Philippa Gregory's Favorite Fictional Heroines

Posted by Cybil on August 1, 2019

Philippa Gregory is best known for reimagining the lives of famous royal women in bestselling novels, including The Other Boleyn Girl, The White Queen, and The Constant Princess, which have all been adapted for TV and film. In her new book, Tidelands, she returns to historical fiction based in a real time and place—1648 during the English Civil War—but with imaginary people.

"It was very liberating to get away from the royal family and royal palaces and into the daily life of aspiring people hoping to rise from poverty into the New England of political freedoms and opportunities," she says of the new book.

Here Gregory shares her favorite fictional women, all of whom exist within the pages of beloved classics.

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For all my adult life, I have been thinking about the lives of women in history: how they are portrayed and how few books take seriously the particular difficulties women face in expressing themselves, in growing and learning, and in being successful in what was—at the time history was first written—wholly a man’s world.

When I write about a woman in history—whether real or, as in my new novel, a fictional character—they are always women who are up against tremendous odds and some of them are overwhelmed.

My latest heroine, Alinor, is trying to lead a steady life in shifting circumstances. She is married but has no support from her husband. She lives in a place where land turns into sea, at a time when women were increasingly demonized. She is a midwife at a time when female healers were being pushed out of an increasingly male profession. She works with herbs, an expertise that was simultaneously dying out and coming under fire for its possible connection to witchcraft.

In everything she does, she has to walk a very narrow line. I think a lot of women recognize that feeling, even today.

Without real intention, I came to describe a marginal life on the coast—at the end of solid land. I think this is an intuitive truth: Any novel about a historical woman is going to be about a woman on the edge of events, perilously close to defeat but—wow—what defeats!

These, my favorite heroines, are women who fight to the end and who realize, and show us, that their cause is worth the struggle. They often betray themselves by loving too much or loving the wrong man, and this is part of the imaginary conflict between head and heart that women struggle with. I don’t think it is our struggle. I think women find themselves engaged in this struggle between thinking and feeling because the world—the man’s world—has decided to value logic over intuition, intention over desire, thoughts over feelings.

In this world, it is a struggle in itself to be emotionally intelligent—as Germaine Greer said, to be intelligently passionate and passionately intelligent.

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"There is a real choice of great women characters from one of the greatest women writers. First is the magnificent Dorothea, a scholarly girl who mistakes love of study for love of the scholar and marries the wrong man. But even the right man is not her equal. She’s a wonderfully nuanced picture of how difficult it is to be a highly intelligent woman with a great capacity for love. Eliot’s other women characters are similarly complex. The wonderfully dreadful Rosamond Vincy, who catches and ruins her man, and the endearing Harriet, who seems like a foolish, indulgent woman but rises to face hardship with real courage."

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"Jane Austen can’t write a stereotype heroine, but my favorite is probably Anne in Persuasion, who is an older woman with a disappointment behind her and a trying family but still manages to break free of convention and follow her desire. At the end you are practically shouting at her."

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"Hardy was very interested in the fictional possibilities and the real-life challenges of the 'new woman.' Bathsheba is a woman who owns her own land and tries to compete as a working farmer in a man’s world. She, too, falls in love with the wrong man, and the right man is hardly a match for her. She’s rather inspiringly willful and selfish, but she is a heroine underneath and Hardy shows us this."

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"Another heroine you love, despite her making the wrong decisions. Flaubert is brilliant on the socialization of young women—how an ill-educated woman raised to be mercenary cannot help but make the wrong choices."

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"One of my favorite heroines of all time. One of the great Russian novels—but don’t let that put you off. It tells of beautiful, sophisticated, and loving Anna who faces ruin because she wants more from life. Reading it is a hugely emotional experience."

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"Updike is always bittersweet and sometimes more bitter than sweet, but in this, his most famous book, he gets into the lives of prosperous entwined couples and the heartbreak they cause each other. He’s more sensitive to women’s ambitions and fears in this than in some of his other great novels."

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"If you haven’t read this, do try it. It’s got a slow start and it develops slowly, but James is always subtle and deeply understanding of women. This is perhaps his finest portrait of a lady."

Discover More Books from Philippa Gregory:
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Tidelands is available in U.S. stores on August 20. Be sure to add it to your Want to Read shelf.

