Motives of Wrong Women in Literature

Published on 6 September 2023 at 14:27

Bad and wrong women are often portrayed as caricatures. Roeland Dobbelaer has made a number of very readable comments about this phenomenon in his review of The Women of John Steinbeck ( In the many nineteenth-century Russian novels, he finds the female characters irrational, morbid and hysterical. The downtrodden women are only out to seduce and demean men. John Steinbeck's wives, on the other hand, are pious, strictly Protestant, and devoted to husband and family or sluts who ruin men. But there is also a lot wrong with the 'good women'. According to Dobbelaer they are disturbed, religiously insane or they withhold men their pleasures (sic!). Cathy Ames, the character who appears in many lists of bad women in literature, is portrayed by Steinbeck as a woman without morals and empathy, the devil personified.

It seems that in literature men and women are not equal. Lizette van Geene ( reports an interesting study by Utrecht Literature students ( database-of-novel-characters). This study shows that the woman as a novel character is usually a secondary character, rarely a narrator, is a lot less educated than her male counterpart, and that her profession is rarely mentioned and if it is, she is a student and schoolboy, a housewife or a prostitute. Lizette Geene compares the women in literature with those in the Bouquet series (pulp novels) of recent years. It strikes her that the women are now 'leading' in these novels, they are writers, journalists, teachers or architects. Their income is significantly lower than that of men. Geene concludes that the female characters in the Bouquet series are more female-friendly in several respects than in many literary works. Because characters in books model images of women, this means that many (younger) readers of literary works are presented with strange images of women and/or identify with twisted women or women in a subordinate relationship with men.

It is not yet clear what the motives of 'wrong women' are in the literature. GPT mentions resistance to oppression, trauma, jealousy or revenge. These motifs are used by authors to create a layered and complex character or to address moral dilemmas or social problems. The movie Revenge tells of a woman's deadly revenge against the three men who raped her.

To what extent the female subordinate role within a male-female relationship is important for a woman to go 'wrong', I have not been able to find as a motive. In 'real life', however, there are quite a few examples of women who have helped their husbands commit crimes or have also committed crimes with him themselves. For this blog I limit myself to murder, kidnapping, torture and sexual abuse. Women who helped their husbands with this include Michelle Martin, ex-wife of Dutroux, Myra Hindley, Charlene Williams, Rosemary West and Ghislaine Maxwell. Her husband's overwhelming influence would have killed Myra Hindly: “He was God. I couldn't say no to him. I followed him blindly.” It is possible that 'love' for their husbands also plays a role, as a result of which they, like abused women, are 'walked all over'. Or fear.Murakami gives a poignant motif in 1q84 to the old lady whose only daughter was so humiliated and abused by her husband that she eventually committed suicide. Out of revenge, but also to prevent more victims from falling, she has men killed who horribly oppress and abuse (their) women. The question whether this makes her a 'wrong woman' is for the reader to answer.


Action thriller directed and written by Coralie Fargeat, France 2017

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