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Fabulous Feminist Historical Fiction

A recommended reading list by author of new book As Little As Nothing.

Book Cover As Little As Nothing

In my latest novel, As Little As Nothing, I’m exploring early instances of feminism through a woman who takes up flying and another who is a reproductive rights activist. Set in the year before the Second World War outside a village in England, an airplane crash changes the lives of the four characters as they each grapple with the oncoming war. In researching the novel, I became fascinated by female flyers and the history of reproductive rights and saw the opportunity to use flight both literally in highlighting this important early expression of feminism, and metaphorically for women who took flight from the burden of unwanted pregnancy.

Here I’ve listed some of my favourite Historical Fiction with strong feminist characters


Book Cover Afterimage

Afterimage, by Helen Humphreys

Set in England in 1865 this is the story of Isabelle, who is striving to be seen as an artist, forging her way with innovative photography in a world that is hostile to female artists. This world is best described by one of the characters, Robert Hill, a renowned painter who “does not take her seriously. He does not believe her to be an artist.” “Women do not have the proper soul to be artists,” he says. My own interest in photography made this an especially illuminating read as the process of Isabelle’s craft is detailed on the page. If a feminist can be said to be one who has to overcome the dissenting voices, in Isabelle we have a character whose artistic vision is her guide and sustenance, leaving those who deny her vision in her wake.


Book Cover We Two Alone

We Too, Alone, by Jack Wang

This collection of stories, most with an historical perspective, takes us from the world of 1930s Shanghai to Vancouver in the late 1920s, to Vienna during World War Two, and on to contemporary London, all with his mixture of deeply humane characters and beautifully crafted sentences. I consider Wang’s women characters to be feminist in the way that they are curious, engaged, and resilient. They exist in their world so that we fully see them, experience their vulnerabilities,  and all their precarities. This is a masterful collection.


Book Cvoer Dear Evelyn

Dear Evelyn, by Kathy Page

With taut writing, and a rich emotional undertone, we are taken into the world of Evelyn and her decades long marriage to Harry. The episodes of their marriage are sketched in detail so that we see the fine markings of their characters from their first meeting before the Second World War through the realities of marriage, and poignantly, the bitterness that lost opportunities can evoke. Evelyn, though entrenched in her role as wife, does not have the benefit of feminism as her guide, and herein lies the poignancy, as we see a person who strives, who has ambitions and disappointments, and who gets frustrated in reading Rebecca when the girl wouldn’t stand up for herself. Evelyn is a thinker, she is curious, she does not acquiesce. Yet her life has disappointments, frustrations, and despite her acerbic tendencies she is someone I was more than happy to spend time with.


Book Cover Undersong

Undersong, by Kathleen Winter

A highly original re-imagining of the life of Dorothy Wordsworth, considered to be the creative collaborator of her brother William Wordsworth, though she spent most of her life in the shadows of her famous brother. Her unconventional life is portrayed here through the eyes of others, including a hired hand, James Dixon, whose reverence for her helps shape the story, and the curious but effective use of an old tree, Sycamore, that provides insightful meditations on her character. Here we are taken into Dorothy’s world, who though frail in body, is strong in mind. The internal workings and close observations are what make the novel fascinating, a historical portrait of both woman and artist. An original and thought-provoking work.


Book Cover Daughters of the Deer

Daughters of the Deer, by Danielle Daniel

This novel, set in the 1600s, takes us into Algonquin territory introducing us to Mary, an Algonquin woman from the Weskarini Deer Clan who has lost her husband and children and is pressured to marry a French soldier in order to save her clan. The humane and intimate version of life during this period is further underscored in the story of her daughter, Jeanne, whose identity is split between her white father and Weskarini mother, Later, her identity is further fractured as it becomes clear that she is two-spirited, which is seen as a blessing in her mother’s culture, while she is condemned in her father’s. Here is the alternative history we don’t see in the dry pages of textbooks, a vivid tale of complex and courageous Indigenous women in a period rarely written about.


Book Cover As Little As Nothing

Learn about As Little as Nothing:

It is 1938 and rumours of a coming war are everywhere. On a quiet morning in September outside a small town in England, a plane crashes and four people are brought together in the aftermath. Miriam, a young woman devastated by multiple miscarriages, rises from her bed and hurries to the scene. There she meets Frank and together they pull the wounded pilot, Peter, from the wreckage. Miriam soon meets Frank’s aunt Audrey, the family rebel, who has refused to marry and travels the country as a reproductive-rights activist.

It is Frank who teaches Miriam to fly. As Miriam prepares to co-pilot with Frank in a prestigious air race from London to Manchester, she uses flight to escape from confronting her inability to bear children. Miriam is also drawn into Audrey’s activism, and the women dig in even as the looming war threatens to set back their cause.

Rich with historical detail, As Little As Nothing beautifully explores themes of resistance, the strength of new bonds, and the various ways we reinvent ourselves.



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