Guest Blogger Alyssa Maxwell

First things first–winners!!!  The winner of a copy of my book Lady Midnight is…HJ!!!!  Email me your info at amccabe7551 AT yahoo and I will get it sent out to you…

MurderBreakersToday I am buried in some revisions, but Alyssa Maxwell, the author of the fabulous new “Gilded Newport” mystery series, has graciously agreed to do a guest blog for us!  I read Murder at the Breakers and loved it.  Comment for a chance to win a signed copy, or an ARC of the next in the series Murder at Marble House

She Could Not/Would Not Do THAT!

How many times have you heard this in terms of historical heroines? That for a historical heroine to be believable, she must adhere to the social standards of her times and refrain from any activities that were not considered appropriate for a lady of her era.

To that I respectfully say, “Pish!”

The achievements of women throughout history have been pitifully under-reported and, as a result, sadly dismissed, and although we’re becoming more enlightened about the varied roles women actually did play through the centuries, notions of women not coming into their own until the latter half of the 20th century persist.

When I was crafting my sleuth for my Gilded Newport Mysteries, I knew what was considered a “typical Victorian woman” wouldn’t do. To be a strong and compelling enough character to keep readers interested in not one but multiple books, she needed to be smart, resourceful, forward-thinking, and unafraid to step out of the traditional roles of the times.

But would she be an anachronism? A look at the 1890s supported my theory that not all women existed in a gilded cage. The Suffragette Movement was gathering steam, as was the concept of what was being hailed then as the “New Woman.”

According to author Jean Matthews in The Rise of the New Woman: The Women’s Movement in America, 1875-1930,the “new woman” was “young, well educated, probably a college graduate, independent of spirit, highly competent, and physically strong and fearless.” She spanned economic classes, and could be single or married. Often, she took an active interest in political issues.

Another name for the New Woman was The Gibson Girl, coined for artist Charles Dana Gibson, who in his sketches revealed and then actually perpetuated the changing appearance of women in the 1890s. They shed their restraining corsets, petticoats and frills in favor of simple shirtwaist blouses and long skirts that allowed for activities such as tennis and bike riding. Gibson Girls were confident, capable, athletic, and even flirtatious and again, they hailed from all segments of society.

NellieFor the character of Emma Cross, I drew on the real life Gilded Age journalist, Nellie Bly. At a time when most female reporters were relegated to the society columns, Bly stubbornly proved her mettle by seeking out hard news. In 1887 she had herself committed to an insane asylum, an undercover assignment lasting 10 days, in order to investigate and bring attention to the appalling conditions suffered by mental patients. In 1888, Bly traveled alone around the world in under 73 days, beating the fictional record of Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg in AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS.

I wouldn’t, however, consider Nellie a true feminist—not when one of her lifelong ambitions was to marry a wealthy man, which she managed to do at the age of 31. Her wealthy guy was millionaire manufacturer Robert Seaman, who was 40 years her senior.

Like Nellie, I don’t see Emma Cross in feminist terms, either. She simply isn’t political enough. She doesn’t take up broad causes with activism, because she’s too busy taking care of loved ones and taking in women in need in Newport. Rather than being a feminist, Emma is an individual who recognizes her own potential, appreciates the resources that have given her a good measure of independence, and will not accept a pat on the head in lieu of professional opportunities she has worked hard to earn.

You can “see” Emma in action in Murder at The Breakers (available now), and in Murder at Marble House (releases in September), and judge for yourself—anachronistic, or one of the many women throughout history who stood out because they stood up for what they believed in.

AlyssaMaxwellYou can find out more about my Gilded Newport Mysteries at http://alyssamaxwell.com. I love to hear from readers, so while you’re there drop me a line!

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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27 Responses to Guest Blogger Alyssa Maxwell

  1. Alison says:

    Definitely the achievements of 19th C women are not just under-reported, but actively surpressed. As a film historian I was impressed by women who used cameras early on, such as mountain climbers who wanted to record their own exploits. There were also numerous women working in film exhibition And of course the first woman filmmaker, Alice Guy Blache, made her first film in 1896, the first of over a thousand films in a an over twenty year film career. I’ve also been fascinated by accounts of women duelling (with men!) in Fort Lee NJ in the 19-oughts. Which just shows that women were up to good, and up to no good at the same time.

    • Alison says:

      PS Today would be Alice Guy Blache’s 143rd Birthday.

      • Alison, that’s great information – thanks! The emerging technologies of the times is part of what makes this era so fascinating. And early film making is so exciting. Happy Birthday, Alice Guy Blache!

