Character Appreciation Post: Modesty Blaise
Who is Modesty Blaise?
After writing he-man type stories and squishy romances, Peter O’Donnell decided to write about a strong, resourceful woman and so, in 1963, Modesty Blaise was born. She began her career in British comic strips with art by Jim Holdaway, moving into novels and radio dramas and finally, some films that I’ll pretend never happened.
But who is she?
Before the age of about 12, she knew nothing, not even her name. An almost feral orphan wandering the Middle East, she crossed paths with a former professor, now a refugee, named Lob, who educated her and gave her the name “Modesty.” She named herself “Blaise” after the wizard who tutored Merlin. Lob soon died and Modesty was once again forced to survive on her own. Armed with knowledge and her fierce will, she became involved with a gang in Tangier run by Henri Louche, working her way to the top until she herself was in charge. “The Network” worked in various vices, but Modesty strictly forbade dealings in drugs and human trafficking. When The Network reached its pinnacle, the young woman married and divorced a British man, thus allowing her to retire comfortably in Britain, a place she had carefully avoided in her illegal dealings. But the sophisticated life of the aristocracy proved a bit boring for Modesty. And Sir Gerald Tarrant, senior official of the Special Intelligence Section of the British Foreign Office specializing in international espionage, was not about to leave her alone.
Why do I love her?
Modesty Blaise has been there from the beginning, modestly doing her thing. For me, she is the epitome of a sexy, independent, strong, confident woman who doesn’t need an anthem to proclaim any of that. Her personality is far more subtle. Modesty simply is who she is and has neither need nor desire to proclaim her strength and independence or prove anything to anyone. She is beautiful, and true to her name in spirit. She is deadly, brilliant, loyal, feminine, determined, and her mere presence commands respect without her ever having to say a word.
She is completely comfortable with her body and embraces her femininity and her sexuality, whether she is lounging post-coitus with a lover, posing nude for the blind sculptor examining the scars across her skin, or stepping topless into a room full of armed thugs, before taking them down with her Colt .32 and her kongo.
O’Donnell decided that Modesty should have a sidekick named Willie Garvin. Don’t assume that this meant O’Donnell felt a woman required a man. When Modesty found Willie, he was a feral, broken creature. She saw the potential in him and raised him up to surpass it. He not only serves as her right hand man, but as her best friend. He fights by her side, encourages her interests, dresses her wounds. They can talk about anything and when no one else is around, he is the shoulder she can cry on when the stress of a caper has taken its toll. And the most beautiful part? Their relationship is platonic perfection:
“It’s refreshing to see the portrayal of different kind of close relationship and one that doesn’t interfere with the overall story (or become the overall story). Instead we just have two people who are fiercely loyal to each other kicking bad-guy arse.”
I have always admired Modesty Blaise. She is one of my idols; a woman who knows what she wants and doesn’t let her fears and weaknesses stand in the way of obtaining it. She is not perfect, and doesn’t try to be. But she manages to be so anyway.
As far as princesses go, she’s the one and only.