Inspiring Women in Literature by Rachel McMillan, author of The Mozart Code

Posted by Abigail Barcus on

As a voracious and life-long reader, I have met many wonderful fictional women who have become lifelong friends; from Lucy Snowe in one of my all-time favorites, Villette, by Charlotte Bronte to Irene Adler, the femme fatale who is known to Sherlock Holmes as “the woman” in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia. In my university studies, I was a Victorianist so, of course, Esther Summerson of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House was a favorite. As a frequent re-reader, I have the luxury of revisiting old friends and often responding to the things they teach me during different periods in my life. 
The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery was one of the most formative reads of my life. I grew up close to where it takes place in Muskoka, Ontario. As a minister’s daughter in a small town, I often encountered the sort of social fishbowl that leads Valancy Stirling to throw caution to the wind and propose marriage to the local rapscallion, Barney Snaith, believing she has but one year to live. Barney and Valancy’s friendship-turned-marriage of convenience is one of the reasons I so love the marriage of convenience trope, one I pursue in the pages of The Mozart Code. It is Valancy’s snarky wit and her willingness to embrace her own agency in a time and circumstance where women were often relegated to a domestic role that I continue to love. More still, Valancy is unafraid to love…even if the object of her affection, Barney, never reciprocates. That, to me, makes for a remarkably self-aware and beguiling heroine. 
In The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson, Ruth Berger enters a marriage of convenience with Professor Quin Somerville in order to escape Vienna before Hitler’s occupation or – Anschluss —as it was known to Austrians. Her curious nature and indomitable spirit make her one of my all-time favorite heroines. In fact, my readers will recognize the surname Somerville, as I gave it to my own professor hero, Brent Somerville, in The London Restoration
In The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, Marguerite St. Just is an actress who is caught in the crossfire of loyalty and betrayal. She is the true love of Percy Blakeney who, by day, is a foppish English aristocrat but who moonlights as one of literature’s first masked superheroes: The Scarlet Pimpernel. When Marguerite learns that her estranged husband is in grave danger from saving aristocrats from the guillotine, she assumes the role most often filled by a man - becoming the pursuer and rescuer. I love when the tables are turned on romance and adventure and the heroine becomes the protector!  
Finally, Diana Villiers is a long-time inspiration of mine. It is no coincidence that the heroine of The London Restoration is Diana and the heroine of The Mozart Code is Sophie Villiers.  In the 21 volume Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian (a sprawling historical series set during the Napoleonic Wars), Diana Villiers and Sophie Aubrey are two of the most formidable female characters in literature. Diana is always the smartest woman in the room and impresses her personality and passion on everything that allures her to hero ship’s surgeon, Stephen Maturin. Sometimes spy, sometimes intrepid traveler, and always endlessly fascinating, Diana is the counterbalance between exploration and war and often referred to as a “tigress.” She is truly as powerful as one of the enemy weapons. Like many women of her status and circumstance in the Regency period, she is always thinking ahead to how she can secure her own safety in an overwhelmingly male-dominated world. To protect her own interests, she guards her heart - much to the dismay of Stephen Maturin, who is every bit her intellectual equal and loves and pines for her constantly. If you read The Mozart Code, you will find phrases and notes of Stephen and Diana’s relationship. Easter eggs, as I call them. Notably, Stephen Maturin most often calls Diana by her surname “Villiers.” I had fun repurposing that in my own story. 
I am mostly inspired by heroines who assert agency and intelligence to combat adverse circumstances, and in The Mozart Code, my heroine Sophie Huntington-Villiers has both in spades. It is her slow pursuit and realization of loyalty and love that I hope captures the heart of readers. But perhaps what makes Sophie so inspiring to me is that she is as powerful in her moments of vulnerability, as she slowly turns the dial on her capacity to love, as she is when she throws herself into a complicated phrase of Mozart’s Piano Concert 17 or meets a woman in the dead of a dangerous Vienna night to pass on her earnings as Starling. When Sophie slowly begins to open to the possibility of love, she finds a strength she couldn’t have imagined possible. And that is the heart of The Mozart Code and often the essence of the heroines I return to time and again between the pages of favorite books. It is quite wonderful to realize that your vulnerability is your greatest strength.  

Click here to purchase Rachel McMillan's new release, The Mozart Code!

charlotte bronte Fiction fiction books inspiring women irene adler lucy snowe rachel mcmillan Romance romantic fiction sherlock holmes sir arthur conan doyle The Blue Castle The London Restoration The Morning Gift The Mozart Code The Scarlet Pimpernel women in literature women's history month

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