The Historical Heroines We Need to See

By Sam F.

I’m a sucker for novelizations of historical figures’ lives, especially when those historical figures are women whom time has overlooked. Unfortunately, many of these novels—even my favorites—place their emphasis on the woman’s relation to a man. Just check out some of the titles. The Paris Wife. Loving Frank. America’s First Daughter. The Other Einstein. Before you even open the book, the protagonist is defined by a male relative—in these instances, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Lloyd Wright, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.

While I applaud the authors for giving attention to the women behind these men, I have to wonder: where are the novels about the women who aren’t defined by their marriages and fathers? While they do exist—Stephanie Thornton’s “Daughter of the Gods”, a novel about Hatshepsut, is a great example—they rarely make a splash.

So, authors. I came up with a few suggestions. The women below aren’t remembered much, but when they are, it’s not for their marriages.

CHARLOTTE CORDAY, 1793

death-of-marat

You may not know her name, but you’ve most likely seen the painting that memorializes her. Sort of. Except that Charlotte Corday isn’t even in the painting.

Nope, that would be Jean-Paul Marat, the man she murdered.

Marat was Jacobin leader largely responsible for the increased violence that became known as the Reign of Terror. Appalled by the bloodshed, Corday, 24, traveled to Paris, bought a knife, and went to his home, where he was soaking in a bathtub due to a nasty skin condition. She claimed to have a list of traitors, so he admitted her—and she stabbed him.

At the time, however, she was seen as a traitor and sentenced to death by guillotine. During her trial, she said, “I have killed one man to save a hundred thousand.”

So…where is this novel?

AQUALTUNE, c. 1605

Literally a warrior princess. LITERALLY.

An Angolan royal and soldier, Aqualtune was captured and sold into slavery. Shortly after arriving in Brazil, however, she escaped, fleeing to the mountains of Pernambuco. There she founded Palmares, a kingdom mainly comprised of runaway slaves that lasted for nearly a hundred years and grew to have a population of 30,000 people (which was HUGE for that time).

While there’s a lot of controversy over how much of Aqualtune is legend, I like to believe that all legends stem from facts.

So…where is this novel?

AUGUSTINA DE ARAGÓN, 1808

agustina-de-aragon

Look how badass she is. Just look.

Yeah. That’s Augustina de Aragón, 22 years old, firing a cannon at the invading French while the men run away.

Let’s back up a sec.

At sixteen, Augustina married for love (also probably most definitely a shotgun wedding), but later she left her husband to go live with her sister in Zaragoza, where she was bringing food to Spanish soldiers when Napoleon’s Grand Armée invaded. Well, the Spanish soldiers panicked.

Augustina was having none of that.

While they were running, she fired a cannon at point blank range. Ouch.

Her daring inspired the Spanish soldiers to return to their posts, and while the city eventually fell a few weeks later, she was still considered a hero.

Did she stop there? NO.

She was imprisoned, but she’s Augustina de Aragón, so of course she escaped and led bands of guerrillas in minor raids against the French. But wait, there’s more!

She became a captain in the army. A captain. In the army. She. 1808. Take a moment and recognize how neat that is.

So…where is this novel?

While these three are some of my personal favorites, the list could go on and on. As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of books that feature women apart from their relationships to men, but I wish they were more prominent.

If you have any recommendations, please share in the comments!

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