The Swordfighting Women Conundrum: A Study

The issue of the swordfighting woman and whether or not we should be rolling our eyes at her is something that we’ve only touched on briefly on this blog. In order to get a more interesting conversation going, let’s refresh our memories on what we’ve said so far, notably in the post For the love of God, would you stop fucking up fairytale movies?

‘So. You think up a bunch of characters that are glaring stereotypes. There’ll be the persecuted royal who wants to have an adventure; the yawn-inducing bad guy who wants…something; two pretty boys with chests bared in a sub-zero climate who are after the same girl and most complex of all, the chick with the sword, complex because nobody seems to know what they want out of putting that sword in her hand. Either she makes a fuck-up of it so she can be rescued by some punchable alpha-male, or she proves a pro at it despite there being no evidence of such a thing being the norm in her family life, culture, or social milieu. So is this stereotype a commendable reversal of gender roles, or isn’t it?’

Let’s forget about the stereotypes that particular piece ranted about and simply use the criteria it lays down to go for a spin around a couple of fantasy kingdoms, this being the genre where the swordfighting woman features the most. Hopefully our journey will allow us to straighten out who becomes a three-dimensional, conflicted human being/feminist through her relationship with her sword and who stays boring and conventional despite being in possession of this exciting accessory.

Snow White – Snow White and the Huntsman

Film Title: Snow White and the Huntsman

 

Is swordfighting acceptable in culture/family life/social milieu?


There is no indication whatever of this. Fantasy world seems to be built on medieval model, no evidence of other female warriors, so probably not.

 

Does swordfighting contribute substantially to character’s psychology/development?


Not really. Her sword and armour in the final battle are reduced to the same status as cute toys or dresses; her use of a sword to kill Ravenna not creating the slightest impression of the primal kinship between herself and her weapon that characterises the better-written warrior women. On the other hand, Snow’s rather idealistic shocked response to Eric’s improvised lesson on how to stab someone with a dagger (which is sort of a sword) could be interpreted as the character’s first shock into the brutal world of real life. This doesn’t precipitate much character development, however: but that’s more or less the permanent state of Snow’s existence.

 

Does swordfighting contribute substantially to plot?


No. Despite Snow’s eventually killing Ravenna thanks to sticking a sword in the right place, you still get the feeling that a brick to the head would have had precisely the same effect. In this movie, it’s not how Ravenna dies that important, only the fact that she does.

 

Does character require rescuing by punchable alpha-male in a battle situation? If yes, is said-saving linked to lack of proficiency, incapacitation of character during battle, or simply to character’s gender?


Mercifully, no. There is evidence of male characters being inspired by this intention throughout, but this scheme thankfully never comes to fruition.

 

So does she need a sword?


No. Feminist enough to triumph and not to require saving, but utterly unconvincing both in terms of character development linked to her sword and of plot.

Brienne of Tarth – Game of Thrones.

Game-of-Thrones-Brienne-of-Tarth

Is swordfighting acceptable in culture/family life/social milieu?

No. Fantasy world built on medieval model. Brienne is often cruelly mocked, both because of her desire to be a knight and her masculine looks. She very seldom meets with compassion or understanding.

 

Does swordfighting contribute substantially to character’s psychology/development?


Yes. In ordinary situations she merely seems to plod clumsily along like a great lump. With a sword in her hand, she soars. It’s only through swordfighting that she feels she is worth something or that her life has a purpose. It’s what saves her from the cruel japes she endures night and day, both in giving her that sense of purpose and in knocking the senses out of her tormentors. On a softer note, swordfighting is also the only way for a woman of her appearance to be close to Renly Baratheon, whom she is unaccountably in love with (you could do so much better, Brienne!) and whose death devastates her.

 

Does swordfighting contribute substantially to plot?


Yes. Her duel/brawl with future best friend/resident pain-in-the-ass-she-happens-to-be-chained-to Jaime Lannister, which ends with her sitting astride him trying to drown him in a stream, is a show stopper that leads straight into a whirlwind of calamitous consequences: their capture by the Brave Companions, Jaime’s loss of his hand and ensuing psychological collapse, their deep, but odd friendship, and the bear pit scene. In terms of later events, it’s also through Brienne’s quest for Sansa Stark that we get our first glimpse of Lady Stoneheart.

