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Strong Women?

August 18, 2010

A commenter on my post at Edwardian Promenade asked for recommendations of Edwardian Era novels with strong female characters. I thought I’d repost my reply here, along with a request for recommendations from you guys. There are undoubtedly not enough strong female characters in early 20th century popular fiction, but with our combined knowledge, I’m sure we can put together a longer list than this.

I have a few recommendations, none of which are exactly in the right period. I hope they help anyway.
The first book featuring Emma McChesney was published in, I think, 1915. Mrs. McChesney is probably the strongest character I’ve come across in early 20th century fiction, period.

A Woman Named Smith, from 1919, is one of my favorite books, mostly because the heroine, Sophy, discovers over the course of the book that she’s a lot stronger and more capable than she thought.

Lady Peggy O’Malley is from 1915-ish, and her book is in part a WWI one. Her family is horrible, but she rises above them, and retains her spunk and pluckiness almost until the last page.

Lois Cayley is a self-proclaimed adventuress from…sometime between 1895 and 1900. She becomes a maid, a bicycle advertisement, a typist, and a reporter, and although the book bogs down towards the end, the earlier parts make up for it.

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4 comments

  1. Would “A Girl of the Limberlost” count in that area? I’ve only read it once some years back and the main girl character was very different from others in that time period due to her background, settings and method of self reliance. That book must have had some influence overseas since one of the schoolgirls in Brazil’s girl boarding school books speaks of wanting to be like her.

    Another possibility is “Elizabeth and her German Garden”. She seems to be quite stong willed but in between the lines it seems that her family life is a bother to her. Platonic or strained marriage? Taking almost no interest in her children, personal or due to the common practice of having a nursemaid for young children back then?


  2. Elizabeth sounds like a good one.

    I had actually dismissed A Girl of the Limberlost as a possibility, but maybe I shouldn’t have — it really depends on how you define “strong female characters”. My definitions tend to be on the narrow side, but Elnora is stronger than most, and if we count her, we can probably also count The Swamp Angel from Freckles


  3. Good old Lucy Maud Montgomery springs to mind. Also in the kids book arena: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Oh, and Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer. Although I suppose the setting is in the late 1890s so doesn’t quite fit the window.


    • I got the impression that the original commenter at Edwardian Promenade wasn’t looking for kids books, but I could be wrong. It’s interesting that it’s so much easier to find strong female characters in kids books–I’m looking over at my collection of children’s books, and even though boys’ books predominate, the are independent, resourceful girls all over the place.



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