Femme Fatales of English Literature
The femme fatale, a seductive woman who entices men into perilous and compromising positions by way of charisma and mystery, is a classic, and often enthralling, character who can be found in many sources of literature and mythology of various origins and eras (“Femme Fatale” 1).
“If the goddess of virtue is a lily and the vamp is an overripe red rose, the femme fatale is a Venus flytrap.” (Billinghurst 1).
In the simple quote above, Ms. Jane Billinghurst, author of “Temptress”, provides explanation of the femme fatale by way of metaphor, likening the way in which the Venus flytrap, or Dionaea muscipula, succeeds in obtaining its next meal by way of temptation to the likeness of the femme fatale, using temptation to secure her victims, thus leading to unescapable doom (Venus’s fly-trap 1).
“Temptress”, whose pages and cover alike overflow with a lavish visual collection of photographs, paintings and illustrations of the femme fatale, examines the extraordinary and fascinating history of sexual, or sexualised, women and the journey taken in receiving the infamous title of the femme fatale.
This symbolic figure exists in numerous varying forms and can be found in virtually every society or culture throughout history. It is the femme fatale’s infamous aura of mystery, temptation and charms that provides the intense magnetism of this deadly female character.
One of the most noted and greatly debated fatale characters of literature can be found in the Bible: Eve.
“And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, this is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. . . . And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.” (Genesis 2:21 – 3:20).
Often viewed as the original and ultimate femme fatale, Eve has come to bear such a title because of her involvement in the fall of humankind and, in turn, the introduction of sin, death and destruction into the world. It is Eve herself who succumbs to the influence of temptation with the persuasion of the evil serpent, which represents Satan, in the Garden of Eden and therefore brings about Adam’s downfall:
“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat . . . And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee....