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Dispersing the myths of Femme Fatale


This thesis as a study has successfully establish how the mythical biblical
femme fatale character was created, and the circumstances that came
about where she was transformed into the epitome of evil. Its significance
is profound because it unearths a body of qualitative evidence from
religious and feminist academics, some of whom have conducted their
theological studies in a hostile environment. These academics have
recorded the ill founded and bestial metamorphous for more than a
century. They prove that beyond doubt that the myth has be distended
and distorted beyond all recognition, to be used to censure the feminine,
and uphold the ideology of the patriarchal system.
Chapter one identifies the unsound foundations on which the femme
fatale was built on, and how religious leaders replanted the mystery of
evil, into the myth of feminine evil. Feminine criticism of the unfair
interpretations was seen as an attempt to destabilise societies patriarchal
infrastructure. To question it was to question the word of god.
Chapter two provides a snapshot of the social, cultural and political
environment in that time of economic upheaval; and how it was used to
keep the feminine entrenched in a subordinate state, and the antithesis of
the masculine role in the same era. It provides a trail of evidence to
demonstrate how nineteenth century philosophers and artists created a
narcissistic and perverse deformation of the character that was used as a
tool of gratification and male desire, but also symbolically expressed
mens fears. Dispersing many of the manifestations of the original myths
and revealing the true motives.


Table of Contents
Abstract................................................................................................... i
Table of Contents.................................................................................... ii
List of Figures Theme 1..........................................................................iii
1.1 Introduction................................................................................. 1

The influence of Religion..................................................................2

Who can we trust to give us a unbiased opinion?............................2
What were the origins of the femme fatale?....................................2
Where did the mistruths and misinterpretations begin?.....................3
2.1.1 Searching for the truth...........................................................3
2.2 Women - Count Your Blessings....................................................4
2.2.1 Misnaming The Mystery Of Evil..............................................4
2.2.2 Differing Biblical Versions of Femme Fatales..........................5
2.2.3 Anne Boleyn a femme fatale..................................................6
2.2.4 From Greek Mythology to Weimar Society.............................7

Introduction to Victorian and fin-de-sicle........................................9

3.1.1 Femme Fatale And The Polarity Of Good And Evil................10
3.1.2 Duality In Art, The Fallen Woman.........................................11
3.1.3 The Awakening of Conscience..............................................12
3.1.4 The Dark Underbelly of Victorian Perversion Surfaces.........12
3.1.5 Circe..................................................................................... 13
3.1.6 Rebranding Circe as Pornokrates.........................................13
3.1.7 Baudelaire and the Courtesan.............................................14
3.1.8 Dehumanising the Mythical Lilith.........................................15
3.2 Conclusion................................................................................. 15

Figures and Captions......................................................................18

Bibliography.................................................................................... 21


List of Figures Theme 1

Figure 1.

Garden of Eden Notre Dame Cathedral.....................................18

Figure 2.

John Colliers Lilith.....................................................................18

Figure 3.

The Travelling Companions........................................................19

Figure 4.

Fallen Woman............................................................................ 19

Figure 5.

Pornakrates.............................................................................. 20


1.1 Introduction
The myths and legends that have contributed to the mythical femme
fatale began with some of the earliest known documented texts;
characters like Pandora, Jezebel, Liith et al were labelled the femme fatale.
They were used to personify the character; all described as irresistibly
beautiful monster who rejects the control of men and their patriarchy, and
ultimately leads them to mortal danger.
Analysing the earliest texts and original records, it is possible to
establish the truths, and begin to break down the myths that lay claim to
be the foundations for the character. Religious and feminist academics
question the interpretations that have been laid before them, and reinterpret them from a feminist point of view, and establish if these women
did in fact fit into the mould of the archetypal femme fatale.
There is a wealth of nineteenth century literature from respected
authors like E.C.Stanton et al, that allows us to establish what contribution
the fin de sicle period in our history contributed to the myths. They begin
to open up the metaphoric cracks and reveal that the myths were changed
and to meet a larger agenda.


2 The influence of Religion

Despite the considerable influence that religious and biblical texts have
had on the femme fatale, they hold less foundation to support the
originating myths than one might imagine. The Word of God has been
used to create a mythical aura on which the femme fatale character has
developed. Religion is an emotive subject, especially if one questions the
validity of the texts.

Who can we trust to give us a unbiased opinion?