 

Does character require rescuing by punchable alpha-male? If yes, is said-saving linked to incapacitation of character during battle, or simply to character’s gender?


No. Requires saving by Gendry due to incapacitation in battle, Gendry certainly qualifying as male but is neither an alpha male nor particularly punchable. Incapacitation is here defined as unconsciousness while Biter was ripping chunks out of her face.

 

So does she need a sword?


Yes. Swordfighting is her strength and her worth; it’s her entire life; it’s how she fights injustice by defending the weak and slaughtering the evil; as much a part of her as breathing.

Morgana Pendragon – Merlin

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Is swordfighting acceptable in culture/family life/social milieu?


Yes and no. Took lessons with Arthur as a child and possesses ready-made sword and armour. It is implied that these are simply provided for self-defense. As a woman, cannot issue challenges without causing an uproar; women do not fight in jousts/battles alongside men. Ultimately ends up doing just as she pleases; is consequently experienced in battle.

Does swordfighting contribute substantially to character’s psychology/development?

No. Morgana’s psychological development is considerable, but primarily through self-doubt and fear of her magic being exposed gradually transforming into raging, revenge-driven evil that allows most mischief to be perpetrated without recourse to swords.

Does swordfighting contribute substantially to plot?

Yes. Her swordsmanship makes substantial contribution to winning of many days and several stand-offs with Merlin, her use of it to escape kidnappers obligingly creating the need for Gwen to be rescued rather than her (sigh).

 

Does character require rescuing by punchable alpha-male? If yes, is said-saving linked to lack of proficiency, incapacitation of character during battle, or simply to character’s gender?


No. More often requires consoling and reassuring than rescuing. When she does, it is habitually by her sister Morgause, another proficient swordfighter.

 

So does she need a sword?


No. Her character would have developed in precisely the same way and she would still be the heroine of all Arthurian feminists without having to possess a sword.

Éowyn Dernhelm – The Lord of the Rings

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Is swordfighting acceptable in culture/family life/social milieu?

Yes; culture of ‘shieldmaidens’ brought up to believe that ‘the women of this country learned long ago that those without swords could still die upon them.’ It only seems acceptable for shieldmaidens to fight, however, when men are away at war and cannot protect them: they don’t fight in battles or wars.

 

Does swordfighting contribute substantially to character’s psychology/development?


Yes. Éowyn’s love for her sword is deep, both from a cultural perspective and because she sees it as the only means available to her to fight for the ones she loves against the armies of Sauron. It is her way out of the future she predicts for herself i.e. spending the rest of her life shut up indoors until her spirit breaks and her chance of valour is lost. Half-wild, stubborn and angry at being forbidden from fighting, she disguises herself as a man and makes it to the battle at Pelennor Fields, where her spirit undergoes a grueling and brutal test.

Does swordfighting contribute substantially to plot?

Yes. Her killing of the Witch King of Angmar is legendary.

 

Does character require rescuing by punchable alpha-male? If yes, is said-saving linked to lack of proficiency, incapacitation of character during battle, or simply to character’s gender?


Yes and no. Is only able to kill the Witch King thanks to Merry’s first stabbing him in the back, which gives her the opportunity to loosen his grip on her throat and deal the final blow, an action that has frequently been construed as proof of sexism on Tolkien’s part. More dead than alive, she is afterwards in need of prodigious healing by Aragorn, and a good long spell in the Houses of Healing, where she meets future husband Faramir and affectionately describes him as having ‘tamed’ her. Now, neither Merry, Aragorn or Faramir are punchable alpha males (okay, maybe Aragorn’s a bit of an alpha male), but all of them help, in a certain way, to get Éowyn from one cage straight into another. Worst of all, she’s only too happy to go! Everything’s okay now, Sauron’s been defeated, so she can hang her sword up, marry Faramir and have babies. Please don’t misunderstand me. Faramir and Éowyn are my favourite LOTR couple; I deeply lament the lack of scenes between them and I’m convinced in my heart that Éowyn would challenge Faramir to a duel if he tried to do the domineering ‘my lord husband’ thing. But despite the fact that Éowyn finds the glory she’s looking for, sees that she misinterpreted her feelings for Aragorn and meets her soul mate, at the end of the day, she’s still seen as a spirited woman who has to be tamed and married off. It’s a very 1950’s attitude and is a bit of a cock-up on Tolkien’s part that he’s allowed this kind of bullshit to creep into such a good thing.

