Note: Another deadline, another re-run, folks. But this is one of my favorite posts after three years of blogging.
I sometimes read comments about unconventional, strong heroines as if they are the creations of today’s innovative writers, but Maggie Osborne was creating such characters before “kick-butt heroine” became a buzz word. She once said, “I like to take women out of their comfortable and safe milieu and place them in challenging situations that will allow them to discover themselves and grow.” She does exactly that.
Louise “Low Down” Downe, the heroine of Silver Lining, is strong, smart, independent, and proud that she can “give as good as she gets.” The circumstances of her life have led her to think, speak, and look like a man in order to survive. At one point, she says of herself, “I’m mean and selfish. I’m cantankerous, stubborn and willful. So don’t go hanging any halos on me.” Not exactly typical heroine material. But Osborne’s characterization is so skillful that Low Down evokes sympathy from the reader who cheers for her success as she overcomes physical obstacles, emotional risks, and deep insecurities on her way to an HEA with a hero who experiences his own learning curve.
Fox of Foxfire Bride is just as atypical a heroine. She too dresses like a man, earns a reputation as a guide for people traveling in the frontier, and proves that she can shoot, fight, swear, and drink any man under the table. The goal of her life is to kill the man who is the father of the hero. The reader watches her become aware of herself as a woman and finally to accept that the difficulties she has endured have made her the woman she is, a woman she likes “just fine.” I don’t think there’s another scene in romance fiction to equal the one where she and the hero shake hands before they first make love.
Jenny Jones of The Promise of Jenny Jones is a mule driver, a buffalo skinner, and, in self-defense, a killer. She is awaiting death by firing squad when a dying woman offers to take her place on the condition that Jenny take the woman’s daughter to safety in California. What follows is the transformation of Jenny and the daughter in a gritty, funny, touching journey that ends in a totally satisfying HEA.
The transformation of Lily Dale, the heroine of A Stranger’s Wife, is even more dramatic. Her story begins just as she is released in the Yuma State Prison for Women in New Mexico territory, where she has served five years for armed robbery and assault. This is no case of a wrongfully convicted innocent. Lily is guilty of the crime. It’s a measure of Osborne’s talent that the reader is able to suspend belief as she is turned into a lady, and not just any lady. She has been released into the custody of a powerful king-maker who is determined to turn her into a stand-in for the missing wife of the leading candidate for the first governor of the new state of Colorado.
Then there’s Rose Mary “Rosie” Mulvehey of The Wives of Bowie Stone, who just may be the most unusual heroine in all Romancelandia. Abused by her stepfather, she turns to alcohol. Because she gets drunk and shoots up the saloon, she goes to jail. It’s actually a good thing she does go to jail because spending the night in jail means she takes a bath when she gets out. Rosie is most inappropriately named. She’s dirty, smelly, and perpetually hungover. She dresses like a man and does the work of several. She acquires a husband through means as unorthodox as her heroine’s role. In the 1880s in Passion’s Crossing, Kansas, a man can be saved from hanging if a woman of the town marries him. Rosie needs help to save her farm, and she chooses Bowie Stone from among our men scheduled to be hanged. Bowie has another wife. That’s right: the hero is a bigamist. But that’s the hero—and a blog for another day.
Have you read Maggie Osborne? Who is the most unusual heroine that you have encountered in romance fiction?