What's the Latest Development?

"Somewhere between male fantasy and female defiance lies the bad girl," says Matthew Sweet, who profiles the femmes fatales that have shown us the darker—and more attractive?—side of beauty. He begins with Bathsheba, who stoked appetites of biblical proportion "[by going] topless about Jerusalem in the second Book of Samuel." To Sweet, beauty is both ideal and physical. He profiles Lady Macbeth: a woman whose bad intentions, opposite the malleable morals of her King, are further highlighted by her gender. Moving forward to our own realist times, Sweet discusses Grace Jones, who he says is the physical incarnation of ferocity.

What's the Big Idea?

Divine. Sublime. These are the more lofty words afforded to beauty. But what of the femme fatal? What of women who have taken the world by storm through, if not outright immorality, then through an amoral disposition? Their vagaries appear mysterious and under mystery a fierce desire flourishes. As the name implies, desire for a femme fatale is a flame that extinguishes itself only after much longing and suffering. How do we account for self-destructive tendencies in what is otherwise something akin to bliss?