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The Belle Gone Bad

White Southern Women Writers and the Dark Seductress

Southern Literary Studies

201 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / None

  Paperback / 9780807128367 / July 2002

When Scarlett O’Hara fluttered her dark lashes, did she threaten only the gentleman in her parlor or the very culture that produced her? Examining the “bad belle” as a recurring character, The Belle Gone Badfinds that white southern women writers from the antebellum period to the present have used treacherous belles to subtly indict their culture from within. Combining the southern ideal of ladyhood with the sexual power of the dark seductress, the bad belle is the perfect figure with which to critique a culture that effectively enslaved both its white and black women.

Betina Entzminger traces the development of the bad belle from nineteenth-century domestic novelist E.D.E.N. Southworth to contemporary novelist Kaye Gibbons. Coy and alluring like the traditional southern belle, the bad belle is also manipulative and knowing. By making the patriarch vulnerable to women who outwardly conform to the limiting conventions of womanhood but inwardly break all the rules, these writers challenged a society that stereotyped black women as promiscuous and forced white women onto pedestals while committing heinous acts in their name.

The Belle Gone Bad shows that even writers who have been critically dismissed as too domestic or conservative to be innovative did challenge southern institutions and conceptions about race, class, and gender. What unites the dangerous belles created by several generations of women writing in the South, old and new, is their liberating potential. 

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.

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