Misc.

Female Historical Figures I’d Love To Read More Fiction About

If there’s one thing I’ve learned that I love from steampunk novels, it’s historical figures represented in fiction. Whilst this happens across other genres too, I have noticed it a lot in steampunk. This got me thinking about who I’d like to see represented in fiction – and in particular, which ladies I’d like to see. Which amazing women from historical fiction would you love to see in fiction?

Ada Lovelace

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Ada Lovelace was the only legitimate child of the poet Byron, and was born in 1815. She was a mathematician and writer, and wrote the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. Therefore, she is often seen as the first computer programmer. Although she died quite young, at the age of 36, she is well remembered for her work in mathematics and science, and was very well regarded by her contemporaries. I would like a novel about a Victorian lady maths genius, yes please.

Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole was a Jamaican woman who nursed wounded officers and soldiers during the Crimean War. Despite being rejected by the War Office when she offered her help, she then worked independently and saved many lives, all the while facing racial prejudice. Unfortunately, she is often overshadowed by Florence Nightingale, who also served as a nurse during the Crimean War.

Katherine Ferrers

Katherine Ferrers

<pKatherine Ferrers was an English heiress, but also, according to popular legend, a female highwayman known by the name ‘The Wicked Lady’. It was said that she turned to highway robbery in order to top up her decreasing fortune. Supposedly, she died when a robbery went wrong, and she was shot. The mystery and intrigue behind her, plus the fact that she defied all expectations of women at the time makes her a perfect subject for fiction.

Gertrude Bell

gertrude bell

Gertrude Bell was, amongst other things, a female archaeologist who worked during the 19th and 20th centuries. She was also a highly influential spy, and basically sounds like an all round amazing lady, who was well-respected by many. I’m always on the lookout for books about archaeologists, but they tend to be thrillers based around male characters. A book about a 19th century female archaeologist sounds pretty awesome to me.

Which ladies of history would you like to read more about?

Thoughts

Thoughts #36: Do We Really Need ‘Strong Women’?

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As you probably know, I am a big reader of science fiction and fantasy. Typically, in the past, these genres were dominated by men, and even in the 21st century women are often under-represented, both as authors and characters. Therefore, as any self-respecting woman would do, I have always supported and been proud of works where female characters are shown to be ‘strong’. I cheered for Arya Stark as she made her own way in life through the A Song of Ice and Fire series, despite her young age. I love the fact that Harry and Ron would never have gotten far without Hermione. Vin’s development from a timid young girl to confident young woman in the Mistborn series was fantastic.

But then I thought to myself – why do we need to be told this, or in many cases tell ourselves, that these women are strong?

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That is not to say that I look down on any of the works mentioned for their portrayals of women – in fact I’ve named some of my favourites here. But why can we not just assume from the beginning that these female characters are strong, or that their strength is something every woman has, that just presents itself in different ways? Some are physically strong, like Brienne of Tarth, others are emotionally strong, like Katniss Everdeen. Just because we don’t see it all the time doesn’t mean it’s not there. Do we really need to label female characters as ‘strong’ for showing great physical, mental or emotional prowess, when if a male character were to do the same we would never say that? It almost feels like saying it’s a surprise for a female character to present herself that way.

But at the same time, people should be recognised for their attributes and actions. Some characters go through absolutely horrific events, so of course we want to refer to them as ‘strong’ to show that they are survivors, they are more than capable – it’s like an umbrella term to cover all the different ways in which they have dealt with things. After considering all this, I’m now really torn between the two viewpoints. On one hand, calling one woman over others ‘strong’ demeans the remainder and indicates that we don’t expect them to show strength, but on the other hand they should be recognised for what they have done.

What do you think – should we still refer to female characters as ‘strong’ or do you think the word is patronising?

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