Constance Lindon: Stud Whisperer

Character: Constance Lindon

Text: The Marquess’ Masquerade (Dastardly Lords #2) by Daphne du Bois

*SOME SPOILERS AHEAD*

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Self-portrait by Marie-Denise Villers.

Miss Constance Lindon, like all other well-bred young ladies, is eager for her first Season. But not to wear pretty clothes and prance around trying to rise in Society and find a husband before becoming an old maid. She is far more interested in having her artwork displayed at the Royal Academy at the next exhibition; her biggest dream and everything she yearns for. But her plan is scuppered when the Royal Academy decides that the dastardly lord of the novel, Athelcroft, is given her space in the gallery. Unfortunately she is little credited for her talent, being female as she is, and not of the temperament to be painting seductresses as Athelcroft does. Con is much too well-mannered and high-born to lower herself to such lusty displays in her artwork.

“Lord Athelcroft’s work will draw a much bigger crowd than the idyllic landscapes and baskets of kittens at which young lady artists so often excel” … Con had never painted a basket of kittens in her life, but she doubted very much that pointing that out would do her any good.

So annoyed she is it drives her to something verging on scandalous; she visits Athelcroft, a renowned rake, at his home, unaccompanied.

Now, Constance is known to her friends and family as a very quiet, straight as an arrow, risk-free kind of girl. She is. And she spends most of her time painting, not doing annoying things that society tells her she must (like shopping for bonnets, this is tiresome). She prefers the quiet, away from the bustle of business that doesn’t include invoking creativity – so the pure audacity to visit a man she has never met, with a reputation such as his, is uncompromisingly dangerous for her reputation. But she will get that space back. She is also much too strong-willed to allow someone – even the renowned Lord Athelcroft – to take away what could very well give her the future she is striving for. To be a professional artist. To own a gallery. Nothing else would complete her.

When she enters Athelcroft’s house, alone, she is introduced to a man who is renowned for his rakish behaviour, and senses something in his presence she hasn’t before, but nothing puts her off. She will have her spot in the RA exhibition no matter what. Not even his preposterous proposal that they fake a romance and engagement for the Season to get his mother off his back. Disinterested in anything but her artwork, least of all looking for a husband, the plan, though absurd, seems simple enough. As it goes, the cunning and devilry of his plan sparks a previously undisturbed desire to have a little fun. She is even talked into a joint venture with him:

 “If you mean I must sit for you, I know too well-“

“I do not. It would be a waste of your talent. I mean for you to paint with me. A collaboration to be unveiled in a month, when the exhibition formally opens. A single painting to out-do all the others. Light and Dark, Purity and Corruption, rendered in oils.”

Note there that little compliment he ushered into the conversation? Yep.

Sweet but kinda sexy, and properly flaunting the bling: Elena Aleksandrovna Naryshkina portrait by Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky (1799)

What is wonderful about the story of Constance is that she never loses touch of what she wants. She doesn’t give up painting and dash off into the sunset as a silent wife the very moment there is a sniff of wedding bells (nor would the hero of this story let her) – at every turn her life is enveloped in art, and everything that unfolds is because of the shared passion.

The relationship she develops with Athelcroft, suspicious for a good portion due to his reputation, is subsequently corrected by her own experiences with him and his family. They are both artists. They both share the intoxicating lifestyle of art, and constantly learn from each other, whether it be new styles of painting, or a wicked wit, past secrets or a deep sensuality. Constance doesn’t leap head first into a relationship with someone who gave her a compliment or something more shallow, then having to pull herself out of it, she is instead pulled in almost unknowingly with the natural tide. It is her appreciation and handling of this which sets her apart from more soppy heroines who lose sight of their senses the moment they plummet into love. Her drive and self-confidence gives her the means to not even allow failure to enter the equation in her career choice. She will be a painter, and she will have her spot at the gallery. But she still has room in her life and heart, that she didn’t realise was there, which enhances and expands her character and experience, but never defines who she is. Though, the strength of it causes her to be fearful it might:

“To love you would be to give up myself surely. And myself is all I know. I am afraid of that.”

