Souvenir Press and feminism

If you were reading our blog before Christmas, you will have no doubt seen our blog post about the radio adaptation of MODESTY BLAISE: A TASTE FOR DEATH which was adapted by Stef Penney for BBC Radio 4.

In an interview with Women’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey before the first installment aired on 17th December, Penney was asked what it was that made Modesty Blaise such a special character to her fans. Most notable in her answer was her description of Modesty as a very feminist character. In Peter O’Donnell’s MODESTY BLAISE series of novels, Modesty is, undoubtedly, in charge. She is the leader of her group, and most unusually is just as free as her male companion Willie Garvin to have relationships with whoever she wants.

A strong female character who is completely in charge of her own sexuality and relationships. Modesty Blaise is often described as ‘the female James Bond’, and as the predecessor of strong, iconic female characters such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Emma Peel, and Charlie’s Angels. In the 1960s when Peter O’Donnell was writing, this was cutting-edge feminism at its best – and written by a man! Indeed, even today there are few characters that could match Modesty Blaise as a female role model.

And if Modesty Blaise positioned Souvenir Press at the forefront of feminist publishing, THE DESCENT OF WOMAN by Elaine Morgan cemented that position. This pioneering work was the first to argue for the equal role of women in human evolution, starting with the demolition of the Biblical myth that woman was an afterthought to the creation of man.

And a little note of historical interest: at the time of publication (in the 1960s for MODESTY BLAISE and the early 1970s for THE DESCENT OF WOMAN), both books were worked on by a freelance publicist who went on to found a well-known British publishing company with a focus on women writers and feminist themes…

Let us know what you think: who is your favourite female role model in fiction? Leave us a comment below.


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