Bedelia is a sexy, sensitive, emotional fragile female who is good at playing the role of the submissive, doting, perfect housewife in need of protection by a strong man.
Husband beware. There is another side to this attractive damsel in distress.
As her mask slowly slips away, Bedelia is revealed not only as a pathological liar but as a woman who has learned to manipulate men’s expectations of women with deadly efficiency. Bedelia is a complex killer protagonist; instead of driving men to crime and destruction, Bedelia is a hard-boiled murderer herself… (Afterword in Bedelia, p. 204).
Although Bedelia’s bank account increased with each of her husband’s supposedly natural deaths, Caspary is more interested in commenting on the few ways that women at that time (the novel was set in 1913 although Caspary wrote it in 1943) had of getting ahead.
As a serial bride Bedelia seeks again and again the thrill of seduction, of being chosen, of exercising the power granted to females. (Afterword of Bedelia, p. 205)
To Bedelia each marriage was a pleasure cruise and she an amiable passenger, always amused and amusing, always happy to share the fun, uninhibited by fear that any relationship would grow too important, because she knew the cruise would soon be over, the relationship severed, and she would be free to embark on a new journey. (Bedelia, p. 183.)
Margaret Lockwood played Bedelia in the 1946 British B noir film which examined the female serial killer. The story is a study of the psychology of evil and how pre-conceived notions of female behaviour contribute to the destruction of Bedelia’s male victims.
Caspary’s crime novels often portray women who marry for financial security but with disastrous results. Caspary ended her autobiography by saying: Those who come after us may find it easier to assert independence, but will miss the grand adventure of having been born a woman in this country of change (1979, 281)
For more posts on Vera Caspary’s femme fatales see Laura and Jean McVeigh