Being asked to pick just five favourite fictional heroines is hard! It’s a bit like being asked, “what’s your favourite book?”. Literature is a treasure trove of memorable, wonderful characters… how do you choose?
It’s also a particularly salient question for me just now. With my second novel, Florence Grace, just published, I’ve been delighted by readers’ responses so far to my new heroine. Amy, in Amy Snow, inspired so much love, which was wonderful, only Florence is very different… I wondered if readers would take to her in the same way. But I think that to imagine that only one kind of heroine will find love and approval is just like saying only one kind of person will be well liked. Literature, like humanity, has room for all sorts and brims over with glorious variety. Where would we be as readers, otherwise?
Which is all preamble to the evil moment when I must choose just five… OK, here they are in no particular order:
One, of course, is Jane Eyre. I love her fierce integrity, her determination to do what’s right according to her own principles – the flashes of temper, spirit and passion that get her into so much trouble at various points in her troubled life – she won’t take the easy road and that is something I admire.
Another great favourite from my childhood is Jo March in Little Women. I loved how she would shut herself away in her attic, bristling with indignation about all the injustices in life, then forget it all by plunging into a fictional world. As long as she’s scribbling stories, or doing something creative, she feels alive. No parallels there! Louisa May Alcott also makes her gloriously human – her scowls, her envy, her indignation… she’s no paragon of unattainable feminine perfection – she’s a person, with feelings and faults and brilliance. I love that.
Talking about faults… I really love Emma Woodhouse in Jane Austen’s Emma. I think it’s rare for a heroine to be quite so imperfect, yet you can’t help but love her, even though she’s absolutely infuriating most of the time: short-sighted, vain and meddling. In fact, the fact that Jane Austen could make her likeable at all is quite a feat!
I’m completely enchanted by Yvaine, in Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. A heroine who’s not, in fact, a woman, but a star! What a beautiful, tantalising idea. Although, she too acts so very humanly! Throwing mud at Tristan when they first meet, calling him names, fuming at his short-sighted romantic devotion (to someone else). She’s a great combination of relatable and yet magical. I think that’s a wonderful recipe for a heroine.
My fifth choice is another childhood favourite, Emily Byrd Starr, from LM Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon. She’s a dreamy, soulful girl, at one with nature and deeply bonded with the landscape around her. (In this latter respect she’s very like Florence, I realise as I write!) She’s also another creative type, like Jo March. Why do writers love reading about writers so much I wonder? I used to love reading about Emily curling up under an apple tree and losing herself in a story as she scribbled in one of her precious notebooks and searched for just the right word…
So there you have them! My top five. I think what they all have in common is heart. They are essentially warm, courageous people who don’t give up when difficulty strikes, but find a way to grow beyond it. Like Amy and Florence, they are also all a little different from those around them! This gives them the advantage of having a unique perspective on their world, but it can also create trouble on their path. I like heroines who don’t get it right all the time, who keep bumping up against the established world and asking questions!
Tracy Rees’ new book, Florence Grace is available now in paperback and eBook
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