A New Eroticism or Merely a New Woman? Cecil B. DeMille's Adaptation of Alice Duer Miller's Manslaughter

By Morey, Anne | Framework, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

A New Eroticism or Merely a New Woman? Cecil B. DeMille's Adaptation of Alice Duer Miller's Manslaughter


Morey, Anne, Framework


Now almost completely forgotten, novelist and scenarist Alice Duer Miller (1874-1942) was once a best seller, a consistent producer of still readable romances, and an intermittent but sought-after worker on other authors' scripts in Hollywood. Her writing career started while she was an undergraduate at Barnard, from which she received her mathematics degree in 1899, and continued to her death, at which time she was adapting her narrative poem White Cliffs into the film The White Cliffs of Dover, released posthumously in 1944. Apparently only three of the silent adaptations of Miller's works remain; of these, Manslaughter is certainly the most discussed, although Sumiko Higashi critiques its heroine "turned saintly" as a "boring [imitation] of a Victorian [stereotype]," while Robert Birchard dismisses it as "exhibit[ing] all of the excesses and none of the virtues of [Cecil B. DeMille's] other work," a failing that he attributes to DeMille's bout of rheumatic fever in spring 1922, which permitted what he considers Jeanie Macpherson's inadequately supervised adaptation of the novel.1

The purpose of this essay is not to offer a rediscovery either of Miller as author or of DeMille's Manslaughter, but rather to argue that Manslaughter the novel and Manslaughter the film represent contrasting visions of women alienated from their own sexuality. Given the alternation between female and male authorship (or a male/female collaboration between DeMille and Macpherson in the case of the film), the pair of texts may be viewed as a corporate effort to define how female eroticism might operate in an era of diminishing gender differences. Much of the examination of 1920s film eroticism has been collapsed into studies of the flapper; analyzing the two Manslaughters together suggests how allowing the flapper to become the type specimen for self-determined female sexuality excludes important conceptualizations of female eroticism produced by an earlier generation of New Women. Additionally, I argue that although the film adaptation appears to deform Miller's heroine, in part by turning her into a flapper, it nonetheless offers important visual metaphors for the psychological problem that the heroine confronts in the novel, namely the place of female self-possession in romance. Indeed, the shooting script of DeMille's Manslaughter adapts a key scene from the novel multiple times in an effort to explore feminine sexual passivity and masculine sexual brutality in ways that are surprisingly faithful to Miller's original conception of their place in contemporary romance. In exploring the construction of the car metaphor in both novel and film, however, I argue that Miller's heroine comes to understand even her desire for revenge as a form of eroticism, while DeMille's film imagines a female sexuality fundamentally expropriated from the woman who experiences it.

Despite Birchard's aspersions on the text, the production history of Manslaughter suggests a striking durability of appeal across a variety of media and a span of eighteen years. Miller's Manslaughter was sold to the Saturday Evening Post for $10,000, serialized there in summer 1921, and published in book form by Dodd Mead the same year; the motion picture rights were sold to Famous Players Lasky in November 1921; production on the film commenced in May 1922, with release taking place in September. The film cost $384,000 to produce and returned $1.2 million,2 a ratio of cost to gross that makes it De Mille's second most profitable film of the 1920s after The Affairs of Anatol. George Abbott remade the film in 1930 for Paramount, and the story was apparently broadcast on the radio in 1938 and again in 1940.3 Clearly this material remained of interest to Miller as well, since she was to rework it in two late novellas, And One Was Beautiful (1937) and Hit and Run (1943).

The novel tells the story of Lydia Thorne, a young woman who runs down a traffic cop, an offense for which she is ultimately imprisoned. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A New Eroticism or Merely a New Woman? Cecil B. DeMille's Adaptation of Alice Duer Miller's Manslaughter
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.