As with any literary list, the best part is the discussion it generates. I think there are some controversial picks here. Scarlett O’Hara takes the list’s top spot, even though she’s not your traditional bluestocking. Sure, she was bold and clever, but her methods were a bit suspect: Chase after married man. Marry his brother-in-law to spite him. Can’t pay your taxes? Steal your sister’s beau! Then upgrade to a richer dude you’ve been stringing along for years!
Second on the list is Emma Woodhouse. Lindsey points out that Jane Austen herself described Emma as “a heroine who no-one but myself will much like.” I certainly didn’t. Give me the quick-witted, strong-minded Elizabeth Bennet over Emma any day. And at #3 is Dagny Taggart, heroine of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. As y’all know, I am allergic to Ayn Rand—who I would happily trade to Team Men in a gender draft—so that one kind of stuck in my craw, especially as Dagny’s basically a stand-in for Ayn herself. But there are some terrific literary ladies on the list, including the shameless anti-heroine Becky Sharp, Willa Cather’s Antonia Shimerda, and the thoroughly awesome Ramona Quimby.
On my own list would be the idealistic intellectual Dorothea Brooke of Middlemarch, as well as Helen Graham of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Irene Forsyte of The Forsyte Saga—two rare Victorian/Edwardian examples of women who successfully escaped domestic violence and remade their lives. No list of feminist icons would be complete without heroines of color like Janie Crawford of Their Eyes Were Watching God, Sula Peace of Sula, Miss Celie and Shug Avery of The Color Purple and Jesusa Palancares from Elena Poniatowska’s Mexican classic Hasta no verte, Jesús mío. And for grade-school feminists, Jo March and Anne Shirley are right up there with Ramona Quimby.
Who are your favorite feminist icons of fiction? Share in the comments!