The Femme Fatale

Lana Turner (public domain)

The femme fatale … the iconic figure of film noir. Where does she come from? How did this woman come to be?

Since in most cases, film noir was conceived, written, filmed, and produced by men, the femme fatale is a particularly male gaze upon the powerful, confident woman who understands the men around her — their thoughts, feelings, and desires — and is willing to use the way they feel about her to further her goals. Whether this is a bad thing, of course, depends on what her goals are.

It’s interesting that the femme fatale in film noir has always been the woman who wanted something other than the ornamental maid and mother role so popularized in the post-War era. She’s uncomfortable with the current box her rigidly male-dominated world has put her in, sometimes violently so. She wants control of her life, her sexuality, her actions. But she doesn’t want to be a man in a skirt: this separates the femme fatale from the simply power-hungry.

The femme fatale is more complex than that, which is one of the reasons she’s such a cultural force. You don’t know her full motivations, all her thoughts, exactly what she’s up to. She doesn’t need to show all her cards, just the ones that further her plans. She’s intelligent and cunning as well as seductive and beautiful.

The movies always show this woman full-formed, as if she, like Athena, sprang from her father’s brow. But what interested me was where did this woman come from? Did she screw up sometimes? Was she always like this, or did some things happen to bring her to the point where she’s the “fatal woman” in some hapless (or perhaps even just as worthy) man’s life? These were a few of the questions that brought me to this book series.

The other question is what would a neo-Victorian society be like? Why, neo-Victorian, of course, with everything that entails. The perfect society to produce another crop of young femme fatales. :)

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