In 1802, Jane Austen was poor, unmarried, and homeless; she had ideas for her future novels but no place to sit and write them. When she receives an offer of marriage from a rich man, she must decide between financial security and her writing life. Fourteen years later, teenager Mary Godwin elopes to France with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and she welcomes her newfound outsider status—until she becomes a young widow. Imprisoned for a year, Joan of Arc struggles with her faith, but after her terrified recantation she makes a heroic return to the stake. Offering a study in courage, Victoria Shorr finds unexpected parallels in these three women at critical moments in their lives.