To ensure an impartial body of research, this paper references respected
and knowledgeable scholars and biblical analysts from diverse religious
backgrounds, as well as feminist campaigners and authors. Despite being
separated by almost one and a half centuries, their archaeological
methodology of analysis unearths startling evidence, and questions many
of the founding religious texts that have been accepted without question.
They remain credible due to their ability to contextualise, rationalise,
question, and in some cases undermine the mythical verses that have
generated the suspect interpretations that have created, and demonised
the mythical character - femme fatale.

What were the origins of the femme fatale?

Femme fatales hold a high place in our psyche, their irresistible beauty
is significant yet superficial, it is the biblical references add depth,
providing firm foundations on which the character was built. When we
examine the artistic and literary movements of the late nineteenth
century, can identify the sources of many of these myths and scriptures.
Hebrew Linguistic and Biblical lecturer, Carolyn Blyth has written
extensively on the subject, providing a contemporary analysis of the
original Hebrew texts, which many subsequent versions of religious texts
are based upon. She provides a logical deconstruction of the topic. She
identifies Eve, Lilith and Delilah, Judith and Salome et al, as the most
influential feminine figures contained in the original Hebrew texts.
Blyth successfully argues that the mythical femme fatale character came
to the fore in artistic texts and literary movements of Romanticism,
Modernism, Aestheticism, Symbolism and Art Nouveau of the late


nineteenth century (Blyth, 2012), but these artistic movements caused the
character to become alienated and removed from the original stories, for
which there is weak justification for condemnations of evil.
Where did the mistruths and misinterpretations begin?
Blythe argues, that [Eve] in Genesis 2-3 is no more sexually aware
or erotically charged than either Adam or the serpent; [Salome] does
nothing more salacious than dance for her uncle Herod at his birthday
celebrations; [the] pious Jewish widow we read about in the book of
Judith is a far cry from Franz von Stuck's naked knife-wielding sexual
warrior (Blyth, op.cit). This raises concern of how, and why the original
texts have either been misinterpreted, or deliberately altered in
subsequent biblical revisions; works of art and poetry, particularly in the
19th Century.
The misrepresentations rarely bathe the feminine in glory, yet the
personification has been used to reshaped societies view of where women
are placed in a socio-cultural, legal and religious context, particularly
during the fin-de-sicle era.
Blyth says [What] is especially fascinating about these representations of
biblical women as femme fatales is the fact that they differ quite
significantly from the actual depictions within the biblical traditions
(Blyth, op.cit). Her observations are significant because of the spiritual
place these characters hold in our psyche. Their mythical aura has been an
inspiration for artistic expression centuries. The interpretations change but
the underlying message is one of danger, mistrust and evil.
Blyth is concerned about the message that has been disseminated, she
clearly feels that no basis for this condemnation.

2.1.1 Searching for the truth

Respected and influential religious, feminist campaigner and author Mrs
Elizabeth Cady Stanton provides us with an insight into the mind-set of a
well-educated woman who lived during the most critical period, that hugely
influenced and moulded what we accept as archetypal properties of the
femme fatale character (Feminine Quarternity, 2015). Her publication The


Woman's Bible (Stanton, 1895) is relevant, as it was also reviewed by a

committee of over twenty male and female international members,
assuring us that these views were not insular to one person, section of
society or geographical region.
The timing of the book was also important because the biblical texts were
profoundly re-revised during the fin-de-sicle. Stantons motives for biblical
examination were focussed on the feminist argument; the Word of God
was being used to provide a framework for patriarchy, but it also ignited
the first wave of feminism.

2.2 Women - Count Your Blessings

Challenging the unequivocal interpretations of the biblical texts that
were used to enforce for patriarchal control, Stanton wrote [Clergymen]
told them[women] owed all the blessings and freedom they enjoyed to
the Bible it clearly marked out their circumscribed sphere of actiontheir
demands for political and civil rights were irreligious, dangerous to the
stability of the home, the state and the church. (Ibid, p. 90). The church
was now engaged in demonising women, and suppressing any notions of
Blyth and Stantons arguments, that Eve, Lilith et als crimes were
impossible to validate or attribute to anyone, because it is impossible to
attribute the writings of the bible to anyone writings of the New
Testament were not really written or published by those whose names they
bear (Ibid, p. 159). The point was made using historical fact.
Encapsulating the irony of the situation.
Finally Stanton underlined the irony that if women doubted what they
were being told, that The apostle took it for granted that all men were
wise enough to give to women the necessary information on all subjects
(Ibid, p. 158), these were very people who were suppressing them. The
patriarchal system was sending a message; you must pay for the sins of
the past, you cannot question this, if you up for rights or you will be
labelled inherently dangerous, reckless, a nonbeliever, a destroyer. Which
coincidentally equally apply to the archetypal femme fatale. The scriptures,
on which the basis of feminine subservience was based on, were
impossible to validate.


