Top 10 Literary Heroines

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This post was inspired by two things. Firstly watching Ron Lit’s recent video on her top 10 heroines (FYI her videos on Jane Austen are amazing). literary listographySecondly to get into using my Literary Listography. I’ve been two nervous of messing up this beautiful book to actual fill in any lists! Although Heroines isn’t in the book I thought this post would inspire me to get started.

So after that preamble lets get straight to the list (in no particular order).

1. Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Too obvious a choice? I don’t care. I grew up 90% convinced I was actually Lizzie Bennet and would have loved to have half as much of her sass and wit, never mind a pair of fine eyes! We all know she’s downright awesome – but one of the reasons I love her the most is because she is flawed. She is not a perfect heroine, she makes mistakes and is totally judgmental, but able to admit that and move on from it. I also adore that she wants true love and will settle for nothing less!

2. Cassandra from Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle

This is the coming of age story for young readers / writers. Cassandra captures life around her, sitting with her feet in the kitchen sink to write in her journal. The characters in this book are all very vivid to me, but on first reading Cassandra jumped of the page and into my psyche. It’s a book I have re-read and will re-read multiple times. I felt a kinship with Cassandra and, from hearing other people talk about the book, I don’t think I’m alone in that. Especially as a young woman she is a heroine you can really understand. Although the books doesn’t follow her into womanhood, I just kind of know that she grew up to be kick ass.

3. and 4. Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn

Okay so real people and all but still. I have read so much fact and fiction about these ladies they had to make it on the list. Including both may seem odd as they were directly in opposition, both claiming to be Henry VIII’s wife at the same time (Catherine never accepted she was not married to Henry, even when he was legally married to Anne). As women, has historical figures and as fictional representations I adore them both. Neither is willing to give up on what she knows is rightfully hers or what she believes in. Neither is perfect, both accused of lying or manipulating at various points, they both never the less changed the course of history in an undeniably male landscape.

5. Daenerys Targaryen from George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series

And sort of all the women from this series – Cersei, Catelyn, Sansa, Ayra, Brienne…
These women are strong, sword-wielding, game changing characters. I’m probably drawn to Daenerys most because of the dragons, but really what I love about her character is that on her own terms, she grows a powerbase in the best way she can at the time. She makes some bad decisions and admittedly commits acts that make the male characters look like kittens (but come on we’ve all burnt down a town or two in a rage moment right?) but she does so fighting for freedom and for what she believes is hers. Right or wrong in how she goes about it, there’s an innate sense of morality and willpower that make her an epic heroine who stands out in an epic series.

6. Becky Sharp from William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair 

Oh my goodness Becky Sharp. Just a brilliant character who I adored reading about. Villainous, gold-digging and sharp as her name. I found Becky a breath of mischievous fresh air among all the classics I was reading at the time. I’ve only read this once but a special place has remained in my heart for Becky and for this book. She is totally the character I would most want to play from the classics! As an aside the 1998 BBC adaptation with Natasha Little as Becky Sharp is well worth a watch (avoid the Reese Witherspoon one!)

7. Matilda from Roald Dahl’s Matilda

Matilda makes it onto the list because she was one of the first characters I read who made reading cool – a validation needed by many young bookish types. ‘You can literally take over the world through reading’ was how I interpreted Matilda’s story. A maxim I still choose to live by today!

8. Lisbeth Salander from Steig Larson’s Millenium series

The reasons Lisbeth is a favourite heroine are difficult to explain. Mainly it’s because she is seriously badass with a strong moral compass. She excels at things traditionally associated with the male sphere (computer hacking, investigating and well, kicking ass), she inhabits the world on her own terms, gains the freedom which is rightfully hers and doesn’t really give a crap what people think. Although Lisbeth is by no means a straightforward  ‘good’ character – she uses violent and extreme methods to bring people down – she always fights on the side of the weak and mistreated, on the side of what is right.

9. Lyra Silvertongue from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy

Lyra is truly the heroine of her own story, possessing things no one else has she takes the story forward in her own direction. Lyra is very strong, she doesn’t give into the charms and riches of Mrs Coulter for example. She knows what she needs to do and she sticks to it – her mission is almost always clear to her. She is also compassionate and kind – growing strong attachments to people that in turn make her stronger. Lyra is another character I love to re-visit and would like to do so again now I’m a bit older. She doesn’t get enough credit as a heroine and I think she rocks.

10. Thymara from Robin Hobb’s Rain Wilds Chronicles

A bit of a cheat as I haven’t finished the last book yet (no spoilers please!) but I decided to include Thymara because all the rest of these heroines have been part of my reading life for a long time. Thymara is physically strong in body and mind, capable and deep-thinking. In these four books we see her grow up into a strong-willed woman who doesn’t give into peer pressure around her, even in a complicated and ever changing world. She is determined to carve out her own path and I can’t wait to see where she ends up.

Phew! Thank you for reading to the end. Female characters are the best and I’d love to hear recommendations for other great literary heroines below and please let me know if you have a similar video / post too!


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