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Title: Talking back to Chandler and Spillane : gender and agency in women's hard-boiled detective fiction
Author: Avery, Cathrine
ISNI:       0000 0004 6353 0236
Awarding Body: Birkbeck, University of London
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 2017
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This thesis examines the perceived incompatibility of incorporating feminist values into the hard-boiled detective novel. Critical responses to this crime form have argued that it endorses a formulaic, misogynistic violence. My argument is that this is a literature that offers women writers the means to express female agency and empowerment, through a genre that changes to fulfil current social needs. Through the work of Raymond Chandler and Micky Spillane I establish the model of the ‘tough guy’ detective as a product of the moment of writing, reflecting contemporaneous gender anxieties. Fundamental to this analysis is the concept of a ‘surrogate public history’, through which society promulgates mythological constructs to salve or remedy social unease. My proposition is that early hard-boiled texts contributed to a surrogate public history in which the mythology of the male detective was embraced as both desirable and necessary. Subsequently women crime writers of the 1980s and 1990s have adopted this gendered space, offering a powerful commentary on the condition of women through a surrogate public history that allows us to see how women are bound by a social contract that divides public and private spheres in gendered terms. Through a careful deployment of the detective’s voice, authors such as Linda Barnes, Sue Grafton and Sarah Dunant, examine social inequalities and question how femininity is defined. These authors are defined as ‘gestic’ writers, who by giving precedence to the minutiae of the everyday open up to inquiry the practices by which women’s lives are regulated. Additionally I examine the work of Val McDermid and Jenny Siler to consider what this extraordinarily mobile form can stretch to incorporate. Siler in particular reveals the capacity of the hard-boiled form to reject normative gender assumptions through a central investigative figure whose outlaw status challenges social expectations of femininity.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available