What is it that unites some of the most well-known female protagonists in literary history? What makes them such memorable characters who have been admired and revered by countless readers across the generations? This blog discusses ten famous female protagonists whose ability to balance relationships with independence, humility with intellect, and femininity with strength makes them truly unforgettable.
1. Elizabeth Bennet – PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, Jane Austen (1813)
"Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters."
The second in a family of five sisters, Elizabeth Bennet is handsome, charming and strong-willed. Closer to her father than to her mother, she displays his calmness and clarity of mind alongside her own willful independence. Her determination not to marry for money makes her different from most of the young women in her society. Elizabeth is amiable yet determined, romantic yet clear-headed, feminine yet independent. It is this blend of captivating characteristics that makes her one of literature’s most loved literary heroines.
2. Jane Eyre – JANE EYRE, Charlotte Bronte (1847)
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me."
From orphan to schoolgirl, young woman to governess, Jane Eyre refuses to let her background get the better of her. Blessed with intelligence, though not with beauty, her spirited nature has been admired by readers for centuries. Jane’s childish rebellion and fiery temper transform into steady courage and quiet intellect as she grows up. She may not possess the same charm as Elizabeth Bennet, but her ability to create a life for herself from nothing and to remain in control of her destiny, whilst still falling in love, is admirable.
3. Jo March – LITTLE WOMEN, Louisa M. Alcott (1868)
"Women ... have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts."
The second sister out of four and by far the feistiest, Jo March is Louisa M. Alcott’s most fiercely independent character. Boyish and boisterous, she is unlike her three sisters, yet she shares with them the feminine bond of sisterhood. Though Jo has strong family bonds and close friendships, her independence often isolates her. It is however her stoic determination and her ability to remain true to herself in the face of challenges that makes her so unforgettable.
4. Anne Shirley – ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, L. M. Montgomery (1908)
“Oh, it's delightful to have ambitions. I'm so glad I have such a lot."
Full of charm and spirit, Anne Shirley is a much-loved literary character. Though her actions often get her into trouble, her intentions are always well-meaning and she is quick to admit her errors and ‘repent’. Where she is able to see her own flaws, she is also able to see the kindness and goodness in others, even when those around her cannot. Anne demonstrates intellect and strong independence, whilst still desiring love and a family of her own. Though her fiery nature never entirely vanishes, it becomes more controlled as she grows up.
5. Laura Ingalls – ‘LITTLE HOUSE‘ series, Laura Ingalls-Wilder (1932)
'She thought to herself, ‘This is now.’'
The Little House series was based on the author’s own life growing up in 19th-century America. Laura Ingalls is presented as a stoic character who brings a unique sense of realism to the tale she lives within. As a child, Laura is bold and adventurous. Although not as feminine as her mother and sisters, she is hardworking and deeply loyal to her family. Laura’s resilience and independence, playfulness and poise have made her one of the most praised female literary protagonists of all time.
6. Scarlet O’Hara – GONE WITH THE WIND, Margaret Mitchell (1936)
“After all, tomorrow is another day!”
Scarlet O’Hara, the feisty heroine in Margaret Mitchell’s epic tale. The vain and spoilt daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, Scarlet isn’t always a likeable character. Nonetheless, she possesses a fiery spirit and keen intelligence. Her mechanisms for survival and her ability to endure hardship have placed her amongst the most memorable and commended female characters in literary history.
7. Anne Frank – ANNE FRANK, Anne Frank (1947)
“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”
As an autobiographical tale, written in diary format, Anne Frank’s documentation of her family’s life in hiding during WWII is both captivating and astonishing. Although just a girl, Anne’s story is one of resilience in the face of hardship and struggle. Her introspective nature, vivid imagination and continual optimism make her a young woman who has, for many years, been honoured and admired by her readers.
8. Lucy Pevensie – NARNIA, C. S. Lewis (1950)
"Queen Lucy the Valiant.”
Lucy Pevensie lives in a different kind of world, one in which magic exists. Although just a child at the beginning of the Narnia series, she is bright and brave from the start. Lucy’s courage in the face of danger, her ability to believe, and her continual desire to discover the truth make her a brilliant character. Her wisdom and strength of will are admirable for such a young girl. Like other female characters before and after her, it is her ability to stick up for what she believes in and knows to be true that makes her such a cherished and unforgettable character.
9. Hermione Granger – HARRY POTTER, J. K. Rowling (1997)
“Books! And cleverness! There are more important things!
Bold and courageous, Hermione Granger is often admired for her intelligence and independence. Although shamed by her rivals for being the daughter of non-magical parents, she refuses to let this hold her back. Like every other female character on this list, Hermione isn’t afraid to be exactly who she wants to be. The kindness beneath her sharp exterior, her intelligence and her charm render her a treasured and greatly respected literary character.
10. Juliet Ashton – THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows (2008)
"There is nothing I would rather do than rummage through bookshops."
Perhaps less well known, but no less brilliant, is Juliet Ashton. Written in epistolary form, the novel she lives within captures her powerful sense of independence and ambition. This ambition, paired with a desire for adventure, leads Juliet to change the path she is on and find herself and a sense of belonging. She isn’t afraid to take the leap and go where her heart and mind take her. Juliet fights for the stories she wants to tell, in spite of the obstacles placed in her way. Well-read and ambitious, feminine and charming, she is a brilliant modern heroine.
*Who are your favourite literary heroines? Do you agree with this list?*
(All images supplied by Unplash)