Today's theme for Patti Abbott's Friday's Forgotten Books concerns "femmes fatales." The term is from the French for "fatal women," but its orgins go back to the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Hindu cultures, and of course, even the Bible gave us Salome, Delilah, and Jezebel. Whatever the culture or setting, a femme fatale typically refers to a mysterious and alluring woman who ensnares men with her charms, often luring them into compromising or even deadly traps. I thought about featuring the anthology A Hell of a Woman, edited by Megan Abbott, but was afraid it would be duplicated by some of the other FFB postings today. However, it's a terrific book and a good intro to the genre.
One region of the world you may not associate with the femmes fatales tradition is China, but Anne E. McLaren tries to show otherwise in her book, The Chinese Femme Fatale: Stories from the Ming Period (published 1994). In her Foreword, McLaren places the three included stories in context in Chinese culture of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and also provides a brief, informative introduction for each story. Although not in the same vein as the femme fatale trope of the strong scheming women in film noir and pulp fiction, the stories carry a lot of the misogynistic themes that many such tales do in European/American literature. As McLaren notes, the misogynistic tone of the stories results from the fear of female dominance and sexuality in Chinese culture and provides "a paradigm of women who defied traditional feminine virtues and suffered the full wrath of a punitive society."
The first story tells of a wife who cooks a magic eel her husband brings home, before he can decide what to do with it, which results in a series of murderous ends for their daughter and her succession of lovers and husbands; the second story shows the disastrous results of a sexually insatiable woman and what happens when she cheats on her traveling-salesman husband; and the third is a gruesome and twisty tale that begins with the theft of a coin. McLaren points out that these stories and others of that same time period show women as either virtuous or vixen (with little room in the middle), continuing a theme that has lasted through the centuries in almost every global culture.