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‘Pragmatically bad’ women: Looking at the contemporary femme fatale

Couch, Rosie 2022. ‘Pragmatically bad’ women: Looking at the contemporary femme fatale. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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The femme fatale is a persistent cultural fantasy, emerging across film, television and literature during times of gendered social upheaval. She is elusive, seductive and dangerous. While critics of film noir have positioned the figure as a cultural effect of masculine anxiety and a signifier of changing social roles, others have argued for the potency of the figure – her strength and sexual allure – beyond the confines of narrative conclusion. In turn, studies of the femme fatale of the 1980s onwards have situated the figure in reference to a backlash against feminism, with the hyperviolent, hypercompetent femmes of this era representing concurrent anxieties regarding agentic career women. In the twenty-first century, the feminist potentialities of the femme fatale continue to demand critical attention. From Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2012) and its filmic adaptation (2014) to Emma Cline’s The Girls (2016), Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation (2018), the 2018 series of Killing Eve and Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman (2021), this thesis assesses how far the contemporary femme fatale can be read as a feminist analytical tool. I argue that the twenty-first century femme fatale continues to refract discourses around feminism and femininity, from Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train’s (2015/2016) girlish subversion of the postfeminist ideation of domestic bliss to Good Girls’ (2018-21) fatally deconstructive mums-on-the-run. Spanning genres and modes, this thesis explores the re-emergence of the twenty-first-century femme fatale, situating the promise and disappointment of the contemporary figure alongside the rise and decline of the #MeToo movement.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Funders: AHRC(SWW-DTP)
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 15 December 2022
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2022 12:51

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