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Your fictional feminist heroines

(78 Posts)
CaptainNancyBlackett Tue 16-Aug-11 12:41:50

(dittany here)

Literature and fiction are some of the few places where decent female role models can exist for women and girls, because women who live in an imaginary world can be free of quite a lot of sexism and patriarchal control. Fiction is definitely one of the places that inspired me and also helped me see that there could be another world where women could be strong and admirable and live life on their own terms. That they could be the kind of people you'd want to be yourself.

I was thinking about this because I was remembering how much I loved Captain Nancy Blackett after listening to a radio programme about Arthur Ransome and Swallows and Amazons. What could be better than being an Amazon pirate sailing in the Lake District, taking out wishy washy Swallows? She was just so exciting.

So who are your favourite feminist heroines from fiction (they don't have to be self-proclaimed feminists and fiction doesn't just have to be literature) and what do they mean to you?

(I'm giving this name back to the real Captain Nancy after this thread)

Terry Pratchett writes some amazing feminist characters.

The witches, particularly Granny Weatherwax, are so strong, funny and seem to run rings around any (male or female) person who tries to hold them back.

I loved Sergeant Angua because even though she is beautiful, the writing is much more focused on her work in the watch and her usefulness there.

I have far to many examples to mention just now, i'll have to think more and come back.

MooncupGoddess Tue 16-Aug-11 13:09:03

Brilliant idea for a thread. Nancy Blackett was one of my first female heroines, after my mother read me Swallows and Amazons when I was six or seven. I acquired a pair of knickerbockers in an attempt to be like her, they were my favourite item of clothing for ages until they wore through.

I suggest Flora Poste from Cold Comfort Farm - absolutely no nonsense, no sentimentality, she sees what needs doing and strides in to do it, wrapping all the useless Starkadder men and women round her little finger. She does get together with a chap at the end but it's very tangential to the plot.

MooncupGoddess Tue 16-Aug-11 13:15:15

Oh and Marian Halcombe in The Woman in White of course. Enormously brave, very resourceful and she has a moustache smile The heroine of The Law and the Lady is also a very impressive character (and much emotionally stronger than her wet husband).

Wilkie Collins was clearly a great fan of strong women and also a critic of the horrors and rigidities of bourgeois marriage, cf Man and Wife, in which the heroine Anne is actually seduced by a rotter and gives birth to his (dead) child, but still gets to marry a nice character at the end and live happily ever after.

DirtyMartini Tue 16-Aug-11 13:20:15

Maureen from Denise Mina's Garnethill and sequels

Jane Eyre (obvious, I know)

chibi Tue 16-Aug-11 13:26:27

when i was a v angry teen girl i loved the hothead paisan comics - she was as angry as i was

Her crazy rage and over the top violence felt liberating back then when i felt powerless and marginalised, and there was a surprising amount of radfem ideas in there

VictorGollancz Tue 16-Aug-11 13:27:17

Sticking with Terry Pratchett, I love Tiffany Aching (eminently sensible girl in the model of Flora Poste) and Adora Belle Dearheart (chain-smoking stiletto-heeled golem-saving badass), but I think it's a huge shame that Adora Belle doesn't feature as a central character. Aside from the (awesome) witches, Pratchett doesn't have any female protagonists.

How can you not love Flora Poste? And the girls from Malory Towers and George from the Famous Five. And Grandma from George's Marvellous Medicine (although she's an anti-hero really). I've always loved Dorothy Hare from Orwell's A Clergyman's Daughter - I have no idea if Orwell intended to capture the frustration of women's enforced domesticity, but he did.

Sugar, Agnes Rackham and Emmeline Fox from The Crimson Petal and the White - three women who make a thorough nuisance of themselves.

Oh, and Cecelia and Emmeline Summers from Elizabeth Bowen's To the North - I think I've just got a thing for women with stiff upper lips and posh accents. But they're a shot in the arm for anybody who thinks women haven't agitating for freedom for a very long time. And Lolly Willowes! Her absolute refusal to become 'Aunt' makes me laugh and salute her at the same time.

mumwithdice Tue 16-Aug-11 13:34:22

Marian de Charetty from the Niccolo books. Also, Sophie from Howl's Moving Castle

ProfessionallyOffendedGoblin Tue 16-Aug-11 13:36:40

We've just been analysing To kill a Mockingbird, with Scout as a strong female character.
Likewise Beatrice from Much Ado about Nothing
Frances Hodgson Burnett with Sara Crewe and Mary Lennox
Dido Twite
V. I. Warshawski
Harriet Vane
Morgan from the Mists of Avalon. despite the author's very dodgy history.
Meggie from Inkheart
Lessa from the Dragonrider series.

