Once upon a time literature’s leading ladies included an assortment of damsels in distress (usually of the royal variety), fairy godmothers, and an evil queen/stepmother/witch or two thrown in for good measure. Heroines seemed to be few and far between and if weren’t for the dashing heroes, there would have been a couple of princesses in comas, one poor girl destined to remain a beleaguered servant (doubly annoying as she lost a perfectly gorgeous shoe too), and a young lady stuck in the belly of a wolf.
We do love a fairy tale but we are pleased that storytelling has progressed and we are now blessed with fictional females who have an altogether feistier front. We’re talking strong personalities and attitudes to match. From the courageous to the shrewd, the audacious to the benevolent – literature has given us some of the heartiest heroines around, all deserving of our admiration.
We shall begin with a heroine who manages to floor us with her intensity. Elizabeth Bennet strides out from Jane Austen’s acclaimed novel Pride and Prejudice, with aplomb. We join the estimable Elizabeth (Eliza or Liz to her nearest and dearest) as she embarks on a quest to marry for love, rather than for security or financial gain. Austen herself loved the character of Elizabeth, describing her as “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print.” We couldn’t agree more.
Or how about Josephine March, from Little Women (written by Louisa May Alcott in 1868). We love her liberated, determined approach and the fact that she opts to be called Jo over Josephine. Jo finds living in New England in the 19th century with sisters a little stifling and is most affronted that she cannot join her father and fight in the Civil War. With her bluntness and her urge to defy convention, we can’t help but follow enthusiastically as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery.
Moving on to a more modern-day protagonist, we must give a shout out to Ms Hermione Granger, of Harry Potter Fame. J.K Rowling was firing on all cylinders when developing this super smart female lead. Hermione proves you don’t necessarily need to be a black belt or have some serious kick-ass moves to be a heroine, illustrating the point that intellect and savoir-faire can often win the day.
Initially she comes across as a little condescending but it’s a joy to watch our heroine grow and realise the importance of friendship and allegiance. Extra points to Hermione for coping so well with the bumbling Ron and his wayward wand, and for her fierce loyalty towards Harry. The magical trio often find themselves in scrapes and it’s lucky Ms Granger is on hand, as the brains behind their operation, to get them out of trouble. If I were in a jam I would certainly want Hermione, with her compassion, resourcefulness and tenacity, in my corner.
In fairness, sometimes kick-ass moves do come in handy and as fighting, shooting, and survival go, Katniss Everdeen makes it look slightly easier than we guess it really is! The Hunger Games Trilogy by U.S writer Suzanne Collins, showcases the magnificent skills of our strong and steely leading lady as she negotiates perilous hazards in the fight for freedom, justice, and her actual existence. We can forgive the fact that she sometimes gets a bit wrapped up in the men in her life (a girl needs a distraction after all)!
Back to the classics and we must mention the fair and just Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte penned this renowned novel back in 1847, but its leading lady manages to stand the tests of time. Despite having a very poor start in life and numerous setbacks along the way, Jane resolutely refuses to lie down and give up. Ethical and logical, she rises above the stumbling blocks of her life and bounces back like a rubber ball. Self-reliance appears to be her thing, but we are heartened that she still has time for a love interest in the form if Mr Rochester. Go girl!
For a young but extremely savvy heroine you should look no further than Matilda. Master of unforgettable characters, Roald Dahl managed to create a superbly shrewd child in Matilda. Even at a tender age, she has figured out that to succeed she mustn’t suffer fools – and she encounters plenty of them! From her outlandish mother to her dodgy salesman of father, her pushy brother to the fearsome Ms Trunchball, Matilda takes them all on and better still, wins! She sets about righting wrongs, punishing the unjust, and making the world a generally nicer place. Her spooky telekinetic powers may help her a little along the way but it’s her tireless grit and fearless independence that make her true heroine material.
There are far too many to hearty heroines to mention them all here. Whether you like to read about smart cookies or fearless warriors, we should all agree that while dainty princesses have their place so to do the astute heroines that grace so many of our great books. Keep them coming authors, we love a robust heroine tearing up the pages.
Emma Challoner-Miles is a busy wife, mum, teaching assistant and freelance writer. When she isn’t cooking tea, making phonics fun, or glued to the laptop she can be found walking Roy – her adorable, but slightly crazy Border Collie, reading (anything and everything, dreaming of a life in the sun, and drinking wine (anything and everything).
Keep an eye out for Emma’s next post, when she’ll be talking villains!