Guest Post & Giveaway: Hope Tarr on Strong Heroines

Strong Romance Heroines in Historicals
By Hope Tarr

I’m going to start off this post with a confession.

I’m hopeless at needlework.

Needlepoint, embroidery, knitting, or indeed anything requiring more sewing skill than replacing a simple button are beyond my ken—ditto for anything crafty such as scrapbooking, collaging, or wreath making. Scalloped edged scissors scare me. I’d likely go naked if I had to make a dress.

And yet I am inexorably drawn to write historical romances, love stories set in bygone eras in which gender roles were strictly circumscribed, where a woman’s worth was largely defined by her domesticity and not much else.

There have always been strong women, of course. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Joan of Arc, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth—just a few of the many prominent female leaders of history and to a woman they had spines of steel. Sure, they likely picked up a needle or a loom from time to time. Poor El had to do something to pass the time during her imprisonment by husband Henry. A former slave, Sojourner’s sewing was born of necessity. But did they define themselves by the neatness of their stitches? I’m guessing not so much.

Why then have our fictional heroines in historical romance novels had such a hard time catching up?

By and large, romance novel heroines have been ladies of leisure, or at least ladies of leisure on the lam. Just as we couldn’t get enough of watching “Dallas” and “Dynasty” in the 80’s or “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” today, wealth is exciting. While being wealthy is the dream, the American Dream, watching it comes in as a strong second best. Nothing expresses wealth quite as aptly as a beautifully dressed, beautifully manicured, beautifully coiffed woman doing absolutely nothing.

And yet in recent years strong female characters have begun to appear in more and more historical romance novels, not only as side-slapping supporting sidekicks but as actual heroines. On some level, there must be a collective recognition that “strong” and “capable” don’t have to mean buck toothed and broad hipped, that having interests and passions enriches all our relationships including our romantic ones, that self-determination directed toward the positive is sexy in women as well as men.

As a writer, that means I get to celebrate big time by writing the flawed yet fierce females I aspire to be. In VANQUISHED, the first of my Victorian-set “Men of Roxbury House” trilogy and my giveaway book for this blog, my heroine Caledonia—Callie—Rivers is a suffragette leader and the chief spokesperson for the current women’s suffrage bill about to be brought before Parliament. It was an important time. The British Women’s Suffrage Movement provided the template for efforts in the U.S. British women finally received limited voting rights in 1918 (female householders and spouses of householders over 30), but it wasn’t until 1928 that Parliament granted women the vote on the same basis as men. Callie is modeled after these real life women warriors, women who took grave risks and made enormous personal sacrifices to advance the cause in which they so fervently believed.

In my Victorian-set Pygmalion tale, TEMPTING, my humble dairymaid heroine, Christine Tremayne, may start off the story as a victim but she quickly raises herself to the status of a conquering heroine. In nearly the same breath, she confesses her love for the hero and her determination to be her own woman. The latter includes rejecting his proposal of marriage until he can accept—and love—her for who she truly is, not the creation he’s attempted to mold.


Christine shook her head, sad but resolved. “These past months, I’ve let you make a pet of me, mold me into your notion of what a proper lady should be. I’ve worked so hard to please you I’ve lost sight of who I really am, Christine Tremayne, the dairyman’s daughter, and proud to be so.”

Simon drew her toward him, the ring case falling onto the carpet at their feet. “You’re so much more than that. You can be anything you set your mind to.”

Even faced with the prospect of losing her, he wasn’t willing to accept her for who she was. Resolved, she got up to go. “I am who I am, and until you can value me for it there can be no thought of future for us.”

Strong women don’t mince their words. ;)


Left alone, Simon and Christine faced each other. “Will you sit, sar?” Christine asked, her gaze fixed on some spot beyond him, her slender hands folded in front of her.

“No thank you. I mean, not just yet. But please, if you’d care to…”

He started to draw out a chair for her, but she shook her head, sending a toffee-colored strand slipping free of its pins. The silky thread brushed the side of her face, touching just below her chin, and Simon had the almost irrepressible urge to coil the tendril about his finger.

But touching her, the new her, would be an enormous mistake. He wrapped his right hand about his left wrist and blundered on, “Miss Ashcroft informs me you’ve become quite the pianist.”

