Reading List: These 10 Fictional Women Made Me A Feminist

By Feminist Campus Team

I was the wide-eyed young child with her mind wrapped up in another literary classic. Yet little did I realize at the time that my idolized, feminist heroine would end up rescuing me in the end. As an English literature major presently, my novel-crazed mindset is often drawn to tales of heartfelt romance and fiery passion. Nevertheless, my feminist awakening was undoubtedly the result of my literary preferences.

via Neha Viswanathan on Flickr
via Neha Viswanathan on Flickr

Here’s a short list of my feminist heroines, not in any particular order:

+ Elizabeth Bennett in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: Drawn to Victorian classics, any Jane Austen novel greatly suited my interests. However, most influential was the fearless and witty heroine, Elizabeth Bennett. Defying societal ideals as well as gender roles, she was a rarity to behold in her era. Furthermore, Elizabeth’s dignified mannerisms as well as her ability to adhere solely to her own moral principles, further impacts my present behavior. Lizzie remains one of my feminist role models even today, although I still await the arrival of my Mr. Darcy.

Esther Greenwood in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar: One of my all-time favorite novels possesses a remarkably unique and tragic heroine, Esther Greenwood. As a young writer in her first New York City internship, Esther sets out into the world greatly disillusioned by her future aspirations capsuled in the metaphorical “bell jar.” Although Esther’s mental health spirals downward, her feminist insight into the world of the 1950’s as well as the role of women dictated by societal standards, is still a captivating read and in my opinion, never outdated.

Narrator in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper: Published in 1892, this hauntingly memorable short story sheds a feminist light on the domestic servitude of women in 19th century society. Inspired by the author’s true experience from flawed medical advice, the heroine is required to halt all intellectual stimulation such as reading, writing, and even mere conversation with others to cure her supposed “condition.” The reader is soon left with a terrifying portrayal of the woman’s mental state – however, is the narrator truly mad? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

+ Lucy Westerna in Bram Stoker’s Dracula: In late 19th century society, Lucy is transformed into a creature believed to be “unnatural.” On the upside, her new vampire form instead releases her from societal restraints as well as heightens her sexual appetite, ravenous desires that Lucy willingly submits to. In truth, Stoker was greatly ahead of his time, liberating both heroines from the sexual and social barriers as defined by the Victorian womanhood. Then again, perhaps he still felt women should adhere to such principles, thereby silencing Lucy with a dagger pierced through her heart. Needless to say, her rebellious behavior is quite memorable while it lasts!

+ Jane Eyre in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre: An ideal exemplification of feminist principles, the intellectual and self-reliant Jane Eyre never strays far from her own moral compass further emerging victorious amidst traumatic and often life-threatening circumstances. Her staunch individualism and unique character traits ultimately captures the heart of Mr. Rochester (another favorite of mine) whom she loves unconditionally. Let it not be forgotten that this heroine could stand perfectly well on her own two feet, if ever necessary.

via Ronja Nilson on Flickr
via Ronja Nilson on Flickr

+ Eliza Doolittle in Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion: Bernard Shaw’s early 20th century masterpiece features one of my all-time favorite heroines, Eliza Doolittle. Unlike the fairytale ending of the My Fair Lady adaption, Eliza refuses to become subservient to Professor Higgins’s demands and further be treated inferior simply because it’s his nature to act accordingly. Like myself, Eliza would rather be treated equally than sell her individualism for all the riches in the world.

+ Scarlet O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: Scarlet O’Hara, an unconventional Southern beauty, surely does not adhere to the quintessential “cult of domesticity” that characterized women of the 20th century. Driven by unabashed selfishness, this heroine remains one of the most complex literary protagonists in history, some aspects of her character still baffling to my mindset. Despite her rather cold exterior, I am reminded she is a survivalist amidst Civil War hardships and in efforts of protection, even kills a union solider! Whether her acts stand as righteous or plain ridiculous, I greatly admire her resilience, although she may have regrets by the time Rhett Butler is tired of putting up with her.

Hermione Granger in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter: There is no prophecy declaring the importance of this literary heroine within the spell binding series. Most remarkable, rather is her decision to become a hero despite copious hardships she would undergo defending “the chosen one.” Fearless and brilliant by nature, Hermione is often criticized for her unconventional behavior. Yet, no mere words or actions could ever silence this protagonist. I, among various others, have been greatly impacted by this heroine’s defiant spirit, her feminist actions to forever live on and inspire generations to come.

+ Catherine Morland in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey: Written as a parody of the 18th century Gothic novel, Austen’s portrayal of heroine Catherine Morland is quite the opposite of a stereotyped weak and imprisoned female, awaiting the arrival of her male rescuer. Upon searching for this hauntingly dark realm within her own reality, Catherine instead falls practically in love with Henry Tilney and his routine world. In essence, her imaginative and independent nature already contrasts with a submissive gothic protagonist, yet she must discover this true identity for herself. Like Catherine, I have also come to this realization, the spontaneity of reality surprisingly even more thrilling!

+ Anna Karenina in Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: In 19th century Russian society, this prominent social butterfly radiates sheer brilliance and beauty, captivating all standing in her presence. As a martyr for true love, this heroine would rather be shunned by fellow acquaintances and further exiled from Russian society, then end her adulterous affair with military officer Alexei Vronsky. Like protagonist Anna, I believe that matters of the heart can undoubtedly conquer all. Furthermore, her devout sexual and social autonomy even in death, stands worthy of appraise. Although this heroine’s demise is quite tragic, Anna will forever remain a feminist icon as well as the controller of her own fate even in death. And in that retrospect, this heroine was never a victim.

Conclusively, what attribute ideally unites all my literary heroines aside from their rockin’ feminist characteristics? Let it be known that, “well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Share your favorite feminist characters in the comments!

By Feminist Campus Team


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