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Femme fatale

Parent categories: women - death

Related: female domination - lesbian vampire - vamp - siren - succubus

Bettie Page, Bizarre nr. 14

Theda Bara in A Fool There Was (1915) - Frank Powell [Amazon.com]

Judith I, 1901 - Gustav Klimt

At the time of its creation, Klimt's painting Judith I, 1901 , was considered the incarnation of the femme fatale.

La Sirène (1887) - Arnold Böcklin [aka La Mer calme], image sourced here.

"The femme fatale …wields the sexual power that feminism cannot explain and has tried to destroy…. Through stars like [Elizabeth] Taylor, we sense the world-disordering impact of legendary women like…Helen of Troy and Salome." --Camille Paglia

Some argue that the figure has a male counterpart. Some examples could be Don Juan, Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, many of the heroes in Lord Byron's books (termed the "Byronic hero"), as well as such diverse characters as Billy Budd, Count Dracula, Tadzio in Death in Venice, Georges Querelle in Jean Genet's Querelle of Brest, James Bond, and Tom Ripley in Patricia Highsmith's "Ripley" novels. A possible name of any male "femme fatale" might be homme fatal. [Oct 2006]

Connoisseurs: Bram Dijkstra - Mario Praz (chapter on "La Belle Dame sans Merci")

List of femmes fatales: Eve - Judith - Lilith - Bettie Page - Louise Brooks - Theda Bara


A femme fatale is a stock character, a villainous woman who uses the malign power of sexuality in order to ensnare the hapless hero. The phrase is French for "fatal woman".

She is typically portrayed as sexually insatiable. The prudery of our Victorian period ancestors imagined women to be sexless beings. Confronted with evidence that things were otherwise, Victorian men found themselves somewhat disconcerted. So it came to pass that the stereotype of the femme fatale was created. In the Anglo-Saxon world, she is often of foreign extraction. She is often portrayed as a sort of sexual vampire; her dark appetites were thought to be able to leach away the virility and independence of her lovers, leaving them shells of their former selves. Only by escaping her embraces could the hero be rescued. On this account, in earlier American slang femmes fatales were often called "vamps", a word that is associated with the fashions of the 1920s.

Femmes fatales are frequently encountered in film noir, in espionage thrillers, and in a number of adventure comic strips, such as The Spirit by Will Eisner, or Terry and the Pirates by Milton Caniff. This stock character is celebrated in the song Femme Fatale by The Velvet Underground.--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Femme_fatale [Jul 2004]

Femmes fatales 1860 – 1910

The seductive woman is not necessarily fatal. She fosters her beauty and charm, that is true, but the femme fatale uses her sensuality and sexuality as devilish tools to destroy man. With her irresistible allures, she drives men to distraction and to their death. To save her people, the biblical Judith seduces the general Holophernes and then cuts his throat. The mythical enchantress Circe changes men into pigs. The sphinx murders all the men who cannot solve her riddle. And the story goes that the Egyptian queen Cleopatra had men who spent the night with her murdered in the morning. The theme of the femme fatale had its heyday in literature, opera and visual art in the period 1860-1910. At this exhibition some fifty paintings, drawings and sculptures represent mythological and biblical heroines, sirens, sphinxes, witches and seemingly innocent women. Work by Moreau, Khnopff, Rops, Waterhouse, Sandys, Klinger, Liebermann, Toorop, Beardsley and others goes on show. Edvard Munch makes a special contribution to the exhibition with no fewer than fifteen graphic works.

An artist occupying a special place in the exhibition is the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, who built up an oeuvre with representations of sexually aggressive female figures. These works were assigned titles such as Vampire, Harpy, The Sphinx, Salomé, and The Woman and the Heart. Men are frequently portrayed as victims. The difference with other artists in the exhibition is that his work is primarily autobiographical. --Femmes Fatales 1860 – 1910, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen (BE) May 17th - August 17th 2003

List of femmes fatales

  • from Java's Bachelor Pad. Lots of Femmes Fatales.

    Chelo Alonso B Theda Bara Brigitte Bardot Candy Barr Virginia Bell Colette Berne Betty Blue Iris Bristol Betty Brosmer C Jeanne Carmen Lilly Christine Mara Corday Lili St. Cyr D Dorian Dennis Jane Dolinger Mamie Van Doren Diana Dors Vikki "the Back" Dougan E Anita Ekberg Dixie Evans F The Gals of "Faster! Pussycat, Kill! Kill!" G Julie Gibson Betty Grable H Jean Harlow Terry Higgins I J K Eartha Kitt L Hedy Lamarr Abbe Lane Joi Lansing Jennie Lee Bonnie Logan Julie London Sophia Loren Tana Louise Tina Louise M Jayne Mansfield Sandra Marnelle June McCall Irish McCalla Eve Meyer Jackie Miller Marilyn Monroe Cleo Moore Rita Moreno Meg Myles N Kitten Natividad Julie Newmar O P Bettie Page June Palmer Q R Jane Russell S Sabrina Blaze Starr Tempest Storm T Greta Thyssen Vampira Linda Vargas Diane Webber Raquel Welch Evelyn West Mae West June Wilkinson Bunny Yeager


  • Femmes Fatales - Mary Ann Doane [Amazon US]
    A major work of feminist film criticism examining questions of sexual difference, the female body and the female spectator through a discussion of such figures as Pabst's Lulu and Rita Hayworth's Gilda.

    See also: Doane

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