The Femme Fatale

Dangerous women. What is there not to like? Maybe the whole using their sexuality to try and get you killed? Like I said what is there not to like? I appreciate the dangerous part (it’s in the name), but the excitement, the sexuality and the temptation are all appealing in their own right. If only because of our voyeuristic pleasure in watching and imagining being the victim of a femme fatale without any of the unpleasant consequences, you know, like death.

The femme fatale is a distinctive character who has been around for centuries. You could argue the combination of sex, danger and temptation is evident in Eve and Lilith before her. Lilith, sometimes Lamia, has appeared in various forms of fiction as a very dangerous woman, whether you are looking at George MacDonald’s novel Lilith or 19th century pre-Raphaelite paintings. If you go even further back, there is evidence that the femme fatale was part of pre-Christian pagan religions and then there is, of course, the Hindu goddess Kali.

The attraction of the femme fatale for a guy is pretty straightforward, but why has the character been so interesting to women as well? I think it is the nature of the transgression, being someone we are told we are not supposed to be and having the power of life and death over others, particularly men. The femme fatale in many ways functions as a reverse James Bond; girls want to be her, boys want to be with her or at least be dominated by her, have her tempt, seduce and put them in harms way.

In celebration of the femme fatale, I am starting a series of blogs discussing different incarnations of the femme fatale in fiction, mostly literary fiction, some pulp fiction and a measure of film for good measure.

(Interestingly enough the plural of femme fatale is femmes fatales, I know, that crazy French language.)

There is a going to some Sphinx, Nana, Dolores, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Lady Audley, Carmillla, Xenia Onatoppa and much more. To start us off, the first femme fatale blog will focus on Ayesha, the title character of H. Rider Haggard’s novel, She (sometimes known as She-who-must-be-obeyed). Watch out, if you are not there, she is not going to be pleased.

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6 thoughts on “The Femme Fatale

  1. Interesting. I’m not a great fan of the femme fatale in crime novels but I didn’t come to crime fiction through the noir route. I look forward to the posts. I could be converted.

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  2. It is hard to write a good Femme Fatale. The concept is curiously old fashioned and seems rather trite/cliched when used in modern literature/movies. An example would be the purposely cartoonish Sin City a Dame to Kill For. Hardboiled heaven, but would it still be possible to write such a character into the context of a truly modern novel?

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    1. The concept is strongly connected to noir and I agree if used too blatantly the character is too cliched. However, any woman using sex to manipulate a guy or girl into a dangerous situation is essentially a femme fatale. She is great in hardboiled crime, outside of the expectations of that genre she can be sophisticated and engaging character. In dark Knight Rises isn’t Miranda Tate (Talia al Ghul) effectively using those femme fatale talents?

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    1. It is a great read. I’m glad Brigid O’Shaughnessy made an impact. Spade is a special kind of detective. Maybe it was appropriate to the time period, but he would run into all kinds of trouble now.

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