However, she had good taste in men:

“Balderdash!” the Marquess exclaimed. “Give up yourself? Never. Not yourself and not your paints – unless you decide that you no longer care for them. where did you hear such a thing?”

With her richness of spirit, Con turns around the actions, and subsequent heart, of her opposite, through engaging him mentally, artistically and finally physically. I don’t want to ruin the story but there are some surprises to our young Con that I didn’t expect, and rejoiced in! That there is the full package of one fine lady. Constance is the level of Elizabeth Bennet in intellect and wit, and everything Lizzie had with spiritual freedom and muddy boots, Con had in her art and perseverance.

“I haven’t the least intention of being the sacrifice to anyone’s slaughter.”

That is not romantic verse. It is Homer’s Odyssey. Kitty Packe painted by Sir William Beechey circa 1818-1821.

I think what is important about romance stories is that it is not all about sex. I’m not a prude, a pro-virginity (or vice versa – I don’t care what you do with it) spokesperson, or one of those creepy people who thinks it’s OK to stick fingers into someone else’s vagina to ‘prove’ they’re not tainted with having tasted the sins of the flesh – which, by the way, not a sin, and not proof. No. What is important, though the story is a romance in genre, is it equalises all the important parts about journeying through the lost art of courtship, and learning about a partner, their passion and needs, before committing to one deeply.

“I do not much care about your son’s past reputation. No more than I care about romantic verse. He is contrary, certainly, and often quite difficult, but I find that I like him regardless of that. …I will tell you the same thing as I told my sister. Athelcroft is much more interesting than any common rake.”

Women had few choices in those days besides being a wife, and though, obviously, the pleasures of flesh were not uncommonly experienced for either sex (otherwise the word illegitimate would have had no bearing anywhere in history…) they did know how to forge partnerships. Constance is certainly one of those women whose foray into the arena of love was not intentional, and who was dragged through mistakes and misapprehensions in a whirlwind of chaos and adulation. The great thing is, it was thoroughly worth it, and she comes out the other side an even more deeply layered woman, and a particular favourite of mine.

‘And suddenly she did dare.’

 

Esther Lanark: Prophesy Girl

Character: Esther Lanark

Text: The Witch of Glenaster (The Lanark Chronicles #1) by Jonathan Mills

*SPOILERS AHEAD* 

lyra

Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series : another little girl who puts her strong will and intellect to good use.

After her village is razed to the ground by huge beasts called fire-drakes, Esther finds herself alone and stranded with her younger brother, Magnus, and nowhere to go. That is until she learns the fire-drakes are evil entities controlled by the Witch of Glenaster. Having previously made a pact to herself to destroy the witch when she was older and stronger, this catalyst causes her to instead embark upon the journey well before her intended time. And in her beautifully realised story, this is what makes her interesting and important.

“‘A couple of years and you’ll be wrestling the boys, I shouldn’t wonder…’

‘I can wrestle them now!’ I replied, and the men laughed again, though my father frowned, and I knew some joke had been made at my expense.”

She’s not taken particularly seriously by the people around her initially, but what I love about this character is that no matter the amount of people who tell her the intentions she bears cannot be done she does not bow to it. Nor does she expect anyone to follow her and bear the burden. Esther is fully prepared to take the journey alone, one of my absolute favourite traits in characters, and the key one in Esther whose own stubbornness raises the stakes in her journey, but also keeps you pumped up to the fact she might actually do it.

‘You did not bring us this way. We would have come anyway. If it is me the Witch wants, then I will continue my journey alone, and you will all be safer without me.”

lucy

In Narnia, as the youngest Pevensie sibling, Lucy is usually underestimated due to her age.

