Does yours make the cut?
Words by Millen Brown-Ewens
From virago’s and femme fatales to the ever-beguiling English rose, it would appear that the women of our early literary escapades continue to stand the test of time. Symbolising the depth and complexity of the female disposition, these six favourites remind us of the triumphs of fiction in lending itself to character construction which observes the female perspective.
1. Jo March- Little Women
Bold, bright and entirely self-sufficient, Jo March is the archetype of a strong female protagonist in classic literature. Whilst inwardly she certainly struggles with the pressures of societal expectations, she presents herself as an unorthodox heroin set against her conforming sisters; Amy and Meg. Whilst confident and determined in her work, her erudition remains entirely without pretention. It is perhaps this very quality which has kept her close to the hearts of readers for over 150 years.
"I'm happy as I am, and love my liberty too well to be in a hurry to give it up for any mortal man."
2. Clarissa Dalloway- Mrs Dalloway
Troubled in her efforts to harmonize her internal thoughts with the frivolities of her outside world, Mrs Dalloway is a stark reminder of the complexities of not only the female disposition but of the whole of humanity. In her tendency towards introspection, Clarissa unveils a deep capacity for emotion which she struggles to place within the context of her party. Nevertheless, what we may admire, is her joy in the keeping of her soul’s privacy. A lesson that says, whilst sharing can and often does ease burdens, a woman’s heart is truly a ‘deep ocean of secrets’. (See Titanic for reference)
“There is a dignity in people; a solitude; even between husband and wife a gulf”
3. Jeannette- Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
In this 1985 bildungsroman, Jeannette, a fictionalised version of the author herself, battles with faith and the realisation of her homosexuality. Against the judgement of the church, she is a symbol of light, never turning against those holding faith and their rejection of her sexuality. Instead of anger, the path Jeannette takes is one of reflection. Reflection not only on herself but on the matter of spirituality, rebirth and relationships. Take note.
“Every time you make an important choice, the part you left behind continues the other life.”
4. Lisbeth Salander- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Lisbeth Salander walked so Villanelle could run. Speaking of the complex characteristics that make up Lisbeth, author Steig Larsson said ‘Sometimes these people look like pretty flowers, but when you try to pick them, you discover stinging nettles in your grasp.’ Nevertheless, our rather unexpected antiheroine, Lisbeth Salander is a psychopath with a conscience. Often undermined in respect to both intelligence and independence, Lisbeth strives to exceed expectations with success. Her violence seems a mere deflection of her victimisation and whilst perhaps not the most virtuous role model, there is no doubt that she’s a survivor.
“Friendship - my definition - is built on two things. Respect and trust. Both elements have to be there. And it has to be mutual. You can have respect for someone, but if you don't have trust, the friendship will crumble.”
5. Hester Prynne- The Scarlet Letter
Whilst this is a classic that continues to divide its readers, the tenacity of its female protagonist remains undisputed. Within isolation, Hester Prynne somehow finds an inner strength which shields her against the humiliation she bears. The scarlet letter is no friend, but neither will she let it become her foe. Outwardly, yes, it hinders her but it does not shake her within. She lives on, truthful to herself and unperturbed by reproaching eyes.
“The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers,—stern and wild ones,—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.”
6. Elizabeth Bennet- Pride and Prejudice
Tempted neither by wealth nor status, Lizzie Bennet for many, remains a pioneer in the language of love. For a Regency woman, her sharp wit and resolute demeanour is rousing and her insightful observations of her friends and acquaintances is still today, extremely comical. Misunderstood by the etiquette of the upper echelons, Lizzie often finds herself laughing to no one but herself. Relatable no? And whilst at times her stubbornness blind-sights her own judgment, throughout Austen’s novel she learns to temper this, making for an excellent expedition into her character and a fulfilling match with the delicious Mr Darcy.
“There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it & every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.”
Illustrations by Rubi-Blue Collins