Literary Leading Ladies

In the spirit of International Women’s Day (March 8) and British Mother’s Day (March 18) I felt like compiling a list of women that continue to impress and inspire me. There are many real-life examples (love you, Mum!) I could mention, but the women I’m writing about today are just as present in my life – usually just a quick grab away, they’re always on my bookshelf.

So here goes, in no particular order:


Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan — The Lord of the Rings

“And then her heart changed, or at least she understood it; and the winter passed, and the sun shone upon her.”

Everybody always roots for Arwen and Aragorn, but my favourite Tolkien character of all (and as we all know, there are many!) has to be Eowyn. Her fish-out-of-water situation, her desperation and her bravery are incredibly touching, and her second shot at happiness against all odds is so well-deserved. She’s the kind of character that makes me want to name my kids after her, and the fact that she gets one of the most kick-ass lines in the entire trilogy is an added bonus.


Jane Eyre —  Jane Eyre

“You examine me, Miss Eyre,” said he: “Do you think me handsome?”                    I should, if I had deliberated, have replied to this question by something conventionally vague and polite; but the answer somehow slipped from my tongue before I was aware — “No, sir.”

I love Jane’s edginess. My biggest pet hate when reading stories or watching movies are pushover characters, so I always enjoy it when fictional characters stand up for themselves. Incidentally, I had just finished Mansfield Park (arguably featuring one of the biggest literary pushovers ever) when I started on Jane Eyre, so I appreciated Jane’s character even more than I already would have done. Still one of my favourite uni-related reads!


Katniss Everdeen — The Hunger Games

“I’ll tell them how I survive it. I’ll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in things because I’m afraid it could be taken away. That’s when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I’ve seen someone do. It’s like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty years. But there are much worse games to play.”

Katniss isn’t your average modern lit heroine. Romance is definitely not on her list of priorities, and readers have complained about her apparent emotional detachment at times. Personally, these things are part of what I love about her – the way she tries to navigate her way through a thicket of clashing and complex moral issues without losing all of herself in the process is both impressive and realistic.


Georgina Kirrin — The Famous Five

“Leave something for someone, but don’t leave someone for something.”

This one is a childhood favourite. I loved climbing trees, for a while my hair was so short I was repeatedly sent to the mens’ room in shopping centers, and I really wanted a dog, so tomboy “George” was a bit of a literary kindred spirit at the time.


Mary Lennox — The Secret Garden

“She stopped and listened to him and somehow his cheerful, friendly little whistle gave her a pleased feeling–even a disagreeable little girl may be lonely, and the big closed house and big bare moor and big bare gardens had made this one feel as if there was no one left in the world but herself.”

Mary’s transition from surly old lady in a girl’s body to a blooming, happy young woman and the happiness she brings to the people around her in the process is beautiful. It’s a kids’ story, but the kind that sticks with you for life.


Bridget Jones — Bridget Jones

“Can’t I tempt you with a gherkin?” I said, to show I had had a genuine reason for coming over, which was quite definitely gherkin-based rather than phone-number-related.
“Thank you, no,” he said, looking at me with some alarm.

She makes me laugh, she makes me feel better about my own mishaps, and I love her for it. Simple as that. Many of life’s more difficult and stressful moments are substantially less grating when imagined with a Bridget-style voiceover in the background, and that is something to be grateful for.


Darrell Rivers — Malory Towers

“I count as our successes those who learn to be good-hearted and kind, sensible and trustable, good, sound women the world can lean on. Our failures are those who do not learn these things in the years they are here…”

No matter how debatable many of the morals and methods in and behind Enid Blyton’s books may be, the Malory Towers series (Dolly in German) has a lot of nostalgic value for me. Come to think of it, these books probably were part of the reason I got into Harry Potter so quickly – J.K. Rowling fed the boarding school fantasies that were established by Darrell and her friends. Who didn’t want to join in the girls’ midnight food/pool parties?


Hermione Jean Granger — Harry Potter

“Not spew,” said Hermione impatiently, “It’s S-P-E-W. Stands for the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare.”

I was a bit of a socially awkward bookworm as a girl myself, so I’ve loved her from page one. She’s so imperfectly wonderful, it’s hard to pick just one of her many impressive qualities, but I’ll try anyway: It’s tough to go through puberty and grow up without compromising your values and personality, but Hermione pulls it off. For that fact alone, she will always be my heroine.


Laura Ingalls Wilder / Anne Hobbs — Little House / Tisha

“We’d never get anything fixed to suit us if we waited for things to suit us before we started.”

“Green as goose grass and full of lofty ideals, off I went, thinking of myself as a lamp unto the wilderness.”

I grouped these two characters together because, unlike all the others, they are autobiographical. Both Laura’s life on the prairies and Anne’s plight as a young teacher in Alaska are very inspirational, and I instantly loved these books as a girl. They are still on my shelf, and several of the key scenes have stuck with me into adulthood as well.


Elinor and Marianne Dashwood — Sense and Sensibility

“She would not wound the feelings of her sister on any account, and yet to say what she did not believe was impossible.”

Another double whammy! It’s hard to imagine one Dashwood sister without the other. Sense and Sensibility is my favourite Jane Austen novel, and its characters were so perfectly captured in Ang Lee’s film version that Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson are still Marianne and Elinor to me. Their bond isn’t perfect, but it’s genuine, and that rings true with me (and my own sister) time and time again.


After compiling my list, I found several of my literary heroines on entertainment website FlavorWire‘s recent list of picks as well – it appears I’m not the only one inspired by these ladies 😉

Which literary characters, female or male, have been influencing your life? Let us know in the comments!


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