Villainesses incarnate female characters that oppose the good ones, the protagonists. This definition is basic and obvious, but I believe this is how things should start: by boring, straight facts of elementary nature. How can we expect to understand the deeper parts of everything else if we don’t grasp the most basic aspects?
I think villains are different from antagonists, because, while a villain is an antagonist, an antagonist is not always a villain. A character can challenge the hero of a story, discuss their views, and sabotage them, but it doesn’t directly make them a villain. A villain is the utmost antagonist, so to speak. The main one. The one who directly wants to ruin the hero, their plans, their lives, their ambitions. Villains conquest, dominate, rule and humiliate. Because there is symbolic violence in losing and seeing someone else get what you desire. The heart hurts, and that’s harder to heal.
Female villains are special in that matter. Misogyny becomes present and many authors take particular aspects of feminity and turn them into elements of hatred. Manipulations, vanity, greed, sexuality- the last one, especially. After all, most authors we know of are men. So, of course, they will highlight the aspect of feminity that interests them the most and, in that twist, it becomes demonised. What they want from women, is evil. Even if the ones who hold the interest are them.
Naturally, there is also internalised misogyny, when women take feminine aspects and pour hatred into them. Women who take notions and rules from patriarchy, and, in the battle to gain favours and not be eaten by the system, engage in competition with other women, blaming and accusing them of the very same things they engage in, too.
It’s hard to be a woman.
And it’s especially hard to be a villainous woman.
Because in this case, all the hatred that is projected into the villainesses comes from their own, fictional society, other characters, the readers and more. Hating women creates union and fraternity. There is nothing better than creating a common enemy to forge cohesion. People create an outcast and they define themselves as what that Other is not.
Right now, things are rather messed up for me.
Because I am a villainess.
To be more specific, I died and woke up as a villainess from historical fiction. I’m in the body of Berengaria Monegario, a Venetian noblewoman. My real name is Sasha Colombo and I study sociology… well, I used to. But then I got killed after some bitch pushed me under the subway and the train destroyed my body. It hurt like hell. But it’s hard to lose my old identity. It’s all I know of.
I’m inside the story of a novel but don’t remember the title. It’s stupid, but it was too long and I can’t recall it. However, the plot remains fresh in my head.
Lucia Calogerà is a gorgeous noblewoman of Greek origin, full of piety and virtue and a paragon of everything you can ask for in a medieval girl. Humble, kind and obedient to men. Of blue eyes and light hair, which, in ancient times, were particularly associated with goodness.
Berengaria Monegario, me, couldn’t be more different. I’m of raven hair and eyes, my skin is olive and my family is one of the most ancient ones here. Many nobles didn’t receive well the fact that my father married a recently converted woman.
Damn it. I’m talking as if I really belonged to the Monegario family.
You see, there are some issues here. And by understanding the first, you’ll get the others.
There is magic here.
In this Venice, there are real enchantments, curses and spells. And practitioners are (mostly) accepted.
And, it just happens, that I can practice magic, too. But I can’t control it properly.
And that’s what landed me in this mess.
I’m in jail. Or the noblewoman equivalent of it, a convent with magical nuns that practice divine magic. I’m still a woman of high rank, even if everybody wants me gone. Damn. This didn’t happen with the Catholicism of my world. Or Christianism in general? I don’t know, I’m from a Catholic country. It’s not like I can speak about Protestant branches on a first-person basis.
The thing is… we’d been seen as pagan witches- or saintesses, depending on the context. But I’m a magician here. Or an uneducated witch, as they like to call me. Though, I like how it sounds. Witches are untamed and wild. Magicians have something frigid about them, associated with knowledge, but still pompous. I like being a witch.
The issue is that I don’t know how to regulate the magic.
In most fictional works of this kind, the transmigrated soul wakes up with enough time to prevent the catastrophe and save their asses. I didn’t. I was at Lucia Calogerà’s wedding (with Berengaria’s ex-fiancée, by the way) and my power got wild. It was close to the climax of the novel.
In the awakening mess, I destroyed a bunch of pews, damaged parts of a historical church and wounded inviteés. And that is because I ‘‘woke up’’ at that moment. Not in the morning, like most reincarnated protagonists, but in the middle of a fucking wedding. My conscience, my spirit, whatever you want to call it- it appeared there. And it wasn’t my body. And I understood the language, that archaic Italian dialect, it came naturally from my mouth; I also heard the priest's Latin words and grasped the nuances and emotions and tones, what he wanted to convey and the situation.
I got anxious. And scared. And the disaster occurred as I remembered my death, the pain of a railway engine crashing into my bones, destroying my muscles, destroying my life. And the screams and horrified expressions of the people at the subway station.
Chaos ensued in the church until the assistants understood what was going on and apprehended me. The final conclusion was that I was dying of jealousy because Giovanni Partipazio, whom Lucia was marrying, had slipped away from my grasp. And they sent me away. The whole affair was no different from the love triangle between Jane Eyre, Mr Rochester and Blanche Ingram.