Esther’s story wouldn’t be complete if she didn’t have obstacles in her way. Apart from the witch’s servants, strange ghoulish men of the woods, the fire-drakes and fiery apparitions that manage to find her on the way, she has her younger brother, runny-nosed and heavily distraught, to take care of. Their relationship tumbles through sweetness, and bitterness, broken promises and rare delight. She can’t abandon him, they have no family, it’s up to her to be sure he is taken to safety. She manages to maintain a level head and doting perseverance through his mood swings which would have already gotten the better of me as a grown adult…

Then there is Thomas Taper – a mysterious traveller who offers to accompany the children on their mission to the Citadel. Where many characters could have been ruined by the adult coming to the rescue in a sticky situation, and allowed them to take the lead, Esther never loses her drive, ensuring him she will carry out her intentions when she has delivered her brother to safety. Her pure spirit and honest intentions claim Thomas’ respect and also his loyalty.

naughty

Enid Blyton’s Naughtiest Girl, Elizabeth Allen, was always headstrong, wilful and up for adventure.

But Esther’s obsession with the witch explodes when she discovers she might actually be the the key to defeating her, to the point she puts herself and her brother in danger, and pushes Thomas to fury. Every time she insists she must carry out her duty she stands corrected, but fate ties Esther’s future inexplicably with the witch, and her journey continues. Esther’s growth from carefree, ridiculed nobody in the middle of nowhere to strong, independent and respected freedom fighter, who never believes what she intends to do is impossible, is an inspiring journey worth following.

“There is fear where we are going, and horror. I know you would not flinch from it, for you are stronger in heart and mind than most grown men…”

Esther Lanark encompasses the most innocent kind of bravery. She knows right and wrong, but she is too young to fully comprehend the dangers and complexities of the path she chooses, and how it will affect everyone around her. She sees the bigger picture only, the singular problem in her life that has caused so much grief – removing it will fix everything. And this is why her journey is important; through the eyes of this twelve-year-old girl there is only one true determination, and it is little tarnished by the thoughts and will of the adults around her – instead it is her own will that changes their perspectives.

Sarah Harding: Dino Slayer

Character: Sarah Harding

Text: The Lost World, by Michael Crichton

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

lctrex

This is not Sarah Harding. It’s Lara Croft in a remarkably apt image. But if you’ve seen The Lost World you might understand why I choose not to associate this character with whoever that imposter was.

Sarah Harding spends most of the first half of The Lost World, well, not really in it much. Mostly because she’s off studying hyenas on the plains of Africa, you know, sciencey brain-work stuff. She exists in these first pages more as this legendary figure – the hero of thirteen-year-old Kelly, a smart but rather lonely girl – and also as sometime not-quite-but-possibly partner of Ian Malcolm, which is alluded to briefly but never acted upon. There is no romantic sub-plot, by the way, if you were worried.

‘Harding compact and muscular, looking young and energetic, in shorts and tee shirt, her short black hair pushed up on her forehead with sunglasses. Her field of study was African predators; lions and hyenas, and she was scheduled to return to Nairobi the next day.’

Harding works as an animal behaviourist in the field alone, and studies those carnivores working at night with her one guide. She’s famous for being tough and resilient – once trekking twenty miles of the Savannah after a car breakdown, and fending off lions by launching rocks at them. Because African Savannah 101: you don’t run from lions.

arya

Arya Stark is more Sarah Harding than the movie imposter, too.

When she’s invited to join the expedition to Isla Sorna, though unaware of exactly what they’re looking for, she’s intrigued enough to go because she can’t help herself. Her resilience is soon tested when she boards a boat to the island with lead mean guy Dodgson, and finds herself overboard, fighting for life in the waters off the coast of her destination. From that point on Sarah Harding’s ‘take no BS’ button is permanently pressed. Plus, that Dodgson guy, yeah, he’s gets his comeuppance for the boat thing.

‘…she saw that tyrannosaur has his legs in its jaws, and was pulling Dodgson out from under the car. Dodgson wrapped his hand round her boot, trying to drag her with him, trying to hold on. She put her other boot on his face and kicked hard. He let go.’

xena

Surely there was someone in the 90s who could have played a dark haired bad ass in that film. Anyone? You’d believe the raptor punch with this lady wouldn’t you? WOULDN’T YOU?

