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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Lyrical beasts: Equine metaphors of race, class, and gender in contemporary Hollywood cinema
by Hofstetter, Angela Dawn, Ph.D., Indiana University, 2009, 257; 3357987
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation proposes that the horse, an unlikely combination of domestication and freedom, merits closer academic scrutiny than it has received because of its historically unique importance to Anglo-American identity. Often a complicit symbol of nationalism, imperialism, and class privilege, the horse can simultaneously buck such elitism and bear the burdens of the working classes as well as embody the problematic racial "Other." In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the equine's presence betrays deeper cultural preoccupations with gender and a radically altered understanding of the natural world following the Industrial and Cyber Revolutions in recent adaptations of works regarded as great classics (e.g. Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility) as well as contemporary best-sellers (e.g. The Horse Whisperer, Seabiscuit ).

My dissertation argues that the rise of the horse in American cinema of the last decade cannot be divorced from the unprecedented popularity of heritage cinema and the resurgence of the cowboy, reflecting nostalgia for eras in Anglo-American culture which ostensibly represent a less mediated relationship to an idealized nature. Paradoxically, technological advances that slowly robbed the horse of its utilitarian function only intensify this powerful symbolic connection. My dissertation additionally asserts that the current American romance with the horse is largely symptomatic of the resurgence of a conservative longing for nineteenth-century concepts in American culture. Significantly, like the general riding disciplines of "English" (mostly practiced by women) and "Western" (the province of men), the imaginary landscape of this gendered understanding of human nature and the natural world is alternately located in pre-Industrial England and the mythic West.

Primary material include classics and bestsellers as well as horse training manuals of the last two centuries, historical treatises, popular works on the state of the modern woman, and pseudoscientific texts promulgating the "new" eugenics. My critical approach draws most heavily upon recent work in cultural studies as well as feminist theory and gender studies. Adaptation theory also plays a prominent role in revealing the dialogue between these films and the legacy of nineteenth-century culture they embrace.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Klinger, Barbara
School: Indiana University
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 70/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Adaptation, Austen, Jane, Eugenics, Gender, Hollywood, Horse, Metaphors, Race
Publication Number: 3357987
ISBN: 978-1-109-16670-5
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