2.2.1 Misnaming The Mystery Of Evil

The feminist movement was now spreading on an international scale,
Mary Daly wrote, In the Christian tradition it continues to colour the
functioning of the theological imagination (Daly, 1985), and the
patriarchal response was also delivered on an international scale;
Berdyaev, Orthodox religious and political philosopher wrote the startling
comment that "[There] is something base and sinister in the female
element" (Ibid, p45).
Another sinister attribute characteristic was associated with the feminine,
who was by now appearing to have all the archetypal qualities of the
femme fatale. The correlating certitude was that the continual
contamination of the myths are emanating from gods representatives.
Daly underlined this point perfectly; the myth takes on cosmic proportions
since the male's viewpoint is metamorphosed into God's viewpoint it
misnames the mystery of evil, casting it into the distorted mould of the
myth of feminine evil (Ibid, p47). Daly et al rightly questioned the right of
religious leaders to label the feminine as evil, sinister and to shroud it in
mystery. By doing so, she duly dispersed the myths and laid the blame at
the door of the people were trying to put forward their own agenda,
shrouded in the name of religion.
Was The Evidence Scientifically Safe?
The story of Eve is based on the story that she took the apple from the
tree of knowledge; this assumption itself can be questioned. Stanton
applied scientific reasoning by quoting referencing Professor Daniel Cady
Eaton (Yale) who confirmed that apple simply do not grow at that latitude
(Stanton, 1895, p.24). A more climate-orientated fruit was used in the
Greek mythical story of Proserpine; she eats six seeds from a
pomegranate. Like Eve, she is punished and is condemned to six months
of the year in Hades and the other six months on Earth. Dante Gabriel
Rossettis (1874)[1] pre-Raphaelite painting shows the pomegranate in
Proserpine's left hand.


2.2.2 Differing Biblical Versions of Femme Fatales

The earliest recorded Elohistic and Iahoistic (Ibid, p.18) versions of the
biblical texts directly contradict each other on the sequencing of The
Creation. This introduces the notion that Eve was not Adams first wife, but
Lilith. Carvings on Notre Dame Cathedral (1136) show Lilith, Eve and Adam
in the Garden of Eden

(Figure 1)

, indicating that the church recognised that

there was another female in the Garden of Eden. The inconsistencies are
further highlighted if the ones beliefs follow the texts in the ancient Talmud
and Zohar Judaism, these texts claim that Eve and Lilith are in fact both
Eve, that good Eve is Eve, and the other Eve is Lilith (Carvalho, 2009).
This scenario appears to echo the scene on the walls of Notre Dame
Cathedral, which of course is not Jewish.

Were they all evil?

If we accept that Lilith scenario, it is claimed she was in fact the first
wife of Adam, punished for not being subservient enough, and for being
unfaithful by copulating with the Archangel Samael, condemned and
punished with the tail of a serpent, the outcome is still the same. The
feminine has been mistrusted, condemned and punished forever since.
Whichever version of the texts one believes, it is clear that both women
were labelled evil, the biblical femme fatale.
What Was The Real Impact?
The mythical label goes far beyond simple slanderous labelling, the
effect had long reaching consequence on womens lives, the association of
evil, and its repeated dissemination has affected much more than the
mystery of femme fatale. Referring to The Fall of Adam and Eve, Daly said
[The] myth has in fact affected doctrines and laws that concern women's
status in society and it has contributed to the mind-set of those who
continue to grind out biased, male-centred ethical theories (Daly, 1985).

2.2.3 Anne Boleyn a femme fatale

We have established that there has been a considerable influence in the
religious texts on the femme fatale character. There have been many re-


writings and revisions of gods word but this has not only been a male
centred task.
Could Boleyn been partly responsible?
In the early 16th century by a woman, Ann Boleyn was responsible for
many revisions and translations, She so devout and passionate about her
work that she referred to her biblical revisions in her last recorded words in
her ill fated gallows speech (Ives, 1999, p. 272). It is worthy of note that
Anne Boleyn, herself has also been described as a femme fatale


. The

devout Christian, and was instrumental in re-shaping the church and

religion in England, a contribution that has lasted to this day. She
contrived the advancement of clergy and the appointment of bishops,
including Cranmer, who proved the spearhead of the English Reformation.
Few people can have had so great an effect in such a short time [3].
If we take this at its word, it would imply that Stanton, who said
[W]hatever the Bible it does not exalt and dignify woman[The] spirit is
the same in all periods and languages, hostile to her as an equal (Stanton,
1895. p. 13), may have felt that Boleyn was included in the statement. If
so, it would imply that woman may have in some way contributed to the
hostility ravaged on women by the bible.

