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The actress and the look of the other

Morrison, Joanna (2014) The actress and the look of the other. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis, titled The Actress and the Look of the Other, comprises a novella and a dissertation. The thesis consists of a work of fiction and a critically-based literary dissertation, with the two complementing each other. That is, this is not a practice-based exegesis where an analysis of a creative component is undertaken. The dissertation analyses two novelistic representations of actresses—Regina in Simone de Beauvoir’s All Men Are Mortal (1946) and Sibyl Vane in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)—through relevant aspects of Existentialism. The application of de Beauvoir’s ideas about female “transcendence” and acting in The Second Sex, and Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist philosophy of the other’s look, draws out and illuminates themes of objectivation and alienation in the novels, in relation to these hitherto neglected characters. The thesis addresses the previous neglect of these two figures in literary analyses and illustrates their relevance to the often inexplicit use of Existentialism in celebrity studies. It answers the research question: to what extent does Existentialism inform the actress characters in All Men Are Mortal and The Picture of Dorian Gray? Further, to what extent has Existentialism informed interpretations of the actor in celebrity studies?

The research question also informs the creative component of the thesis, which is titled As Though Floating. Engaging with de Beauvoir’s ideas about acting, “transcendence”, gender and fame, and Sartre’s ideas about self-estrangement in the other’s look, the novella explores how these existentialist themes relate to mortality, insignificance, fame and the acting craft. The novella explores a female actor’s unhappy pursuit of fame and her realisation that fulfilment may lie elsewhere. Fen is dissatisfied in her career as an understudy in London’s West End theatres, and is so preoccupied with recognition and success that she forgets her love of acting itself. When she returns home to Perth for a former lover’s funeral, Fen works through her memories and grief. In doing so, she reconciles with family and friends, and with her past treatment of the former lover whose celebrity and death play a key role in the novel.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Supervisor(s): Owen, Christine and Grehan, Helena
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