Lately I’ve been reading quite a few books featuring strong female characters. They’ve primarily been Holocaust memoirs, but I’ve been dabbling in some Edith Wharton, too. It got me thinking about some favorite fictional female characters and how much they have inspired or motivated me. While I don’t live by the “boys drool, girls rule” mentality, I do appreciate fine literature that shows women struggling to overcome the same emotions, situations, or problems that I also face as a woman. Without further ado, here are ten fictional women who have most impacted me from a literary standpoint.
1. Éowyn: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Éowyn has long been a literary crush of mine. Time and again, she proved her mettle and ultimately did what “no man” could do: slayed the Witch King. Yet for such a strong character, she was surprisingly fragile, coping with many common emotions and traits– jealousy, fear of not leaving a positive impact on those around her, worry that she would be trapped by social expectations, and a rather impulsive personality that sometimes lead to poor decisions. In other words, she was a highly realistic character. She also showed immense loyalty, friendship, love, and bravery, and after the war ended she realized her role as shield-maiden called for her to put aside the sword and help heal her people and land. I relate to so many of her concerns and passions, and I love how she eventually found a peaceful joy and balance within her life.
2. Celie: The Color Purple
Celie’s story impacted me on so many levels. The product of neglect, trauma, sexual and physical abuse, and endless heartbreak, Celie was truly the depiction of a world-weary woman. Through her letters to God, we saw her overcome her passiveness and fears and find her own voice, resulting in new friendships, the bond of family, joy in her femininity, and the strength to overcome any past and forge a new, productive, and happy future. I started her story with tears and also ended it with tears, but at least the tears at the end were those celebrating her redemption and new life.
3. Anne: Anne of Green Gables Series
Was there anything to hate about Anne? She was intelligent, loyal, compassionate, creative, a hard worker…all without seeming “too perfect” of a literary character. The entire series beautifully spans her life, and I loved watching her grow from an awkward, tempestuous, fiery child to a woman of grace, humor, and self-awareness. Although she had plenty of flaws, she always worked on overcoming them and aspired to be the best she could– not so people would love her, but so she could best love others. Her life brought many sorrows and struggles, many moments that required tact and godly graces, and though she often failed her own goals, she always learned from her mistakes and tried to make amends as much as possible. Montgomery wrote Anne’s character so realistically that I felt Anne was a true “kindred spirit” and was often compared to her throughout my teen years. I encourage everyone to read the entire series, but be prepared for many laughs and not a few tears.
4. Professor McGonagall: Harry Potter Series
There’s no denying that Hermoine Granger really rocked being a strong female lead in the Harry Potter series, but can we talk about Professor McGonagall for a moment? I found her incredibly motivating and inspiring. She was exceptionally gifted as a witch and also unique– one of only seven licensed Animagi of the 20th Century. She was fiercely loyal to Gryffindor house and a severely strict headmistress, yet McGonagall was respected and trusted by her students. She placed much emphasis on justice and fairness, and although she did not often allow people past her emotional barriers, it was clear that the friendships she had were friendships for a lifetime. She showed strength, wisdom, and a warrior’s spirit when the Battle of Hogwarts ensued, and I have always admired her compassion, tact, and deep sense of calm and clear-mindedness during times of stress. Plus…the woman could literally turn into a cat. What’s not to love about her?
5. Persephone: Greek Mythology
This may be an odd choice, but the story of Persephone has always moved me. She was lovely beyond belief, bringing vibrancy and life everywhere she went. As a young woman, she was close to her mother and often perceived as highly innocent, obedient, and too ready to please those around her. After the whole debacle with Hades (if that’s a good term for getting unexpectedly dragged to the Underworld, sexually molested, and then essentially imprisoned against her will), Persephone showed maturity in her ability to compromise her life away so that both her mother and husband could (sort of) be happy. In Persephone, I saw adaptation; her skill of handling times of darkness, loss, and deep depression, only to spring forth with a new mindset and positive outlook afterwards. She was ever-changing, influencing those around her and growing constantly in her own personality. She was also trustworthy, following through with her commitments even if they weren’t exactly what she would have preferred. With the immense expectations placed on her, Persephone bowed to her fate fairly gracefully, patiently waiting for her months in the sunshine and flowers.
