What is it that unites some of the most well known female protagonists in literary history? What makes them such memorable characters who have been admired and revered by countless readers?
Below is a list of 10 famous female protagonists whom I love and admire. Their ability to balance relationships with independence, humility with intellect and femininity with strength makes them, in my humble opinion, unforgettable literary characters.
- Elizabeth Bennet – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (1813)
Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine of Jane Austen’s most famous novel Pride and Prejudice. Second in a family of five sisters, Elizabeth is handsome, charming and strong willed.
For Elizabeth, it is her determination not to marry for money that makes her different. Closer to her father than to her mother, she displays his calmness and clarity of mind alongside her own wilful independence.
Elizabeth is amiable yet determined, romantic yet clear headed, feminine yet independent. It is this blend of characteristics which makes her one of literature’s most loved literary heroines.
- Jane Eyre – Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (1847)
An orphan, a school girl, then a governess and young woman, Jane Eyre refuses to let her background get the better of her. Blessed with intelligence, but not with beauty, her spirited nature has been admired by readers for centuries.
Jane’s childish rebellion and fiery temper become steady courage and quiet intellect as she grows up. She may not have the same charm as Elizabeth Bennet, but her ability to create a life for herself from nothing and to remain in control of her destiny, whilst still falling in love, is certainly to be admired.
- Jo March – Little Women, Louisa M. Alcott (1868)
The second sister out of four and by far the feistiest, Jo March is Louisa M. Alcott’s most fiercely independent character.
Boyish and boisterous, she is unlike her sisters and yet shares with them the feminine bond of sisterhood.
Jo has family and friendships, yet her independence often isolates her. Her ability to remain true to herself in the face of challenges and her powerful determination are however what make her so unforgettable.
- Anne Shirley – Anne of Green Gables, L. M. Montgomery (1908)
Full of charm and spirit, mischief and fire, Anne Shirley is a much loved character.
First an orphan child and school girl, Anne grows up to become a college student and then a mother and wife. She demonstrates intellect and strong independence, whilst still desiring love and a family of her own.
Anne is the embodiment of independent femininity. Her fiery nature never disappears entirely, but simply becomes more controlled. She is plain but elegant, dreamy and adventurous and has always been a praised and even envied protagonist.
5. Laura Ingalls – ‘Little House‘ series, Laura Ingalls-Wilder (1932)
Laura Ingalls is a brilliant literary protagonist, inspired by the author’s own life growing up in 19th Century America. She is a stoic character who brings a unique sense of realism to the tale she lives within.
As a child, Laura is bold and adventurous. Although not as feminine as her mother and sisters, she is hardworking and deeply loyal to her family.
Laura’s stoicism and resilience, independence and loyalty, playfulness and poise have made her one of the most praised, honoured and unforgettable female literary protagonists.
6. Scarlet O’Hara – Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (1936)
Scarlet O’Hara, the feisty heroine in Margaret Mitchell’s epic tale. The vane and spoilt daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, Scarlet isn’t always likeable but is often admired.
Although the image of charm on the outside, Scarlet bears within her a fiery spirit and keen intelligence. She isn’t explicitly beautiful or even charming, but her mechanisms for survival and her ability to endure struggle have placed her amongst the most memorable and commended female characters in literary history.
7. Anne Frank – Anne Frank, Anne Frank (1947)
As an autobiographical tale, told in diary format, Anne Frank’s documentation of her family’s life in hiding during WWII is both captivating and astonishing.
Although just a girl, Anne’s story is one of resilience in the face of hardship and struggle. Her introspective nature, vivid imagination and continual optimism make her a young woman and character who has, for many years, been honoured and admired.
8. Lucy Pevensie – Narnia, C. S. Lewis (1950)
Lucy Pevensie lives in a different kind of world, one in which magic exists. Although just a child at the beginning of the Narnia series, she is bright and brave from the start.
Lucy’s courage in the face of danger, her ability to believe, and her continual desire to discover the truth makes her a brilliant character. Her wisdom and strength of will is incredible for such a young girl.
Like other female characters before and after her, it is the ability to stick up for what she believes in and knows to be true that makes her such a cherished character.
- Hermione Granger – Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling (1997)
Hermione Granger is a bold and courageous character, often admired for her intelligence and independence. Although shamed by her rivals for being the daughter of non-magical parents, she refuses to let this hold her back.
Like every other female character on this list, Hermione isn’t afraid to be exactly who she wants to be. Her knowledge, unique spirit and the kindness beneath her sharp exterior make her a treasured and greatly respected character.
- Juliet Ashton – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows (2008)
Perhaps less well known, but no less brilliant, is Juliet Ashton. Written in epistolary form, the novel she lives within captures her powerful sense of independence and ambition.
This ambition, paired with a desire for adventure, leads author Juliet to change the path she is on and find herself and a sense of belonging. She isn’t afraid to take the leap and go where her heart, mind and storytelling muses take her.
Juliet is bright and unique and fights for the stories she wants to tell, in spite of the obstacles placed in her way. She is well read and ambitious, feminine and charming and this combination of intelligence, spirit and womanliness has made her a modern literary heroine.