Her heroic achievement is exactly the same as her Norse and mythical counterparts: she must pit good against evil and, unlike in real life, must win through in the end, no matter what she has suffered or lost along the way. She must be a woman of her time, confined by the moral mores, the traditions and tenets of her upbringing. Yet she must also have the strength and courage to appeal to a modern readership. It’s a fine balance and if you read Cookson, you will see that the females in her books managed to do both rather splendidly.
Whatever her problem, she must have the core of strength necessary to allow her to resolve it, whether she is ahead of her time, a rebel, or simply has grit. She must suffer, sink all the way down, be beaten by the prejudices and restrictions of the time, her antagonists, fate, and whatever conflicts you can throw at her. Then she must bring herself back up again and win through, thus making a stand for all women. Your heroine must grow stronger in spirit than she was at the start of the story.
We know that in today’s world we must not attempt to radicalise or be politically incorrect. Being set in the past, you need to reveal that attitudes were very different. Obviously, some issues, such as murder, rape, child abuse, etc., cannot be justified on any account. But it is sometimes necessary to give a slightly modern twang to the problem, or to your main character.
E,g: Illegitimacy, as Cookson made clear, was considered wrong at one time, but not any more. A mixed marriage (at one time being of different religions, was also looked upon as wrong in certain areas, even back in WWII. The issue can be objected to by some people in your story, while others consider it to be perfectly fine. You need to be politically correct by showing points of view from both sides. Where possible look for a balance. My grandmother was a strong working class woman, having an invalid husband and being the one responsible for earning a living. Polly has other problems in the Polly Books but she too is a strong woman who manages to cope despite the difficulties she has to face.
An element of your heroine female character can be slightly modern in that she’s forward thinking for her time so that your readers can empathise with her. In a way, women have always been a bit modern in their way of thinking. They’ve always fought for what they believe in, battled against hard times, done several jobs at once, held their families together and aspired for a better future for their children. Take care though, not to overdo it. Make sure you do not allow your heroine to become an anachronism. Don’t have her knowing or understanding things she couldn’t possibly have known in the period in which she lives. Make her realistic and allow her to achieve what she requires in life.
With no money coming in Polly decides that only drastic action can keep the family from starvation and in a desperate gamble she sells all the family goods and chattels and buys a handcart, from which she sells second-hand rugs and carpets. But struggling to deal with poverty and her husband’s hurt pride are only the start of her problems, for when tragedy strikes Polly has to do battle with the bigotry of a sour brother-in-law to keep herself and her family from falling apart.