The Femme Fatale - Jo-Ann Carson

The Femme Fatale

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This is a Wednesday Research Trivia post.

The curve is more powerful than the sword.” Mae West

Why I’m researching this topic

I was writing a series of Romantic-Suspense stories about a group of investigators in the world of art crime. The third book was to be about Sebastian Wilde, one of my favorite characters in the series. A warrior type, he needed a strong woman who could stand up to him and cause him a little mischief. I decided he needed a femme fatale. Enter Sadie Stewart.

A Single Woman… A Double Life

I liked their developing love story so much I decided to make it into a series – The Mata Hari Series.

What did I know about les femmes fatale? I had a black and white image of them in my mind. Long hair, curvey, Film Noir vixens with a cigarette in their hand and devilish intents in their cold hearts. I wanted to know more about them.

I’m a woman of very few words, but lots of action.

(Mae West)

My question became:

Are femmes fatale a real archetype in the human psyche, or are they a misogynistic label for women, not afraid of their sexuality?

Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before.

(Mae West)

My research

According to Wikipedia a femme fatale,

“… is a  stock character of a mysterious and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations. She is an archetype of literature and art. Her ability to entrance and hypnotise her victim with a spell was in the earliest stories seen as being literally supernatural; hence, the femme fatale today is still often described as having a power akin to an enchantress, seductress, vampire, witch, or demon, having power over men.

The phrase is French for “fatal woman.” A femme fatale tries to achieve her hidden purpose by using feminine wiles such as beauty, charm, and sexual allure… Although typically villainous, or at least morally ambiguous, … femmes fatales have also appeared as antiheroines in some stories, and some even repent and become true heroines by the end of the tale. Some stories even feature benevolent and heroic femmes fatales who use their wiles to snare the villain for the greater good.”

So it seems the archetype of the femme fatale can be found in  the earliest recorded stories, and go back to the myths and folklores of all cultures. Have men always been intimidated by strong women? Or is there more complexity to this archetype? Next Wednesday I’ll look at ancient examples of les femmes fatale.

The best way to behave is to misbehave.”

(Mae West)


The problem with doing research is I get mega-distracted. If you watch this You Tube clip, you’ll understand why. It’s so easy to get carried away.


Note: all Mae West quotes came from this site.


Who is your favorite femme fatale? What do you think of the archetype? Done any research lately? Love to hear from you.

0 Replies to “The Femme Fatale”

  1. I’m reminded of a poster I have from the War Rooms. It shows a group of men in uniform gathered near a woman in evening dress, the text says “Keep mum, she’s not so dumb.” So at least during WWII British leaders were realizing that women could be spies, too. What a concept, huh? 😉 There’s a wonderful story about the Polish spy, but I’ve forgotten her name right now. She was one of the best.

    1. Hi Jane
      Love the poster line.
      There were so many unsung heroes, and many of them were women behind the scenes.
      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.
      Happy mystery writing,

  2. It’s interesting that female spies are seen as femme fatales while the male spies bring up images of James Bond. Man fatale? Certainly the fate of his women are usually bleak. And yet almost all small boys want to be James Bond at one point (and many grown men) I remember my son and a couple of his friends all getting dressed up as James Bond one year to go trick or treating.

    1. Hi Pat,
      I bet the boys looked awesome.
      I think there’s a double standard when it comes to the perception of sexually liberated people and I do think that some, not all, people of both genders find strong, capable women threatening, if not personally, then to the traditional patriarchal order of society. The order of things is changing quickly though and I wonder if the term femme fatale will even have meaning in future generations. Just some thoughts that are rambling in my head.
      Yes, Bond women tended to die:) And got slapped on the bum a lot:) 🙂
      Thanks so much for stopping by and chatting.
      Enjoy our sunshine.
      Best Wishes

  3. The first character type in V. L. Schmidt’s 45 Master Characters (as recommended by Shelley Bates at the last workshop), is Aphrodite: The Seductive Muse and the Femme Fatale. This indicates that she is, in fact, an archetype that goes way back. I think the contrast of her as a Muse and Femme Fatale is interesting. I think seduction is the common link there. Your Sadie is certainly that in spades.

    1. Hi Judy
      I guess I wasn’t clear. I do recognize the femmes fatale is an archetype and goes way back in literature.
      But when I consider Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious, which binds us all, and is stocked with archetypes I wonder… I wonder if the femme fatale is really a shared primal concept, or one that has developed as a result of the views about women and women’s roles in a patriarchal society. Reading that sentence over, I still don’t think I’m being clear.
      The point is the image of the femme fatale intrigues and irks me. Sheesh… maybe I should have just said that.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
      Looking forward to the writer’s gathering at your place.

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