Favorite Literary Heroines

I’ve been seeing a few posts around the blog-o-sphere lately compiling a list of people’s favorite heroes, heroines, couples, families, you name it. Well, thought I, I have my favorites too. Why not share? I was only going to do ten, but I found I just couldn’t cut it past twelve (plus a few who are so closely connected to each other I just put them in the same entry).

Ready? Here goes!


Eilonwy, Princess of Llyr (Lloyd Alexander):

When I think of favorite literary heroines, Eilonwy is the first to come to mind. Which is appropriate, really, as I cannot imagine the outspoken princess ever taking second place to anyone, for any reason. If I tried, I am sure her response would be, “Louise of Bates House, I am not speaking to you!”

Eilonwy is delightful for so many reasons. She’s spunky. She doesn’t sit around and wait to be rescued – in fact, she is quite often the one doing the rescuing. She tells the hero exactly what he needs to hear, and never pampers his ego. She is brave and strong, but realistic, too – she is frightened at times, and mourns the losses of those she loves. She can be unexpectedly kind, too, which is a nice trait in a heroine.

She can use magic, but gives it up to fulfill a greater destiny. She can ride and fight and quest (though I have to wonder how and where she found armor and weapons to fit her small stature in The High King). And though she is beautiful, she is happiest when dressed in practical, comfortable clothing, and doesn’t really care about her appearance at all. Ah, Eilonwy. If and when my girls get to the “princess” stage, I am going to encourage them to be a princess like you!

Mara Jade (Mirax Terrik) (Timothy Zahn and Michael A Stackpole):

These two might strike some as a little odd (or at the very least, they show my geek side), as they both come from the Star Wars Extended Universe novels. The beautiful and deadly Mara’s first appearance is in the Thrawn trilogy, while Mirax and her smuggler’s ship Pulsar Skate grace the pages of the X-Wing series. I love them both.

Not just because they get to fly (and fight) circles around the boys of the Star Wars universe. Not just because they, along with Leia and some others, provide great heroes for the females of this world who happen to like Star Wars (there are more of us out there than many realize). Not just because they are both beautiful and smart.

It’s for all of these reasons, and a few others. They are strong and brave, and yet still vulnerable at times and in places. They aren’t perfect. Mara is about as flawed as you can get, but she fights to become better, to overcome the tragedies in her past. She doesn’t wallow. They neither of them are all about the angst – they are much more apt to go blow something up instead of burst into tears.

That’s my kind of heroine.

Anne Shirley (LM Montgomery):

Is there any little girl who didn’t grow up loving Anne? (Aside from little girls who grew up on PEI and had her shoved down their throats so much they can’t stand her – I’m thinking of you, Andrea!) she was an orphan. She had red hair. She was spunky and smart. She had a ferocious temper. She lived on a beautiful, magical island with two wonderful guardians. She had an amazing imagination. She got into, and out of, scrapes with charming regularity. She had a best friend who adored her. She chased her dreams and found them. She had Gilbert Blythe. Need I say more?

Miranda “Randy” Melendy (Elizabeth Enright):

Thimble Summer is the best known of Enright’s books, and I do like Garnet of the long wheat-colored braids; I have also always been tremendously fond of Portia from the Gone-Away books. Randy, though … possibly because she is in four books instead of one or two … Randy has always had a special spot in my heart.

She is the second-youngest in a family of four. Her older sister Mona is beautiful and poised, a talented actress. Rush, one step above Randy, is a brilliant mathematician and remarkable pianist. Randy? She likes to draw and dance, but she always feels inadequate in her older siblings’ shadows. Yet she doesn’t mope about it – for the most part, she just admires them intensely, and pursues her own path.

I always felt like my older sister was good at everything, while I was just the clumsy little sister (just like Randy – although I never fell out of a boat in Central Park, or ran my bike into the back of a bus) (I have, however, sprained my ankle ice skating). Like Randy, though, I tried not to let it affect me too much; my parents always told me to focus on what I liked, instead of always thinking my sister could do it better. Which explains the writing!

I think Enright’s illustrations also affected my fondness for Randy. That mop of curly dark hair, especially when she’s leaping and pirouetting, that snub nose … she just looks delightful. More than that, she looks like the kind of girl I would have wanted for a best friend when I was ten and eleven. What more could you ask from a heroine?

