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The New Woman Criminal in British Culture at the Fin de Siecle

Elizabeth Carolyn Miller

Publication Year: 2008

Framed uses fin de siècle British crime narrative to pose a highly interesting question: why do female criminal characters tend to be alluring and appealing while fictional male criminals of the era are unsympathetic or even grotesque? In this elegantly argued study, Elizabeth Carolyn Miller addresses this question, examining popular literary and cinematic culture from roughly 1880 to 1914 to shed light on an otherwise overlooked social and cultural type: the conspicuously glamorous New Woman criminal. In so doing, she breaks with the many Foucauldian studies of crime to emphasize the genuinely subversive aspects of these popular female figures. Drawing on a rich body of archival material, Miller argues that the New Woman Criminal exploited iconic elements of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century commodity culture, including cosmetics and clothing, to fashion an illicit identity that enabled her to subvert legal authority in both the public and the private spheres. "This is a truly extraordinary argument, one that will forever alter our view of turn-of-the-century literary culture, and Miller has demonstrated it with an enrapturing series of readings of fictional and filmic criminal figures. In the process, she has filled a gap between feminist studies of the New Woman of the 1890s and more gender-neutral studies of early twentieth-century literary and social change. Her book offers an extraordinarily important new way to think about the changing shape of political culture at the turn of the century." ---John Kucich, Professor of English, Rutgers University "Given the intellectual adventurousness of these chapters, the rich material that the author has brought to bear, and its combination of archival depth and disciplinary range, any reader of this remarkable book will be amply rewarded." ---Jonathan Freedman, Professor of English and American Culture, University of Michigan Elizabeth Carolyn Miller is Assistant Professor of English at the University of California, Davis. digitalculturebooks is an imprint of the University of Michigan and the Scholarly Publishing Office of the University of Michigan Library dedicated to publishing innovative and accessible work exploring new media and their impact on society, culture, and scholarly communication. Visit the website at www.digitalculture.org.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. ix

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-22

In 1901, R. W. Paul, one of Britain’s first filmmakers, released The Countryman and the Cinematograph, a film that reflexively “explains” cinema just five years into this new narrative form. It depicts a countryman at the movies, who mistakes cinematic illusion for real-world phenomena: he attempts to dance with a lovely on-screen dancing girl ...


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ONE: Private and Public Eyes - Sherlock Holmes and the Invisible Woman

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pp. 25-69

Consider figure 7, an illustration from Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Scandal in Bohemia,” the first installment in what would become a long-running, endlessly influential series of short detective stories featuring Sherlock Holmes. Outside the context of the narrative, the image seems to represent an exchange of glances between a young man passing ...

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TWO: Beautiful For Ever! - Cosmetics, Consumerism, L. T. Meade, and Madame Rachel

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pp. 70-100

At the end of the last chapter, I turned from the criminological gaze to the consumerist image: let me brie›y recapitulate why this move is central to my project. As an image and representation, the female criminal unites two distinct and conflicting conceptions of visibility in late- Victorian crime fiction. In criminological discourse, as we saw in the last ...


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THREE: The Limits of the Gaze - Class, Gender, and Authority in Early British Cinema

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pp. 103-146

Historians of film debate such basic questions as who invented cinema and what year it first appeared, but all now agree that the early film archive, once relegated to the embarrassing category of “primitive” filmmaking, is a rich trove for understanding modern developments in culture, narrative, and visuality.1 In Britain, the Lumière brothers’ films ...


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FOUR: Dynamite, Interrupted - Gender in James’s and Conrad’s Novels of Failed Terror

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pp. 149-185

Henry James’s 1886 novel The Princess Casamassima and Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel The Secret Agent are in many ways two very different works—different in tone, style, and narrative voice—but both participate in a popular genre of crime narrative that emerged in 1880s Britain: the “dynamite novel.” Dynamite narrative treats the characteristically ...

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FIVE: “An Invitation to Dynamite” - Female Revolutionaries in Late-Victorian Dynamite Narrative

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pp. 186-222

Nineteenth-century iconography commonly represented “the spirit of revolution” with the image of a woman, but with the rise of dynamite narrative in the 1880s, female revolutionaries emerged as complex characters rather than abstract or allegorical symbols.1 There were hardly any real female political criminals in fin de siècle Britain, until the ...

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pp. 223-226

Sabotage, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1936 film adaptation of The Secret Agent, brought the visual aspects of dynamite narrative to the forefront of the story, making film itself a salient feature of the plot. In Joseph Conrad’s novel, Verloc and Winnie keep a shop that sells pornography and radical propaganda; in Hitchcock’s film, they operate a movie theater. In ...


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pp. 227-252

Films Cited

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pp. 253-254

Works Cited

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pp. 255-272


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pp. 273-284

E-ISBN-13: 9780472024469
E-ISBN-10: 0472024469
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472050444
Print-ISBN-10: 0472050443

Page Count: 295
Illustrations: 30 B&W illustrations
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 436155908
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Framed

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Female offenders in literature.
  • Terrorism in literature.
  • Feminism and literature -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
  • Detective and mystery films -- Great Britain -- History and criticism.
  • Detective and mystery stories, English -- History and criticism.
  • English fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Women in popular culture -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
  • Consumption (Economics) in literature.
  • Literature and society -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
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