Contesting Tears: The Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman
Stanley Cavell, Walter M Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value Emeritus Honorary Associate of Adams House Stanley Cavell
University of Chicago Press, 1996 - 255 pages
What is marriage? Can a relationship dedicated to equality, friendship, and mutual education flower in an atmosphere of romance? What are the paths between loving another and knowing another? Stanley Cavell identified a genre of classic American films that engaged these questions in his study of comedies of remarriage, Pursuits of Happiness. With Contesting Tears, Cavell demonstrates that a contrasting genre, which he calls "the melodrama of the unknown woman," shares a surprising number and weave of concerns with those comedies.
Cavell provides close readings of four melodramas he finds definitive of the genre: Letter from an Unknown Woman, Gaslight, Now Voyager, and Stella Dallas. The women in these melodramas, like the women in the comedies, demand equality, shared education, and transfiguration, exemplifying for Cavell a moral perfectionism he identifies as Emersonian. But unlike the comedies, which portray a quest for a shared existence of expressiveness and joy, the melodramas trace instead the woman's recognition that in this quest she is isolated. Part of the melodrama concerns the various ways the men in the films (and the audiences of the films) interpret and desire to force the woman's consequent inaccessibility.
"Film is an interest of mine," Stanley Cavell has written, "or say a love, not separate from my interest in, or love of, philosophy." In Contesting Tears Cavell once again brilliantly unites his two loves, using detailed and perceptive musings on melodrama to reflect on philosophical problems of skepticism, psychoanalysis, and perfectionism. As he shows, the fascination and intelligence of such great stars as
Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis, and Barbara Stanwyck illuminate, as they are illuminated by, the topics and events of these beloved and enduring films.
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Naughty Orators Negation of Voice in Gaslight
Psychoanalysis and Cinema Moments of Letter from an Unknown Woman
Ugly Duckling Funny Butterfly Bette Davis and Now Voyager
Postscript To Whom It May Concern
Stellas Taste Reading Stella Dallas
Other editions - View all
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Page 27 - And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman and brought her unto the man.
Page 34 - A boy is in the parlour what the pit is in the playhouse; independent, irresponsible, looking out from his corner on such people and facts as pass by, he tries and sentences them on their merits, in the swift summary way of boys, as good, bad, interesting, silly, eloquent, troublesome.
Page 43 - Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly, "I seek God! I seek God!
Page 35 - ... nobody ; all conform to it ; so that one babe commonly makes four or five out of the adults who prattle and play to it. So God has armed youth and puberty and manhood no less with its own piquancy and charm, and made it enviable and gracious and its claims not to be put by, if it will stand by itself. Do not think the youth has no force, because he cannot speak to you and me. Hark ! in the next room his voice is sufficiently clear and emphatic. It seems he knows how to speak to his contemporaries.