Well, there is a distinction. Unlike Blanche Ingram, my family has enough riches to give me a splendid dowry. But that won’t be of help here. According to some, I’m out of control, so I have to remain inside a convent.
Pretty bad, isn’t it?
And they don’t believe a thing when I say that I am not Berengaria Monegario. Some started to doubt it when they understood that I genuinely lacked control over my powers and noted a ‘‘change of personality’’. A couple said it was an excuse, others that it was genuine and something very strange was going on. Whatever it was, everybody agreed on a fact: I had to be restrained because of my lack of control over the magic. And they were- are right. I’m dangerous. I don’t like breaking things.
So, this is my current life. Only nuns (who aren’t allowed to speak) visit and bring me food. Had the disaster occurred at the Monegario’s palazzo, it would have been dealt with in a vastly different manner. But the scene was public. And I was apprehended before the head of the house could do much.
Well, I’m not proud to say I spent my first days here crying my heart out. And reliving the accident that killed me in my head. Having your body crushed under the subway is horrible. At least, the death was fast.
But I lost it all. My career, my friends, my family… no, I didn’t like them. But I had my cat. Bianca was the one I loved the most. I won’t see my baby again. I see all these reincarnated women immediately putting all their thoughts and energies into surviving and plotting and… how can you not miss your home? I had a life to mourn for. A career. Dreams. Ambitions. And something else, something I can’t remember. Every time I try to grasp his face, everything becomes blurry.
I hope I’m not getting crazy, that this is all but a fabrication of my head. Like when people discuss if the plots of Faun’s Labyrinth and The VVitch were in fact escapist fantasies- or the raves of a mad woman. Am I schizophrenic? The idea made me cry with desperation. Am I mad? This is a state of unreality I can’t fully explain or grasp. This is not happening. I’m dissociating. These people don’t exist. This country is not correct, it’s not accurate to the Venice of old.
And crying like an idiot was how I met him.
The angel was floating, his white wings flapping swiftly as he stared at me.
"I know that you are not the real Berengaria"
I was weeping, my face was twisted. My heart hurt and my head, too. It was desperation, my mind had already lost all hope.
"Hey. I’m talking"
Normally, a flying dude would have surprised the fuck outta me. But I was wallowing in sadness and unreality. This just was another turn in the spiral of madness I had fallen into.
Yet, I didn’t like his tone. There was something commandeering about it.
"And so?" I choked "No one believes me"
An idea rose up in my head. Perhaps, I was getting more deranged than before…
Was he another invention of my crazy mind?
I started crying more.
"But you are an illusion"
He looked at me like I was truly mad. But there was something spontaneous and genuine about his expression. It was real. He wasn’t expecting that answer.
It made me doubt. Delusions don’t react like that. Well, it’s not like I knew. I’ve always been sane, as far as I’m aware. But then I died and everything went downhill.
"What the hell?" He asked.
The angel was dumbfounded.
Something tickled in the back of my head. No way, I’m not clever enough to make such complex hallucinations. His reactions were too spontaneous and genuine to be an illusion.
And he had said something…
"Can you understand me?"
"I’m not the real Berengaria," I said "I know it. But no one believes me. And this is not my house nor…"
I started crying again. I was about to talk about my real house.
"Calm down!" He ordered.
It only made it worse. I hate it when men speak loudly to me.
He waited. The pain in my head was horrible. The more I cried, the worse it got. People say crying is good because you let all the bad out, but in this case, it only complicated things. My heart ached more so did my head.
He whispered something. His voice was soft. I didn’t fully understand it, but he got closer. There were movements at my side. The angel left and returned. I don’t know how much time happened, but it was strange. Soft, like a dream.
When the angel appeared again, he was carrying a bottle. He told me to drink it. I have never seen a bottle like that, it was made of brown ceramic. There were carvings and the shape was odd, but my eyes were full of tears to properly appreciate them.
It was cold and subtly sweet. But the coldness made my tongue, throat and head numb. It calmed me down. I returned the bottle, still in shock. I should have thanked him, but when I opened my mouth to speak, all that came out were hoarse sounds. And he was faster than I.
"Are you better know?"
I felt like a child. My eyes were very open. He spoke carefully.
"I know you are not the real Berengaria," he said again.
"And how can you be so sure?"
I don’t know where the question came from.
"Because the shape of your soul is different. Same for the colour and the vibrations. You are someone else"
"And who are you?"
I don’t know where that question came from, either.
"My name is Axaria, and I’m Lucia Calogerà’s guardian angel"
His eyes were very blue.
"And you, madonna," he said "seems like you almost turned mad from the isolation"
I almost fully went Lucy Snowe on everything.
And that was how I met Axaria, the heroine’s guardian angel.
*The Monegarios are treated as one of the founding families of Venice according to some mythical recountings, but historians don’t take them seriously. Well, this is a fantasy story, so there will be a few liberties here and there.
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