Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
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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 "disastrous woman". She is typically portrayed as sexually insatiable.
She has existed, in one form or another, in folklore and myth in nearly all cultures. Some of the earliest examples include Judeo-Christian characters Lilith, Eve, Delilah and Salomé. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the femme fatale became ubiquitous in Western culture and can be found in the works of Oscar Wilde, Edvard Munch, Gustav Klimt, among others. This is likely to have been a reaction to women's movements and the changing role of women at the time. With the introduction of film noir in the 1940s, the femme fatale began to flourish in pop culture. Examples include 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.
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.
This stock character is celebrated in the song Femme Fatale by The Velvet Underground.
Famous femmes fatales
- Clodia (c. 95 - 50s BC).
- Cleopatra VII of Egypt (December, 70 BC/January, 69 BC - August 12?, 30 BC).
- Salomé (1st century).
- Lucrezia Borgia (April 14/ 18, 1480 - June 24, 1519).
- Erzsébet Báthory (August 7? , 1560 - August 21, 1614).
- Mata Hari (August 7, 1876 - October 15, 1917).
- Theda Bara (July 29, 1885 - April 7, 1955).
- Femme Fatale - (2003)
- Basic Instinct
- Body Heat
- Double Indemnity
- The Last Seduction
- The Blue Angel (1930)
Bram Dijkstra has written two shrill but nevertheless amusing books that discuss the femme fatale stereotype at great length:
- Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-De-Siecle Culture, ISBN 0195056523
- Evil Sisters: The Threat of Female Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Culture, ISBN 0805055495
Femme Fatale is also the name of a character on The Powerpuff Girls.
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