Harding is a woman who stands back and assesses the situation, ekes out the details until she has the answer she needs, then takes action. And when she takes action, it’s all action. While some other characters are huddled in the corner or already stewing in the belly of the beasts, she’s measuring and taking those risks to get what they need to survive and get the hell off that island. She rescuing Malcolm from a T-Rex attacked trailer falling of the edge of a cliff. She’s punching raptors in the face on a motorbike.

PUNCHING RAPTORS IN THE FACE. ON A MOTORBIKE.

But one the best achievements of her appearance in this book is the inspiration she provides Kelly. You should never meet your heroes. Except perhaps, if you hero is Sarah Harding. Kelly’s character is strengthened and enhanced by her brief acquaintance with her hero which ultimately inspires her to find her own inner strength, which was a good, strong message.

“All your life, other people will try to take your accomplishments away from you. Don’t you take it away from yourself.”

The book itself I wasn’t overly impressed with, but I don’t care what anyone says, nor how ridiculous the story and situation is, or even if it’s hard to imagine someone being that frickin’ cool: when you’ve got someone creating as much damn action as Sarah Harding, it’s hard not to jump along for the ride.

And OK. Maybe the raptor thing is on a par with inspiring young women.

Brienne the Beauty

Character: Brienne of Tarth

Text: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

Image source: Watchers on the Wall

Brienne of Tarth

In keeping with the theme of female warriors, let me introduce (or perhaps reintroduce) Brienne of Tarth. Brienne’s character is relatively well known due to the phenomenal success of the HBO series Game of Thrones based upon the best selling series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. Her transformation from text to screen has been relatively well received and is for the most part, fairly true to the novels. But, as is the case with any adaption, there has been a lot to Brienne’s backstory that has been missed which is a shame because she is one of the series most fascinating characters.

Brienne is an unusual character, she doesn’t conform the stereotypical image of the fantasy heroine, nor does she represent the typical fantasy knight. Yet Brienne is both, a heroine and a knight. Brienne is unlike the other women in the series, she is not conventionally beautiful like Daenerys, Sansa or Cersei, nor is she content to adhere to traditional gender roles. From an early age, all Brienne has wanted to do was become a knight. She is tall, strong and an exceptional fighter. She is also brave and honest, all traits which would make her an ideal knight. However, due to her gender Brienne is not permitted to join the knighthood, a fact that causes her much distress.

Brienneoftarth

[Image source: HBO]

Brienne is first introduced in the second novel of the series, A Clash of Kings. Catelyn Stark has just arrived at Renly’s camp and there is a tourney of sorts occurring. Catelyn watches as a large knight, armoured in blue beats the King’s favourite:

“His steel was a deep cobalt, even the blunt Morningstar he wielded with such deadly effect, his mount barded in the quartered sun-and-moon heraldry of House Tarth” (A Clash of Kings).

Through the eyes of Catelyn Stark, Brienne’s character is mistaken as a man. It is not until she asks why the crowd appears to dislike him so much that he is actually revealed to be a she.

“Because he is no man, my lady. That’s Brienne of Tarth, daughter of Lord Selwyn the Evenstar” (A Clash of Kings)

Catelyn’s horror upon realising that Brienne is in fact a woman is slightly hilarious, given that she herself has been around other female warriors (such as the Mormont women) and the concept is not entirely foreign to her. Instead what in actuality is shocking to Catelyn is how little Brienne resembles a woman, at least in the most conventional sense. When Brienne removes her helmet, Catelyn is immediately filled with pity:

“Beauty they called her…mocking. The hair beneath the visor was a squirrel’s nest of dirty straw, and her face…Brienne’s eyes were large and very blue, a young girl’s eyes, trusting and guileless, but the rest of her features were broad and coarse, her teeth prominent and crooked, her mouth too wide, her lips so plump they seem swollen. A thousand freckles speckled her cheeks and brow, and her nose had been broken more than once. Pity filled Catelyn’s heart. Is there any creature on earth as unfortunate as an ugly woman?

