The Lineage of Miss Gwen

When I say the lineage of Miss Gwen, I don’t mean in the direct genealogical sense (although we’ll be learning a bit more about that in The Passion of the Purple Plumeria). No. I refer to her literary antecedents.

Someone asked me recently whether Miss Gwen was based on anyone I know. In the literal sense, she’s not. In the literary sense, she is. Miss Gwen was my homage to all the duennas and chaperones of popular fiction. One of the main inspirations for the character of Miss Gwen? Lucinda Throckmorton-Jones, the iron-spined chaperone of Judith McNaught’s Almost Heaven, which was my absolute favorite book for a chunk of my teen years. There’s really nothing like watching Lucinda Throckmorton-Jones in action, primly manipulating everyone around her. Occasionally with the application of a stout stick.

At least, I’d thought that Lucinda Throckmorton-Jones was the primary inspiration for Miss Gwen.

I knew there was also a fair amount of Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody in her. Whenever I thought of Miss Gwen, Amelia Peabody’s habit of referring to herself in capital letters as “ME”– as in “How dare he underestimate ME?”– came to mind. The two also share a taste for accessorized weaponry.

Another of Miss Gwen’s direct influences? Beatrice Poole, the Gothic-novel writing heroine of Amanda Quick’s With This Ring. Beatrice Poole’s horrid novels, written under the pseudonym of Amelia York, were a direct inspiration for Miss Gwen’s literary endeavors.

But it wasn’t until last week that I realized I had completely overlooked one of Miss Gwen’s most formative– and formidable– ancestresses: Elizabeth Peters’s Jacqueline Kirby.

I was re-reading the fourth in the series, Naked Once More, when the lightbulb popped up over my head. I think it may have been the moment when Jacqueline mused, “Tact was so tiring. That was why Jacqueline had given it up.” If Miss Gwen has a motto, other than “Speak loudly and carry a large parasol”, it’s probably akin to that.

But it’s not just the specific sentiment. It’s the attitude. Both ladies carry themselves with an air of unflappable self-confidence, secure in the conviction that They Know Best. And, generally, they do. Jacqueline Kirby’s chosen weapon is her oversized purse– but if she could fit a sword parasol in there, I don’t think she’d scorn to use one.

Are there other characters that strike you as kindred spirits to Miss Gwen?


  1. Allison on July 29, 2013 at 11:59 am

    Alexia Tarabotti- another patroness of the parasol!

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