So how should one become a heroine, are they born or created? Time after time we learn from the novels that it is nature not nurture that creates the necessary characteristics.

 From The Castle of Wolfenbach (Eliza Parsons, 1793); Matilda has been left on the doorstep of a German gentleman as a baby and raised as his niece. As she discovers the mystery surrounding her birth she realises the need to reject the suit of the Count De Bouville. She cannot risk the chance of dishonour on his family if her parentage (or lack thereof) is discovered.

 However, her patron, Marchioness de Melfort assures her:

 “ – You sprung not from humble or dishonest parents, – the virtues you possess are hereditary ones, doubt it not, my dear Matilda; if nobleness of birth can add any lustre to qualities like yours, you will one day possess that advantage.”

There are many other examples of similar assurances being given.  So despite the fact that she has been raised in a gentleman’s home and had all the educational and social benefits that affords, it is still only through her parentage that her qualities as a heroine shine through.

 Years before Mendel and his peas, genetics was clearly recognised as the way in which the heroic characteristics are passed from parent to daughter.

But, on the other hand, the character of the villain is clearly enhanced as the result of nurture. two brothers, born equal, but the younger brother’s misdeeds are a result of his upbringing

My parents saw my early propensity to wickedness, but entirely taken up with their darling boy, I must say that they neglected to eradicate those seeds of vice in my nature, which an early and proper attention might have done; but given up to the care of profligate servants, never received but with frowns and scorn; my learning, my dress, my company all left to myself I soon grew up in wickedness.

The result – a warning to parents

Parents  would do well to consider this lesson; unjust, or even deserved partialities, visibly bestowed on one child, whilst others are neglected, too generally creates hatred to that child. It lays a foundation for much future misery in the family; creates every vice which envy and malice can give birth to, and the darling object is generally the victim.

So through adversity a heroine’s virtues will always shine through, but adversity too will harden the heart of those inclined to villain-hood.