Can we just take a minute to reflect on that last sentence? IS there any creature on earth as unfortunate as an ugly woman?! This is such a problematic statement for so many reasons, but really goes towards expressing the unreasonable expectations we place on appearance. Martin went to painstaking detail to describe Brienne’s appearance, more so than he did many other characters. Just to push the point that Brienne is not like other women. I think it’s important to note that in this passage it is not the author saying, “Hey this woman is ugly”, its through another character (and a female one at that) who recognises those particular characteristics as “ugly”.

Brienne’s appearance is something I find both refreshing and fascinating. I have been tired of reading novel after novel that describes conventionally beautiful women with “perfect” symmetrical features, long luscious hair, sparkling eyes, unbelievable proportioned bodies…you get the idea. What difference does their appearance make on their character? On their ability? Brienne is a tough, crazy strong, bad ass fighter and a sensitive and thoughtful woman. What does it matter if she has straw like hair and a broken nose?

As the novels go on, more of her character is revealed and I really have to commend G.R.R.M on his characterisation for Brienne. We learn her unhappiness and unease in her own body, the taunts she received as a young girl (and continues to do so) but also the strength of her own resolve. Whilst she can never be a knight, she is arguably the one true knight in Westeros, honourable, determined and dedicated to doing the right thing.

I also particularly enjoy her relationship with Jaime. Like her, it is unconventional. It is not a typical love story, nor is there any indication that it will ever eventuate in one, but it is interesting none the less. The two go from extreme dislike to a—begrudging—mutual respect. The television series definitely plays it up more than was evident in the novels, but you do begin to see how Jaime’s opinion of her starts to creep into his own way of thinking. What I wouldn’t give to have the series finish with Brienne carrying Jaime in her arms, walking off into the sunset!

Game-of-Thrones-Jaime-Brienne-2_612x380_0

Brienne and Jaime Lannister

There is so much more to say about Brienne: her character subverts conventional gender expectations and what it means to be a “woman”, she challenges what a “true hero” is, but ultimately she is an incredibly strong, brave, kind, “ordinary” woman. She doesn’t have special powers, magic, or dragons. She is who she is, because she worked hard at it. And I think that is worth applauding.

 

Silence: Warrior Maiden of Honour

Character: Silence

Text: Le Roman de Silence, by Heldris of Cornwall – a 13th century poem in Old French.

This version is a translation by Sarah Roche-Mahdi.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

“I swear that never again will a woman inherit in the kingdom of England.”

silenceLe Roman de Silence is bloomin’ amazing story for its age, and Silence more so as its lead. Warrior maidens have been sprinkled in fiction throughout history, and thankfully to a greater extent nowadays, but this tale in particular captured my attention because despite a true era where masculinity was, and forgive the expression, king, a positive story about a female who defies all the restrictions of her sex and enforces the notion that anyone can embody the ideal morality if they act with courage, honour, valour and humility, and also be revered for it (you heard it). This from the Middle Ages. The 13th century. Seven to eight-hundred years ago. I know, right?!

And so, first, Nature creates the most perfect female ever to have existed. So perfect in fact, Nature is quite aware that everyone will be jealous of the fact and does it anyway. She’s proud of herself because Nature knows she not only rocks but owns you from birth. Then, upon birth into a kingdom where women are barred from inheriting, Silence’s parents, of course, have her raised as a boy, properly exciting Nurture. Nature wants to backslap someone.

