I love a good heroine! I like them to be fearless and courageous, quirky and independent. And fictional or not, I want them to make sense of the world in which they live. So, in no particular order, here are my Top 10 Women in Historical novels.
- Violet Szarbo in Carve Her Name with Pride by R J Miney
I was about 12 when I first read Carve Her Name with Pride. I’d sneaked it out of a box of books destined for the rubbish and taken it to boarding school. I read it over and over again, under the blankets by torchlight until it was confiscated. (I did get it back eventually and I still have it on my bookshelf!) It started a life-long fascination with the British secret service during the Second World War, and more particularly, the brave, fearless women thrown into situations dominated by men.
- Nella in The Miniaturist by Jessica Burton
In my view Nella is the perfect seventeenth century heroine who struggles to discover her own identity. She doesn’t take the world by storm—her way is through the doll’s house she receives as a wedding present. Not only does she make sense of her own world, she uncovers layers of secrets about the close-knit puritan society around her.
- Grace Marks in Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Grace is such an enigma, on the outside so calm, rational and contained but she’s as complex as the quilts she fashions. Is she an innocent falsely accused, or a consummate storyteller? I still haven’t made up my mind. Not only that this book made a huge impact on my writing. In the afterword Atwood says she stayed with the historical facts, but there were gaps and various versions in the story of Grace Marks, and she’d taken the liberty of filling them. This opened a whole new thought pattern for me, in both my writing and research. My ‘holy grail’ became the search for one of those ‘gaps’ that make it possible to weave fact and fiction into a story.
- Mary Ann Bugg in Captain Thunderbolt and His Lady by Carol Baxter
(A bit of poetic licence here, the book is classified as non-fiction, I think…)
The story of Captain Thunderbolt is well-known but this book also tells the story of Mary Ann Bugg. Intelligent and beautiful, she dressed as a man, rode like a man and saved Thunderbolt’s life on more than one occasion. Proof that Australian women were a law unto themselves back in the nineteenth century.
- Elizabeth Gould in The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa
I initially bought this book because of the stunning cover, and then I read it. I hadn’t realised Elizabeth Gould was responsible for the majority of the beautifully detailed drawings that accompanied her husband’s work. He might have been the highly esteemed ornithologist and scientist, but it was Elizabeth who brought his work to life.
- Not one woman, but 225 in The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of an Eighteenth-Century Ship and Its Cargo of Female Convicts by Sian Reeves
This is the story of the female convicts, who set sail from England in 1789 aboard the Lady Juliana and arrived in Botany Bay a year later. The women, most of them petty criminals, were destined for New South Wales to provide its hordes of lonely men with sexual favours as well as progeny. It gives a fascinating insight not only into the lives of these women and the voyage, but also the reason why Australian women became such a force in the new colony.
- Eve Gardiner in The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
I loved Eve – tough as boots, hard drinking, foul mouthed, bitter and twisted (literally and metaphorically), but beneath it all is a woman who is searching to reconnect with humanity.
- Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind by Margret Mitchell
I had to include Scarlett! Such a self-centred, empty headed ninny who, when faced with adversity, takes on the world.
- Marie-Laure in All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I alternate between loving and loathing Marie-Laure. At some moments, she appears incredibly passive, at others inquisitive and intellectually adventurous, capable of feats of great daring. A mass of contradictions – but then aren’t we all?
And I am going to cheat with the last one. I haven’t read it yet, it’s right at the top of my list.
- Elizabeth Macquarie in Mrs. M by Luke Slattery.
About the Author
Tea Cooper lives in a stone cottage on one hundred acres of bushland, just outside the time-warp village of Wollombi, NSW Australia. When she isn’t writing, Tea can be found haunting the local museum or chatting to the locals, who provide her with a never-ending source of inspiration.