2.2.4 From Greek Mythology to Weimar Society

Another claim to the first woman on earth is Greek Mythologies Pandora,
and like Eve, her crime was to seek knowledge, this time relating to the
contents of a box, as a result she joins the annals of first women
connected with releasing the evils on earth. Let us temporarily leap
forward several thousand years to a more recent, early 20 th interpretation
of the mythical story was Pabsts Pandoras Box (1929). The underlying
connection to the myth is symbolic, except to say her situation gets worse
as she goes through each stage of her life.
Was this cynical opposition to emancipation?
Carefree Lulu is first presented as a prostitute (straight and lesbian). She is
sold cheaply to work as a white slave (brothel) in Egypt after a run of bad
luck on the roulette wheel. Lulu, and the film itself is symptom of male
desire, each shot is set up to cater for the male gaze (Doane, 1991. p142162). In Greek Mythology, Pandora she is not an evil woman, nor is she
responsible for the fall of man. Her portrayal in the movie leaves a trail of

sex, death, destruction, and of broken men. Pandoras Box puts into play
the signifiers of sexual transgression incest, androgyny, lesbianism,
prostitution it partakes of the pervasive sexual cynicism of the Weimar
period. The script was influenced by Nietzsche; who was opposed to the
womens emancipation movement (Doane, op.cit).
Could symbolic evidence be used for a 20th century trial?
Doane questions the prosecutions case is based on a symbolic
connection of Greek Mythology and Weimar Law. She concludes that the
case could never be settled on a legal basis. The narrative is played out in
an era when Weimar society accepted the extremes of sexual indiscretion
as a symbol of openness, Young ladies proudly boasted that they were
perverted; to be suspected of virginity at sixteen would have been
considered a disgrace (Doane, op.cit).
The film gives us an insight into the a world that Lulus appeared to be
operating within the acceptable limits of Weimar society that saw women
being associated with the depths of depravity, and very resistant to
emancipation. Once again the characteristics of mystical femme fatale
have not escaped the male makeover, despite being presented in another
art form, like many other artworks, bares little resemblance to the
originating fable.


3 Introduction to Victorian and fin-de-sicle

In this chapter, it is important to contextualise the era within which
society was functioning. It will touch lightly on the religious, cultural, social
and economic factors personally that touched every day lives. It defined
the different sectors and social classes people operated in. In order to
disperse the myths we need to understand how they were created.
The industrial revolutions effect on society.
The pace of change in the economy from the mid 19 th century was
moving fast, dominated by the industrial revolution. The cities were filling
up with workhouses and arcades of iron and glass, separating social
classes. It had a huge effect on the rural economy, farm work was being
mechanised at a blistering pace, creating an economic migration to the
cities, where the new factories were producing goods to satisfy a world
market. With all the modern appliances of steam and electricity, and the
new inventions in machinery, the cultivation of the soil is fast coming to be
a recreation and amusement (Stanton, 1895, p. 31), a good situation for
the wealthy, but not so good for the farm workers.
It was a dream situation in a capitalist society, increased productivity
through mechanisation, and an uncompetitive labour market driving down
wages. The rich industrialists must have felt like the masters of the
This environment was pivotal for femme fatale, in times of prosperity the
fine art market blossoms, giving birth to wonderful artists with new ideas,
like the Pre-Raphaelites et al. It also turned the feminine into a commodity,
to be controlled by the patriarchal system, and as a result, the feminist
movement who responded.
Why did the church sanctioned prostitution?
Firstly we will consider the feminine living in this society. Marriage was
largely arranged, guided by finance rather than love; this created a huge
market for prostitution. It has been estimated that there were tens of
thousands of prostitutes in central London alone. The religious and political
institutions were complicit in allowing prostitution to flourish, Stanton
wrote, a Christian chaplain is commanded to see that she performs her

duty the maiden must partake of the Holy Eucharist before she will be
granted a license as a prostitute (Ibid, p.207). They were also subject to
the barbaric Contagious Diseases Act, which had been passed in
Parliament. The transportation to the colonies white women for prostitution
was known to exist (also part of the narrative in Pandoras Box).
Prostitution was not attributed to the harsh economic conditions; it was a
life-style choice Nymphomaniacs were driven to prostitution to satisfy
their desires (Schrenk-Notzing, 1895).
There were clear double standards.
Meanwhile, at home, the wife considered the bedrock of the family unit, to
be kept safe while their husbands ran their businesses. If a married woman
got into a situation with a male, she was classed as a fallen woman , the
consequences were life changing, so severe it was likely that she would
have to resort to prostitution for economic survival, medical checks and
all... Professor Lynda Nead highlighted this unfair treatment, [male]
sexual desire was accepted as an unavoidable, fact of nature, whereas
active female sexuality was immediately defined as deviant and
dangerous (Nead, 2014).

