The Aristocrat, the Victorian, his Wife, and their Shoggoth
By Silvia Moreno-Garcia
When we issued a call for historical Lovecraftian stories, Paula and I expected some Victorian stories. We also expected that there’d be more tales about men than women because the default mindset seems to be that women did not hold positions of power or significance in the past (though this is untrue on so many levels, especially when you consider different social classes in a given time period). Thus, we thought we’d get some of the more famous women in history (Cleopatra, Agrippina, Elizabeth I), but few tales about women who were not so famous, or women in certain cultures which seem very macho to the casual viewer (such as Prehispanic societies, for example). We did not, however, expect to find ourselves wondering where all the women had gone. Story after story featured a male Victorian aristocrat – other social classes were seldom represented. If we were lucky, maybe a wife or girlfriend was mentioned in passing. Most of the time, though, women were entirely absent.
Lovecraft did not have female heroines. Heck, some of his characters didn’t even seem to know what a woman was. However, it struck us as odd that, with so many cultures and periods in history to choose from, we’d have contemporary writers zeroing in on one period (Victorian England) and dismissing female characters as unworthy of study. Eventually, some feedback came up the grapevine telling me that some writers felt there were just not enough time periods and cultures in which women had enjoyed a significant or free enough position. There was just not enough material for inspiration. We may never do a Historical Lovecraft 2, but I thought I’d point out some interesting women who are absent from our anthology. Some of these may inspire new stories for you writers reading this post:
- The Dahomey Amazons were an all-female military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahome. The regiment was created in the 17th century.
- La Monja Alferez was a 17th-century woman who served as a soldier. Renowned for her temper and her prowess with a sword.
- Blessed Hildegard of Bingen was an abbess and writer. Some of her work includes medical texts.
- Trotula was an Italian female physician. She authored several important texts about women’s health.
- Émilie du Châtele, French mathematician. She translated Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica.
- Tapputi, possibly the world’s first chemist, from Mesopotamia.
- Artemisia I of Caria, commander of the Persian king Xerxes. Remembered for her participation in the Battle of Salamis.
- The Vestal Virgins were priestesses of Vesta, Goddess of the Hearth. They enjoyed a number of privileges, and were free to own property and make a will.
- Ix Tzutz Nik might have been queen of Tikal in the Mayan Early Classic period. Alternatively, she might be a mythological figure. Or both, as Mayan rulers are often depicted as deities.
I do not intend this to be an exhaustive overview of women through history. However, I hope it will provide food for thought for those interested in writing historical fiction with fantastic elements.
In closing, I’d like to mention that we did not receive submissions set in one of my favourite time periods: Tudor England. For some reason, the Mexica (aka Aztecs) were also absent.
The final table of contents of Historical Lovecraft features a wide variety of cultures and characters – from monks to pilots. There are female characters from Iceland, Japan, Peru, and other places. I think it’s a good, sound mix. However, we did have to wade through a lot of Victoriana to arrive at a more eclectic selection. I’m still not sure why this happened, but it was an interesting experience.
Bio: Silvia Moreno-Garcia was born and raised in Mexico. She moved to Canada several years ago and now lives in beautiful British Columbia with her family and two cats. She writes speculative fiction (from magic realism to horror). Her short stories have appeared in professional publications such as Fantasy Magazine and Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic Science Fiction. She is a member of SF Canada, SFWA and HWA. She co-edited Historical Lovecraft with Paula R. Stiles.