B*tch Modernism: The Bette Davis Roundtable (MSA 18)

CFP for MSA 18 (November 17-20, Pasadena, CA)

B*tch Modernism: The Bette Davis Roundtable

This roundtable takes advantage of MSA 18’s Southern California location and its theme of Culture Industries to explore this iconic film star as a modernist artist. We are looking for contributors to join us in talking about all things Davis, from the industries that created her, to the actress herself as an industry, one that remains emblematic of both the historical moment and the aesthetic practices we describe as modernist. What would it mean to read Bette Davis as modernist? How does Davis operate as a node that allows us to think about the reach of mass culture in shaping (and historicizing) early twentieth century conceptions of femininity, sexuality, embodiment, and agency?

While there is a significant body of work on Davis in film and media studies, she has only made a few appearances in literary and cultural studies, primarily in feminist and queer discussions of this period, as in Lauren Berlant and Teresa de Lauretis’s readings of Now, Voyager. But Davis continues to be significant for her centrality in the film industry during Hollywood’s Golden Age, not only as an actress unafraid to play unlikeable women, but also as a woman who regularly wrested directorial and production power away from men.

Possible topics include

Smoking (as an industry/as an aesthetic/as a politic)



Modern femininity


Davis and/as drag

Davis and literary/theatrical adaptations (Wharton, von Arnim, Maugham, Strachey, Prouty, Ferber, Hellman, du Maurier, etc.)

Davis on Broadway (Ibsen, Williams, Sandburg)

The artist vs. the contract system

Gay iconicity

Melodrama and the woman’s film

Material artifacts—publicity materials, costumes

Immaterial artifacts: the persistence of Davis in the internet age

Davis’s make up artists/costume designers (Edith Head, Orry-Kelly, Perc Westmore, etc.)

Davis’s directors (William Wyler, King Vidor, Irving Rapper, Joseph Mankiewicz, etc.)

Send proposals of approximately 150 words to Melissa Bradshaw ( and Allan Pero ( by March 25, 2016.