So does she need a sword?

Yes. She wouldn’t be herself without one. A sword is her chance for another life, and the chance to add it to thousands of others to fight for good is a major driving force in her character.

Conclusion

A woman with a sword is not as common a thing in our history, mythology and culture as a man with a sword. Where a swordfighting woman appears, she is outnumbered ten thousand to one. A sword can represent an ideal, a person, a past, a future, a people, an entire life. It can also represent nothing at all, and be empty, meaningless, or trick us into seeing something that isn’t actually there. Giving a female character a sword should serve a purpose. It should create something in her character, or at least in the plot. Randomly slapping a sword to her hip does not prove that the character is meant to be a feminist. That sword has to mean something, both to her and to us. If it does mean something, you’ve succeeded in creating that feminism. If it means nothing, all you’ve done is pretend to.

Featured image courtesy of thewaymarks.files.wordpress.com

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Kickass literary heroes: Another Victorian/Fantasy Mashup

Following the success of Kickass literary heroines: A Victorian/Fantasy Mashup, it is now the turn of the boys. While we will inevitably lose the feminist vibe of the original, it does seem unfair to let these bundles of awesome go unnoticed simply because of an accident of birth.

Sidney Carton – A Tale of Two Cities

James Whilby as Sidney in the 1989 BBC adaptation.

James Whilby as Sidney in the 1989 BBC adaptation.

A proverbial fallen angel, dissolute lawyer Sidney Carton is a mercurial mass of contradictions. Frequently overcome by a sense of despair and self-loathing at the life he leads, he’s allowed le mal du siècle to become so deeply entrenched in him that attempting to reform himself seems like more trouble than his possible success would be beneficial. Nevertheless, he has a simple, almost idealistic love for the right and the just, sometimes allowing himself temporary respite by basking in their light before slinking back into the shadows he believes he deserves. Eventually, he gladly pays the ultimate price so that this light may be continued. The novel’s ending sequence, which comprises both his meeting his soul mate while being carted off to the guillotine, as well as several pages worth of stunning reflections on the greatness of France, of sacrifice and of redemption, is justifiably recognised as one of the best endings in English literature.

Tyrion Lannister – A Song of Ice and Fire

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion in the HBO adaptation.

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion in the HBO adaptation.

So I like to blog about Tyrion. A lot. But he is one of the greatest, if not the greatest creation in fantasy literature, so leaving him out would be scandalous. A fiercely intelligent man, Tyrion has the misfortune to be born suffering from dwarfism into the most powerful family in Westeros, most of whom come to see his existence as a curse and a humiliation. One often gets the feeling that Tyrion could deal with any amount of ridicule from society were he assured of having the love and support of his own family. But he isn’t, and apart from a deep, shared love for his elder brother Jaime thanks to a horrific adolescent trauma, he’s had to put up with every hope or harmless dream he ever had being brutally crushed or ridiculed, usually by his father or sister, with whom he cultivates disastrous relationships. His mind being his only way of defending himself, Tyrion uses it to survive, and above all, to exist, colourfully and incandescently, in a world that would rather he didn’t. Ordered (reluctantly) by his father Lord Tywin to serve as Hand of the King in his stead, Tyrion shows himself to be a formidable enemy, an ingenious politician and a stunningly original thinker and schemer. When he falls from grace, and he falls hard, he proves himself to be as miserable a human being as the rest of us, the crippling loneliness and despair he has felt his entire life crushing everything he has achieved. It’s then that he starts to think about revenge…

Abraham Van Helsing – Dracula

Peter Cushing as Van Helsing in the Hammer adaptations.

Peter Cushing as Van Helsing in the Hammer adaptations.

Misrepresented and misunderstood on an epidemic scale, Professor Van Helsing is so adorable that you want to transform him into a teddy bear that you can hug when you feel blue. Hundreds of students have passed through the hands of this endlessly energetic, kind and warm-hearted Doctor of Medicine and of Literature; and when he’s not occupied with university work, he dedicates himself to the study of the paranormal and with giving every iota of his energy to helping those who have been contaminated by vampires. This is first demonstrated by his efforts to help Lucy, during which he sits up night and day and bleeds himself of a dangerous amount of blood to restore the unfortunate girl’s faculties. When his efforts fail, largely due to the idiocy of Lucy’s mother, and the case soon becomes about tracking down and destroying Dracula himself, his actions are those of a loving, paternal and absolutely ruthless man who will do anything to stamp out evil. He is goodness and sweetness incarnate: and don’t get me started on his adorable English…

Silk – The Belgariad and The Malloreon

Silk artwork by Mirror Cradle on deviantart.

