Daughters of Time
The History Girls are a group of children’s historical novelists who, under Mary Hoffman’s careful editorship, have joined to write this anthology of 13 short stories featuring real historical women whom they believe deserve to be celebrated. The women range from Boudica, queen of the Iceni, fighting the might of the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD; to the Greenham Common women, setting up a Peace Camp outside the American nuclear missile base in the UK in 1981 and enduring all that the outraged authorities could throw at them.
The earlier stories, inevitably, mostly feature royal women. I particularly enjoyed Sue Purkiss’ take on Aethelflead, daughter of Alfred the Great, who married the king of Mercia in 886 and, after his death, became the formidable Lady of the Mercians in her own right. Aethelflead’s dangerous ride through her father’s war-torn territory to meet her future husband is both atmospheric and thrilling.
Marie-Louise Jensen’s heroine is the 17th-century playwright, Aphra Behn. I loved her account of the premiere of ‘The Rover’ with all the backstage dramas involving greasepaint, candles and flamboyant actors. My favourite is probably Penny Dolan’s account of Anna, a young Swedish girl, who meets Mary Wollstonecraft in 1795. I love the way Mary’s intelligent and questioning mind comes across as she gently suggests that Anna could allow herself to want the freedoms that men automatically have as a right. You can sense Anna’s inner landscape expanding.
Other women featured include Eleanor of Aquitaine by Adele Geras, Mary Seacole by Catherine Johnson, and Emily Davison by Celia Rees. Each story concludes with a page end saying why its author chose that particular woman, followed by a brief biography of the woman herself.
Girls of 11 plus will find much to interest them in these largely unsung role models. Highly recommended.