Never trust a dame, beware the broad - they'll turn on you when the chips are down, twist the knife when it's well and truly sunk in your back - least according to the pulps and I use the term, pulp in its broadest sense to include the cheap, slim paperbacks that filled the shops for years, published by the likes of Dell, Gold Medal, Ace and Lancer. In the true sense they were not pulps but they most certainly carried the pulp spirit.
A femme fatale tries to achieve her
hidden purpose by using feminine wiles such as beauty, charm, and sexual
allure. The phrase translated from the French means deadly woman.
looked playful and eager, but not quite sure of herself, like a new
kitten in a house where they don't care much about kittens." Raymond
In the pulps women always had a hidden agenda - at first they would appear weak and in need of protection but as the story unfolds they would inevitably show their true colours. The kitten would display her claws. The women of the pulp were built strictly for titillation - they were not the type of girls you'd feel comfortable bringing home to meet your mum, least not if you wanted to hang on to your inheritance.
"A really good detective never gets married. " Raymond Chandler
"She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket. " Raymond Chandler
"Friendships, like marriages, are dependent on avoiding the unforgivable. " John D. McDonald
in the pulps would often appear sweet and innocent but as the reader
learned more she would transform from damsel in distress to a
psychopath, always willing to use her nubile pink body (nubile pink
body, or variation of such, seems to be a description favoured by pulp
writers) to get what she wanted. To the pulp babe the body was as much a
weapon as the snub nosed revolver she kept hidden in her purse. Or, for that matter, the sticks of TNT disguised as a lipstick.
protagonists were rare in the pulps but that's not to say they didn't
exist - Cornell Woolrich wrote a story called Angel Face which was about
a women on the vengeance trail that was published in Dime Detective in
1935 with its title changed to Murder in Wax. The story is collected in The Big Book of Pulps edited
by Otto Penzler which has an entire section devoted to the pulp babes.
Here you will find stories by Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett and a
host of less remembered luminaries of the pulp years.
Later as the cheap mass market paperbacks started to replace the pulps there were scores upon scores of exploitative fiction
hitting the shelves. These books, pornography really, took the
exploitation of women to a degree the original pulps would never have
Lesbian thrillers were hugely popular and numbered in
their hundreds. And if women weren't engaged in lesbian acts it was only
because they were otherwise busy killing, lying, stealing, drugging,
drinking or swinging . Much of this was due to the fact that almost
exclusively it was men writing for the pulps and the cheap mass market
paperbacks. Of course there were some women writers but these were few
and far between.
During the Sixties and Seventies, the height
of the sexual revolution, it was the age of crude exploitative
fictions. Where in the past it had been mystery and murder, with a
subtle hint of sex, that had driven the industry it was now very much
sex pushed to the forefront bringing everything else with it. And whilst
the covers of these books displayed more nudity than the early pulps
and paperbacks the artwork was very much in the same style. Some of the writing though was positively pornographic.
moment I'd be drawing a dame with a gun in her hand and the next
project I'd do the same dame with her tits out.' Steve Bilkins, pulp
artist, told Pulp Collector in an interview in 1973.
This was a world away from the 1950's when the Hank Janson books were accused of obscenity.
these lesbian thrillers, written one handed with young male readers
very much in mind, were popular with a large gay female readership.
Foote, from the University of Illinois commented on the importance of
lesbian pulp novels to the lesbian identity prior to feminism.
have been understood as signs of a secret history of readers, and they
have been valued because they have been read. The more they are read,
the more they are valued, and the more they are read,
the closer the relationship between the very act of circulation and
reading and the construction of a lesbian community becomes...Characters
use the reading of novels as a way to understand that they are not
days we've moved on both in society and in our reading and women in
fiction are much more rounded, real people than they were in the days of
the pulps and mass market paperback nasties.
Indeed in the
modern world many of the truly great writers are women and the
exploitative paperbacks are merely relics of less enlightened times. The
pulps live on though and authors like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell
Hammett, Paul M. Cain and Mickey Spillane are immortal and the concept
of the femme fatale they helped shape is very much a part of the modern
psyche. The Hard Case Crime series continues the long tradition of the femme fatale though and she's just as tough as ever.