sexuality and social class, employing theories of Judith Butler and other poststructuralist feminist critics. Chapter 4 examines the figure’s regression to a white, middle-class ‘girlish’ heteronormativity in post-classic noir published in the US and UK, positing that the industry’s focus on a predominantly white, female middle-class readership of crime fiction has resulted in a ‘generic contract’ (after Walton and Jones) allowing conservative postfeminist institutional structures to recuperate the figure through a market-mediated rejection of intersectional feminism, as formulated by Crenshaw.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 25 Jan 2024 14:00
Last Modified: 25 Jan 2024 14:45

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