Silk artwork by Mirror Cradle on deviantart.

While his real name may be Prince Kheldar of Drasnia, this prodigiously gifted product of his nation’s celebrated intelligence service has so many different identities in so many different places that he suffers from a permanent identity crisis that he finds amusing rather than alarming. Tiny, with a face like a rat, he’s sweepingly sarcastic and gleefully disrespectful; he’s fond of casual theft, paying and receiving bribes, outwitting his enemies, annoying his friends, going undercover and manipulating the economy in his spare time. His sunny disposition does, however, conceal a variety of griefs and psychological issues, including the plague-induced blindness and horrific disfigurement of his mother and his hopeless unrequited love for his uncle’s wife, which continues for an immense number of years before his being reunited with future-wife Velvet (real name Liselle), who turns out to be every bit as devious as he is. Most of the time, he’s disarmingly and uproariously funny, and steals your heart about as quickly as he picks your pockets.

John Thornton – North and South

Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton in the BBC adaptation.

Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton in the BBC adaptation.

For the millions of you who probably don’t know, Mr. Thornton is the brusque Northern cotton mill owner who dethroned Mr. Darcy as quintessential brooding romantic hero after a reign of almost ten years, thanks to a terrific performance by Richard Armitage in the BBC miniseries. John has endured an immensely difficult adolescence after his father commits suicide due to ruinous debt. Encouraged by his formidable mother Mrs. Thornton (see Ten Great TV Performances You’ve Never Seen), he works right through his teenaged years to pay the creditors back and regains the family mill. He takes immense care to protect the health and wellbeing of his workers, and, against his mother’s wishes, studies the classics in his spare time in order to improve himself, believing that there is more to life than the pursuit of wealth. It’s at this point that he falls in love with his tutor’s daughter Margaret, a headstrong and stubborn precursor to feminism from the South who, due to her own misplaced prejudice, sees him as a fat cat profiting from the misery of his workers and thinks his feelings for her are ‘offensive.’ Margaret’s rejection of him only serves to increase his own feelings of inadequacy and of still being considered a simple tradesman who is incapable of bettering himself despite his efforts to the contrary. As the novel progresses, these feelings only intensify, and he becomes one of the loneliest men you could imagine as he refuses to stray from the path of decency to his workers even when in danger of losing everything he has worked for.

Samwise Gamgee – The Lord of the Rings

Sean Astin as Sam in the celebrated Peter Jackson adaptations.

Sean Astin as Sam in the celebrated Peter Jackson adaptations.

Oh, Sam. Where shall we start? The most loyal character in existence, demonstrating the sweetest innocence, the most perfect sense of right and wrong and a blinding, moving inner strength at his darkest hour. He has no Galadriel to help him – only himself. He is such a gentle, simple soul who rises so spectacularly and so courageously to the challenge of being flung into perpetual danger further and further from home. His is the poetry of the ordinary person: he’ll risk taking the most unspeakable evil into himself to give some relief to a friend, and he’ll stay, always, even when seized by the deepest unhappiness and the most awful fear of rejection.

Sherlock Holmes – A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Valley of Fear, His Last Bow, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes.

Jeremy Brett as Holmes in the Grenada TV adaptation.

Jeremy Brett as Holmes in the Grenada TV adaptation.

Okay, so it’s not completely Victorian all the time, but Holmes has enough esteem for Queen Victoria to adorn one side of his living room with ‘V.R.’ done in bullet holes, so let’s not worry too much about it. Jeremy Brett once remarked in an interview that the three most influential people of the 20th century were Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill and Sherlock Holmes. If you consider that Sherlock Holmes never actually existed, that’s a fair testament to Mr. Holmes’ importance. While boasting a truly brilliant mind, possibly the greatest ever, he abounds with eccentricities, many of them alarming and rather disturbing. Holmes is a consulting detective, not a private one, and thus only occupies himself with cases that amuse him, the stranger the better, which he will solve and investigate with a poorly suppressed glee regardless of their gruesomeness. He cannot be induced to talk about his cases if he doesn’t want to, which will often leave him silent for many days at a time, not even indulging the entreaties of his friend and colleague Doctor Watson, with whom he shares a symbiotic relationship. He has a deep love of chemistry that goes well with his complete disregard for bad smells. He’s fond of leaving the sitting room at Baker Street strewn with papers for months of end, insisting that no one can sort them out and pack them away except him. He likes to play the violin, and has an almost autistic disrespect for people in general, regardless of rank. And while he does what he does for the rush and the thrill of the chase, he also does it because of a glorious humanity that he very rarely admits to.