Some more, some less so.

ProfessionallyOffendedGoblin Tue 16-Aug-11 13:37:16

Tank Girl

MooncupGoddess Tue 16-Aug-11 13:42:55

Yes definitely to Crimson Petal and the White.

Charlotte Bronte's Shirley is pretty fab (though annoyingly falls in love with a drippy man) and so is Helen in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, is she the first single mother role model?

Dinah the lay preacher in Adam Bede is very impressive, probably a bit religious for modern taste but calmly determined to take on a man's role and succeeds amazingly at it.

witchwithallthetrimmings Tue 16-Aug-11 13:43:12

well Atlanta in "mrs Rivers and mrs bridges" politicised me at 11 so guess she would have to come top
but she would not have been able to do this had she not followed a long line starting from pippi longstocking through petrova fossil (and nancy blackett) and Jo march
On the grown up side there are too many to mention so will just shout out a few at random

Anne Veronica
Fanny Hill
Willa Carther
Headmistress in South Riding
Most of the women in books by Siri Hustefdt

In Mike Carey's 'Lucifer' graphic novels I really liked Mazikeen, the War Leader of the Lillim in exile, however she was just a bit too besotted with dependant on Lucifer.

Also Neil Gaiman's 'Sandman' series had Death, she was very independant, strong, funny and really balanced out the self-obsessed whining of her brother Dream.

EdithWeston Tue 16-Aug-11 13:52:18

Many characters in The Chalet School

Harriet Vane in the Dorothy L Sayers books

Annabeth in Percy Jackson

It's been going round my head a bit recently that even though I have found some great heroines in my reading, it slightly disapoints me that most of the authors I read are male. Not that I'm against male authors, especially when they get women right. I'm trying to expand my library and get some female authors in there.

SummerLeaps Tue 16-Aug-11 13:55:27

Just re-reading it now, but Helen Graham from the Tenant of Wildfell Hall. She was a little anti the drink (ahem) but resolutely refused to be kicked by her alcoholic boorish husband. And left him. At a time when women were nothing (and had nothing) without their husbands and fathers.

Second Marian Halcombe too.

aStarInStrangeways Tue 16-Aug-11 13:58:28

terry pratchett does have some other female protagonists - Eskarina and Susan (Death's granddaughter).

Mardybra Tue 16-Aug-11 13:59:46

If we can do films, Thelma and Louise, particularly Louise.

tryingtoleave Tue 16-Aug-11 14:02:00

Charlotte borrible

Gwyn in Cynthia voigt's 'jackeroo'

Lyra silvertongue

ProfessionallyOffendedGoblin Tue 16-Aug-11 14:03:15

Arrietty in The Borrowers

stripeywoollenhat Tue 16-Aug-11 14:03:38

obvious, but the protagonist in the carhullan army - brilliant book

hermioneweasley Tue 16-Aug-11 14:08:07

Ahem, Hermione in harry potter (though I'll admit it's not very feminist that I've assumed she'll take her husband's name. I think she would though). Bella in twilight (joking).

Lisbeth Salander - Millenium Trilogy
Skeeter Phelan - The Help (along with aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson)
Miss Marple - Agatha Christie

A couple of threads to get stuck into queenofthemojavewasteland

www.mumsnet.com/Talk/feminist_book_club/1232189-Reading-books-by-women
www.mumsnet.com/Talk/feminist_book_club/1229371-Brilliant-Women-Writers

steamedtreaclesponge Tue 16-Aug-11 14:10:15

All of Tamora Pierce's heroines - Alanna the Lioness, Daine, Kel etc. They're all driven, talented, and have to cope with a lot of crap.
Yes to Sophie from Howl's Moving Castle. Diana Wynne Jones wrote great female characters - Flower-in-the-Night, Awful etc
Louisa May Alcott also wrote some good characters who were very determined to support themselves and have careers, like Nan in Jo's Boys, and Christy in Work
YY to Harriet Vane, Flora Poste, Granny Weatherwax
Miss Marple is great too.

bonkers20 Tue 16-Aug-11 14:11:29

Millicent King in Diary of an Ordinary Woman by Margaret Forster.

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