Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in English



First Advisor

Deborah Barker

Second Advisor

Michelle Emanuel

Third Advisor

Kathryn McKee

Relational Format



This dissertation establishes the groundwork for a new genre of Southern film – a hybrid genre that I call Southern maternal horror. By integrating key elements from the genres of maternal melodrama and modern horror into Southern narratives, Southern maternal horror uses the central ambivalence found in both genres – manifesting as a desire to both return to and escape from one’s maternal origins – to challenge Southern nostalgia. Specifically, within its distinctly Southern framework, this hybrid genre frequently disrupts the romanticized notions of the Old South typically found in classic Southern films such as Gone With the Wind: idealizations of the Southern lady, the plantation home, and the land itself. This dissertation examines these anti-nostalgic tendencies through the work of Julia Kristeva – particularly her concept of the (maternal) abject – alongside film genre scholars such as Carol Clover, Barbara Creed, Mary Ann Doane, David Greven, E. Ann Kaplan, and Linda Williams. I propose here that Southern maternal horror began in 1964 with Robert Aldrich’s Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte – just a few years after the birth of modern horror in 1960 – and not only is still prevalent throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century (in films such as The Descent, Silent Hill, and The Skeleton Key), but continues to gain momentum in other areas of contemporary popular culture as well, evident in television series such as American Horror Story.



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