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dc.contributor.advisorRadner, Hilary
dc.contributor.advisorCooper, Annabel
dc.contributor.authorPolaschek, Bronwyn
dc.identifier.citationPolaschek, B. (2011). The Postfeminist Biopic: Narrating the Lives of Plath, Kahlo, Woolf and Austen (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy). University of Otago. Retrieved from
dc.description.abstractThis thesis explores the influence of postfeminist culture on cinematic representations of female biographies. It does so by analysing four case studies of films that represent the lives of creative women who are established members of the second-wave feminist canon: Sylvia (Christine Jeffs, 2003), which depicts the life of the American poet Sylvia Plath; Frida (Julie Taymor, 2002), about the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo; The Hours (Stephen Daldry, 2002), which includes a biographical narrative about the English novelist and critic Virginia Woolf; and Becoming Jane (Julian Jarrold, 2006), a fictionalised interpretation of the coming of age of the English novelist Jane Austen. Earlier research describes two sub-genres of the female biopic: the classical female biopic, which portrays its woman protagonist as a suffering victim on a downward trajectory, and the feminist biopic, which deliberately applies a feminist perspective to the protagonist. This thesis proposes a third sub-genre, the postfeminist biopic, which has appeared as part of a broader trend, dating back to the 1980s, of reviving and reconfiguring classical genre forms aimed at women. Unlike either the classical female biopic or the feminist biopic, the postfeminist biopic appropriates the conventions of the male biopic in order to portray the life of the creative woman, blurring the distinction between the female and male biopic traditions. Films such as Sylvia, Frida, The Hours, and Becoming Jane explore a diversity of ideas regarding the historical and cultural importance of the female protagonist, including explicitly feminist constructions, playing out the pluralistic and conflicting interpretations that surround the creative woman. The postfeminist biopic invites multiple spectatorial positions in order that the targeted female audience is able to experience a range of contradictory identifications and viewing pleasures. The sub-genre can take an explicitly self-reflexive and deconstructive approach, foregrounding the biopic as a subjective act of historical reconstruction and presenting an anti-essentialist construction of the biopic protagonist. This thesis argues that the sub-genre of the postfeminist biopic cannot be adequately explained in terms of a definition of postfeminism as an overt or insidious backlash against feminism. Defining postfeminism as an epistemological shift from earlier second-wave feminist theorising, enables a more constructive approach to these films as postfeminist. The sub-genre addresses the feminist narratives of Plath, Kahlo, Woolf and Austen, while presenting an anti-foundational and pluralistic conception of feminism to evoke the unresolved tensions between competing historical, feminist and postfeminist constructions of the creative woman. The representation of the lives of the canonical feminist figures Plath, Kahlo, Woolf and Austen in the postfeminist biopic suggests the ongoing significance of these women's lives and work, the debate over the meaning of their legacies, and the contested position of the creative woman in contemporary culture.en_NZ
dc.publisherUniversity of Otago
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dc.titleThe Postfeminist Biopic: Narrating the Lives of Plath, Kahlo, Woolf and Austenen_NZ
dc.typeThesis of Media, Film and Communicationen_NZ of Philosophyen_NZ of Otago Theses
otago.openaccessAbstract Only
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