Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Femme Fatale

A woman whose powers of sexual attraction are so great (though not necessarily supernatural) that her paramours become utterly careless of their own well-being, usually perishing. Some of the many Classical models, like the Sirens, took no active part in destroying the men who fell under their spell; others, such as the blood-drinking Lamias, exercised their lures in order to devour their victims; Succubi drained men's Souls by night; while Circe had the symbolically appropriate habit of turning her victims into swine. The archetypal femme fatales in the Judeo-Christian tradition are Lilith and Salome. Literary femmes fatales were prolifically produced by writers associated with Romanticism during the late 18th and early 19th centuries; a comprehensive analysis of their significance in this context can be found in The Romantic Agony (1933) by Mario Praz. Some such images are figures of menace, but most are regarded with decided ambivalence; those who are sadistically contemptuous of their easy prey are frequently provided with victims who accept that the intensity of the erotic experience more than adequately compensates for its brevity. A relevant anthology is The Dedalus Book of Femmes Fatales (anth 1992) ed Brian Stableford. [BS]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.