Introduction: The Woman’s Image — A Woman’s Imaging

  • Elizabeth Cowie
Part of the Language, Discourse, Society book series (LDS)


When Gertrud, suddenly noticing the picture behind her, exclaims, ‘That’s…that dream I had’, her nightmare finds its echo in a vision both conventional and publically sanctioned. This scene from Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Gertrud (1964) brings into focus the central concerns of this book: the representation of women and the figuring of feminine desire. At the same time Gertrud poses questions about film form and its theorisation which will also be addressed. The scene, shown in two frame-stills in plate 1, presents a series of references producing a complex montage within the frame. Earlier, Gertrud, when meeting with Erland in a park before going to his apartment to make love for the first time, had described to him her dream the night before in which ‘….I ran naked through the streets, pursued by hounds. I woke up when they caught me.’ The next evening Gertrud is taken ill during her husband’s speech at a banquet in celebration of the poet Lidman, Gertrud’s former lover, which Erland is also attending. Gertrud is escorted to a nearby room where she is seated in front of a large picture before being joined by an old friend, Axel Nygren, who has come from Paris. They talk of the book on free will which Axel is writing. Gertrud refers to her father as ‘a mournful fatalist.


Sexual Difference Filmic Representation Female Protagonist Psychical Structure Social Definition 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Boccaccio’s version of the story, which was probably drawn from Anastagio Degli Unesti, appears as ‘The Eighth Story’ of ‘Day the Fifth’ of The Decameron. He concludes his story saying ‘Their marriage was by no means the only good effect to be produced by this horrible apparition, for from that day forth the ladies of Ravenna in general were so frightened by it that they became much more tractable to men’s pleasures than they had ever been in the past’: Penguin Classics, trans. G. H. McWilliam (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972), p. 462. My thanks to Alan Milien for pointing out to me this thematic reference. Erik Hedling has noted that the picture in Dreyer’s film differs from that in the play by Hjalmar Söderberg on which it is based, and I am very grateful to him for the following information about the picture. In the play the scene instruction at the beginning of the second act states ‘The walls between the doors are covered by tapestries: at the left the birth of Venus, at the right a red deer torn by dogs.’ Sten Rein, however, in his Hjalmar Söderberg’s Gertrud (Stockholm: Bonniers, 1962) p. 79, claims that Söderberg changed the word ‘woman’ in his original manuscript into ‘red deer’. The tapestry was partly an illustration of Gertrud’s dream that she would ‘run the streets, chased by dogs’ as well as an allusion to the myth of Actaeon, whom Artemis made into a deer and who was subsequently torn to death by his own dogs. It is known that Dreyer had read Söderberg’s original manuscript, so that the change he makes — replacing the red deer by a woman — returns it to Söderberg’s original instruction for the tapestry.Google Scholar
  2. The most careful study of Dreyer, Edvin Kau’s Dreyer’s Filmkunst (Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 1989), does not discuss the picture as an already existing artwork, although it pays much attention to allusions to paintings by Hammershoi and Munch in the film. Sven Holm at Palladium Pictures has informed me that John Hilbard, the associate producer of Gertrud, has confirmed that the picture is neither a painting nor a tapestry, but a drawing made with black and white crayon on canvas.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979), trans. G. Bennington and B. Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), p. 74.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Rachel M. Brownstein, Becoming a Heroine (New York: Viking Press, 1984), p. xxi.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Juliet Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism (London: Allen Lane, 1974).Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    These debates are summarised by Juliet Mitchell in her introduction to the selection of articles by Lacan and members of the École Freudienne co-edited with Jacqueline Rose. As Mitchell shows, Freud’s view of femininity was strongly contested and defended by psychoanalysts in the 1920s and 1930s, including Ernest Jones, Melanie Klein, Karen Horney, Helene Deutsch, Jeanne Lampl de Groot, Ruth Mack Brunswick: ‘Introduction — I’, Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the École Freudienne, ed. Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose (London: Macmillan, 1982), pp. 1–26.Google Scholar
  7. The later critique in 1949 by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex (London: Jonathan Cape, 1969) again challenged much of Freud’s theory on femininity, while othersGoogle Scholar
  8. such as Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1965 [1963])Google Scholar
  9. Shulamith Firestone in The Dialectic of Sex (London: Jonathan Cape, 1971 [1970]) rejected Freudian psychoanalysis as ‘anti-women’. Mitchell took up these critiques in Psychoanalysis and Feminism. Google Scholar
  10. Lacan’s ‘re-reading’ of Freud gave rise to a number of important new discussions of female sexuality, notably by Michèle Montrelay in ‘Inquiry into Femininity’ in m/f, no. 1, 1978, trans. Parveen Adams, reprinted in The Woman in Question, ed. Parveen Adams and Elizabeth Cowie (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990)Google Scholar
  11. Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other (1974), trans. Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985)Google Scholar
  12. This Sex Which Is Not One (1977), trans. Catherine Porter (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985); Eugénie Lemoine-Luccioni, The Dividing of Women or Woman’s Lot (1976), trans. Marie-Laure Davenport and Marie-Christine Regis (London: Free Association Books, 1987)Google Scholar
  13. Monique David-Ménard, Hysteria From Freud to Lacan (1983) trans. Catherine Porter (Cornell: University Press 1989). Julia Kristeva has addressed the maternal and the feminine in a number of her books, in particular Tales of Love (1983), trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  14. The debate with Lacan and Freud has given rise to a large body of critical writing, including Sara Kofman’s study of Freud’s repression of femininity, not least his own, in The Enigma of Woman. Woman in Freud’s Writings, trans. Catherine Porter (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985)Google Scholar
  15. Jane Gallop’s two books, Feminism and Psychoanalysis (London: Macmillan, 1982), and Reading Lacan (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Elizabeth Grosz’s Jacques Lacan, a Feminist Introduction is a review of Lacan’s work and the feminist writing on Freud and Lacan (London: Routledge, 1990).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 10.
    Mary Ann Doane, Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis (London: Routledge, 1991), p. 8.Google Scholar
  18. 15.
    Christian Metz, Psychoanalysis and Cinema: The Imaginary Signifier (1977), trans. Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster and Alfred Guzzetti (London: Macmillan, 1982).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Elizabeth Cowie 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Cowie
    • 1
  1. 1.University of KentCanterburyUK

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