Anthea (Bobbie) (E. Nesbit):

I have searched and searched, but I can’t find Anthea’s last name anywhere. She is the second-oldest of the Five Children and It children, whom I first met, actually, in The Phoenix and the Carpet. Nicknamed “Panther” by her siblings, Anthea is smart, kind, practical, and thoughtful. One of my favorite parts of Phoenix is when the carpet has taken the Lamb away, and Anthea makes Cyril hit her hand with the poker so she has an excuse for her tears when she goes up to Mummy’s room. Bravery, practicality, self-sacrifice – all in one simple scene.

Bobbie from The Railway Children is the same sort. When she find out by accident what happened to her father, she joins forces with her mother to keep the secret from the younger ones. When she wistfully wishes to the injured Jim that she was a boy, he reassures her that she is just fine as she is (did anyone else want the two of them to get married when they grew up?). And that final scene where she sees her father coming off the train and runs to him … I havenever been able to read that without sobbing desperately. Oh yes, I love Bobbie.

Elizabeth Warrington “Betsy” (or Betsye or Bettina) Ray (Maud Hart Lovelace):

Betsy is a bit like Anne to me – how can you not love her? It always saddens me to hear of people who did not grow up with Betsy, Tacy, and Tib. I’ve always appreciated so much that Lovelace takes us from when Betsy is five all the way to when she’s a young bride. I grew up right along with Betsy and the Crowd, and they were all so real to me, from mischievous Winona to demure Carney to gallant Cab to that idiot Phil Brandish. And Joe, of course! Betsy and Joe are one of my all-time favorite book romances.

Betsy is a writer, and wrote from the time she was a child (just like me!). She was also a thoroughly normal girl, concerned about her looks, her popularity, BOYS, family, being a better friend and person … I first read about her struggles and triumphs as a newlywed when Iwas a newlywed, and I felt like finally, I wasn’t alone in trying to figure out all this living-with-another-person business!

Plus, she lived during one of my favorite time periods in history. Her clothes … oh, I’ve always been so grateful to Lovelace for providing such rich detail of what it was like to live back then!

Mariel Gullwhacker (Brian Jacques):

What’s that? You weren’t expecting to find a mouse on this list? Silly you! Mariel whacks gulls and searats and all sorts of vermin. She doesn’t ask for pretty compliments, but if you don’t show her respect you just might fight a knotted rope between your ears! She is as brave as a badger and loves her father beyond all reason. She is my kind of mouse!

Anne Elliot (Jane Austen):

I like Elizabeth Bennet, but my absolute favorite of Austen’s heroines is Anne Elliot ofPersuasion. Not impossibly good, like Fanny of Mansfield Park, but steadfast, noble, and quietly brave. She has one of the finest characters in all literature – truly someone to aspire toward! Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel (with Emma a close second), and Anne is the main reason.

Well, Anne and Lyme. Someday I will travel to England and visit Lyme!

Elizabeth Ann “Betsy” (Dorothy Canfield Fisher):

Another Betsy makes the list! This one from Understood Betsy, one of my favorite childhood books. She starts out horribly smothered, but by partway through, Betsy becomes another one of those strong heroines I love so well. Her resourcefulness is what really draws me to her, though – her constant question of “What would Cousin Ann do?” and then figuring out the best solution to her problem – so remarkable! How she rescues little Molly from the Wolf Pit … how she learns to overcome her math phobia (oh, how well I empathized with her difficulties there!) … her plan for helping the little boy at school get adopted … most especially how she figures out how to get herself and Molly home from the fair after they’ve been abandoned there. At only ten years old, no less!

My mother’s family is from Vermont, and so I think I was drawn to Betsy even more because she went to live on a farm in Vermont. Reading descriptions of the old farmhouse made me think of my great-grandparents’ home, which in turn always made me feel cozy and comfortable while reading Betsy’s exploits.

