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Wicked Wednesday: Impressive Female Villains from the Past

Edith/Maddie here, with our third Wicked Wednesday celebrating the badass ladies who went before.

This week let’s dish on impressive lady villains from the past, real or fictional. Were they really bad, or acting as the Robin Hood of their day? A spy who is a villain to one side and a heroine to the other? Or did society condemn them for acting outside their expected role?

Julie: Another great question! I remember talking to an actor who was playing a truly evil character. I asked how he did it, and he said that he found the humanity in the character. If he couldn’t, then the character would be flat. All that to say, the best villains, IMHO, have a core of humanity that sparks a level of empathy in the reader. One of my favorite villains is Lady MacBeth. Depending on the director’s vision, she can be pure evil. Or she can be a woman thwarted by her time who tries to live through her husband. I’ve seen her played many different ways–and the best is when she’s complicated.

Edith/Maddie: I’m going with Madame Restell of New York City, whose actual name was Ann Trow Lohman. She was a late nineteenth-century radical who provided prenatal care and a safe place to give birth to unwed mothers, and she also offered contraception and safe (ish) abortion services to any woman. She was widely regarded as a villain for what she did and was excoriated in the press. I modeled Madame Restante in my Agatha-Award-winning Charity’s Burden, Quaker Midwife Mystery #4, on the real Madame.

Liz: I have to call out Hester Prynne, wearer of the scarlet A in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. She was so brave, standing up against the religious and “moral” high ground of Puritan life. One of my favorite books of all time.

Barb: I love The Scarlet Letter, too, Liz. I am going to have to go with Irene Adler, the only woman who bested Sherlock Holmes. She’s not necessarily a villain, but she thwarts him–and fascinates him. In many subsequent incarnations of the characters, she is Holmes’ love interest, or a true villain, or both.

Sherry: I find the trend to rehabilitate female villains as misunderstood in Wicked, Maleficent, and Cruella fascinating. Do we ever see them trying to do the same with men or is it just more accepted that men can be bad and women have to be good? I’m enjoying writing my character, Ann Williams, who has a somewhat ambiguous moral code that is outside societal norms. She sees justice a bit differently than other characters I’ve written and exploring that has been interesting.

Jessie: I adore the works of P.G. Wodehouse and absolutely love his creation, the overbearing Aunt Agatha. She is the catalyst for much of what goes on in the stories in which she appears and the Wodehousian world is far better for her interfering ways! One of the things I love about her is the fact that she is a villain for her nephew Bertie, but she is definitely the heroine of her own story.

Readers: Tell us your favorite female villain!

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