When it comes to creating well-rounded, intriguing and thoroughly relatable women, Georgette Heyer truly set the standard in modern fiction. Her heroines are flawed and hardly infallible, and despite some occasional surface similarities, they all have very distinct personalities. What is very curious is that, despite their often rarefied social status and the strictures of the times in which they lived – and, indeed, where invented – they still manage to speak to us so clearly, and win our hearts so utterly.
Here, a somewhat subjective listing of the very best of these most laudable ladies. Agree? Disagree? Discuss in the comments!
10. Arabella Tallant, Arabella (1949)
Whatever else you might think of Arabella’s melodramatic claim of great wealth – which basically amounted to fraud – as her adventures commence, you have to admit, the girl has moxie. Moreover, she is a social crusader of no little passion, and for all her folly, is truly a good person who wants so much to do what is right that it sometimes leads her astray. Because she’s a helper!
9. Ancilla Trent, The Nonesuch (1962)
Learned, gracious and independent, the esteemed Miss Trent’s ability to deal equably with even the most outlandish behavior of her charge, the spoiled Tiffany, is little short of miraculous. Determined not to act above her station, Ancilla proves herself to be equal to any—and the fact that she works as a governess not because she has to but because she refuses to be a burden on her family marks her as a woman of great principle, not to mention one quite ahead of her time.
8. Doña Dominica de Rada y Sylva, Beauvallet (1929)
Fiery, patriotic and not easily impressed, Doña Dominica remains uncowed when her ship is boarded by pirates, enemies of her nation. True, she begins her tale in fairly cliché female captive fashion – slapping faces and pouting and using tears as a weapon – but when she is tested, she reveals unexpected depths of courage and dignity.
7. Hester Theale, Sprig Muslin (1956)
Deceptively meek, with a gentle wit and a good nature second to none, Hester Theale is the kind of woman who refuses to compromise on what is important to her. Nearing thirty and at the beck and call of a rather troublesome family, she nevertheless will not even contemplate a marriage of convenience, or even of mutual friendship, because that is simply not enough for her.
6. Sophia “Sophy” Stanton-Lacy, The Grand Sophy (1950)
Sophy is the wish-fulfilling role model for anyone who has ever felt the need to just fix everything. True, her manipulations are not to everyone’s taste, but the magnificent manner in which she marshals her forces and resolves matters most satisfactorily (for her, anyway) must, at the very least, be admired. Her unconventionality is also to be commended – after all, some of those rules of Society, especially the ones aimed at oppressing women, were just silly. And her charisma, at least, certainly cannot be denied.
5. Lady Margaret de Belremy, Simon the Coldheart (1925)
Leader of her own army, rightly resentful of the lord who has laid siege to her castle, and valiant defender of France, Lady Margaret is the only woman to work her way into the legendary Simon the Coldheart’s no-longer-so-cold heart. Grim and distant but with an edge that can cut like a knife, clever and cunning and not always honorable, she is a force to be reckoned with—but capable of great compassion and a surprising amount of humility, as well.
4. Sarah Thane, The Talisman Ring (1936)
Perpetually amused and taking even the most shocking events entirely in her stride, the redoubtable Sarah Thane is exactly the kind of person you would want to have by your side in a crisis – or at any time at all. With quick thinking, a calm manner and a twinkle in her eyes, she is not only a literal lifesaver, but a most excellent friend and companion with whom to while away a day, a week, or even a lifetime.
3. Venetia Lanyon, Venetia (1958)
Unselfish, unspoiled, unsullied and unprejudiced, Venetia refuses to allow anyone to dictate to her how she should live her life, or whom she should love. Intelligent, practical, witty and endearing, she is not only a forgiving soul on an almost cosmic scale, but she is also secretly ruthless when it comes to getting her own way.
2. Frederica Merriville, Frederica (1965)
With grace, charm and no little resolve, Frederica accomplishes even the most daunting of tasks with hardly ever a complaint. Whether it is caring for her siblings, each presenting her with a special challenge, or finagling their entrée into a social world that had previously been happy to ignore their existence, she wins most everyone to her side by just being herself: charming, frank, engaging and just a really fun person to know.
1. Prudence Tremaine, The Masqueraders (1928)
(Excerpt taken from Heyer Society – Essays on the Literary Genius of Georgette Heyer)
Here is a woman forced to disguise herself as a man, and carry herself as one too, in order to keep her brother safe from prosecution after a treasonous uprising. Here is a woman of wit, ingenuity and acumen, skillful with a sword and with a dice box, wholly at home in the company of men at a time when that was a feat considered nigh on impossible. The fact that Prue finds her true love while in disguise – with a man eventually perspicacious enough to see through the façade to the woman beneath – is a testament to her many talents.
So, who do you think are Heyer’s very best heroines? Let’s talk!
Rachel Hyland is Editor of Romantic Intentions Quarterly and Heyer Society, as well as the author of the Reading Heyer series, beginning with Reading Heyer: The Black Moth, released in April, 2018. Other non-fiction works include Classics Gone Wild (with Kate Nagy), The White Queen: Reviewed and Project Film Geek, among many more. She is a Heyer devotee to her very soul and ’pon rep, could not imagine life without all those brilliant, sparkling words. She lives in Melbourne, Australia. Also: lawks.