3.1.1 Femme Fatale And The Polarity Of Good And Evil

Art of the era delivered symbolic and codified messages, identifying the
femme fatale. The Travelling Companions

(Figure 4)

, Egg (1862), depicts two

almost identical female travelling companions in a train carriage, on-route

to the coastal town of Menton, a microclimate is known for its early orange
and lemon harvest in February, it is a short way from Monte Carlo in the
South of France framed by the carriage windows. The ladies are clad in
identical outfits; perhaps they are twins? The look like a mirror image,
donned in their grey satin voluminous dresses with thin black lace neck
chokers. One is napping, her eyes closed, her hair down and flowing, her
gloves have been removed, a button appears to be open on her top, and
there is a basket of oranges beside her. The other woman is reading a
book, hands covered with gloves, top buttoned up, her hair neatly tied
tight, and a basket of flowers beside her.
The subtle art of symbolism.

- 10 -

The Victorian art lover would have deciphered the hieroglyphics. Loose hair
represented a woman suspected of adultery. Wearing gloves indicates
status, cleanliness and purity. The basket containing the fruit, the orange is
predominantly a symbol of fertility; if it is depicted in Paradise (which
Menton surely is), it is the fruit of the Fall. The open book being read
depicts the book of life, learning, spirit of wisdom, truth and mercy. Her
basket blossom flowers are a symbol of young life. The basket without
flowers a symbol that she has been de-flowered. For one woman it is a
spiritual adventure, designed to explore the Self until serenity is achieved

, for the other it is a journey to the fall.

Rationalising the duality of good and evil.

The image is one of beauty and grace, but it contains a form of duality, a
woman who can be erotically destructive, and another a symbol of divinity.
When combined they form the archetypal femme fatale. Edith Zach
presents this situation as typical of this era, she says it [is] represented
in many works of the 19th century dealing with the femme fatale: two
females who represent the polarity of good and evil (Zach, 2013, Ch 1),
which confuses and leaves the male trying to rationalise these extremes,
trying to find his way between the two worlds (Zach, op.cit). Even if this
duality untrue, and she is not worldly wise, her fate could be perilous. 'the
faults of women are visited as sins, the sins of men are not even visited as
faults' (Craig, 2009)

3.1.2 Duality In Art, The Fallen Woman.

Egg captured the duality of Victorian society with regard to chastity with
a trilogy he exhibited in 1858. There were three miniatures, no title but a
subtitle displayed: 'August the 4th - Have just heard that B - has been dead
more than a fortnight, so his poor children have now lost both parents. I
hear she was seen on Friday last near the Strand, evidently without a place
to lay her head. What a fall hers has been!'. Eggs trilogy mirrored the
consequences should a woman fall from grace. Nina Auerbach sums up
the hopeless dilemma of the situation, These words smack of pride as well
as pity at the fallen womans abasement and the society that engineered it
so effectivelyrecurs again and again in Victorian treatments of the fallen
woman (Auerbach, 1984).
Was art a form of propaganda?
Shocking its audience, the first of the three plates show an apple lying
beside the prostrate woman. On the wall behind, a painting depicts godexpelling Eve from the Garden of Eden, a small portrait of the woman
hangs below. A mirror reflects an open door. A mirror reflects an open door

- 11 -

on the other side of the room; from the home she will be expelled. The two
children in the room, playing with their toys and looking mystified, increase
the emotion of the situation. The femme fatale, distorted myth of Eve been
once again has now taken, as a moral guide to the way society should
behave. [5]

