On International Women’s Day, we pay tribute to some of our favourite, feisty, fearless literary heroines – characters who have shown us what it is to be bold and brave in the face of a society in which these attributes were not always appreciated.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
It is hard to find a character with more strength, determination, presence of mind and independence than Jane Eyre. Despite her relative poverty and lack of familial support, Jane never doubts her own worth, never relying on the men in her life to save or support her.
- Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
There is nothing quiet and restrained about Pippi Longstocking. Exuberant in personality, outfit and hairstyle, Pippi is one of a kind.
Astrid Lindgren’s enduringly popular character celebrates her individuality and displays an adventurous spirit. What else would you expect from a nine-year-old who lives alone with a monkey, a horse, and no rules whatsoever? When her neighbours encourage her to conform, Pippi Longstocking has other plans and has no hesitation in wrestling a circus strongman, dancing a polka with burglars, or tugging a bull’s tail.
Pippi is a model of individuality, creativity and adventurousness.
- Anne of Green Gables by Maud Montgomery
A complex and lovable character, Anne, is wildly imaginative and exuberant, unable to fit into the narrow confines of Victorian expectations. Indeed, when author Maud Montgomery decided to reject the sermonising formulas of the children’s books of her day, she brought to life a character much closer to Jane Eyre, David Copperfield, and Tom Sawyer–also orphans, like Anne–than to the self-sacrificing, conformist heroines then in demand. In doing so, Montgomery subtly questioned the values of her society–the stifling restraints of its religion and most especially its treatment of women–while giving readers all the pleasures of her considerable story-telling gifts.
- Moll Flanders by Daniel Dafoe
Born in Newgate prison, and seduced in the home of her adoptive family, Moll Flanders learns to live off her wits, defying the traditional depiction of women as helpless victims. In spite of being female at a time when the patriarchy was all-powerful, Moll Flanders was a force to be reckoned with, demonstrating intelligence, determination and independence. In the face of what some might consider to be a hopeless situation, she shunned traditional roles that were forced upon women at the time and fought for her survival and the life that she chose.
- Emma by Jane Austen
While commentators might debate whether Emma is or is not a feminist, she is undoubtedly independent and erudite, defying social expectations faced by women in the nineteenth century. As Emma blunders her way through the mysteries of her social world, attempting to find a suitable husband for her friend, Harriet, she is endearingly lively, wilful and fallible.