6. Sarah: A Little Princess
As a child, I was annoyed by Sarah because she just seemed a little too good to be true. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve come to appreciate the qualities Sarah had, mostly her very Ellen DeGeneres-like trait of kindness. Sarah pretty much wrote the book on kindness and all other princess-y qualities like bravery, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice, and she also had a particular talent for story-telling. She took her trials– hunger, poverty, difficulties with bullies, heartbreak over the loss of loved ones– and turned them into beautifully woven tales that encouraged and comforted herself and her friends, who loved her dearly. As with most princesses, her fortitude, charity, and gentle nature eventually lead to her very own happy ending.
7. Orual: Till We Have Faces
Orual was such a unique character. She was not particularly likable, but I think that was part of what made her more powerful and easier to learn from. The sister of Psyche, she was everything that Psyche was not– unattractive, angry, and insecure with a twisted and possessively controlling way of loving those around her, particularly Psyche. We watch her grapple with various relationships but most importantly with her view of the gods and how strongly destiny and fate play in a person’s journey through life. She struggled to understand a passionate, holy love like that of Eros and Psyche, and we can easily sympathize with her continued trials of understanding herself, her true intentions towards others, and the consequences of her actions. Though a difficult and complex character to understand, Orual and her story were deeply meaningful and touching, especially from the viewpoint of a Christian trying to understand how to connect with God or understand His plan.
8. Miss Marple: From Agatha Christie Novels
For many years, Agatha Christie’s mysteries were my favorites to delve into. Although her character Poirot had his charms, no other character compared to Miss Marple, a returning lead in many of Christie’s books. She reminded me of Mary Poppins, if Mary were a slightly fussy older lady who “just happened” to be on the scene moments after a juicy murder took place. Miss Marple was genius, kindness, and a wallflower personality all wrapped up in knitting needles and teacups. She was often misjudged as being naive, having rarely traveled beyond her small hometown, yet she shrewdly unraveled some of the most difficult mysteries because of her overarching knowledge and experience with human nature. I admired her Victorian tact, ladylike behavior, and killer (no pun intended) instincts, and I’d have loved to sit with her over a tasty brunch to discuss the latest intrigues.
9. Jane: Jane Eyre
“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!–I have as much soul as you,–and full as much heart!” This was, in my opinion, one of Jane’s glorifying moments in the book. After a lifetime of neglect, sorrow, and poverty, Jane showed that a woman does not have to be gorgeous, bubbly, extroverted, or chased after by suitors in order to have worth or passion. There is dignity in simplicity, intelligence, humbleness, and quietness. Jane also showed that being meek does not equate to being a doormat: a woman can be strong and stand up for herself and beliefs without resorting to vulgarity, anger, or impatience. I loved watching her character develop from a misunderstood, frustrated child to a graceful adult, full of vivacity, desires, and goals. When life dealt her unexpected blows, she showed maturity and a hard work ethic even through her depression or uncertainty. I’ve read this novel many times, and each time I develop a new appreciation for Jane.
10. Beatrice: Much Ado About Nothing
Beatrice was a true treat of a literary character. Her stubbornness and witty, biting humor were coupled with her extreme love and loyalty to family and friends. In many ways, she reminded me of Elizabeth Bennett from Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, but I felt more of a connection to Beatrice growing up, probably because I also have always been highly opinionated with a strong sense of sarcasm that has to be reigned in at times. Although a huge proponent of love and marriage for others, she swore off marriage for herself because she felt no man could meet her standards and fill her life with as much happiness as her single life held. Beatrice was spunky, genuinely joyful, and a compassionate friend and daughter. Her character particularly shines in the more modern Joss Whedon film adaptation of the play, which I highly recommend to all Shakespeare (and Whedon) fans.
There are so many incredible female characters within fiction, and I don’t feel I’ve adequately described these favorites because their personalities are so diverse and dynamic. If you haven’t read any of the books mentioned above, I encourage you to dive deeper and take some time to study these amazing women. Honorable mentions include Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web, Elnora Comstock from Girl of the Limberlost, Minny Jackson from The Help, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Who are some of your favorite females in literature? Which women do you most relate to in fiction? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!