Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. You can join in by clicking on the link. This week’s theme: Your Top 10 Favorite Fictional Heroines. I have honestly never given this much thought; so, why not start now??
1. Countess Ellen Olenska from The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
– Countess Olenska is one of my favorite female characters because she is the embodiment of strength and courage. In the face of perpetual social attacks, from family and strangers alike, she keeps her head held high and lives for herself, not for others. Her past romantic history is the gossip of New York, but Olenska keeps the truth to herself, despite the fact that revealing said truth might actually make her appear ‘better” in others’ eyes. Still, she knows that private things are private, and that people should learn to respect that.
2. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
-This is the first of three characters from Harry Potter that I will be including on this list. I name her first because 1) she is the most prominent throughout the series and 2) she is the one who puts herself most in danger. Her strength of character and loyalty to friends develops and increases from book to book, and it is admirable what she does, what she sacrifices, for the well-being of others. In book seven, particularly, she makes perhaps the greatest and most difficult sacrifice that one could ask of a seventeen-year-old girl because she has the courage to put others before herself.
3. Valentine Wiggin from the Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card
-The elder sister of the series’ main character, Ender (Andrew), Valentine is one constant force for good in a family of siblings who are always teetering on (or falling over) the boundary of greatness and tyranny. Valentine is notable to me because she has to pit her own wit and moral fiber against the fierce domination of her third brother, who is equally intelligent but far more vicious. Again, she does so for the good of all mankind, and for no benefit of her own.
4. Marian Forrester from A Lost Lady by Willa Cather
-This is a funny one for me, in that I see Marian as a feminist, though she really isn’t. But she is. If we are to judge merely on appearances and examples, it would seem as if Marian Forrester is, actually, quite old-fashioned in terms of gender roles and female submission. Upon close reading, though, we truly see that Marian is tormented by her decisions and does what she must do to survive and to keep face amongst the townspeople. Some may call this a failing or believe her to have “given in,” but I see it quite the opposite – I find it courageous to continue to survive, by any means necessary, and to be smart enough and clever enough to read men the way she does, to adjust to circumstances as she can.
5. Zenobia from The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne
-Ah, the beautiful Zenobia. So passionate, so strong. I almost like Zenobia for demonstrating the opposite of what Marian Forrester demonstrates in A Lost Lady. Throughout the novel, Zenobia appears to be this strong, modern feminist. She gives lectures and speeches on woman’s suffrage and equal rights; yet, when confronted for the first time with real love, she shows a very honest, touching realness. She, in a way, becomes prey to the very symptoms of womanhood which she had been known to rail against. Many read this as Hawthorne’s condemnation of feminism – or, at least, his commentary that the project is fruitless. I see it quite differently (go figure). To me, Zenobia represents an idea of personhood – not just womanhood. She is equal parts hard and soft; she can stand up and fight publicly for what is right (something most find difficult to do) and yet, in intimate relationships, she can let go and be delicate. She can want to belong to someone or something. This is not so much female submission as it is romantic idealism – which I sometimes am a sucker for.
6. Professor Minerva McGonagall from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
-Probably my favorite literary schoolteacher character of all-time. Professor McGonagall, who one can assume is single, divorced, or widowed (she is probably in her 60s) is an interesting combination of rigidity to policy and compassion to human circumstance. She never shows favorites and is always fair in executing punishments or direction. She is the literary embodiment of all those schoolteachers from past experiences who come creeping up memory lane from time-to-time. She is also a champion for the good and the just. Though not a recognized member of any of the “societies” in the novel, which champion good or evil, when push comes to shove, Minerva McGonagall dives into the thick of things – either to protect her students, to fight for good, or both.
7. Antoinette from Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
-This re-telling of the “woman in the attic” from Jane Eyre is an absolute must for anyone who enjoyed the latter. Rhys creates an entire history and persona for the mysterious woman whom we see or hear little in the classic novel. She is a passionate, intense Caribbean woman who has the strength of her convictions, and who makes every effort to protect herself and her family – to stand up to oppressors. She does not cower from violent hands, but thrashes back. In the end, as the classic tale goes, she ends up locked away, hidden from view. Still, we get the sense (through Rhys) that this is almost Antoinette’s choice – that she would rather live in seclusion than submit willingly to the will of a “master.”
8. The Doctor’s Wife from Blindness by Jose Saramago
-This is likely the strongest female (or male) character I have ever read. The Doctor’s Wife (names are never revealed in the novel) is the one person not afflicted by a blindness plague which, over time, causes every person in the greater New York (assumed) area to lose his or her vision. The Doctor’s Wife must bear witness to incredibly terrifying events – human violence and defilement; cannibalism, rape, and existence in the foulest conditions imaginable. She must remain quiet and pretend to be blind herself, or her life would be in danger – either from those jealous of her sight or by the pressures which would have been brought to bear upon her. She must guide her blind husband and their cell mates through the detritus of a confined, evacuated hospital – she must feed all, clean all, and protect all from danger. She does so selflessly – knowing, always, that she, of all these people, could easily escape.
9. Lorelei Lee from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
-I simply must include Lorelei because she is absolutely hilarious. I suppose, speaking just in terms of the character herself, Lorelei is not much of a heroine. I include her, though, because I think what Anita Loos did with Lorelei, and with the Gentleman Prefer Blondes/But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes duet was incredibly brave for the time. This is a reverse-feminist novel; the parody and satire are over-the-top. The women are incredibly selfish, stupid, ignorant, and innocent of all things. When Lorelei goes abroad and runs into Americans, she is simply delighted as, “what’s the point in traveling to other countries if you can’t understand anything the people say?” The men, of course, are gallant, chivalrous, well-educated and well-bred. They are good with their money, and the women just want to spend it all (“diamonds are a girl’s best friend”). Loos hit a home-run with little Lorelei, knocking New York high society and all the expectations of class and women’s “station” on their tails.
10. Mrs. Molly Weasley from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
-Mrs. Molly Weasley is the aunt we all wish we had. As a mother, she is perhaps too overbearing, too coddling, and too intrusive. But, as the mother of your best friend, she is a hero – she bakes wonderful food, she always remembers you on your birthday, she welcomes you with open arms to her home at holidays, and she worries about you when you are ill or injured. She is frustratingly oppressive at times but, she is also fiercely protective. When her family is put in danger, she roars to life, putting herself in front of her children and defying anyone to break her down.
Okay! So, those are my top 10 favorite females in fiction – who are YOUR favorites?