I’m not sure what this list says about me as a person. Also, this is sort of an all-time kind of list, so while I liked Katniss, Hermione, Bryony Asquith, Mulan, Sybil Crawley, Eowyn, Jo March, and many, many other female characters, these are the ones I felt most connected to and still feel an enduring connection with.
I’ve read NaNo threads and writing articles and AW threads expressing anxiety about how to write women, both from guys who aren’t sure how to deconstruct the female mind in order to write it, and from women who say they don’t really like other girls, don’t want to write stereotypical females, don’t want their one female character to have to represent all of womankind.
Here, I hope, are a variety of female characters, from different mediums. The fact that most of my favorites have horrible tempers probably say more about my own fictional preferences than what I think is necessarily effective in writing women. But who knows.
Who are your all-time fave female characters? Why?
1. Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell; adapted into film 1939)
Gone With the Wind’s first line is: “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” That iconic sentence describes Scarlett perfectly. She is not like the other women in her Southern circle. She is selfish, greedy, jealous and manipulative. She is not particularly insightful or learned. She steals her sister’s fiance. She spends the entire one thousand-plus-page book “in love” with her neighbor Ashley Wilkes, who is married. She is neglectful of her children and is utterly blind to the love of her third husband, Rhett Butler. But Scarlett is also stubborn, pragmatic, and a survivor. She takes charge of her family and the plantation, ensuring that the people and the land survive. What keeps Scarlett from being insufferable is her charm, determination and her clear motivations. I found her frank and catty thoughts humorous as a teenager and related to her stubborn nature.
2. Grace O’Malley (Grania: She-King of the Irish Seas by Morgan Llywelyn)
Based on the historical figure Grace O’Malley, who was, indeed, an Irish pirate in the Tudor era. Grace (or Grania, her true Irish name) runs a fleet of men, fights battles on land and at sea, divorces one of her husbands, in the rough world of the Irish clans in western Ireland, fighting to keep their culture alive at a time when the English were encroaching upon and colonizing more and more of Ireland. In real life, as in the book, Grace sails to London to meet Elizabeth I. The two women, powerful in their own ways, spoke to each other in Latin. Besides being one of my girlhood heroes, Grace fights for her men, her clan, and her culture as best she can. What makes the novel bittersweet is knowing that ultimately the culture Grace was raised in disappeared from Ireland as it fell more and more under the yoke of the English. Also, coincidentally, Grace is from the same part of Ireland as my ancestors.
3. Catherine Sloper (The Heiress, a play, by Ruth and Augustus Goetz; adapted from the novel Washington Square by Henry James)
Catherine is an awkward, shy, plain girl. But she has lot of money. The only person who seems to value her–her true self–is her aunt, who is staying with Catherine and her father, a doctor who blames Catherine for her mother’s death and scorns his daughter. Catherine is charmed by the beguiling Morris Townsend, a penniless drifter who says he loves her. I won’t spoil the plot, but by the end, Catherine is definitely her own woman. I saw the recent Broadway production of The Heiress starring Jessica Chastain. My friend and I, who happen to be only daughters, related to Catherine immediately.
4. Briony Tallis (Atonement by Ian McEwan; played by Saoirse Ronan in the film adaptation)
It’s only my favorite novel, so it had to come up sometime. And while I like Cecilia and my heart wrenched for her, Briony was the fascinating one to me–and the one that I related to. Yes, I know, Briony causes all the trouble in the book. Briony, who begins the novel as a 13-year-old girl, is a budding writer and has written her first play. Her neurotic creative tendencies reminded me of myself at that age. However, she spends much of her adult life writing and rewriting the course of her deluded mistakes. In Part Three, the reader finds out that Briony has written the first two sections. Written and rewritten, because she can no longer do right by her sister and Robbie, except in fictionalizing the events and giving it a different outcome.
5. Lady Macbeth (Macbeth by Shakespeare)
Yeah, she urges her husband to murder the king. Yeah, she stokes his ambitions. Sure, she’s bloodthirsty and vindictive and then goes insane. She’s still kick-ass though. She’d eat Juliet for breakfast.
6. Anne Elliot (Persuasion by Jane Austen)
Anne is the overlooked Elliot sister. She is an old maid who regrets letting others persuade her against marrying the man she loved. She is plain, quiet, but also sweet, capable and kind. In the end, she proves her steadfastness to Frederick Wentworth and gets her happy ending.