‘Unsex Me Here’1: Mythical women and the threat of the femme fatale in the Victorian era, as seen in John Singer Sargent’s Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth (1889) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘Body’s Beauty’ (c.1866), Kathryn Waters
This article will consider depictions of two different mythical women in the Victorian period, namely the characters of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth and the Jewish folkloric figure of Lilith. It will consider different interpretations of such mythical women by comparing John Singer Sargent’s Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth (1889) with Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s sonnet ‘Body’s Beauty’ (c.1866-8). It will argue that Sargent creates a myth of womanhood in the character of Lady Macbeth via his portrait of Ellen Terry, largely inspired by her costume. It will compare this to the legend of Lilith as an alternative female myth; as that myth is expressed in Rossetti’s sonnet. The article will argue that these two artefacts depict differing interpretations of mythical women as versions of the femme fatale in the context of increased female self-expression and autonomy in the latter half of the nineteenth century.