Oyinkan Braithwaite on Seven Notable Femme Fatales in Literature

Oyinkan Braithwaite on Seven Notable Femme Fatales in Literature

literary femme fatales

Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut novel is one of the most talked-about books of the season. My Sister, the Serial Killer follows Korede, a Nigerian nurse, as she helps clean up after her sister Ayoola’s murders. Ayoola typically only targets her own ex-boyfriends, but when her murderous eyes turn on Korede’s crush, Korede must stop Ayoola once and for all. Ayoola is the latest in a line of literary femme fatales, and here Braithwaite shares some of the most notable ones she’s read about.

Estella
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

“If she favors you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces—and as it gets older and stronger, it will tear deeper—love her, love her, love her!”

I was a little bit fascinated by this character as a child. She was young, beautiful, ice cold, and groomed purely for the purpose of breaking a man’s heart.

Blanche DuBois
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

Whoever you are—I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

Blanche’s character is heartbreaking. She relies heavily on her beauty and the fantasy she has created about herself and her life to survive. Maybe what is saddest is that she tries her hardest to be a femme fatale, but unfortunately, things don’t work out the way she hopes.  

Scarlett O’Hara
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

“A startling thought this, that a woman could handle business matters as well as or better than a man, a revolutionary thought to Scarlett who had been reared in the tradition that men were omniscient and women none too bright.”

Scarlett has to be one of the most memorable fictional characters that I have ever come across. Scarlett isn’t beautiful in the traditional sense, but she is captivating and smart and she uses every tool at her disposal to get her way.  

Carmen Sternwood
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

“Her eyes rounded. She was puzzled. She was thinking. I could see, even on that short acquaintance, that thinking was always going to be a bother to her.”

Carmen is childish and she gives new meaning to the phrase “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Daisy Buchanan
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool–that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

I still haven’t come to terms with the level of betrayal that Daisy exercised in this story. I hope Gatsby haunts her. Daisy is beautiful, capricious, and shallow. Her actions in The Great Gatsby make her perfect for this list.

Amy Dunne
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I was told love should be unconditional. That’s the rule, everyone says so. But if love has no boundaries, no limits, no conditions, why should anyone try to do the right thing ever?

Who else was uncomfortable with the ending of Gone Girl? Amy Dunne is half femme fatale, half pure unrestrained crazy.

Emily Nelson
A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell

“You’d be amazed by what people will do. Things they’d never admit to anyone—not even to themselves.”

I read A Simple Favor because I was struggling to find modern references to a femme fatale in my past reading history and I had a feeling that the character I had seen in the movie trailer might be just what I was looking for. And yes, I believe that Emily has earned her place on this list.

Oyinkan Braithwaite is a graduate of Creative Writing and Law from Kingston University. Following her degree, she worked as an assistant editor at Kachifo, a Nigerian publishing house, and as a production manager at Ajapaworld, a children’s educational and entertainment company. She now works as a freelance writer and editor. In 2014, she was shortlisted as a top-ten spoken-word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam, and in 2016 she was a finalist for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria.