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I'm No Angel

The Blonde in Fiction and Film
Ellen Tremper

BUY Paper · 288 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813925202 · $35.00 · Feb 2006

Have you ever wondered why there are so many "dumb blonde" jokes—always about women? Or how Ivanhoe's childhood love, the"flaxen Saxon" Rowena, morphed into Marilyn Monroe? Between that season in 1847 when readers encountered Becky Sharp playing the vengeful Clytemnestra—about to plunge a dagger into Agamemnon—and the sunny moment in 1932 when moviegoers watched Clark Gable plunge Jean Harlow's platinum-tressed head into a rain barrel, the playing field for women and men had leveled considerably. But how did the fairy-tale blonde, that placid, pliant girl, become the "tomato upstair," as Monroe styled herself in The Seven Year Itch?

In I'm No Angel: The Blonde in Fiction and Film, Ellen Tremper shows how, at its roots, the image of the blonde was remodeled by women writers in the nineteenth century and actors in the twentieth to keep pace with the changes in real women's lives. As she demonstrates, through these novels and performances, fair hair and its traditional attributes—patience, pliancy, endurance, and innocence—suffered a deliberate alienation, which both reflected and enhanced women's personal and social freedoms essential to the evolution of modernity. From fiction to film, the active, desiring, and sometimes difficult women who disobeyed, manipulated, and thwarted their fellow characters mimicked and furthered women's growing power in the world. The author concludes with an overview of the various roles of the blonde in film from the 1960s to the present and speculates about the possible end of blond dominance.

An engaging and lively read, I'm No Angel will appeal to a general audience interested in literary and cinematic representations of the blonde, as well as to scholars in Victorian, women's, and film studies.


"Blondes not only have more fun but get more respect in Ellen Tremper's smart and witty tribute to the golden-haired maidens and brassy bombshells who defy as much as they define our sexual culture. I'm No Angel captures all the moral shades—the dark as well as the bright highlights of the blonde from Victorian to contemporary times—and also reveals the surprising ways in which the fair heroines of the novel and the ravishing blondes of the silver screen helped revolutionize social attitudes toward women.

Maria DiBattista, author of Fast-Talking Dames

I'm No Angel is original, incisive, cracklingly intelligent, and a pleasure to read. I’m not sure whether or not blondes have more fun, but the reader of this book certainly will.

Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours

Tremper's authoritative treatise on the role of the blonde in modern fiction and early film is as fascinating as it is dense.... [E]xplores a complex character with thoroughness and verve.

Publishers Weekly

Refreshingly written with a keen sense of humor and clarity of style, "I'm No Angel" is a pleasure to read.

Gregory D. Black, University Missouri--Kansas City · Journal of the History of Sexuality

About the Author(s): 

Ellen Tremper is Professor of English at Brooklyn College, The City University of New York, and the author of "Who Lived at Alfoxton?": Virginia Woolf and English Romanticism.

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