“I play…a little,” she conceded, and Simon was torn between tenderness and relief at the familiar little lost look her lovely face suddenly wore.

“A little?” he repeated, hard-pressed not to smile. “Play something for me now and we shall see just what a little constitutes.”

She shook her head, and another soft strand slid free. “Oh no, I mustn’t. I’m not nearly good enough.”

“Allow me to be the judge of that.” Before she could refuse again, he took light hold of her elbow and steered her over to the piano.

He dropped his hand from her arm with reluctance and stepped back to make room for her at the keyboard. Gathering in her skirts, she couldn’t help brushing against him. She smelled nice, delicious even, though he didn’t think she wore perfume, just the milled soap she’d used to bath.

“What is it you fancy?” she asked, not looking at him.

You, he wanted to say but of course that would never do.

Instead, he said, “Play whatever it is you play for the other gentlemen who call. Mr. St. John, does he have a particular favorite?”

Was it his wishful thinking or did she shudder? “I wouldn’t know, sar,” she answered at length. “I’ve only played for him once.” She reached for the thick volume of musical scores and began to page through, her fragile-looking fingers with their bitten down nails lifting each vellum leaf with reverent care.

Gaze riveted on the lovely line of her long neck, he leaned closer and poked a finger toward the open book. “Play whatever score it is you turn to next,” he said when she still couldn’t seem to decide.

The gods must be laughing at him indeed, for his selection proved to be the plaintive folk song, Lady Maisry. Listening to Christine’s sweet, quavering voice singing of the heroine’s illicit liaison with an English nobleman, Simon felt his resolve firm. He’d see her in a convent before he’d hand her over to some spoiled aristocrat who couldn’t begin to value her.

The idea, the solution came to him in a blinding rush, so brash, so impetuous, so far removed from his normal mode of thinking that contemplating it made him dizzy. He needed to return to the country to court his constituency. Christine, whether she realized it or not, needed to get away from London—and that lascivious lout, St. John—as soon as possible. Why not take her with him? The few London servants he’d bring along already knew her as his cousin and, once in the country, no one beyond his immediate household need even know she was there.

His gaze rested on Christine’s slender hands, the fingernails chewed to the quick, the cuticles and surrounding flesh as raw as freshly butchered beef. Imagining those small, endearingly battered digits stroking St. John, Simon felt his temperature flare—and his decision sharpen.

When she came to the part where the English lord bent to kiss his ladylove’s lifeless “red ruby lips,” Simon could endure it no longer.

“That will serve,” he snapped, swiping a hand across his damp brow.

She shot to her feet and stepped free of the bench, her body quivering like a bowstring. “I said you wouldn’t like it, that I wasn’t ready to play.” Beneath its fine dusting of powder, her face flushed, and he could make out the scar on her cheek.

The sight softened him. “Not above pride, I see, but it was the piece I didn’t care for, not your playing. And your voice is very sweet, too sweet to be wasted.” I won’t let anyone waste you!

Hands fisted on her hips, Christine shook her head. “I don’t understand you.” Her brown eyes, bright with welling tears, scoured his face.

Determined to land the blow as kindly as he could, he continued, “It is evident your tenure here has done you considerable good, and for that I applaud both your diligence and Miss Ashcroft’s capabilities. Be that as it may, I am no longer convinced that London is the best environment for shaping your mind—or your morals.” 

$0.99 eBook | $17.47 Audiobook

Move over Eliza Doolittle…

“Pretty Woman” meets “My Fair Lady” in Hope Tarr’s Tempting

Simon Belleville knows he should take the pretty prostitute directly to Newgate Gaol. As an aspiring Member of Parliament, he cannot afford a scandal. But one glimpse of Christine’s lovely, tear splashed face has him faltering. Staring into her pleading amber eyes, he cannot subdue the sense that she is not at all what she seems. Though her expectations are limited by birth and circumstance, still she demonstrates a keen mind and a love of books and learning. Hoping to help her as once he was helped, he takes her home with him as his “cousin” and assumes the role of her guardian—and tutor. With a measure of patience and considerable good fortune, he will find her a position as a ladies’ maid, perhaps even a governess.

