The League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen

Photo of Ursula Andress in costume as Ayesha

Ursula Andress as Ayesha in the 1965 Hammer Film.

An interesting challenge this morning on the Facebook Wall of author Adam-Troy Castro: what if you had to create a League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen?

It’s a straight-up proposition. Create an action-adventure Dream Team using the female characters of Victorian adventure/YA fiction, in much the same way that Alan Moore teamed up Alan Quartermain, The Invisible Man, Jeckyll/Hyde, Captain Nemo, and Mina Harker in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Sticking to the Victorian adventure fiction challenge, I found it interesting to note that not all of the “heroes” of Moore’s The League were actually heroes in their stories of origin. Jeckyll/Hyde was an anti-hero at best, as was Griffin in the Invisible Man–these were both unfortunate souls who became the victims of their own brilliance, in the sense that their scientific breakthroughs revealed and amplified their flawed character, rather than masking it. And Mina Harker is essentially the survivor of abuse/brainwashing who has chosen to be “empowered” rather than destroyed in the aftermath of her kidnapping by a monster.

In that vein, I would point out that Bram Stoker’s work does contain some female characters who could be exploited. Most of those novels are dreadful, of course, but The Jewel of Seven Stars contains Margaret Trelawney, the plucky and attractive daughter of the famous Egyptologist. In the course of the novel, the young woman merges with an ancient evil, the immortal Queen Tera, a mummy/demoness who seems to have been based partially on the historical Hatshepsut. I think the character and her ongoing duality has potential as a Jeckyll/Hyde problem, and she could probably be used to good effect in a story.

Turning to Haggard’s work: there’s always Hiya/Ayesha, the mad queen known as She Who Must Be Obeyed. She’s quite an interesting character, last survivor of the Ptolemaic dynasty. She comes equipped with the power of her Gorgonian beauty, which would compel her to wear a veil or a mask at all times to prevent people from falling under her spell…but she also has centuries of knowledge of alchemy/chemistry and the natural world, which she continued to study as any Ptolemy would while she was on the lam in sub-Saharan Africa, hiding from the History of a Man’s World: the Roman Empire, the Islamic conquest, the Renaissance and the rise of the slave-trade. She may seem an unlikely protagonist, but as a figure of redemption she’s not much worse than Griffin from The Invisible Man. The question is: after power has corrupted you absolutely and led to your humiliating and crushing defeat…then what?

A lot of people have also pointed out that there are real-life women who could be fictionalized cleverly for this challenge, and I wholeheartedly agree. Nellie Bly is a real life detective and journalist hero that anyone could look up to–I am very glad she’s being noticed in the modern age. If we need another real life hero to fill the Sawyer role on the team, you could also use a real woman: Belle Starr and Annie Oakley were both great shootists from that period, and there’s also Calamity Jane.

My personal suggestion to take over the Quartermain leadership position would be Gertrude Bell, who was kicking ass and taking names throughout the Near East at the time. Gertrude Bell was in the prime of her life in the late 1800’s, making history and being brilliant, competent and effective: her peers in terms of charisma and impact in that time and place were Lawrence of Arabia and Winston Churchill, which should help contextualize her for those who have never heard of her.

If you need a secret Victorian science hero, you have Marie Curie living and working in the heart of Paris with the MYSTERIES OF RADIOACTIVE STUFF RAAAAR. And what tour of iconic womanhood  and female power of that century that does not include a visit to see Marie LaVeau?

So, open question: what female heroes and redeemed villains would you like to see on the team?

And who gets to be the Token Male in this story? 😛



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About Arinn

Author, Game Developer, Anthropologist, Feminist, reformed Supervillainess.
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5 Responses to The League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen

  1. Ludovic Mercier says:

    I’ll admit this challenge has me much curious. Some of the characters and personas you named certainly would have me curious to try to draw or sketch them out at least!

  2. Peter Tupper says:

    A few suggestions:

    * “The Woman of the Songs” from Richard Marsh’s “The Beetle”
    * Mary Barbe, anti-heroine of Rachilde’s “The Marquise de Sade”
    * Helen Vaughan from Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan”
    * Irene Adler from the Sherlock Holmes stories

    BTW, there’s a comic called “Suffrajitsu”, about the Victorian suffragette movement’s black ops team, made up of real-life women.

  3. Jen Tatro says:

    The Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy is based on the real-life secret society of women who protected the leaders of the radical women’s rights movement in England circa 1913. Our League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen includes:

    Persephone Wright, an original character partially based on several real-life suffragettes

    Kitty Marshall, one of the few members of the original, real-life team on whom we have any biographical details

    IRL-circus strongwoman and wrestler Katherina “Sandwina” Brumbach

    Miss Sanderson, an IRL Edwardian-era self-defense instructor who specialized in parasol combat

    Toupie Lowther, an aristocratic lesbian who was IRL a pioneering female athlete and motorist

    Florence “Flossie” Le Mar, an IRL jiujitsu-trained entertainer and adventuress from New Zealand

    Judith Lee, an updated fictional “lady detective” character who was originally popular circa 1913.

    See for more details!

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