chapter  5
13 Pages

The certified accountant Gothic heroine

Paranoia and The Second Woman (1950)
WithGuy Barefoot

Staircases, doors, and windows are part of the Gothic architecture of spectacle and fear. It is on the staircase that the heroine is displayed for the male gaze, while staircases and doors function as a passage to the forbidden and the feared. Explicit links between Gothic fiction and the modern can be traced as far back as Horace Walpole’s second preface description of The Castle of Otranto as ‘an attempt to blend two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern’. Diane Waldman’s comment that the Gothic heroine ‘may be awestruck and intimidated by her surroundings, unaccustomed to the trappings of luxury and responsibility her new circumstances imply’ fits the 1940s films, along with her point that ‘a crucial element of the modern Gothic is the heroine’s ambivalence towards the house itself’. The Second Woman takes a different path in having its heroine confront and address the possibility of danger and madness.