- Images of the femme fatale in Two Short Stories by Emilia Pardo Bazán
Scholars have explored many aspects of Pardo Bazán’s writings that examine the plight of women in nineteenth-century Spain, in particular the ways that her fictional works employ unique narrative designs and contestatory strategies to subtly question the hegemony of patriarchal culture. In this study I will focus on a curious pair of stories from Pardo Bazán’s corpus of short stories that seems to do just this but in an unusual way, by engaging with the paradigmatic figure of the femme fatale. Pardo Bazán repeatedly employs innovative representations of the femme fatale in her later novels, tellingly the titles of her last three published novels are: La quimera (1905), La sirena negra (1908) and Dulce dueño (1911). In an important study of a femme fatale figure from this last novel Dulce dueño Susan Kirkpatrick asserts: “Women who adopted the contestatory stance of feminism were obliged to contend with the active and generally negative reinscription of feminine difference in order to intervene in the cultural conversation about the significance of gender” (“Gender” 119). This dynamic seems especially relevant in the stories that I analyze in this study, since the femme fatale is normally interpreted as a misogynistic archetype, although, as I will show, Pardo Bazán’s representations of these female characters highlight their inherent power and require that the reader actively interpret their roles in the stories. While I do not believe that the female characters in these stories are archetypal femme fatales, I do believe that they engage with this literary model, and therefore a closer analysis of how these characters are shaped can elucidate our understanding of the tales.
In Erika Bornay’s study Las hijas de Lilith, in which she analyzes the representations of the femme fatale in Western European literature and art, the key characteristics of this paradigm are highlighted: [End Page 177]
una belleza turbia, contaminada, perversa. Incuestionablemente, su cabellera es larga y abundante y, en muchas ocasiones, rojiza. Su color de piel pone acento en la blancura, y no es nada infrecuente que sus ojos sean descritos como de color verde. (. . .) En lo que concierne sus más significativos rasgos psicológicos, destacará por su capacidad de dominio, de incitación al mal, y su frialdad, que no le impedirá, sin embargo, poseer una fuerte sexualidad, en muchas ocasiones lujuriosa y felina, es decir, animal.(114–15)
As I will show in the following pages, the representations of women in the short stories analyzed here consistently reference certain aspects of the paradigmatic femme fatale, especially their assertive stares and their long flowing locks, which underscore their search for subjectivity and physical allure. On the other hand, other typical traits, specifically the femme fatales’ animalistic sexuality and their controlling nature, are not present in Pardo Bazán’s characterizations.
Much has been said regarding the femme fatale’s presence as a representation of male anxiety about women’s changing roles in society in the fin de siglo. As Jess Sully notes: “The exotic, sexually promiscuous ‘otherness’ of the femme fatale threatens to destabilize the established cultural order” (47). Likewise, Virginia Allen asserts that the femme fatale’s rejection of motherhood is one of her most threatening qualities since by denying his immortality and his posterity it leads to the ultimate destruction of the male (193). Indeed the femme fatale figures studied here align with this aspect of the model – they have no children and do not have carnal contact with their partners, thus eliminating the possibility of producing offspring. Along these same lines, Teresa Gómez Trueba shows how hegemonic cultural phenomena of the period were tied into artists’ concerns regarding the many changes that were taking place in society during the turn of the century: “Al tiempo que se echa mano de la ciencia para demostrar de manera infalible la inferioridad intelectual de la mujer, el artista decadente del fin de siglo representa su angustia y su temor ante la amenaza de los nuevos tiempos que se avecinan a través de la imagen de una poderosa, perversa y devoradora...