Friday, 30 December 2016

Favourite Fictional Heroines (Part 2)

Looking back over my 2016 blog posts, I realised it's been a while since I wrote my first Favourite Fictional Heroines post and thought it about time to finish off and post the second.

Mildred Hubble

One of my favourite series of books as a child was the Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy, specifically the first three. I read these books over and over throughout primary school. As an adult in my 20s I got rid of the books, believing I was a grown up now and that was that. In my 30s I had a yearning to re-read them so picked the first two up in a charity shop.

Mildred was accident prone and always seemed to get things wrong though the books ended with her getting something enormous right. She wore her hair in two plaits - a bit of empathy here as that was how my mum tied my hair when I was a child. Like Mildred, strands of hair escaped from the tidy plaits and I always had a faint 'dragged through a hedge backwards' look. Mildred also had my envy as she got a kitten as school issue and could practice magic and fly as broomstick, albeit poorly for the most part.

People in their teens and 20s these days were probably introduced to the idea of a school for magical folk by J.K.Rowling - for me, it was Jill Murphy who led the way. Before Neville Longbottom failed miserably with his broomstick, Mildred fared just as badly with hers. Mildred and Harry could have shared tales of woe about the tall, steely-eyed potions teacher who had it in for them.

Ayla

I first read Clan of the Cave Bear at the age of 12. It. Blew. My. Mind. I became obsessed with any books I could find set around early tribal cultures. And there weren't very many, I can tell you! At least not to a 12 year old with little money dependent on the library in pre-internet days for tracking similar things down. I can recall Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and Linda Lay Schuler but that's about it.

Anyway, Ayla is the heroine of Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children series. I devoured the first three books, waited with baited breath for Plains of Passage and then romped through it when I got it on loan through the library. Twelve years passed and the fifth book finally came out and I got nowhere near to finishing it. You know how some people compulsively have to read all the books in a series? I am not one such person. Maybe if I had loads of free time I would be but I'm not going to waste hours on a so-so book when there are others out there on my list. In my head, this series therefore finishes at book 4.

Ayla is a Cro-Magnon child who ends up separated from her people and adopted into a Neanderthal clan. She would have stood out from her new family without the blonde hair, ability to swim and other differing physical skills but her intelligence and the way she thinks about things also set her apart. Life is tough. She isn't physically as strong as the neanderthal people and there are many there who are suspicious of her and see her as a curse and a liability to the people. Her strength of character sees her through situations and experiences that would have broken others. She endures isolation, rape, exile, giving birth to a child on her own at a very young age, and ultimately is able to stand on her own two feet. Those who love her love her deeply and she returns that love fiercely. There is one particular death towards the end of the book which made me sob each and every time I re-read it.

I haven't read this book for well over a decade so I can't vouch for how it has stood the test of time. I recently picked up a copy in a charity shop and hope to return to it and see if the magic is still there for me.

Sophy

The Grand Sophy is the first Georgette Heyer book I read, a Christmas gift from a friend who felt I needed to know Sophy. And she was right. To date, she's my favourite Heyer heroine. She's spirited and charming, a young woman who has spent her formative years roaming Europe with her father and sorting his life out - and assumes the same proprietorial responsibilities when she finds herself lodging with her aunt's family. To the more repressed characters in the novel who are working to their own meticulous plans, she causes chaos; in Sophy's eyes, she sets things straight and makes sure life runs along its correct lines.

This book contains one of the most entertaining scenes I believe Heyer ever wrote - that of Sophy confronting the money lender who has ensnared her cousin. Sophy sets out, pistol in hand (or muff, if memory serves me correctly), to settle the matter. The dialogue between this confident young woman and the middle-aged crook is a delight to read. The latter tries threats and bullying  and Sophy laughs in his face, never doubting she is more than a match for him.

This is a Regency romance, but if you're expecting Sophy to be prone to a palpitating bosom and heartfelt sighs think again. It's easy enough to predict who she will end up with but her husband-to-be is clear that he finds her utterly infuriating and is by no means dewy-eyed about this exuberant female.

Fleur Talbot

I've read this book at least four times. Fleur Talbot begins the story as a would-be novelist who takes a job as a secretary for a man of dubious morals. As she writes feverishly on her fictional world, she finds people and events in the real world uncannily echoing the characters and plot lines she is creating.

The book is set around the late 1940s/early 1950s but if this gives you expectations of an unmarried virgin heroine conforming to the moral compass of the day then think again. Fleur is not on the look-out for romance. She has her affairs and is entangled in the life of the wife of one of the men she has slept with in the past.

Fleur's boss manipulates the members of his Autobiographical Association and those on its fringes. He tries to manipulate and control Fleur as well, going so far as to have her manuscript stolen. Fleur is no victim though and is able to match Quentin Oliver like for like in terms of deviousness though she lacks his talent for malign evil.

Quentin Oliver's mother Edwina is well worth mentioning from this book too, an ancient (and hideous to some of the characters) female who loses control of her bladder at will, shows her son no respect and takes a great liking to Fleur because she is no doormat around Quentin.

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