1st Edition

Heroines in History A Thousand Faces

By Katie Pickles Copyright 2023
    210 Pages 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    210 Pages 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Heroines in History: A Thousand Faces moves beyond stories of individual heroines, taking a thematic, synthesising and global in scope approach to challenge previous understandings of heroines in history.

    Responding to Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, Katie Pickles explores the idea of a transcultural heroine archetype that recurs through time. Each chapter addresses an archetypal theme important for heroines in history. The volume offers a new consideration of the often-awkward position of women in history and embeds heroines in the context of their times, as well as interpreting and analysing how their stories are told, re-told and represented at different moments. To do so it recovers and compares some women now forgotten, along with well-known recent heroines and brings together a diversity of women from around the world. Pickles looks at the interplay of gender, race, heredity status, class and politics in different ways and chronicles the emergence of heroines as historical subjects valued for their substance and achievements, rather than as objects valued for their image and celebrity.

    In an accessible and original way, the book builds upon developments in women’s and gender history and is essential reading for anyone interested in this field.

    1 Introduction: the heroine with a thousand faces?

    2 Mothers: super-womanly, spiritual Goddess power

    3 Warriors: modern Amazons serving their people

    4 Callings: from selfless to gloriously selfish

    5 Cross-dressing: the limits of binary identity

    6 Death and disability: a heroine’s lot

    7 Feminist icons and role models: white, female and middle class

    8 Glamour: all image and no substance?

    9 Conclusion: plastic body parts, celebrity mothers, Perspex cages and a new Joan of Arc


    Katie Pickles is Professor of History at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. She was the recipient of a Te Apārangi Royal Society of New Zealand James Cook Research Fellowship for ‘the heroine with a thousand faces.’ Her research examines heroism, intersectional identities and decolonisation. She is also the author of Female Imperialism and National Identity: Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (2002/09), Transnational Outrage: The Death and Commemoration of Edith Cavell (2007/15) and Christchurch Ruptures (2016).

    "Katie Pickles’s Heroines in History uses an astonishing assortment of case studies to make a simple, elegant argument: modern heroines become recognizable as historical models reshaped by the heterosexist societies that produce and surround them. Pickles persuades us that tales of heroines have always promoted a few enduring types of feminine fame and honor—mostly as motherly saviors, cross-dressing woman-warriors, and martyrs to the cause, whether that cause be an empire, an ideal, or domestic responsibility. Pickles rehearses fascinating tales of heroines, ranging from the fifth-century Chinese soldier Hua Mulan (of Disney fame) and Māori goddesses, to Princess Diana and the teenager called to eco-activism, Greta Thunberg. Like one of the aviatrices she also analyses, Pickles fearlessly flies over historical periods and regions of the world to deconstruct the heroic narratives that have both advertised and contained exceptional women. Global consciousness now influences our tales of famous women, just as maternal imperialist values shaped 19th-century heroines, and 20th-century French politics altered the legend of Joan of Arc. Who will step forward in coming times as the new generation of heroines? With Katie Pickles’s book in hand, we are all better prepared to find out."

    Lisa Bitel

    Author of Our Lady of the Rock: Vision and Pilgrimage in the Mojave Desert (Cornell 2016)

    Dean’s Professor of Religion & Professor of History

    University of Southern California


    "Heroines in History: a Thousand Faces reveals the fascinating patterns that underpin the creation of heroines. As archetypes that resonate across cultures and through time the book explores the complex ideological underpinnings that make heroines of women warriors, royals, radicals and religious along with mothers, mystics and adventurers. Pickles illuminates the foundational forces that propel women to prominence as heroines and deftly unpacks the cultural work that ensures they continue to speak to contemporary audiences. Written in a vibrant and accessible style, it is a joy to read."


    Louise Edwards, FAHA, FASSA, FHKAH

    Author of Women Warriors and Wartime Spies of China (Cambridge 2016).

    Emeritus Professor 

    School of Humanities and Languages

    University of New South Wales