3.1.3 The Awakening of Conscience

It is said that Hunt's painting, 'The Awakening of Conscience' was the
inspiration for Eggs Fallen Woman. It is a salient reminder to the fin-desicle (kept) woman, It shows the girl in a situation where she has been
disturbed, perhaps during her liaison with her lover. The dropped glove on
the floor is a metaphor for the vulnerability she feels, she is in a state of
'Victorian' undress. She wears rings on all of her fingers, with the exception
of the third finger, left hand. The painting was originally displayed along
side another painting The Light of the World, which showed Jesus holding
a lamp and knocking at the door. The light shines into the Awakening of
Conscience from the side, matching both paintings in design as well as
reinforcing the message. Symbolically, the analysis from the Tate Gallery
is thought provoking, it upholds the theories put forward earlier regarding
the powerful male, and of the dangers of falling fowl of their favour.
Did the Pre-Raphaelites try to introduce morality to an immoral situation?
The Tates [5] description, The mirror image represents the woman's lost
innocence may equally apply to Eggs Travelling Companions. The cat
toying with the broken-winged bird under the table symbolises the
woman's plight, implying that the male (cat) feels powerful enough to
decide her fate, it is probably only a matter of time before, A man's
discarded glove warns that the likely fate of a cast-off mistress was
prostitution, and finally the tangled wool on the floor symbolises the web
in which the girl is entrapped. Hunt wanted to reflect in his art, the sociocultural and economic issues that young women faced. The painting
depicts one of the fallen who has been trapped in the situation where she
must comply with her lover's needs, or face a perilous situation that would
most likely result in death, given the disease and conditions of the era.

3.1.4 The Dark Underbelly of Victorian Perversion Surfaces

In times of prosperity, the rich created a huge market for fine art, in
reality there were none of trappings that people display today to
demonstrate their power, influence and wealth. It was a status symbol to
have ones portrait painted by a famous contemporary artist, or to own an

- 12 -

original artwork, Painters became rich as their work was bought by

wealthy merchants and manufacturers. Opulent private collections were
formed (WAG).
The Romantic Art had been used as a tool to enforce the strict
patriarchal system, but there was also a market that appealed to the more
masculine market, one that still contained many of the symbols of the finde-sicle era, was now portraying the feminine as a more aggressive
devouring animal. She was now being represented as a degenerative
temptress, part woman part animal (connotations in bestiality), vampires,
hermaphrodites, and man-eating creatures. Once again, the religious and
mythical stories of the past were being re-written.

3.1.5 Circe
The fin-de-sicle artists and sculptors saw Circe the Mythical Greek
Goddess as a rich vein of inspirational material. Much had been poetically
scribed about her. The legend says that she was an intoxicatingly beautiful
woman, who resided on the island of Aeaea. Discovering sailors in distress,
she offered them refuge and refreshment. If they accept her offerings they
become besotted, soon after they were turned into docile animals like
swine, and kept in a sty. In Homers Odyssey, Circe transforms all of
Odysseus' men into swine, but she has a change of heart and changes
them back into humans, letting them go on their way.
She was less than perfect.
Mackennal chose the mythological goddess for his New Statue, femme
fatale was a popular topic across Europe. He produced it as a large piece;
its sensual details and the nature of its structure held many an admiring
gaze, drawn to her youthful beauty. Authors, Van Ghent & Robinson
(Dijkstra 1988) thesis on Keats penned of Circe She practiced the black
magic of changing the human form into that of a beast, and in a final
ecstasy of evil, transformed all of the beasts in her sty of old lovers into
one huge writhing snake (Ibid, p. 130). Baudelaire, Swinburne and
Gustave Flaubert willingly penned Romantic poetry about Circe. She had
retained her Romantic roots, but the mythical qualities were to be
changed, almost beyond recognition.

3.1.6 Rebranding Circe as Pornokrates

The goddess re-appears, morphed into Pornokrates (Figure 6), a figure of
a blindfolded woman wearing high shoes, long black satin gloves and

- 13 -

stockings. She is led by the same Circe motif, a pig a leash, guiding her.
There is debate about the meaning of her demeanour, one view is that the
pig with the golden tail represents the image of luxury and lucre steering
the woman, whose only excuse is her blindness; for others, it is the image
of man, bestial and stupid, kept in check by the woman (Dijkstra 1988),
Dukstra commented on the art, She was the human animal viciously
depicted by Rops as Pornokrates, ruler of Proudhons (Prichard, 2011)
Pornocracy, the creature blindly guided by a hog, the symbol of Circe, the
bestial representation of all sexual evil (Dijkstra, op.cit).

