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The Femme Fatale in Victorian Literature: The Danger and the Sexual Threat By Jennif ...

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The Femme Fatale in Victorian Literature:


There are a number of reasons why the mid-Victorian femme fatale provokes so much interest among readers, namely, because she is so unlike other clichéd portrayals of dangerous women, difficult to define or stereotype. Her socioeconomic class is often obscure; she transgresses social boundaries and overtly—even mockingly—rebels against conformist attitudes. In addition, unlike the meek domestic woman or the martyred fallen woman of the nineteenth century, the femme fatale scares, threatens, but never wearies the reader, arousing an increased curiosity about her, to untangle her mystery, to have power over her, as she becomes more of an enigma. It is no surprise, then, that the femme fatale is often rewarded for her unscrupulous scheming, reaping the benefits of wealth from men whom she guilefully destroys, even though her victory is usually short lived. The reader may sigh with disdain each time she triumphs, but still secretly relishes her victory. Why?

While nineteenth-century studies of fallen and domestic women dominate literary criticism, the femme fatale is clearly overlooked, despite the fact that she appears frequently in several mid-Victorian novels.1