But Christine is not so easily dispatched. Charming, witty, and wise beyond her years, she proves to be a woman unlike any other, a woman capable of seeing through Simon’s polished facade to the shameful secrets searing his soul. As the heat in their private lessons progresses from a fledgling spark to full flame, Simon allows he has never before been so intrigued—or so tempted.




About the Author

A nominee for a Dorothy Parker Award of Excellence and two RT BOOK Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Awards, Hope Tarr is the author of fifteen historical and contemporary romance novels including TEMPTING, now available as an e-book for 99 cents and as an audio book on Audible, iTunes and Amazon from Dark Desires. She is also a co-founder and current principal of Lady Jane’s Salon (, New York City’s first—and only—monthly reading series for romance fiction. Visit Hope online at and find her on Twitter (@HopeTarr) and Facebook (

Leave a comment below answering this question for your chance to win one signed print copy of VANQUISHED: Strong women in historical romance—have they arrived or are they way late to the party?

Meet Simon & Christine (from TEMPTING) in VANQUISHED, the first in Hope Tarr’s Men of Roxbury House trilogy… 

A devil’s bargain.

“The photograph must be damning, indisputably so. I mean to see Caledonia Rivers not only ruined but vanquished. Vanquished, St. Claire, I’ll settle for nothing less.”

Known as The Maid of Mayfair for her unassailable virtue, unwavering resolve, and quiet dignity, suffragette leader, Caledonia — Callie — Rivers is the perfect counter for detractors’ portrayal of the women a rabble rousers, lunatics, even whores. But a high-ranking enemy within the government will stop at nothing to ensure that the Parliamentary bill to grant the vote to females dies in the Commons — including ruining the reputation of the Movement’s chief spokeswoman.

After a streak of disastrous luck at the gaming tables threatens to land him at the bottom of the Thames, photographer Hadrian St. Claire reluctantly agrees to seduce the beautiful suffragist leader and then use his camera to capture her fall from grace. Posing as the photographer commissioned to make her portrait for the upcoming march on Parliament, Hadrian infiltrates Callie’s inner circle. But lovely, soft-spoken Callie hardly fits his mental image of a dowdy, man-hating spinster. And as the passion between them flares from spark to full-on flame, Hadrian is the one in danger of being vanquished.

Thank you to Hope Tarr for generously sponsoring this giveaway! Open to both US and International Residents; giveaway is open until 11:59 PM EST Wednesday, May 2, 2012.


  1. Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    Oh, I love strong historical heroines. They are LATE to the party. Come on, women had to be stronger in historical times because they were more oppressed. My heroine, Michal, daughter of Saul, was the only woman in the Bible bold enough to love a man. She didn’t wait around when her father tried to kill her husband, but let him out her window and covered up his escape.
    Rachelle Ayala recently posted..Women’s Roles in Historical Fiction – Two Reviews of Michal’s WindowMy Profile

  2. Dee Feagin
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    I’ve been reading historical romance for many years now; from that perspective, I think strong heroines are more evident now in the genre than in the past (think 80s bodice rippers) and I welcome them. After all, who wants to relate to a woman who breaks instead of bends, gives in instead of insisting on her due, or waits to be rescued instead of trying to figure out her own destiny?

  3. Desere Steenberg
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Thank you for a lovely post and for the giveaway. In my opionion yes they have arrived and I for one completely love it. The stronger they are the better the novel !

  4. Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Huzzah Dee! And Rachelle, I love the Biblical example. Strong women have existed since the proverbial beginning of time, I believe, but too often their stories have become lost or altered.

    My good fried, Elizabeth Kerri Mahon, has a wonderful blog, and now book, on SCANDALOUS WOMEN. Some scandalous women are more admirable than others–but to a woman, they are strong. :)

  5. Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    I can’t do needlework either, but I can knit…I think. :)
    Love your heroines. Haven’t gotten to TEMPTING yet but I am going home tonight and moving it to the top of my to-be-read pile. —mcf

  6. Posted April 25, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Fun blog. I love strong heroines, and over the last few years historical heroines have definitely come to the forefront. Late to the party, but now definitely here!

  7. Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Hope – a wonderful topic, and yes, indeed, very timely, because I see more and more historical heroines bellying up to the bar, so to speak, with careers (spies, newspaper journalists, shop keepers) and outspoken sensibilities.

