Evil Women and Helpless Men

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Anne-Christine Esseln

Evil Women and Helpless Men. The femme fatale in English Literature and European Arts, 1796-1927

ISBN 978-3-86821-445-1, 202 S., kt., € 24,50 (2013)

(Horizonte - Studien zu Texten und Ideen der europäischen Moderne, Bd. 43)

Evil women and helpless men – is it really always as easy as this? For a long time, the cliché of the ever luring omnipresent female threat has prevailed. Whether in literature, arts, or film, evil women often form the central prerequisite. But can these women live up to the sinister expectations they are facing? This study focuses on a selection of women who have hitherto been regarded as fatal. From the dark vaults of Matthew Lewis’s Madrilenian abbey rises the powerful Matilda, determined to take revenge for being refused by The Monk. The journey continues: the veil of synaesthetic oriental luxury is lifted, revealing Wilde’s bewitchingly beautiful Salome. Herod’s court is turned into a locus terribilis as she kisses and hails the cut-off head of Iokanaan. The literary journey ends in 19th century London, through which Arthur Machen’s Helen Vaughan blazes a trail of devastation as she tries to satisfy her own needs and those of The Great God Pan. Who, or better, what is she? It is the very fascination with morbidity and the addiction to decadence at the end of the 19th century which motivated an art historical excursus, in which the shift in the perception and portrayal of women becomes evident. From sleeping beauty through beautiful corpse to salivating harpy – artists such as Millais, Munch, von Stuck and Klimt covered the whole spectrum of male apperception of women. The excursus is meant to illuminate the artistic context into which the femme fatale is born and to irradiate both her precursors and her creators. It remains to be seen whether these examples represent an immanent fear of the new femininity or celebrate the very same.

Buchvorschau / Inhaltsverzeichnis (pdf)