This Week in My Classes: V. I. Warshawski, Ha Ha Ha

We’re getting into the end of term craziness: I just returned a batch of essay proposals in Women and Detective Fiction, we’re starting drafts and peer editing in British Literature Since 1800 and starting to talk a little about the final exam, and of course we’re still working our way through new course material, including Ian McEwan’s Atonement and, in the seminar, Prime Suspect I. I have some work still to do on Atonement in preparation for this afternoon’s class, but I wanted to report one happy little moment I had during this morning’s class presentation on Sara Paretsky’s Indemnity Only (which, by the way, the students have become very engaged with–I think maybe half of them have chosen it for one of the texts in their final essay).  One thing the students did during their presentation was play us this trailer for the 1991 film V. I. Warshawski, starring Kathleen Turner:

I was happy that the students recognized some of the authentic lines (such as “What does the ‘V’ stand for?” “My first name”), but I was happier that they burst out laughing as soon as the clip began and pretty much laughed all the way through: it was obvious to them that the film (at least as marketed through the trailer) has very little to do with the form or values of the novel (and novelist) we’d been studying in class. Sure, some of the superficial aspects are the same, but far from settling in to easy appreciation of ‘watching’ instead of ‘reading,’ they know that what they were seeing was something different–and not something better, either. Don’t get me wrong: Kathleen Turner has great legs, and the feisty, tough-talking character she portrays is a close cousin of our Vic. Also, as we have discussed in some detail in the seminar, one of the interesting features of the way V. I. is characterized is that she is interested in looking good, and the novel (indeed, the series) refuses the view that strength and power are incompatible with femininity, or that the successful detective must “be a man”. But the trailer plays up V. I. ‘s strength–and particularly her feminism–for comic effect, and as for the line “Try beautiful, it works much better”? No. I saw the film once many years ago–perhaps before I’d read any of the books–and don’t remember it at all well enough to know if if the trailer represents it accurately or rather caters to marketing priorities (serious socially conscious feminism won’t sell?). My feeling right now is that life is too short to watch again just in order to find out. Besides, I have to review Prime Suspect–which I admire partly for the dead seriousness with which it examines feminist issues in both crime and detection.

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