3.1.7 Baudelaire and the Courtesan.

She advances towards us, glides, dances, or moves about with her
burden of petticoats, which play the part at once of pedestal and
her eye flashes out from under her hat, like a portrait in its frame.
She is the perfect image of the savagery that lurks in the midst of
She has her own sort of beauty, which comes to her from Evil always
devoid of spirituality, but sometimes tinged with weariness which imitates
true melancholy.
She directs her gaze at the horizon, like a beast of prey; the same
wildness, the same lazy absent-mindedness, and also, at times, the same
fixity of attention.
She is a sort of gipsy wandering on the fringes of regular society, and
the triviality of her life, which is one of warfare and cunning, fatally grins
through its envelope of show. (Baudelaire, 1995, p.16)
There is a striking similarity to the view that woman was driven by
ruthless pursuit of consumerism, and the one depicted by Ropss
Pornokrates. When Baudelaire wrote The Painter of Modern Life
(Baudelaire, op.cit), he was describing women who frequented The
Arcades, the streets of glass in Paris and London that were frequented by
prostitutes of all classes. On this occasion he was referring to the
courtesan, a high-class prostitute, a femme fatale. His description displays
many of the mythical qualities of the femme fatale; 19th century authors
considered it an intriguing topic, perhaps the most famous being The Lady

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of the Camellias (Fils, 1848) which would later become the opera La
Traviata. The (simplified) plot is a warning of the dangers of falling in love
with a courtesan.
A stupid idiot but smart enough to outwit men?
There seemed to be no hesitation in his demeaning commentary about
women, just as Rops had been in his art. Baudelaire describes women as a
manifestation, She is a kind of idol, stupid perhaps, but dazzling and
bewitching.(CB, P30), and as if to underline the point; he continues to
writing about cosmetics and fashion. (Note: Walter Benjamin wrote The
Arcades (Paris) many years later when they were falling into decay,
describing the same people who went there as yeast of the streets),

3.1.8 Dehumanising the Mythical Lilith.

The link between Adam, Eve, Lilith and the serpent was made in
Genesis, it provided inspiration for countless works of art, carvings and
poems throughout the mid 19th century and early 20th-century. In Rossettis
sonnet Eden Bower, Lilith who was reputed to be Adams first mate did not
display the passivity that Rossetti found so attractive in [his] women.
It was Lilith the wife of Adam:
(Eden bowers in flower.)
Not a drop of her blood was human,
But she was made like a soft sweet woman
Inspired by Rossettis John Collier painted the Rossettis Lilith (1892)


, adorned with an enormous snake cuddled around her erect and naked

body, it is apparent that there was a display of tenderness and affection.

Rossetti, who died in 1882 would have appreciated the interpretation,
given that he was very much in love with his wife, Elizabeth Siddal who
modelled for Rossettis Lady Lilith paintings. She suffered an early death
(1862), following an overdose of laudanum (Parkstone 2015).
Was this the ultimate duality?
There is tenderness in John Colliers mythical Lilith, once again there is a
duality, a perverse implication of bestiality and tenderness, It would not be
unreasonable to interpret the snake as a phallic symbol. This was a period
when many artists took inspiration from the poets. Dijkstra



connection between the female and the serpent as an age-old masculine

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fascination of bestiality; he argues that fin-de-sicle culture did not view

normal sexuality as a linear heterosexuality. (Dijkstra 1988)

3.2 Conclusion
This dissertation did not set out to become a standard bearer for feminism,
but it was found to be the most reliable source of unbiased opinion
because of their diverse backgrounds. It identifies the origins of the femme
fatale as religious and biblical characters, but also evidences that there
were so many versions of the original femme fatales; it would be
impossible to identify which were true. The correlating factor of all the
mythical femmes fatales is that their original crimes were over
exaggerated, and over punished.
A cynical and relentless process took place that connects all women to
the alleged original femme fatale sins; it taught them that they also must
pay for these sins. If they questioned the validity of this treatment, they
were questioning the word of god. Moreover, women were told to be
Academics and authors have been instrumental in dispelling many of the
myths, but the period of the industrial revolution was pivotal, and its
oppression had two major impacts on society. It funded an art market that
systematically went through a process of re-writing the original femme
fatale myths, displacing them with perverse manifestations. Secondly, the
church and the patriarchal machine supported the new interpretations.
They then associated women with the new manifestations, made them
responsible for paying the price these new and perverse sins and thus
cleared their collective conscience.
On one front, the subtle codification of symbolism was used, on the other
influential religious leaders, philosophers, poets, artists, politicians stood
on their metaphorical soap boxes and preached the evil attributed to
women. The injustice ignited resistance, creating the first wave of
This study has shown that many of the of the finest works of art delivered
the messages demonising women symbolically, depicting the polarity of
good an evil, qualities found in the archetypal femme fatale. Ultimately
they all led back to Eve, Lilith, Pandora et al. the myth had lost sight of its
origins, it had taken on a life of its own.
There was something perverse about the treatment of the mythical
characters. Circe, was transformed by artists into the most derogatory
icon, a blindfolded woman, naked except for stockings being led by a pig

