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  Literary Criticism Review   

 

 
The Belle Gone Bad:
White Southern Women Writers and the Dark Seductress
by Betina Entzminger
Louisiana State University Press, 2002
Hardcover, $59.95  (240 pages)
ISBN: 0-8071-2785-X
 
  The belle gone bad, or the femme fatale, has been a character in southern literature since the beginning. In the nineteenth-century, she was used as an example of evil against the good southern belles, who were creatures of purity and the moral ideal.  The bad belle was aware of her sexual power and used it to manipulate men.  This image of the femme fatale lasted into the twentieth century as members of women's suffrage were compared to evil sirens.

During the Southern Renascence, mixed power of the femme fatale with the power of women after suffrage.  These bad belles were admired for their survival instincts and ability to recreate themselves.  They still had the power to manipulate men but were not strongly changed by their actions.

Contemporary southern women writers use the femme fatale as a vehicle for social change and to destroy past myths.  Often the bad belle is the mother of the modern woman, who shuns her mother's powerful advice laced with abuse.  Entzminger concludes, "the bad belle's destruction in the works of contemporary writers announces a more open society where women writers no longer need to disguise their cultural critiques and strong women no longer need to disguise themselves."

In The Belle Gone Bad, the works of the following are studied: Augusta Jane Evans, Kaye Gibbons, Ellen Glasgow, Caroline Gordon, Caroline Lee Hentz, Margaret Mitchell, Evelyn Scott, Lee Smith, E.D.E.N. Southworth, Elizabeth Spencer and Eudora Welty.

Entzminger's criticism is an interesting study of southern culture as it changed through the works of its white women authors.  It also gives light to the changing role of the femme fatale in Southern Literature.

Betina Entzminger has published essays on southern writers in Mississippi Quarterly, Southern Quarterly, and College Literature.  A native of South Carolina, she is assistant professor of English at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania.

Joyce Dixon
Southern Scribe Reviews

 

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