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Title: ‘Like a bird caught in cobwebs’: gender and genre in Anglophone conspiracy fiction, 1959-2003
Author(s): Babarczi, Zita
Supervisor(s): Ferguson, Christine
Jones, Timothy
Keywords: conspiracy fiction
Cold War literature
second wave feminism
genre literature
genre fiction
science fiction
Ira Levin
Philip K. Dick
Umberto Eco
Dan Brown
conspiracy narrative
Gothic literature
science fiction literature
thriller novels
Gothic novels
science fiction novels
Issue Date: Jul-2023
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This thesis examines the gendered dimensions of Anglophone, mainly American, conspiracy fiction in the period from the mid-twentieth-century to the beginning of the millennium. I posit that during this time, literary figurations of conspiracy in genre fiction are used to emplot gendered anxieties directly related to the political gains and losses of second-wave feminism. I trace the conspiratorial questioning, dissolution, and eventual reassertion of the patriarchal status quo through six novels and three genres: the Gothic novels of Ira Levin, the science fiction of Philip K. Dick, and the thrillers of Umberto Eco and Dan Brown. Levin’s fiction exemplifies white, middle-class American women’s anxiety that their husbands’ real allegiance may lie with patriarchy and not their marriage, literalising patriarchal power as a conspiracy. Dick’s novels emplot the anxiety induced by rapidly changing masculine norms, imagining a conspiratorial will as the driving force behind these changes. Eco and Brown query conspiracy’s viability to counteract the anxiety generated by the unmooring of gender roles, alighting on essentialist notions of femininity through which a new, updated patriarchy may be inaugurated. All four authors use the conventions of their chosen genre to colour and modify the core plot element of conspiracy. The mechanics of these generic conventions will be considered in each chapter. I pay further consideration to postmodernism’s impact on conspiracy fiction; in particular, the way in which the destabilisation of gender roles (the result of second-wave feminism) and the destabilisation of meaning (the result of postmodernity) becomes enmeshed in the American imagination. These novels depict the loss of traditional gender roles and the loss of faith in a knowable reality as functionally the same: a loss against which patriarchy reasserts itself via conspiratorial means. The politically, emotively, and generically heterogeneous expressions of patriarchy’s floundering and reassertion, as it is found in the selected genre texts of mid-to-late twentieth century Anglophone conspiracy fiction, is the topic of this thesis.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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