Independent women really started to come into their own in the early 20th century. It wasn't easy, but women felt invigorated by the nearing of the millenium, when everything seemed possible. I've collected some novels about unconventional women of the time period with great sensual and period detail.
Albanian Eleanora and her father are a team, but when he is killed over a matter of honor, Eleanora has to become The Sworn Virgin in her house and live like a man to stave off starvation and a brutal suitor. Things go well until a handsome stranger enters her life, rekindling Eleanora's hopes of going to Italy to study art. Kristopher Dukes paints a lush, compelling picture of the harsh beauty and harsher codes of conduct in tribal Albania.
Kate Alcott depicts the class struggles and lives of the wealthy and their servants of Old New York in The Dressmaker. Tess knows she is destined to be far more than just a maid. She has excellent sewing skills and manages to get hired by a blue-blooded couturier just in time to survive the sinking of the Titanic. Alcott bases much of her tale on the transcripts of the inquest into the sinking of the ship, and Tess has to decide between loyalty and ambition. Romance is also a feature in this richly detailed novel.
The title character in Beatriz Williams' The Secret Life of Violet Grant is a scientist, an odd thing for a woman in 1910's society. Her great-niece Vivian is also considered a bit odd, wanting to deliver scoops instead of coffee to her magazine publisher boss in the 1960s. Vivian gets her chance when a long-lost suitcase belonging to Violet shows up and Vivian digs into family secrets, eventually travelling to Europe to track down the truth. The story flips between Violet and Vivian, their situations often heart-wrenchingly similar in this dramatic saga.
Charles Todd deftly portrays WWI in The Walnut Tree. Lady Elspeth is newly engaged and trapped in France when world war breaks out. Flouting convention, she finds meaningful work as a military nurse. She also forms a genuine connection with an army captain in this atmospheric and heartwarming tale.
Got more books about uncommon women at the turn of the last century? Tell us about them in the comments.