Wednesday, April 11, 2012
J is for JEZEBEL
Sexy. Promiscuous. Proud. Defiant. Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 16 - 2 Kings 9, see also), who has entered our speech in the phrase, "painted Jezebel" and has a woman's magazine named after her, has passed from being the evil Phoenician Queen of an evil Israelite King, a biblical symbol of idolatry, to a cultural symbol of the desirable, tempestuous, powerful siren. She appeals to that part of men who are torn on that particular horn of the mother-virgin-whore trilemma. Hey, she inspired Robert E. Howard to bad poetry! There are, of course, plenty of women trading on the Jezebel image in our media culture. They're female Bryons: mad, bad, and dangerous to know. In other words, they have plenty to recommend them in the crafting of narrative if they are handled with a bit of sophistication to keep them interesting. I think of Diana Villiers in the Aubrey-Maturin novels: she certainly has some of Jezebel about her character, although O'Brian develops her beyond the Jezebel aspect to make her interesting. It's been a long time, but I wonder if I wouldn't also think of Colleen MacCullough's Servilia Caepionis. You wouldn't want to handle this in a heavy handed, predictable reversal, like a Western's harlot with a heart of gold, but flashing the obvious signal for the stock character and then filling her corset out with some unpredictable and complicated curves (okay, sorry for the possible visuals) could make for an enjoyable, textured subversion of the trope that would keep the reader guessing.