    The most difficult part of writing historical is staying as true to history as you can, while also creating characters that perhaps are a bit out of their time, but who speak to contemporary readers who find it hard to connect with a truly accurate female portrait. Though of course we know these firebrands existed and often succeeded in their efforts!

    Thank you for a lovely piece, and belated congrats on the Dorothy Parker award – one of my favorite authors and certainly well deserved!

  8. Posted April 25, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Hope – Greetings from a fellow WRW member! I don’t typically red historicals but the blurbs drew me in. So lush with relatable heroines with inner strength. Love it.

    Robin Covington recently posted..The WEST OF WANT Preview and Prize Event with Laura KayeMy Profile

  9. Beebs
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    The strong heroines are definitely late to the party but they have finally arrived. I do love reading about strong heroines but I also like historical accuracy. I think it must be difficult for authors to find the right balance but when they do, it makes for some terrific reading.

  10. Sinn
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    I Think they have arriaved never too late to have strong women in romance expecially in historical romance better late then never Hopes books are awesome ty for sharing cant wait to read both of these since they r new to me

    mortalsin at

  11. Posted April 25, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    I love reading about strong historical heroines. I don’t think they’ve arrived late to the party. There have been lots of strong women in books past however I do believe they have evolved they are no longer just strong willed women now they are in your face, kick your ass women. I love them all :)!

  12. Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks everyone for the *great* comments. Maria, I’m honored to have TEMPTING at the top of your (e reads) heap. ;)

  13. Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    I think strong women could never be too late and this is just their time to arrive. It seems to be the time that is supporting of strong heroines in historicals and I’m glad. Thanks for the giveaway!
    Crystal F recently posted..Book Excerpt & Giveaway: The Big, Fun, Sexy, Sex Book by Lisa Rinna and Ian Kerner, Ph.D.My Profile

  14. erinf1
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for a fun post and giveaway! these books sound fantastic!

    I think that strong heroines are becoming more popular in historical romance b/c we see that no matter what time period, they are relevant and inspiring. Great to read about them and hope to see more!

  15. Christina Kit.
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    They’d better get much stronger in historicals!! I mean, in reality a lot of these women had tough lives, fought in wars – maybe not on the front, but certainly in the Resistance – so it’s great if they’re represented in novels.

    ccfioriole at gmail dot com

  16. denise
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    I think they have arrived and we have an expectation of them now in the genre. However, we know strong women have always existed and have always been the backbone. Women authors are now able to tell the stories as many were, unlike the authors or yore who had to bow to the dictates of others.

  17. Mary Preston
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    Strong women have certainly been more in evidence in Historical Romances of late. Good thing too I say. I would love to read VANQUISHED thank you. It looks amazing.


  18. Posted April 26, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Love your article, Hope! The book cover is gorgeous, and I’m so looking forward to reading Vanquished.Historical fiction is just the best–and what I have been working on as well. Plus reviewing for the Historical Novel Society. You did send it in to them, didn’t you? Best of luck with your writing. I just know this book will do well! Mary

  19. Helen
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I love a strong heroine in my historical romances. There are some out there but I would love more. They also end up conforming more than I want them to, so I would say they are late for the party even though I know back then it was a different time.
    helldog3 at

  20. Denise Z
    Posted April 27, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    Women today may have more freedoms, but we are wimps compared to the historical women LOL I love a strong historical woman whether it be in character or deeds. Thank you so much for sharing with us today and for the lovely opportunity to win this book!

  21. bn100
    Posted April 29, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Great excerpt. I think strong women in historicals have arrived.

  22. cathie
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I think they are a little late, but as long as they continue to show I’m happy!

  23. Posted April 30, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    They’ve arrived already! Like in Invitation to Ruin by Bronwen Evans? That’s one headstrong woman who’s still real feminine and craves a man’s affections. :)
    CYP recently posted..Defy Blog Tour: Promotional Post + Giveaway DeetsMy Profile

  24. Posted April 30, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Mary, the Historical Novel Society reviewed TEMPTING when it was first released but I don’t think I sent VANQUISHED. Do you think they’d review it even tho it’s not a brand new release?

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


CommentLuv badge