Today we’re joined by Wicked Women co-editor Jan Edwards who’s here to tell us about her five (ish) favourite fictional wicked women…
Finding five wicked women that I truly admired was trickier than I first thought. First problem is to define wicked. The OED quotes 1/ vile or morally wrong or 2/ Playfully mischievous. It is a broad canvas but it does cut out most of the obvious choices when it comes to famous women of note. Sappho (c 570 BC) one of the first published female writers. Ada Lovelace (1815–1852) mathematician widely considered to have written the first computer programme. Lillian Bland (1878–1971) Journalist and aviator who in 1910 built her own plane. Murasaki Shikibu said to have written the first novel The Tale of Genji somewhere around 990. Boudicca, (1st Century AD) famed leader of the Britons. Anne Frank, Sojourney Truth, Cleopatra, Mary Wollstonecraft, Emmeline Pankhurst, Marie Stopes, Apra Behn – the list goes on. Most could hardly be termed wicked by either definition. Because of that I chose favourite fictional characters from the many that inhabit my bookshelves and DVD racks.
1/Willow Rosenthal: Willow is perhaps the most obvious wicked woman in regard to fantasy fiction. She is funny, quirky, geeky and eager to investigate, though she also has a very healthy regard for her own safety; something frequently missing with fictional fighters of evil. When Willow turned to the dark side she ticked both boxes in the wicked definitions. She sashays around Sunnydale safe in the knowledge that there was not a lot out there that could beat her in a showdown. She is truly mad, bad and very dangerous to know, yet her ‘evil’ side comes from wanting to be a part of Buffy’s supernatural team. Vamp Willow is another matter. ‘Bored now!’ is one of those wicked women catch phrases loaded with connotations that comes right up there with ‘come up and see me’. The Buffyverse is awash with strong female characters: Buffy, Faith, Drusilla, Anya, Cordelia and Dawn to name but a few, and they went on to spawn a million more wicked women in countless fantasy books and TV series’ but I shall let Willow represent them all. For my money Willow Rosenthal in her various guises will always be in the top ten wicked women.
2/ River Song: River is a very different proposition and one of my top Who girls of all time. A character who provokes strong emotions but then she is a very strong woman. River sails along the very edges of legality, frequently dipping onto the wicked side with great relish and style. She is both wicked in the sense of big bad and also wicked in her gamine personality. To attempt to analyse all of her quirks and contradictions would be an essay all of its own. She has many guises. Steampunk hero; Noir gumshoe; Femme fatale spy; criminal mistress-mind. River Song is a true wicked woman.
3/ The Bene Gesserit: Okay I am cheating by including an entire political/religious order but within the confines of Herbert’s Dune world the Bene Gesserit ruled. Defined as ‘an exclusive sisterhood whose members train their bodies and minds through years of physical and mental conditioning to obtain superhuman powers and abilities that can seem magical to outsiders.’ The sisters were (to lapse into Labyrinth-speak) the babes with the power. They use anything at their disposal to attain their goals; sex, blackmail, fear, magic, drugs; whatever it takes to bend people to their will. The whole of the Dune saga revolves around them. From House Atreides to House Harkonnen; the Fremen to the Space Guild, these woman play the long game as they shift pawns in every major house in that world. They are about as wicked as it comes.
4/ Emma Woodhouse: Jane Austen’s eponymous heroine was controversial character in her day. Her existence is limited to the village by her monstrously selfish father, yet still does her own thing; no mean feat for any woman negotiating the male dominated society of Georgian England. She is young, rich, intelligent and as mind bogglingly arrogant as her parent. Yet she IS trapped within that small pool, so she contents herself with playing with her neighbours as a child plays with dolls, sending ripples through every layer of society. As with Willow and River her rise to infamy is unintentional. She arranges the lives of people she views as her inferiors because, as she sees it, she is superior and thus has the right. Like Willow and more especially, River, she is just a girl who wants to have fun, and like them she truly believes she is doing it for her victims’ good; whether they want it or not.
5/ Rebecca de Winter: Feisty is an overused word these days but Rebecca de Winter was that if nothing else. She is portrayed through various other characters as a renowned beauty, perfect hostess and compulsive liar. She torments her husband Maxim with non-stop affairs, and when she discovers she is dying of cancer, goads him into killing her. The second Mrs de Winter calls her mentally unstable and sadistic and that could be a fair assessment. We learn about Rebecca through the memories of others, yet she is there throughout, lurking on every page. Daphne Du Maurier’s skill in bringing to life a gloriously wicked woman whom the reader never meets is superb. For me at least Rebecca de Winter as one of the greatest wicked women (in the ‘mad and bad’ sense) ever to stalk the shelves of fiction.
6/ Captain Nancy Blackett: Yes I am going to cheat again and add a sixth name, because this list really would not be complete without her. Ruth Blackett, aka Captain Nancy, appeared in nine of the twelve Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome. Like Emma Woodhouse, Nancy is a controversial figure of her time. Unlike most female characters of middle class roots she is a headstrong tomboy and lacks the usual (for the time) dominant male influences beyond the mischievous ‘Uncle (Captain Flint) Jim’. Captain Nancy defers to no one and drags the more traditional Walker into her make-believe world of pirates and explorers, supremely confident in her right to lead. Out of all my wicked women of fiction, Captain Nancy is my first and favourite. As a child I wanted to be her – as a writer I strive to create a character with such appeal.
So there they are. My (6) wicked women. Given the space I could list a top 100!
Thank you for joining us Jan!
Jan Edwards was born in Sussex and now lives in the Staffs Moorlands with 3 cats and husband Peter Coleborn. Jan is a writer of fiction, freelance editor, Master Practitioner in both Usui and Celtic Reiki and Meditational Healer and founder member of the Renegade Writers group. You can find her at her website https://janedwardsblog.wordpress.com or on twitter at: @jancoledwards.
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