Kate, Lady Schofield (Caroline Stevermer (and Patricia C Wrede)):

The Cecy and Kate books, though I didn’t discover them until after I was married, have become some of my all-time favorite YA lit. I suspect, had I read them when I was a teen, Cecy would have been my favorite. Her impulsive behavior, her “we must do something” attitude, her not-always-justified self-confidence … all traits that would have appealed greatly to my teenage (or younger) self.

As an adult, however, I found myself empathizing much more with the more cautious and clumsy Kate. Oh, especially her clumsiness! The fact that she never feels herself adequate for anything until the crisis comes, at which point she stops thinking about herself entirely and simply does what is necessary reminds me, in my most honest moments, so much of myself. When she doesn’t care one whit about what people think about her, but panics over the thought of disappointing her husband or damaging his reputation? Oh yes, all me. Yet she always, always rises to the occasion, which is not so much me but what I want to be.

Curiously enough, though, the man I married is more a James than a Thomas … but that’s a topic for another post!

Tuppence Beresford (Agatha Christie):

Thanks to my mother, I began my love affair with Christie’s books at age twelve. Poirot, naturally, was my favorite at first … until I met Tommy and Tuppence.

Dear, terrier-like Tuppence, with her good instincts and plans that should never work yet somehow always do? She delights me. As detectives go, Miss Marple is now probably my favorite of all time, yet Tuppence still remains one of my favorite heroines, simply for her outlook on life. And I love the fact that she and Tommy look upon their marriage as a great adventure, and a joint partnership. That’s the kind of mentality Carl and I have always tried to have for our marriage!

Lucy Pevensie (Tarkheena Aravis and Jill Pole) (CS Lewis):

I could not – could not – just pick one favorite from Narnia! I know many people don’t think Lewis was very fair in his treatment of women in Narnia, but these three have been examples of bravery, spunk, determination, faith, and strength since I was a very little girl. Valiant and loving Lucy, wood-wise and independent Jill, fearless and honest Aravis … Lucy follows her heart when no one else believes; Jill travels through bleak lands to rescue a prince and fights by the side of a king; Aravis leaves privilege, comfort, and everything she knows for a life of freedom. I would be proud to call any of these three strong girls friend!

Whew! This turned out to be longer than I expected … and I’m sure, as soon as I hit “publish,” I’ll think of more I should have added. Oh well!

Next up with be my top twelve favorite literary heroes. Ooh …

Did your favorite heroines make the list? Who would you have included that I didn’t? Who would you have left off? Opinions welcome, the stronger the better!

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11 thoughts on “Favorite Literary Heroines

  1. Your mother's list:Miss Marple and Mrs. Pollifax, but I suspect that I like them because they are old women who think hard, and I hope I can still do that in the not-so-distant future when I am that age.Emma (Jane Austen) because I was her (and maybe still am).Jo MarchTrixie Belden (now there's a blast from the past). Both she and Jo March did things that expanded the gender roles their cultures had constructed for them.Many from your list, too. Both Betsies, Portia, Randy, Bobbie, and Anne.And I always have had an inexplicable fondness for poor mad Ophelia, but maybe that's just because I like the mixture of her name and the adjectives "poor" and "mad." About whom else can I write "poor mad"?Almost forgot — Caddie Woodlawn. She struggled to conform to a norm that was foreign to her own ethos to please her mother, whom she loved and did not resent. It's the not-resenting part that seems heroic to me.I, too, will probably think of more as soon as I post this.

  2. I almost included Mrs. Pollifax, but my list was just getting too long as it was. Jo is a dear, but not quite favorite material for me. Trixie! I had almost forgotten about her. So many happy summer days reading about Trixie and Honey and Jim. Good memories!I only read Caddie Woodlawn once, a few years ago, and didn't actually care for it that much. I'll have to give it another try sometime.And only you, Mums, would like Ophelia because she enables you to write "poor mad!"

  3. Props for putting Eilonwy at the top of the list. But that goes without saying, coming from me.I am surprised at the number of these I haven't encountered, since I consider myself to be fairly well-read. I've never gotten beyond Nesbit's Five Children, nor either of the Betsies you mention (and what a quandary that is – do you pluralize Betsy with a "ys" or a "ies"; seems wrong to change the spelling of someone's name and yet utterly wrong to stick an "s" on the end of a "y" word, no?) Never heard of Enright, nor Cecy and Kate.Coming up on the daunting and lovely prospect of raising a daughter, I see some additions to my library are in order. I'd have added Sara Crewe, the lovely heroine of A Little Princess BEFORE "princess" became synonymous with "spoiled, entitled girliness", and Emily Starr, whose touch of supernatural and slightly more salty personality appeal to me more than Anne's endless sweetness.