Once discovering she’s a girl, and though our hero has a little inner turmoil, Nurture practically high-fives Reason when Silence decides she doesn’t care and heads off on adventure. She goes on to become the finest jouster, fighter and hunter in the land, become a master of minstrelsy, knighted by the king of France, the winner of a great battle for the king of England and beloved by practically the entire world. She’s inadvertently exposed in the end by Merlin (yes that Merlin) by carrying out a deed only a woman should be able to do (but she doesn’t know that): bring the magician into court from his hiding place in the woods. By that point Silence is so far gone caring who knows the ‘deception’ she tells the king to bring it on and do what he must. But in a nice way, she’s polite, you know. So he marries her.

‘There never was a woman less reluctant to engage in armed combat.’

joa-4.jpg

Joan of Arc by Jean-Jaques Scherrer – true-life warrior maiden and sometime heroine of France…until they, you know, betrayed and executed her…awkward.

What I love about Silence is that she proves herself not only equipped with marshal skills but charm and eloquence, primarily using words instead of the blade (unless absolutely necessary) to encourage change, even managing to stop her own murder in the process. Her status in hiding gives her the possibility of learning skills she definitely would not have but for the disguise. She’s also not trying to be male, everyone just decides she is purely because of her outfit – she’s just herself and the lifestyle suited her fine. It’s also interesting to see the dangers a male life of freedom brings to Silence, just as a female one would have brought a kind of imprisonment. People become jealous and possessive of his beauty and skills, even murderous, towards him, and feel they own him in some way because they are in awe or in love with him. It seems the perfection Nature put into creating the most superficially beautiful woman in the world was actually ‘reassigned’ into physical and mental skill once Silence had been denied the female sheen, and also brought on a different kind of envy. One of the most exciting questions in this tale is whether the narrator sees men and women sharing identical potential which itself is silenced depending on how they are assigned at birth. Seriously, I half believe this was written last year. It wasn’t, it was found with some forgotten letters from Henry VIII around the 19-noughties.

‘A woman’s role is to keep silent…’

And, so yes, the ending. The bit where she marries the king. Let’s do that because on first read it’s a bit…disappointing.

After all her feats of strength and honour Silence is returned to her ‘natural’ state – that of a woman. Nature wipes away all the blemishes of being male on the external and puts her in a dress and she hooks up with His Grace. But I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing – I don’t think it was written as her shunning all she was. Stay with me. And pretend you’re from the Middle Ages.

agnes

Agnes de Hotot, one-time jousting legend (as far as we know) – a genuine crest of the Dudleys of Northants. Seriously, go look this lady up.

Silence as a youth is afraid that being exposed as female will lose her the heights that she has gained as a boy, but as an adult, and when exalted to being the king’s chosen wife (thus queen) she has actually achieved the very highest status for a woman, and on the merits she has gained in masquerading as a man. But exaltation to queenship and being respected and honoured by the king (the supreme master of everything if you ignore God back then) would be the ultimate honour, especially for a woman, and unbelievably so for a woman who had disguised herself and been exposed. Silence would never have achieved this state if she was not given some autonomy in disguise, and so it is not necessarily being a woman that causes incapability, it’s just being seen as a woman where everyone’s prejudice lies, because women are automatically presumed as such. So Silence is not giving up who she is, she is just embracing all she is, as is everyone else by that point. Wearing a dress is not a euphemism for weak, it’s just a piece of clothing. Ironically, the king is actually pretty fecking weak, but nobody questions him because he is the king and a man and so beyond it. Maybe he can learn a bit from his new wife about…well, everything.

Silence was great on first read, and even though I thought, dammit, she’s totally sold out at the end, luckily human beings as we are gifted with perspective on further visits. Let’s not forget there are many, many ways to interpret words, from eras long gone and our own (and you should definitely go and and read more of Silence from other perspectives), and it’s not the way I would end this story. But like I said, eight-hundred years ago. We are blessed to be able to pull out the parts that inspire us most and sweep the other stuff under the carpet if it’s not to our taste, ’cause it’s fiction! Regardless, she continues to be one of my favourite and most inspiring fictional incarnations of a female knight, a warrior maiden, and a damn badass lady. Plus, you know, there’s dragons in it.

Welcome to FemmesFantastic!

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

  • Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life

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