A Simple Guide to Spotting the Femme Fatale

Posted by Maria Vicente

Ah, one of the most compelling and, well, dangerous of literary characters – the femme fatale. Love her or hate her (probably both), she’s a staple in many stories. Here’s your guide to the lady (usually) in black.

The femme fatale is most notably a classic in detective fiction and the noir genre, but her origins go back much farther than that. This archetype is part of the folklore of many cultures and she became a prominent literary character in the 19th century. John Keats wrote about the femme fatale in many poems; the character of Matilda in The Monk is a classic example; and Edgar Allen Poe used the archetype in his work. She is also a central piece to a lot of paintings from this time period (by artists like Edvard Munch and Gustav Klimt).

The femme fatale will do the impossible to get what she wants, including flaunting her “sexy-and-she-knows-it” body to wrap millions of men around her red polished finger. However, the femme fatale isn’t a floozy – she won’t just throw herself at anyone. No, she sets her sights after careful consideration and follows through with a plan – one that never portrays her as a sexual prowess.

A common trick is deception, as the femme fatale fakes weakness in order to accept another character’s “help.” Once one has fallen for the femme fatale, there’s no getting away. She’s got you right where she wants you, baby.

The femme fatale character is everywhere. She exists in every corner of pop culture, although not on the cover of Britney Spear’s most recent album (aside from the name – Femme Fatale – the cover art is a terrible portrayal of the character type). Meet a few of our favorite femme fatales:


The Text: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The Role: A “sometimes rogue, sometimes helpful” vampire slayer.
The Costume: All the cool clothes from the late 1990s + red lipstick.



The Text: The Big Sleep
The Role: A ruthless and spoiled daughter of a very rich man.
The Costume: Classy white dresses + mysterious eyes.


The Text: DC Comic’s Batman franchise
The Role: A burglar and jewelry thief.
The Costume: A tight black leather bodysuit + cat ears. Meow.

Maria Vicente is a literary agent intern living in Ottawa, Canada. She likes coffee, books, snail mail, and magic. You can find her on Twitter (@MsMariaVicente) or check out her website (mariavicente.com)