  4. Oh, Sunrise, with some of your family living in Vermont, you'll have to get Understood Betsy – if not for your daughter, than for you! All of Elizabeth Enright's books are wonderful, for girls and for boys (I think you would especially enjoy Gone-Away Lake and its sequel, Return to Gone-Away – there is so much nature and exploring and freedom of childhood in them!); the Betsy-Tacy books are a must for any little girl's collection; and the Cecy and Kate trilogy is delightful for anyone who likes both historical fiction and fantasy. Whew!I do like both Sara and Mary Lennox, but would have to end up in the "second-favorite" list, for me (along with the Mrs. Pollifax that Mom mentioned). And Emily, honestly, I've never liked (despite sharing a first name), though I understand how she might seem refreshing compared to Anne's overwhelming sweetness.Regarding Eilonwy – I've been reading your fanfic on her for so long now that sometimes I wonder if it's strictly Alexander's heroine that I love so well, or if there isn't some of your in there as well! Sometimes I go to look something up about her in the books, only to remember that it was in *your* story, not the original works. You helped give her such life!

  5. That is high praise indeed. *blushes* I didn't know your first name was Emily! So that is what the E is for. For a long time I assumed your name was actually "Elouise" and you used a shortened nickname…by the time I realized this was not the case, we'd corresponded for so long it seemed silly to ask. Silly me. :PFunny that you are not an Emily fan, given that you share the writing bug. Is it her stubbornness that turns you off? I remember your agreement about wanting to shake both her and Teddy for their delayed relationship.

  6. I never disliked Emily, but it is so common, especially in women my age, and Louise always sounded more "authorial" (at least to the twelve-year-old I was when I started using my middle name), plus it was my great-grandmother's middle name, so it had all sorts of wonderful connotations to my mind … and Elouise just came about from blending first initial with middle name!I think it's partially Emily's stubbornness, partially her pride, partially the odd supernatural streak, and partially the bitter tone that seems to underlay much of the second two books. It always just seemed like such a horrible waste to me, the many years she and Teddy spent apart for no other reason than blind pride. I adore "Emily of New Moon," but the second two books spoil the trilogy a bit for me.

  7. they, and Mary RussellBeauty (both versions by Robin McKinley)pretty much anyone in a Wrede or McKinley bookJane EyreValancy SterlingJo March (who should have ENDED UP WITH LAURIE OMG ALCOTT WHY???!)Aravis Buran (Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Cohen and Lovejoy)and many more YA heroines that aren't coming to mind by name.You're so right about Emily too. Gah….stupid pride and emo girl.Goodness how I loved Betsy's teen years especially, in the turn of the century! and Joe!

  8. Darling, of course you love the hero named Joe!I just re-read Searching for Dragons and realized I really, really needed to include Cimorene and Morwen in this list.I only recently discovered McKinley's books, so I'm still getting acquainted with her characters; her writing style is hard for me to get into, so her characters have a hard time seeming real to me. Although I really liked the Chalice heroine, so I should re-read that book and try to remember her name!I Have Thoughts on Laurie and Jo – but they are an entire post on their own!

  9. Oh, which McKinleys have you read so far? I'm glad you liked Chalice. It was very different but poetic, too. I don't know if she had a name beyond Chalice…maybe in the very beginning….

  10. I've read most of McKinley's … Hero and the Crown; The Blue Sword; Beauty; Spindle's End; Rose Daughter; Spindle's End; and of course Chalice (our library has an extensive collection!). Oh, and Sunshine, which was good but quite creepy, and I'd like to read it again on a nice bright, warm beach someday.My pattern with McKinley's books seems to be: devour the first half with fascination, and get bogged down so much in the second half that it's drudgery to finish it, and end feeling mildly confused. Chalice was the only one of hers that didn't do that to me, which is why I like it the best!

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