Attention to Detail: Epistolary Discourse and Contemporary Cinema
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, women struggled to find a public voice amidst an oppressive patriarchal culture. Women turned to private writing forms in order to find a voice, and thus the diary and the letter became thought of as privileged spaces for female self-expression. Fast-forward to the present day and the opposite seems to be true. Self-expression is no longer restricted on the basis of gender, and the public display of emotion is encouraged for men and women in what Frank Furedi describes as a “therapeutic culture” (2004: 25). This thesis explores how these social and cultural shifts have come to resonate through film narratives that use letters, diaries, email and blogs. I argue that what we see emerging is a contemporary cinematic sub-genre that I call ‘epistolary drama’. I explore the rise of the epistolary drama insisting that it is inspired by adjacent examples of women writing (Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City) and that it remakes the melodrama and woman’s’ films of the 1940s and 50s in two ways. First, the epistle acquires a feminine connotation, not only due to its role as a favourable space for female self-expression, but also because it carries the burden of feeling as women have done in the melodramatic genre. Second, through the exchange of letters, emotional expression is shared between male and female protagonists in a more equal narrative of emotional expression that incorporates the spread of therapeutic culture and the perceived feminization of masculinity. My thesis begins with a discussion of women, language and creativity with specific regard to the ‘detail’, a feminine style of self-expression concerned primarily with the domestic details of a woman’s daily life. I argue that the feminine detail, once deemed ‘small’ and ‘artless’, finds newfound value through narrativisation in the epistolary drama. Having considered women’s relationship with language from a historical standpoint, I then establish connections between therapeutic culture and film genre in order to contextualize the emergence and resurgence of these films at this time. The second half of my thesis focuses on the close textual analysis of diary narratives, for example Bridges of Madison County (1995), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), and Notes on a Scandal (2006); letter narratives, for example The Lake House (2004), The Young Victoria (2009) and Dear John (2010), and online narratives such as You’ve Got Mail (1998), A Cinderella Story (2004) and The Perfect Man (2005). By mapping shifts in culture and film genre onto a contemporary body of films this thesis interrogates changing understandings of 1) self expression in public and private spaces; 2) narrative expression in the romance drama and of 3) masculinity and femininity in relation to romance and film genre.
Advisor: Fowler, Catherine; Pearson, Erika
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Media, Film and Communication Studies
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: epistolary; film; genre; narrative; feminism; therapy
Research Type: Thesis