Mostly dismissed as a trivial entertainment, Frederick Kohner’s Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas (1957) is in fact a telling aesthetic and cultural document. University of Vienna PhD, Jewish exile from Nazi Germany, and successful Hollywood screenwriter Kohner empathetically fictionalized his teenage daughter’s adventures with the original Malibu surf crew and in the process vividly signaled the emergence of a rebellious postwar youth culture. Just as interesting is the way Kohner’s entertaining comic drama of feminist awakening plays out through an intriguingly complex narrative voice, one blurring distinctions between its California teen daughter-protagonist-narrator and the father-author, both learned European exile and savvy Tinseltown operator. In subtly decisive ways, Kohner intervenes allusively and intertextually in the central narrative to anchor buoyant personal history in larger philosophical and political questions, in a cosmopolitan resistance to American puritanical norms, and in knowing reflection on contemporary discussions of representation and image. Gidget is a surprisingly postmodern textual space of disruption and juxtaposition that compellingly addresses its stealth core subject, a postwar America with its Western philosophical baggage and political and historical burden fumbling awkwardly forward toward new social and gender models.
Mademoiselle from Malibu: Eighteenth-Century Pastoral Romance, H-Bombs, and the Collaborative, Intertextual Gidget
John Engle is a recently retired professor of literature and film at the Université de Toulon. A long-time resident of Marseille, he has published extensively on modern and contemporary literature, education, popular culture, and cinema. In 2003 he guest-edited a special issue of Twentieth Century Literature titled “American Writers and France.” In recent years he has focused on the meanings and representations of surfing and the beachspace. He is author of Surfing in the Movies: A Critical History (2015).
John Engle; Mademoiselle from Malibu: Eighteenth-Century Pastoral Romance, H-Bombs, and the Collaborative, Intertextual Gidget. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 June 2020; 66 (2): 233–264. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-8536176
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