Modes of Gaslighting Narratives in Three Genres: Stage Play, Film and Novel


  • Peter Hühn Hamburg University, Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Überseering 35, D-22277 Hamburg, Germany


Gaslighting, plot, narrative schema, script, perspective, narratology, narrative presentation


Derived from Hamilton’s stage play Gas Light (1938), “gaslighting” has become the colloquial term for the strategy of insidiously deranging a person’s mental health: a victimizer systematically undermines an unsuspecting victim’s sense of reality and self-confidence. Such a strategy can be employed as a narrative schema to structure the plot in a drama, a film or a novel. The presentation of the gaslighting narrative will first be analysed in Hamilton’s play and in its two film versions by Dickinson (1940) and Cukor (1944). In all three cases the gaslighting plot can directly be witnessed by the spectator in its practical enactment. These examples are then compared with the rendering of the same plot structure, within different settings and with different characters, in Boileau and Narcejac’s mystery novel Celle qui n’état plus (1952) and its film version Les Diaboliques (1955) by Clouzot. Here the gaslighting strategy is presented from the victim’s perspective, especially in the novel, but also in the film, making for a more disturbing experience on the part of reader and spectator. Differences in the impact on the recipient are connected with the differing roles detectives play in the final resolution of the gaslighting plots. The analyses will concentrate on motivation and design in the gaslighting strategy as well as on mode and perspective of presenting the plot development. Special attention is devoted to the impact of the disturbing gaslighting strategy on viewers and readers.