Smith, Eleanor Katie . (2021) Music, Madness & Memory: Victorian Constructions of Madness & Musical Horror Tropes in Contemporary Film & Television. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Contemporary film and television have been known to use musical tropes associated with the horror genre to construct mentally unwell characters in ways that would be recognisable to a Victorian audience. The stigma attached to mental illness is said to have stemmed from Victorian constructions of madness which defines those depicted as monstrous, animalistic and inhuman, often being linked to ideas of crime, violence and murder.1 This stigma has been reinforced within the media, particularly in film and television in the following character depictions: dual personalities, asylum patients and their mad doctors and sensationalised killers. These character depictions are central themes within literature and case studies. The function of music and sound within the media is to enhance and construct the stigma and stereotype; sound is known for its emotional qualities that the visual alone cannot produce and also its flexibility to construct and mirror a set of ideas. From the use of leitmotifs, vocality, noise as sound, silence, pre-existing music and the mixing and blending of electronic processes, I argue that these musical techniques are used not only to highlight the character’s mental state, but to evoke horror, fear and terror in the viewer and enhance the stereotype further. Although sound is used in radically contrasting ways, such soundscapes refer back to the archaic ideas of mental illness dating back to Victorian times. To demonstrate these ‘mad’ depictions through a variety of films and television programmes, this thesis will analyse the following: A Cure for Wellness (2018); American Horror Story: Asylum (2012); Chicago (2002); Coraline (2009); Dexter (2006); Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019); Hide & Seek (2004); Shutter Island (2010) and The Girl on the Train (2017). Within these texts and films, the chosen characters are cast as the central protagonist whose mental illness engulfs their identity. I show how the accompanying soundscape influences the viewers and readers to believe that the characters are ‘unstable’ and ‘othered’ as determined by the concept of ‘Victorian Madness.’

1 Suman Fernando, Social Realities and Mental Health, in Mental Health in a Multi-Ethnic Society: A Multi-Disciplinary Handbook (UK: Routledge, 1995) 13-4.

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