cover image I'm No Angel: The Blonde in Fiction and Film

I'm No Angel: The Blonde in Fiction and Film

Ellen Tremper, . . Univ. of Virginia, $55 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-8139-2520-2

Tremper's authoritative treatise on the role of the blonde in modern fiction and early film is as fascinating as it is dense. The author of the Virginia Woolf biography "Who Lived at Alfoxton?" shows how the blonde evolved radically over two centuries. In fairy tale lore, she was the angelic and passive Rapunzel, who could be saved from imprisonment only by an all-powerful prince. But by the mid-1800s, romance got ahold of her—Thackeray's Becky Sharp is an example—and the blonde became a bombshell in the truest sense: a pre-Raphaelite siren rocketing through the patriarchy. When the blondes of the silver screen—Harlow, Dietrich, Monroe—hit big, the blonde had become iconic and transgressive: she was a catalyst of sexual and social disorder, particularly when she left comedy and went to film noir. As her hair—dyed an impossible shade—lit up screens and pages, the blonde ignited social mores with her brassy independence. Tremper's thesis wanders in places, as she equates the blonde with other transgressive characters (people of color, Jews), and at times the sheer volume of her scholarship overwhelms. Nevertheless, the work explores a complex character with thoroughness and verve. Photos. (Mar.)