Heather Love – Continued

This lecture considers the fate of the spinster in the era of gay marriage. Through a reading of the 2006 film Notes on a Scandal, this paper argues that, while monogamous gay and lesbian couples have achieved unprecedented levels of social acceptability, those who are alone or whose intimacies are unconventional are more stigmatized than ever. In a moment of increased availability of a socially approved, reproductive fate “regardless of sexual orientation,” an additional burden of stigma falls on those who are still alone. Focusing on the film’s portrayal of Barbara Covett, a bitter, vindictive schoolteacher played by Judi Dench, I suggest that she embodies the experience of what mid-century psychoanalyst Frieda Fromm-Reichmann called “true loneliness”–extended, deep isolation that threatens to erase the boundary between life and death. Alienated from the rhythms of heterosexual domesticity and reproduction, Barbara lives in the serial, repetitive time of the institution. The spinster is frozen out of the family, and the emptiness of her life and slowed-down time of her life suggests an image of the world running to ground. At the same time, Barbara’s desire, while drained of vitality, is monstrously productive. Notes on a Scandal’s representation of a vampiric, dried-up spinster has made it unpopular with LGBT audiences. However, I want to suggest that Barbara’s embodiment of “true loneliness” offers a powerful vantage point on the violence and exclusions of the nuclear family.