Fatal Women of Romanticism

By Adriana Craciun | Go to book overview

Introduction

I wish to persuade women to endeavour to acquire strength, both in mind and in body.

Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

Women are what they were meant to be; and we wish for no alteration in their bodies or their minds.

William Hazlitt, “The Education of Women” (1815)

Incarnations of fatal women–the seductress, the mermaid, the queen, the muse–recur throughout the works of women writers, demonstrating that fatal women played an important role in the development of women's poetic identities in the Romantic period. Femmes fatales can be understood as misogynist projections of the “woman within” by male writers, as some scholars have argued; 1 yet such accounts leave little room for women's surprising uses of these figures, other than as reactive critiques. To ask why they used such figments of male fantasy is to ask the wrong question, for it assumes that these figures originate in the imaginations of men. Indeed, part of our problem in mapping the new terrain of women's writing in the Romantic period is of our own making, when we rely on the circular argument that figures such as the femme fatale and the violent woman originate in and appeal to solely the male imagination, something that Romantic-period women writers did not believe.

This book does not trace a continuous tradition of women writers of the Romantic period, nor does it argue that women writers in this era experienced and articulated a distinct, gender-complementary Romanticism in reaction to the canonical Romanticisms of male writers. Feminist literary histories and the anthologies they have produced often attempt to trace such a continuity in women's literature, one that answers Virginia Woolf's need for literary foremothers, and do so by privileging nineteenth-century concepts of literary practice and publication, as well

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