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with a golden tail. Similarly, Pandora came in for similar treatment. The
metaphor layers another mythical mistruth that bares little resemblance to
the original story.
The original myths had been lost in the fog of propaganda, but historical
reference and art have left a trail of evidence, enabling a gap analysis
between the weak mythical origins and fin-de-sicle reinventions has
revealed the mythical mistruths, and they have been duly dispersed. It
reveals the motives were to prop up 19th century patriarchy, and that
influential religious leaders, philosophers, poets, artists, politicians and the
authorities used the myths as a justification for control, discipline,
suppression and exploitation. The patriarchal system was ruthless and
unforgiving if women strayed from its path, or had the tenacity to
challenge it, they were a classified as danger to stability.

The myths have been duly dispersed; they were re-invented for a
misogynistic agenda.

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4 Figures and

Figure 1.



of Eden Notre Dame


Figure 2.

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Colliers Lilith.

Figure 3.




Figure 4.


Figure 5.

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5 Bibliography
It has been noted that brief states, A Harvard Style bibliography and
captions need to be included in the essay but are not included in the word
Auerbach, 1984 Nina Auerbach, Woman and the Demon: The Life of a
Victorian Myth. Reprint Edition. Harvard University Press. p. 29
Baudelaire, 1995. Baudelaire, Charles, and Jonathan Mayne. The Painter
Of Modern Life And Other Essays. London: Phaidon Press, 1995. Print.
Carvalho, 2009 - Woman Has Two Faces: Re-Examining Eve And Lilith In
Jewish Feminist Thought [ONLINE] Available at: https://goo.gl/6QHeSm.
[Accessed 09 May 2015].
Craig, 2009. Randall Craig. The Narratives of Caroline Norton. 1 Edition.
Palgrave Macmillan. p.50
Daly, 1985. Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father: Toward a philosophy of
women's liberation. 5th Edition. Beacon Press.
Dijkstra 1988: Bram Dijkstra. Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil
in Fin-de-Sicle Culture (Oxford Paperbacks). Edition. Oxford University
Press. pp. 307-313
Doane, 1991. Mary Ann Doane Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory,
Psychoanalysis. Edition. P142-162 Routledge.
Feminine Quarternity (2015) Feminine Quarternity: (Tallahassee Center for
Jungian and Gnostic Studies). [ONLINE] Available at: http://goo.gl/lDvHlx.
[Accessed 05 May 2015].
Fils 1848 Alexandre Dumas Fils, 2004 Translation. Camille: The Lady of the
Camellias. Edition. Signet.
Ives, 1999, Eric Ives. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy.
Edition. Wiley-Blackwell.
Nead, 2014. Fashion and Visual Culture in the 19th Century: Women in
Red | Gresham College. 2015. [ONLINE] Available at: http://goo.gl/yjWN5g.
[Accessed 08 Oct 2014].
Parkstone 2015. Just One Hit | Parkstone International. 2015. Just One Hit
| Parkstone International. [ONLINE] Available at: https://goo.gl/SwDObb.
[Accessed 10 May 2015].

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Prichard 2011. Proudhon's Anti-Feminsm | Alex Prichard - Academia.edu.

[ONLINE] Available at: https://goo.gl/msr6Nm. [Accessed 07 May 2015].
Schrenk-Notzing, 1895. Pathological Manifestations of the Sexual Sense:
With Especial Reference to Contrary Sexual Instinct. [ONLINE] Available
at: http://goo.gl/zZz6sv. [Accessed 10 Jan 2015]. p.32-3
Stanton, 1895. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 2012. The Woman's Bible: A
Classic Feminist Perspective. Edition. Dover Publications.
Zack, 2013. Edith Zack, Powerful Women, Threatened Men: The Femme
Fatale Myth (Women's Power in Culture). Kindle Edition [Accessed from 10
Dec 2014]. (Kindle Pages Not Numbered)
[1] Prosperine http://goo.gl/uMjb1m
[2] Jung http://psikoloji.fisek.com.tr/jung/anima.htm
[3] Telegraph. 2004. Anne Boleyn religious reformer and femme fatale
[Online] http://goo.gl/JQTyDb [Accessed 01 May 2015].
[4] Online Symbolism Dictionary. 2015. [ONLINE] Available at:
http://goo.gl/DCmkvI [Accessed 09 May 2015].
[5] Past and Present. Tate: 2015. . [ONLINE] Available at:
http://goo.gl/kNdIVx. [Accessed 07 May 2015].

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