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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Behold This Woman

cover image By: Goodis, David (male)
Publisher: Bantam Books, Inc. (407)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 259: PS3513 .O499 B44 1948
Contributor: J. Lukin


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: David Goodis Geographic Locale: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Date of Publication: 1948  |  Original Date: 1947 Setting: urban; lower-middle class residences, impoverished dockside slums, a wealthy uptown mansion Motives: murder, greed, vengeance, blackmail, manipulation of people for fun

Plot Summary

George Ervin, a middle-aged statistician, never has the kind of violent fights with his wife that characterize the couple next door. This is because there's no instability in George and Clara's marriage: she has absolute power over him. Indeed, Clara Ervin's almost supernatural skill at controlling others extends beyond the boundaries of the bedroom. She has reduced her maid to a quivering reed, beaten her stepdaughter into submission, bled her former husband into abject poverty, and blackmailed her former lover into a demoralized thrall. Clara's power to distort the personalities of others arouses the curiosity of her stepdaughter's boyfriend, Barry, who wonders why his once-warm sweetheart is turning under her stepmother's influence into a chilly social-climber. As he sees more people whom Clara has ensnared, Barry realizes that her manipulations must be stopped permanently. But must he be the one to stop her? And even if Clara dies, can any of her victims be saved?

Major Characters

Clara Reeve Ervin adult female, greedy, narcissistic, ruthless, 40 years old, blonde, 5 feet 5 inches tall, 155 pounds of "majestic roundness," drugstore cashier

Barry Kinnett adult male, 27 years old, thin, wiry, black hair, paper mill worker and biochemistry student

Clard adult male, 37 years old, tall, handsome, black hair, intellectual, impoverished former mining engineer

Frobey adult male, 34 years old, fat, strong, brutal, sadistic truck driver

George Ervin adult male, 47 years old, medium height, thin, wiry, growing pale, gray hair, tense, paunchy, statistician at an investment bank

Evelyn Ervin adolescent female, 19 years old, slight build, beautiful delicate features, aspiring artist and socialite

Leonard Halvery adult male, 33 years old, strong, blonde, blue eyes, wealthy, lawyer

Agnes adult female, 31 years old, tall, graying brown hair, thin, sickly, overworked, impoverished housekeeper


fists, cars; several characters are killed as the result of car crashes (two vehicular homicides, one vehicular suicide)

Level of Violence

two vehicular homicides, one vehicular suicide, two attempted stabbings, three non-fatal beatings, one shooting death; graphic descriptions of several fist fights.


sex is just one of the tools that the voluptuous Clara uses to get what she wants. She oozes sensuality from every pore and withholding sex helps her to vitiate her husband George. Clara is the only character substantially described in sexual terms, most of which emphasize her size: her "feminine magnificence," her "immense breasts." She indulges herself in physical pleasure at every opportunity and goes to great lengths to make herself attractive to men.

Gender Roles

the ability to put up a good fight is valorized in men; women are either fragile and good or powerful and evil. Clara is strong-willed and dominant, and although her stepdaughter tries to stand up to her, she eventually falls under Clara's powerful nature.


characters are all presumably European-American; their ethnicity is never specified.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

liquor is a tool Clara uses in manipulating Leonard; other characters drink socially. Clara is a fairly heavy smoker; other characters smoke occasionally.

Law Enforcement

the police play only a very minor background role. Those characters who recognize Clara's evil take it for granted that they will have to destroy her themselves.

Added Features

several characters experience hallucinatory encounters with spirits from the past. Members of the middle class are depicted as tough but hard-working and honest, while those in the upper class enjoy a life of luxury without much of a moral code to govern their actions. The question of justifiable homicide is raised when Barry Kinnett and Clard debate whether or not Clara should be killed.

Subject Headings

Pennsylvania - Philadelphia/ Greed/ Blackmail/ Revenge/ Murder

Psychological Elements

The two evil women -- Clara and the minor character of Mrs. Frobey -- seem able by mere strength of personality to bend others to their will. Clara is able after beating her stepdaughter to persuade the girl that she has her best interests at heart. Without violence, she has persuaded her ex-husband to give her everything he owned and she is turning her current husband from a tanned, vigorous, active man into a quivering old lump. Her sexual allure paralyzes two other men, but her capacity to distort personalities does not always work to her advantage: she turns two or more peaceful characters into vindictive furies determined to kill her.