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'Clad in robes of virgin white' : the sexual politics of the 'lingerie' dress in novel and film versions of The Go-Between

Edwards, Sarah (2012) 'Clad in robes of virgin white' : the sexual politics of the 'lingerie' dress in novel and film versions of The Go-Between. Adaptation: A Journal of Literature on Screen Studies, 5 (1). pp. 18-34. ISSN 1755-0637

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Abstract

This article reconsiders the sexual politics of the novel and film versions of The Go-Between by focussing on the representation of its antiheroine, Marion. For many critics, Marion personifies the gap between appearance and reality that pervades the Edwardian country house, whose sexual hypocrisy and class conflict breaks the young hero, Leo. However, I suggest that while Hartley’s densely symbolic novel does depict Marion as ‘villainously beautiful’ in a series of binary images, the Pinter/Losey film adaptation utilises one of these symbols—the white ‘lingerie dress’—to create a more ambivalent, multilayered, and occasionally sympathetic portrayal of Marion’s sexuality. I begin by examining how the cinematography develops Hartley’s own use of light and dark imagery to evoke the politics and processes of memory; I then go on to consider how material objects, including dress, are used in the film to critique the class, imperial, and sexual assumptions of nascent Edwardian country-house society, by utilising recent scholarship on the relationships between costume and spectacle in heritage film. I devote the remainder of the article to the visual motif of the ‘lingerie dress’, whose oxymoronic nickname aptly describes a cultural history that provokes an array of contradictory ideas about the sexual nature of the Edwardian country-house lady. In particular, I consider the historical and cultural contexts of the film’s production and the dialogue that it creates between the late 1960s and the Victorian/Edwardian era, most notably through its star Julie Christie, an icon of the ‘Swinging Sixties’.