Gaslight: The Play, the Film, the Verb

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Patrick Hamilton's 1938 play Gas Light, filmed as Gaslight in 1940 and 1944, has rarely been considered a work of neo-Victorianism, but the films were part of a series of British and American movies of the mid-twentieth century - among them Fanny By Gaslight (1944), The Lodger (1944) and Footsteps in the Fog (1955) - that helped to establish how the Victorians are (re) imagined today. While film historians have more readily categorised Gaslight as an example of the 'female Gothic', reading the movie as early neo-Victorianism enables us to see the connections between the themes of confinement, intricate deception, performance, and new technology, and the feminist concerns of neo-Victorian fiction in the 21st century. In many ways, this chapter argues, we re-encounter the 1940s' version of the Victorians in contemporary neo-Victorianism and in the Victorian texts that we adapt and interpret anew.

The chapter will locate Gaslight in its theatrical and cinematic contexts, drawing on Stowell-Kaplan's study of the Victorian stage detective and Kleinecke-Bates and Primorac’s work on the Victorians on screen. It will incorporate insights on neo-Victorianism from Renk, and Maier and Ayres. It will also trace the culture afterlife of 'gaslighting' as a term in popular culture, for instance during the #Me Too controversy and the Trump presidency. Noting that the stage play reminds a popular success, but is critically dismissed as a 'warhorse' or a 'potboiler', the chapter concludes by arguing that the play's power in performance lies in its ability to render reality visible through its scenography and dramaturgy, and that this invitation to utilise critical distance works as a metaphor for the neo-Victorian encounter. The gaslight of Hamilton's play is the key to seeing through the deception, rather than the means of sustaining it.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of Neo-Victorianism
EditorsSarah E. Maier, Brenda Ayres
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9783031321603
ISBN (Print)9783031321597, 9783031321627
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jan 2024

Cite this