Comments Showing 1-33 of 33 (33 new)

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message 1: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Heym I can’t wait to read!! Love Phillippa Gregory!!🤗

message 2: by Christine (new)

Christine She is one of my favorite authors

Silver Petticoat These are some awesome choices with a few of my own personal favorite heroines as well!

message 4: by Andrea (new)

Andrea Taylor I would love to read " Tidelands by Philippa Gregory" please send it.
Thank you

message 5: by Dot (new)

Dot Philippa Gregory is one of my favorite authors, and I'm excited to read her new novel Tidelands!

message 6: by Joss (new)

Joss I loved Tidelands Tidelands (The Fairmile Series) by Philippa Gregory and cannot wait until the next book is published

message 7: by C.c.ansardi (new)

C.c.ansardi Philippa Gregory is the best historical writer alive. I will miss her Tudor books, but I am looking forward to reading her new book, The Tidelands.

message 8: by susan maitland (new)

susan maitland Cannot wait to read this new book, whether fact or fiction Phillipa Gregory has an amazing way to show women at their best and worst.

message 9: by Kat (new)

Kat Ms. Gregory is a fave author of mine and I always look forward to reading her new releases !

message 10: by Otto (new)

Otto Schmalz As the Bombs Fell/Otto Schmalz -

message 11: by Kymm (new)

Kymm I won this on a Goodreads giveaway and just haven't gotten to it yet. Can't wait to read it. I'm in the middle of her Wideacre trilogy now and it's great!

message 12: by Nawal (new)

Nawal Laoufi I love read

message 13: by Janet (new)

Janet Perry Love her books! Can't wait to read this one!

message 14: by Dywane (new)

Dywane I Love Her Books?

message 15: by Becca (new)

Becca Friedland I’m sad that almost all the book choices are written by men!

message 16: by Parker (new)

Parker Despise Philippa Gregory. Her historic research stinks. To me, she's a hack writer.

message 17: by Rajendra (new)

Rajendra Prasad Good novel, having a theme, charming at least to me.Very good it is to come out if suffocating palaces of kingly comforts to the open to share with people real life. Though made by the same God, woman is and always had been an enigma to men.Theies is a life more moving and more deeply touching.

message 18: by Rajendra (new)

Rajendra Prasad If I manage having the novel, I'll certainly read it.

message 19: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne I have just read The White Princess and loved it.

message 20: by Smallrain (new)

Smallrain I like the cover Phillips Gregory has for her recent novel. I used to read historical fiction and am somewhat surprised that the my childhood is considered historical. On another note I hate most of the covers chosen by authors of *serious* fiction and I also fed up with billionaires. Where are ordinary people in romance?

message 21: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Moore I'm excited there is a new Phillipa Gregory book. I love historical fiction and she weaves a tremendous story!

message 22: by Albert (new)

Albert Agbedu Philip Gerogery is my author and I am looking out to read his lattest novel

message 23: by Cherry (new)

Cherry Rob just loved this new book and cant wait for the next book in this series

message 24: by Katherine (new)

Katherine 1. I can't believe she only has TWO female authors on this list

2. I'm flabbergasted that she hasn't chosen any book more recent than 1968 and that's the only one published in the last hundred years

message 25: by Katherine (new)

Katherine Albert wrote: "Philip Gerogery is my author and I am looking out to read his lattest novel"

Philippa Gregory is a woman

Are you sure you've got the right author?

message 26: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Giallonardo Tidelands was excellent. I NEED the next book in the series!!! PS Glad I’m a woman now not in 1648!!

message 27: by Jan (new)

Jan Hotubbee I love all of Phillipa Gregory's historical fiction books. Another writer of historical fiction women from this era is Jean Plaidy (Victoria Holt pseudonym).

message 28: by ClaraBelle (new)

ClaraBelle This looks so good! Love Phillipa Gregory’s work!

message 29: by Kymm (new)

Kymm I'm about finished with book 10 The Other Boleyn Girl and it's as fabulous as the other 9. I love Gregory and have read the Wideacre series and Tidelands plus the Plantagenet and Tudor series up to book 10. They are some of my favorite books and she's one of my favorite authors. I've learned so much reading these books and don't want the series to end. I was confused when I started this series with which one to start with since the writing was originally out of order, so I went to to get the actual order and took off from there with The Lady of the Rivers being #1. If you're a fan you must read this series!

message 30: by ClaraBelle (new)

ClaraBelle Kymm wrote: "I'm about finished with book 10 The Other Boleyn Girl and it's as fabulous as the other 9. I love Gregory and have read the Wideacre series and Tidelands plus the Plantagenet and Tudor series up to..."
I agree! My favorites are the Constant Princess and the other Boleyn girl

message 31: by Kymm (new)

Kymm Oh my gosh I finished The Other Boleyn Girl yesterday and it's one of my favorites so far. It was so good and wow what a life Mary led. I am just so amazed at what these women had to endure just to be a member of royalty. Too cut throat for me, I'll say that.

message 32: by ClaraBelle (new)

ClaraBelle Kymm wrote: "Oh my gosh I finished The Other Boleyn Girl yesterday and it's one of my favorites so far. It was so good and wow what a life Mary led. I am just so amazed at what these women had to endure just to..."

I agree. Their lives are fascinating but intriguing and scary.

message 33: by GraceAnne (new)

GraceAnne I love her books! I appreciate her portrayals of women as strong and truly capable.
She is also one of the only authors my dog loves
At story time!!!

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