For my dissertation I will be looking at the notion of the femme fatale. During my research I found a connection between the story of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. In my Dissertation Proposal I write:
I will explore the different forms a femme fatale can take, for example; in 1958, Vladimir Nabokov wrote Lolita, a story of a man’s obsession for a 12 year old girl. I will argue that Nabokov represents the girl as a femme fatale. Humbert gives the child the name Lolita; a variation of the name Lilith who appeared in the Bible as the first and demonic wife of Adam. In the book, Nabokov writes, “Humbert was perfectly capable of intercourse with Eve, but it was Lilith he longed for.” (Unknown., 2016) Here suggesting that he could have relations with mature women if he wanted to but it was the innocence from before he ‘ate the apple’ that he craved. Additionally:-
“by comparing Lolita and nymphets in general to Lilith, the more obscure female temptress, Humbert Humbert is essentially transforming the innocent girl child into a femme fatale, the erotic powers of whom only a few select can appreciate. This is of course, part of his attempt to escape the moral implications of his behaviour and shifting the blame to the "sexuality" of girls.” (Johnson, B., 2011)
I will explore the complex power struggle between the two which, at times almost becomes a backwards game of cat and mouse in which the mouse teases the cat. Humbert uses the term ‘nymphet’ to describe his sexual preference (a prepubescent girl between the age of 9 and 12).In the book Nabokov writes; “She had painted her lips and was holding in her hollowed hands a beautiful, banal, Eden-red apple. She was not shod, however, for church.” (Healy, J., 2011) Bananas feature heavily in the book; contrasting the Eden-like innocence of Lolita’s childhood with phallic symbolism representing her sexual corruption. Furthermore, the image of Lolita eating a banana with red lips echoes the act of intercourse. This reference to Adam and Eve paints Lolita as a temptress, ‘holding in her hand the fruit of knowledge of good and evil.’ (Healy, J., 2011) When Lolita is taken by another man, Humbert is broken and her rejection towards the end of the book leads him to murder her kidnapper. Again, this arguably gives Lolita the title of a femme fatale. Can a female be seen as a temptress at any age? Are the unwanted advances of men partially the fault of the female? Is it nature for women to be alluring to men or is it societal?
During the time spent writing and researching I became inspired by the subject. I have been really interested in the moment when innocence is lost or taken - in the example of Eve it is when she eats the apple and becomes aware and ashamed that she is naked - with Lolita, the moment she loses her innocence isn't as obvious; is it the moment she loses her virginity? Or is it simply Humbert's desire for her?
Interestingly, ‘the nymphet does not exist outside her relationship to her male counterpart and must engage in the male’s image of her.’ It is Humbert’s desire for Lolita that christens her a nymphet; therefore is it he who holds her powers of seduction?
My idea for my next painting is to have a topless woman with red lipstick holding a peeled banana and cupping one of her breasts. What I want to represent through this is the moment innocence is lost - like Eve she has just become aware of her own nudity and tries to cover it but at the same time she finds her own sexuality - the red lips and banana echoing this. I want to represent that awkward moment around the start of puberty when a girl becomes self-conscious of her body but at the same time is starting to discover her sexuality.
In 1969 Blind Faith released their self-titled album with a pre-pubescent 11 year old girl holding a toy plane as the album artwork. The artwork caused outrage at what was deemed 'a blatant display of child pornography'. But why is the image considered pornographic? She isn't performing any sexual act or suggesting anything sexual - she is merely a young girl innocently playing with a toy plane. An argument against the image was that the plane was a phallic symbol - is it? If it was a topless 11 year old boy playing with a toy plane, would the plane be seen as phallic? Or would it just be seen for what it is - a toy plane. The only reason this image was deemed controversial is because the girl is forming breasts - breasts that are deemed sexual by society. When you represent a child with having something that society sees as sexual, people become outraged because they know that the sexualisation of children is inherently wrong. In reality, all this image shows is a person and their body - it just so happens that that person is an 11 year old girl at the doors of puberty. The only issue I have with this image is the issue of consent; it was rumored that the girl was offered a pony if she posed for the picture - bribery that she innocently accepted not really understanding the situation.
On the other hand - the album Virgin Killer by the Scorpions is completely inappropriate. It features a 10 year old girl in a seductive pose displaying her genitalia which is conveniently covered by a crack in what appears to be a mirror or a piece of glass (perhaps a window). This gives it a voyeuristic element as if she is performing for someone, She is conscious of the fact that she is being watched. Apparently the title is supposed to refer to the fact that time is the killer of innocence - however the message it gives is a much darker one.
I have noticed that there is a trend of femme fatales being represented in a similar pose (Virgin Killer) with their legs splayed and their genitalia covered, often with their arm. Showing a woman with her own sexuality that is capable of seducing a man but also teasing him - making the pursuit dangerous for him.
- Experimenting with banana positions.
Film posters and a book cover.
MAN HATER She would use her body to destroy any man!
- You can describe a femme fatale any better than that!
My partner found these two cards for me at a charity shop. Note how how the one on the left has her legs spread and her left arm is almost beckoning but her other arm is blocking her genitalia. She is strong and in control. The one on the right represents a woman as an evil nonhuman creature that is both beautiful and deadly. This depiction is seen throughout history and art history with mythological stories such as the Sirens and Medusa.