Welcome to this week’s installment of Geek Girl Authority Crush of the Week, wherein we shine a spotlight on strong women who inspire us. This not only includes fictional female characters in geeky media but creators as well. These ladies are a prime example of female empowerment and how crucial it is for young girls to have said example to follow.
DISCLAIMER: The following is rife with spoilers galore for the Hulu hit Harlots. If you’re not caught up with this highly underrated gem about battling brothels in 18th century London, you may want to remedy that now. You won’t regret it.
Nancy Birch (portrayed by Kate Fleetwood) was picked up as a child by bawd Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville) to work in her household. She met Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton) in Quigley’s brothel – the latter working as a harlot. A friendship blossomed from there and the two became inseparable. While Nancy didn’t contribute to brothels in the traditional sense, she found work as a dominatrix. Men would pay Nancy a pretty penny to utilize her birch twig rod she’s famously named after. In Season 1 of Harlots, we learned that Nancy ran her own brothel. Nancy would also take young girls in – girls on the lower end of the societal ladder. She would often save them from a life on the streets, knowing full well the dangers that lurk there.
Later, Nancy became entangled in the incessant feuding between Wells and Quigley, always siding with the former. She abhorred the way Quigley treated her girls. In Season 2, Nancy was whipped for her insolence after protesting the magistrate’s refusal to condemn the murderer of a young harlot. Despite the immense pain she endured, Nancy stood her ground. In Season 3, Nancy was blindsided by the murder of Charlotte Wells (Jessica Brown Findlay), Margaret’s oldest daughter. She joined Margaret as the pair plotted to unmask the killer, who was still on the loose. Nancy shot Isaac Pincher (Alfie Allen), Charlotte’s lover/rival, under the impression that the latter murdered her. However, we discovered that Isaac’s brother Hal was the real murderer.
Next, Nancy acquired Margaret Wells’ brothel and became its newest bawd. She now operates it alongside Fanny (Bronwyn James).
The Real Deal:
Now, Nancy is the real deal. She possesses a strong moral code and absolutely cannot abide by the mistreatment of young girls. Surprisingly, she doesn’t consider herself the maternal type, but she still “mothers” any girl in need of it. Nancy is loyalty personified and will protect those she loves with every ounce of her being. She’s incredibly accepting of people from all walks of life.
In addition, her love for Margaret is admirable. Nancy loves with all her heart – it’s a pure, untainted kind of love. She also has a dark sense of humor and she’s always making those around her laugh. Nancy possesses a “no-nonsense” air about her. She refuses to take s**t from anyone, especially egotistical men. She keeps the male ego in check – in more ways than one. Her personality is rare for her time period, and quite the opposite of many a demure lady in the 18th century.
Why She Matters:
Alright, so why does she matter? Nancy is the spokeswoman for the downtrodden. She pushes for equality on all fronts – gender, color and otherwise. She wholeheartedly believes that harlots deserve to have the same rights as aristocrats. Nancy is a fighter in every sense of the word.
Not to mention, she’s an LGBTQIA+ character. It’s very evident that her love for Margaret Wells was more than platonic – she even admitted to Charlotte that she loved Maggie romantically. I’m always tickled pink to find LGBTQIA+ characters in costume dramas. While the characters in Harlots are fictitious, it’s still an honest account of the relationships that abounded. In Season 3, she started developing a relationship with Lady Isabella (Liv Tyler), and I hope these two find love in each other soon. Love is love is love is love.
So, be like Nancy. Never shy away from blunt honesty, even if the truth hurts. Protect the downtrodden. Love so much it burns with an all-consuming flame. Stand up for equality. Wear your gallows humor with pride. Oh, and put that birch twig rod to good use, should the need for it arise.