The Misunderstood Femme Fatale
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
The Misunderstood Femme Fatale
Throughout history, beautiful women have been adored and worshipped. Men swoon over what culture has defined as a beautiful woman; at times, men even view these women as supernatural or mystical creatures. They are the subjects of many paintings, poems and stories. Not only are they considered physical beauties, but also sometimes are seen as seductresses who lure men to their doom. The poems "La Belle Dame sans Merci" by John Keats and "The Loreley" by Heinrich Heine share the male view of the female seductress. Both women in these poems lead men to their destruction.
In "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" the male character is a knight who meets a "Lady in the meads" and instantly falls in love with her. They spend the day together and have a wonderful time. However, in a dream, the knight receives a warning that he has been put under a spell by the woman; eventually, he ends up alone and dying. Throughout this poem, the "Lady" is described as a magical creature, a "fairy's child" who speaks in a "language strange." She sings "a faery's song" while riding the knight's horse. She is a supernatural being who can put a spell on a man to make him love her. As the kings and warriors warn the knight in his dream, she captures the knight, just like other men she has taken "in thrall."
In "The Loreley," a woman stands on top of a hill and lures men to their death by singing a song that enchants them, eventually causing them to crash their boats on the rocks below. Again, the female is described in mystical terms. She "sings the tune of an olden Song that has a magical power." Her singing distracts men so that they are blind to everything else around them. They are captured, just like the knight, in a death grip. Their fate is to die a horrible death, due to this woman.
In both poems, the women are seen as the reason for the men's deaths. However, the women cannot be held fully responsible. In "La Belle," the knight falls in love (or is it lust?) with the "Lady in the meads" the instant he meets her. He spends all day with her and ignores everything around him. They make love and fall asleep. The men blame this woman for their misfortunes, but perhaps they are to blame as well. She cannot help being beautiful. She was born with her features. Also, she does not literally drag men to her home and then murder them. The men go of their own free will. They choose to spend the day with her and give her "gifts." At the end of the poem, the knight is left alone on the hill. It does not mention what happens to the woman. The poem implies that she has left, and he is waiting for her, dying because of the wait. He has the option to leave. This poem may be a warning to anyone, male or female, that men and women should not fall in love so quickly. "Love at first sight" does not necessarily make for a healthy relationship.
In "The Loreley," the female seductress is also not entirely at fault. She is a striking figure, a "siren," who sits on the top of a hill and, while "[combing] her golden hair," sings a beautiful song. This song and her beauty blind the men and cause them to lose control of their boat. However, the woman is not aware of her amazing power over men. She stands on the hill and sings, completely unaware of what is happening below her. The poem does not mention that her songs are directed towards the boatmen, only that the men are unfortunate enough to pass by her.
Both of these poems were written by men. These writers do not want to blame their own gender for their misfortunes, so they blame the opposite gender. These men, like so many others, most likely have had relationships that have gone wrong. To them, it is the fault of the women for seducing them into love; they did it on purpose. On the other hand, the women may see the men at fault. They are silly for falling in love with a pair of pretty eyes. Either way, both parties in these poems are to blame for the outcome, not just the women.