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Gender, Melancholia and the ‘Fallen Woman’: Gendered Visions of Mental Illness in The Hours.

Selway, Matt (2014) Gender, Melancholia and the ‘Fallen Woman’: Gendered Visions of Mental Illness in The Hours. In: Guimaraes Guerra, Lolita and Nicdao, Jose A., (eds.) Narratives of suffering, meaning and experience in a transcultural approach. Oxford, Inter-Disciplinary Press, pp. 95-104

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Abstract

Abstract

In this chapter, I will discuss the representation of mental illness in Stephen Daldry’s film The Hours (2002). Particularly, I will consider the various ways that the images of depression and melancholy used to construct these representations are inflected by issues of gender and sexuality. Initially considering the prevalent narrative themes of popular mental illness narratives, I will identify and explain that there is a clear divide in the way that triumph and suffering become dichotomous attributes of gender and mental illness in cinema. The two crucial aspects of this chapter are the prevalence of biopic films in constructing this gender divide and the longstanding cultural relevance of the 19th Century ‘Fallen Woman’ archetype. Initially I will explain how biographical films concentrating on male protagonists battling with mental illness frequently construct narratives of ‘heroic suffering’, ‘enlightenment’ and ‘triumph’. In response to this I will then, using The Hours as my case study, develop my argument of gendered division by considering the very different themes of melancholy and suffering that populate common narratives centred on women. Taking into account the historical lineage of ‘Fallen Women’ in the arts, and in particular the heavy association between melancholic women and drowning (dating back to Shakespeare’s Ophelia in Hamlet and extending into 19th Century arts) this chapter will illustrate the way that The Hours’ continuation of these themes constructs representations of mental anguish and suffering using longstanding cultural attitudes towards women and ‘madness’. Ultimately, my chapter will illustrate how film narratives of women and their affliction with mental illness can be tied to wider discourses and imagery of depression and female melancholy. Illustrating how these films belabour characters’ suffering, especially in comparison to male characters, I will highlight the significant role that gender and sexuality play in our perceptions of mental illness in film.

Key Words: Gender, melancholia, fallen women, The Hours, depression, mental illness.

Item Type: Book Section
Status: Published
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA790 Mental health
School/Department: School of Humanities, Religion & Philosophy
URI: http://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/2677

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