The Lady Doctor and the Vamp: How Louisa May Alcott, Theda Bara, and Thomas Dixon, Jr., Killed the Poisonous Woman

  • Sara L. Crosby
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series (PLSM)


Crosby tracks the medicinal poisoner into the era of early cinema and investigates how the figure split into the New Woman doctor/“New Negro” doctor and the female vampire. The first supported an egalitarian and feminist version of the nation and the second was deployed to define American civilization as “Anglo-Saxon” and masculine. In this chapter, Crosby examines how writers like Louisa May Alcott, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps self-consciously appropriated and built upon Cassy in their woman doctor Bildüngsromans of the 1880s. Crosby then details how early cinema pioneers such as Theda Bara, D. W. Griffith, and Thomas Dixon, Jr., built on the vampiric reframing of the medicinal poisoner to create Hollywood’s first sex symbol, the Vamp, and the monstrous “yellow vampire” of The Birth of a Nation. The chapter ends with a brief look at reactions to Dixon/Griffith, particularly Oscar Micheaux’s “race film,” Within Our Gates.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sara L. Crosby
    • 1
  1. 1.The Ohio State University at MarionMarionUSA

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