Looking Back—Victorinoir: Modern Women and the Fatal(e) Progeny of Victorian Representations



As I’ve suggested throughout Part I, many film noir movies lend subjectivity to the independent women often referred to as “femmes fatales,” depicting the psychological motives for becoming, or acting the role of, the “femme fatale.” Contrary to popular culture’s and film criticism’s insistence that the deadly seductress figure defines American film noir, most noir movies suggest that women are forced into performing the role of “femme fatale” to escape social traps, thus offering a critique of the construction of the “femme fatale” on two levels. First, we see how women are forced to use their bodies and language to gain an upper hand in a society that habitually denies them freedom and culturally sanctioned opportunities. Second, many of these films expose the process by which the idea of the “femme fatale” is devised as a means of projecting male fear and anxiety onto the woman herself. The movies reflect how men in the culture project the idea of “femme fatale” as a label onto particular women in order to divide women into two easily regulated categories: “femmes fatales” and “angels in the house.”


Female Agency American Film Modern Woman Independent Woman Male Protagonist 
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© Julie Grossman 2009

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