Wolf-Women and Phantom Ladies Wolf-Women and Phantom Ladies

Female Desire in 1940s US Culture

By Steven Dillon

Subjects: Literature, Cultural Studies, Women's Studies, Literary Criticism, American History
Series: SUNY series in Feminist Criticism and Theory
Paperback : 9781438455808, 332 pages, January 2016
Hardcover : 9781438455792, 332 pages, April 2015

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Table of contents

1. Introduction: Sexual Visibility, or, The Duel in the Sun
2. Diana Trilling, Female Desire, and the Study of Popular Culture
3. The Waiting Room: Female Desire in Women’s Wartime Fiction
4. He-Wolves and She-Wolves: From Tex Avery to Jackson Pollock
5. Phantom Ladies: On the Radio and Out of the Closet
6. White Female Desire Wearing the Masks of Color
7. What Young Women Want: From High School to College
8. The Power and the Horror: Male and Female Cultural Spaces
Conclusion. Two Phantom Women: Ruth Herschberger and Elizabeth Hawes
Selected Bibliography

Provides encyclopedic coverage of female sexuality in 1940s popular culture.


2015 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

Popular culture in the 1940s is organized as patriarchal theater. Men gaze upon, evaluate, and coerce women, who are obliged in their turn to put themselves on sexual display. In such a thoroughly patriarchal society, what happens to female sexual desire? Wolf-Women and Phantom Ladies unearths this female desire by conducting a panoramic survey of 1940s culture that analyzes popular novels, daytime radio serials, magazines and magazine fiction, marital textbooks, Hollywood and educational films, jungle comics, and popular music. In addition to popular works, Steven Dillon discusses many lesser-known texts and artists, including Ella Mae Morse, a key figure in the founding of Capitol Records, and Lisa Ben, creator of the first lesbian magazine in the United States.

Steven Dillon is Professor of English at Bates College and the author of Derek Jarman and Lyric Film: The Mirror and the Sea and The Solaris Effect: Art and Artifice in Contemporary American Film.


"Dillon provides a fascinating analysis of female sexuality in the 1940s as depicted in a truly diverse array of mostly popular culture productions, including popular novels, radio serials, commercial and educational films, and comics … Highly recommended." — CHOICE

"This exciting book presents a truly capacious understanding of US culture and offers a spectacular array of analyses of how the decade's cultural discourse struggled to define female desire and how so much male literature and filmmaking sought to constrain it. Dillon's study will teach scholars of modern American literature and culture a great deal more about the 1940s than they already know or think they know. It is a brilliant addition to the field." — Gordon Hutner, author of What America Read: Taste, Class, and the Novel, 1920–1960