Belgarath – The Belgariad and The Malloreon

Belgarath cover art by Geoff Taylor.

Belgarath cover art by Geoff Taylor.

Belgarath is bordering on 7000 years old. He’s old. An easily annoyed great sorcerer, he doesn’t take nonsense, has an unhealthy fondness for drinking and wenching, likes to steal food, wears a filthy sort of rag instead of a tunic that he ties with a bit of rope, wears mismatched boots, has a long white beard, and smells. Awfully. Hearing only that side of his personality, you might think that he’s a stereotype on the mighty sorcerer that David and Lee Eddings did for a bit of fun, but while it’s evident the pair of them had the time of their lives writing him, he isn’t a stereotype. He remembers only too well the pain that drove him out of his mind when his beloved wife Poledra died, leaving him twin daughters. He’s been alive for so long; he often wishes he could follow himself if he wasn’t so busy following prophecy, and he has loved his family so long and so deeply that he’s forced to mask it from the uncomprehending with naughty humour and constant arguing with his surviving daughter Polgara and his brothers Beldin, Beltira and Belkira. The rest of the world justifiably reveres him and respectfully calls him ‘Ancient One’, a title that never fails to provoke a scowl, and he has a charming way of treating both peasants and kings in an equally crass and casual way. He never makes the slightest attempt to seem wise and Gandalf-like, because he doesn’t have to. The greatest of all these characteristics is that Belgarath is a badass: tyrants and despots the world over are absolutely terrified of him, and he positively flays the skin off the evil and the unjust. He is a formidable, incredibly mischievous, humanly flawed and usually half-drunk force for Good who never fails to triumph.

Kickass literary heroines: A Victorian/ Fantasy Mashup

Lyra Silvertongue – His Dark Materials Trilogy

Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra in the god-awful film adaptation.

Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra in the god-awful film adaptation.

The foul-mouthed urchin who would be Eve, this twelve year old Oxford native possesses the strength of all women, navigating a multitude of dangerous, sometimes steampunk Blakean worlds of archangel assassins and tyrannical deities in a quest to restore a Truth hidden since the writing of the Bible. She loves deeply and loses excruciatingly, but is nevertheless possessed with an immovable, Frodo-like certainty that none but she can see her task through to the end.

Violet Hunter – The Adventure of the Copper Beeches (Sherlock Holmes)

Natasha Richardson as Violet Hunter in the Grenada TV adaptation.

Natasha Richardson as Violet Hunter in the Grenada TV adaptation.

I have blogged about Violet before, but no list of awesome Victorian women is complete without her. Being the only woman apart from the overrated Irene Adler that Holmes would look twice at, this oft-forgotten woman is completely independent, insanely daring, meticulously observant and very, very bright; her determination to find the reason for the strange conduct of her employer impressing the wits out of Holmes, even inspiring him to favour her with the rare compliment of calling her ‘quite exceptional.’ She kicks an impressive amount of conspiracy ass with Holmes and Watson, before disappearing as quickly as Holmes’ interest in her, now that she’s no longer one of his clients.

Éowyn Dernhelm – The Lord of the Rings

Miranda Otto as Éowyn in the immortal Peter Jackson adaptation.

Miranda Otto as Éowyn in the immortal Peter Jackson adaptation.

One of many glorious Tolkien originals, Éowyn is multi-faceted and wild. Suffocated by the tradition that puts a sword in her hand but only allows her to use it in the defence of hearth and home, this shieldmaiden is possessed by a deep sadness at Sauron’s gradual poisoning of Middle Earth; a sadness that metamorphoses to a fiery anger both at the enemy and at her being forbidden to fight, as men do, to protect what she loves. It is both this and her desperate unrequited love for Aragorn that leads her to the battlefield at Pellennor Fields, where she endures an agonising dark night of the soul that is followed, eventually, by a blindingly incandescent catharsis.