        • JMM says:

          Try “Dance” by Judith Ivory/Cuevas! Heroine is a film maker in the early 1900’s!

  2. Emma really does support a political cause in a way. She takes in wayward women, and that’s taking a stance against a society that devalues them. She’s saying these women shouldn’t be discarded and deserve respect. Women who have hard choices to make today can sympathize.

    • Well, you’re right. In supporting other women, Emma is quietly supporting women’s rights and positive changes in society. She doesn’t lead rallies, but she never backs down from what she believes is right.

  3. Your mysteries sound just wonderful, Alyssa!

    I stumbled across Nellie Bly back in May, and just had to buy “Around the World in Seventy-Two Days and Other Writings,” a selection of her writings published in the Penguin Classics series. Hers is such a fascinating story!

    • Thanks, Sandra! Nellie was definitely an inspiration, in her own time and ours. She wasn’t perfect by any means, but she did prove that not all women waited till marriage to start their lives.

      By the way, probably at the same time you were commenting here, I was commenting on your Shakespeare post. I still have to finish the second video, but I’m so happy I happened to scroll down. Shared the link with another Shakespeare lover.

  4. Eve says:

    I am currently working on an historical mystery novel set in the 1890s and I want my main sleuth to be a woman. I, too, have thought about trying to find an actual woman from the 1890s to base my character on. Historical fiction is not easy to write because you have to immerse yourself in another time period and gather all the information and knowledge that was going on during that time. It may not be easy, but it is fascinating to me! Alyssa, your books are now on my list of books to read. Thank you for sharing!!

    • Thank, Eve! I really do enjoy the research, and I’ve learned so much in writing this series. Rather than actually basing Emma on Nellie Bly, though, I used Bly as an example of someone who forged her own path in her chosen profession. They are two very different individuals, but kindred spirits in that area of their lives.

  5. Cheryl says:

    Added to my list of books to get.

  6. Murder at the Breakers was one of the best books I’ve read all year! I can’t wait until September for Murder at Marble House.

  7. It’s been one of my favorite reads this year, too! I love how you made Newport “come alive” as a real, living place, not just a museum…loved Emma, too :)

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks, Amanda! I was thrilled to discover your Elizabethan series. This is one of my favorite eras and you do it beautifully.

  8. JMM says:

    My feelings about heroines who don’t adhere to the mores of their time is that I’m so tired of heroines who break the rules without ANY consequences.

    I just can’t get into the feisty, breeches wearing heroine who is somehow adored and loved by one and all and accepted into the highest level of society, even as she preaches for causes that really violate the “rules” the people in power hold so dear.

    • JMM, I definitely understand what you’re saying. When Emma breaks rules, it’s with full awareness that she’s doing so and with the caution that should go along with it. She acknowledges how easily a woman’s reputation can be ruined. She doesn’t think it’s fair, but she doesn’t deny reality.

    • JMM, from what I read in recent years, it would appear that a lot more women managed to break out of the mold of their era’s ideal of femininity than we might think — and not all of them suffered terrible consequences for their actions and behavior. Take Nellie Bly: against all odds, she became a wildly popular journalist, and to celebrate her trip around the world (alone! and in just 72 days instead of 80 days!!), a board game was issued to celebrate her trip.

      Sixty years before Bly, Christian Johnston became the first paid female editor of a Victorian periodical. And at the time, there were also a number of female bankers – we normally just don’t hear about these women.

      • JMM says:

        Well, yes. But she wasn’t a duchess! :)

        • JMM says:

          What I mean, is that most historical novels seem to be set in the English aristocracy, with the heroine ending up married to a duke (you’d think dukes littered the ground in England) with the heroine ending up the most popular girl evah!

  9. I want to say thank you to Amanda and all of you ladies here at Risky Regencies. You have a beautiful site and I was honored to be among you for a day! A special hello to Diane and Janet, who might remember me as Lisa from the Golden Heart Class of ’03 (I think that was the year.). All the best to all of you!

  10. Stephanie Levine says:

    Murder at the Breakers is thoroughly engaging. I’m looking forward to reading Murder at Marble House.

  11. Kortney says:

    Alyssa’s books sound very interesting. It is hard to find great mystery books these days that are not gory so I can’t wait to try this series out.

  12. Kortney says:

    The book sound very interesting. It is hard to find great mystery books these days that are not gory so I can’t wait to try this series out.

  13. bn100 says:

    Interesting info

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