Who doesn’t love a kick-ass heroine? Today, author Hope Tarr joins us to relate some tales of real-life kick-ass historical heroines, some of whom could have served as models for Hope’s heroines. Hope’s delicious book Tempting is now available at a low price for your e-reader. Thanks for joining us, Hope!
Authors writing historical romance today are frequently called to task for sacrificing historical accuracy to modern sensibilities, authenticity to character-building and plot. There’s even a term for it, coined by Jane Litte of Dear Author: the “mistorical”—shorthand for mistaken historical. Starting in 2011, the popular review site uses “mistorical” as a tag to designate “all manner of historically inauthentic and inaccurate books on the blog—a catchall term that can be used for books of any time period or any type of mistaken, misused, mythologized, missing, or otherwise inaccurately portrayed historicism.”
I like the “mistorical” designation. I like it a lot. It also brings up a question. Are historical romance authors who write strong, dare I say ballsy, heroines fudging facts—and writing mistoricals—in the service of pandering to the popular taste?
For sure, our fictional historical heroines often fire pistols and masquerade as men and generally do a great many things that would have been verboten for our sampler-stitching foremothers—or would they?
Of course there have always been strong women, from landed ladies to humble peasant stock to every social stratum in between. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Joan of Arc, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth are just a few of the many prominent female leaders of history and to a woman they had spines of steel. With the exception of the ambitious Eleanor, they also list toward the saintly. Yet in the midst of our singing their well-deserved praises, the subtext implication rings loud and clear: these women were not only exceptions to their respective eras but anomalies, genetically gifted freaks of nature.
Strong women are not necessarily blessed with beauty, brains, and/or super-sized moral compasses. They are not necessarily on the right side of the law.
In my first book, A Rogue’s Pleasure, a Regency-set romance reissued with Carina Press, the genteelly impoverished heroine receives a ransom letter on behalf of her kidnapped brother and, after exhausting all other avenues of acquiring the funds, assumes the persona of a notorious highwayman, One-Eyed Jack, and takes to robbing private coaches on the country roads. She and the hero meet at pistol point—hers. Pretty farfetched—or is it?
The historical record holds accounts of several real-life Robin—or rather Robyn—Hoods. Two prominent lady rogues of the road from the 17th century are Mary Frith and Lady Caroline Ferrers. The daughter of a London shoemaker, Frith became infamous at an early age for drinking in taverns, carrying a sword, smoking a clay pipe—and dressing in men’s clothes. Her modus operandi was to use an accomplice to distract would-be victims long enough for her to slice through their purse strings, earning her the sobriquet “Moll Cutpurse.” It wasn’t until the age of sixty that she extended her criminal concerns from purse snatching and fencing stolen articles to highway robbery. An ardent Royalist in England’s Civil War, she took particular pleasure and pride in relieving Roundheads of their purses. Despite multiple arrests and brandings for thievery, Mary AKA Moll lived into her seventies and died of natural causes.
Less lucky was Lady Caroline Ferrers. Unlike Frith, Ferrers was a lady born. Married to Lord Ferrers at the age of sixteen, she spent the next six years leading a double life: by day the lady of the manor, by night a highwaywoman haunting the northern road to London. A secret passageway from her bedchamber to the grounds served as the portal between the two spheres. Her reasons for carrying out her nefarious nighttime activities are unclear. History portrays her as a bored rich girl, the 17th century equivalent of a thrill junkie, but I like to leave room for imagining a noble cause to which she might have given her ill-gotten gains. What we do know is that her felonious escapades ended one night in 1684 when she was shot during a coach hold-up and managed to make her way home where she bled to death. She was twenty-two.
Are strong heroines in historical romance really such a stretch? Does letting an historical romance heroine too far out of the box amount to bad history and/or wonky world building?
To enter for a chance to win a TEMPTING tote bag full of goodies from Hope Tarr (including a Tempting audiobook and signed copies of her other titles!), make sure you’re a registered member of the site, and then simply leave a comment about the post below. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 or older. To enter, fill out entry at http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/blogs/2012/05/author-hope-tarr-on-real-life-historical-heroines-who-busted-balls-and-broke-outta-the-box beginning at 10:45 a.m. Eastern Time (ET) May 9, 2012. Sweepstakes ends at 4:00 p.m. ET on May 18, 2012 (the “Promotion Period”). Void outside of the 50 US and DC and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules at http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/page/official-rules-hope-tarrs-tempting-tote-bag-comment-sweepstakes. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
Hope Tarr is the author of fifteen historical and contemporary romance novels including Tempting, now available as an e-book for 99 cents and as an audio book from Dark Desires. She is also a co-founder and current principal of Lady Jane’s Salon (www.LadyJaneSalonNYC.com), New York City’s first—and only—monthly romance fiction reading series, now in its fourth year with three satellite salons nationwide. Visit Hope online at www.HopeTarr.com and find her on Twitter (@HopeTarr) and Facebook.