Jane Eyre – Jane Eyre

Ruth Wilson as Jane in the 2006 BBC adaptation.

Ruth Wilson as Jane in the 2006 BBC adaptation.

More than anything else, Jane Eyre is free – penniless and without family, but free to go where she chooses and to do as she pleases. Ruled by a sense of right that is her own and not society’s, Jane’s strength is her ability to remain true to herself, even if it means making an unbearable choice between that and the person she loves. There’s none of the usual cooing about strong feelings being wrong and unbecoming: she knows, and admits, that she’s passionate, but doesn’t let that passion control her. This is particularly exemplified in the year she spends away from Rochester following the catastrophe at their wedding: she accepts that there is fulfillment and even, to a certain extent, happiness, to be found in retaining that self. Thankfully, she’s also perceptive and sensitive enough to realise that, where real love is concerned, being true to the other person and to oneself sometimes cannot be separated.

Polgara – The Belgariad and The Malloreon

Polgara cover art.

Polgara cover art.

The sorceress Polgara is several thousand years old. Daughter to the great if crotchety Belgarath, one of several immortal sorcerer disciples of the god Aldur, she is simply ‘Aunt Pol’ to generations and generations of ordinary tradesmen and craftsmen that she protects both from the knowledge that they are the direct descendants of the assassinated King of Riva, Overlord of the West and from the generations and generations of bad guys who know the bloodline still exists and will do anything to extinguish it. She suffers tremendously from what one might call ‘the immortal complex,’ a harrowing, ever-present sadness and knowledge that she will outlive the ones she loves many hundreds of times over and that she will never be able to engage fully with that grief: there will always be another child to raise, another family to be strong for. Her joys in life are simplicity, domesticity and solid, profound goodness, as exemplified in her marriage to the blacksmith Durnik, BUT: terrifyingly powerful and fatally beautiful, she is as formidable an enemy as she is a friend.

Arya Stark – A Song of Ice and Fire

Maisie Williams as Arya in the HBO adaptation.

Maisie Williams as Arya in the HBO adaptation.

A staunch believer that she has a hole where her heart used to be, Arya, who was eleven the last time we saw her, is ruled by anger and vengeance. Already possessing a naturally iron, angry disposition when she witnesses her father beheaded for treason, long months on the road posing as a boy, both free and in captivity, have ensured her daily exposure to the most horrifying cruelty, torture and injustice. This has led to a merciless, eye-for-an-eye view of the world and willingness to commit murder at a moment’s notice, though she still possesses an immensely strong moral compass and confines her bloodlust to those that she believes deserve to die, the most important of whom feature on a list which she recites each night before going to sleep, rather like other people say their prayers. Furthermore, being on the run from most people in the Seven Kingdoms, she has been forced to adopt a wide variety of different identities and smother her own in the name of staying alive. Every day, she tries to kill the little girl by forcing herself to look at each corpse and each hideous injury she comes across, but is also haunted by a childlike fear that she will face rejection if reunited with her family, because of all the people she’s killed.

Marian Halcombe – The Woman in White

Tara Fitzgerald as Marian and Simon Callow as Count Fosco in the 1997 BBC film.

Tara Fitzgerald as Marian and Simon Callow as Count Fosco in the 1997 BBC film.

By far the most interesting woman in the whole of Victorian literature, Marian is the charismatic, ugly and highly intelligent half-sister of the highly annoying Laura Fairlie, the love interest of the novel’s protagonist, Walter Hartwright.

When her beloved Laura turns out to have married an abusive fortune hunter who wants to murder her for her money, and Laura herself turns out to be utterly useless in a crisis, Marian must do everything she can to keep Laura alive and unmask her husband’s plot in the house where they are both trapped. This involves climbing out of her bedroom window in her underwear and eavesdropping in the pouring rain for over an hour, somehow managing to get over the resulting fever in time to fake Laura’s death, and to break her out of a highly secure asylum in broad daylight. She also gets into a somewhat creepy understanding with her new brother in law’s friend and partner in crime, the redoubtable Count Fosco, with whom she shares volcanic ‘hate’ chemistry, hides for months in London (once again taking care of her pathologically useless sister, who has now added insanity to her infinite charms), and, when it’s all over, determines to spend the rest of her life as a companion to her sister rather than search for a serviceable husband to justify her existence.