Literary heroines

I’ve got several ideas for posts that I’ve been thinking about, one being on reading Sense & Sensibility and The Cookbook Collector back to back (something I recommend as the latter is loosely inspired by the former) and another about all the Elizabeth Gaskell buzz that I’m starting to hear around the internet (and it’s music to my ears buzz!) I even read a bit of Gaskell criticism this evening, from one of the few books on her my public library carries. It was published in the 1980s, sigh. But more on those things later, hopefully.

Tonight I am sleepy and not up for serious literary focusing on serious classic things. So I’m presenting one of my fun side projects lately, writing up lists of my top tens of literary things.

So here’s the list of my top ten literary heroines.

1. Rosalind in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Not only is Rosalind unafraid to romp around in boy’s clothes and act tough when it’s time to play runaway from the castle, the king my uncle hates me, she’s also funny and witty while sweetly in love, testing her lover through her disguise to see if he’s truly worthy of her. She teases him a lot, while also showing her true feelings privately. She’s strong, playful and passionate (and could be called the Elizabeth Bennet of Shakespeare). A lot of people say Much Ado About Nothing is their favourite Shakespeare romantic comedy with the feuding Beatrice and Benedick, but give me Rosalind (and Orlando, ok he’s slightly less memorable than her) any day.

2. Catherine Morland in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. I come up as Catherine when I take the ‘which Jane Austen character are you’ quiz, although I’m a more grown up mature Catherine now who’s been married to Mr. Tilney for a few years, promise! Catherine is naive, but has a good heart and a very overactive imagination, which is fed by a love of reading long past bedtime.

3. Gwen in Helen Humphrey’s The Lost Garden. I’ve reread this book about five times (I’ve only read Pride & Prejudice more often) because I could relate so intensely to Gwen’s story in WW2, where she feels deeply lonely on an English country estate with the Women’s Land Army, supposed to be growing potatoes and digging for victory, but really just longing for love and a deep and meaningful connection with someone, even a friendship. She feels awkward with the people around her and secretly names the other girls she works with after potatoes (she’s a horticulturalist). She often thinks about Virginia Woolf (who’s death has just been announced in the papers) and when she gets drunk, becomes overly sentimental about Wordsworth and daffodils. My kind of girl.

4. Cecily in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. I adore the imaginative courtship she invents for herself and Ernest in her diary and how, when she finally meets him, she soon tells him all about. She seems a sweet young girl, but she’s got a gleam in her eye that’s all comic imagination.

5. Dorothea Brooke, in George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Next to all these playful women, I also relate to Dorothea’s religious idealism, her desire to do something important and noble and good. I was that kind of girl too, like her I tried to sacrifice myself for my ideals, only to find a more balanced approach to life and love in the end, after a deep strain in trying to do everything I thought I ‘should’. Dorothea doesn’t have a lot of common sense at first (maybe that is a unifying theme in the characters I’ve chosen??), but she’s clever and she longs to know more, to make her mark. She transcends the typical marriage plot, towering over other 19th century heroines as her own person.

Okay, so I’m going to stop at my top five. I’m sleepy and require tea and toast. Also those paragraphs are already long and self revealing enough. And I can’t quite decide on the next five.

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12 thoughts on “Literary heroines

  1. Joan Hunter Dunn says:

    When I saw the title of this post I knew I was going to like it – and I did. I haven’t heard of The Lost Garden but I’ve written it down as I really want to read it after you’re description. Looking forward to part two.

    • Carolyn says:

      Thanks, Joan. I think you’ll really love The Lost Garden, the writing is very poetic, more quotes for your blog! I don’t know when I’ll get to part two, but I’m planning to do a list of my favourite literary heroes too!

  2. bookssnob says:

    Brilliant! You are knocking out some excellent posts despite your tired and stressed state, Carolyn! I wish I could be as lucid in the same position!

    I really want to read The Lost Garden now as well. Maybe the library will have it. I have become an obsessive library user, placing holds all over the place! They’ll get cross with me soon.

    I love the heroines you have chosen. I think mine would be quite different. Anne Elliot from Persuasion is probably my favourite heroine, largely because she bears her suffering so well. She is the sort of person who goes into a quiet room and cries her heart out, then gets up and carries on with life. So self possessed and so brave. I want to be more like that. She is my inspiration!

    • Carolyn says:

      Thank you Rachel. I guess I’m starting to feel better.

      For some reason I thought you already had read The Lost Garden. I think you’ll really enjoy it though, it’s so beautifully written. And as someone who works at a library, the more people who use the library, the better. 🙂 (more funding, for one!)

      I do like Anne also, but afraid I’m not good at hiding my emotions that way. (I rated more highly as Marianne Dashwood, after Catherine Morland!)

    • Carolyn says:

      When I was taking the quiz, I kept thinking, I was more like the Catherine options when I was younger, but I guess I still picked more of her than anything else. You being Elinor would explain why you’re always able to steadily read and finish one book at a time, I’m always getting restless with a book if it doesn’t suit my mood.

  3. Claire (The Captive Reader) says:

    I highly approve of this new side project; top ten lists are always a good idea, especially ones with literary themes!

    I can absolutely see you as a Catherine Morland. Are you shocked to discover that every available quiz pegs me as Elinor (despite my desperate attempts to come out as Emma)?

    You get major kudos for picking Gwen from The Lost Garden as well. I’m not sure she’d place on my own list, but she’s a wonderful character and introducing other readers to Humphreys is always a good idea.

    Can’t wait to see the next five!

    • Carolyn says:

      For years I’ve been obsessed with making the perfect list of my top ten favourite books. Of course it changes over time and I’m always thinking there could be so many more new favourite books out there that I just haven’t read yet… so it’s good to branch out, take some of the pressure off that one. 😉

      As I was typing up the part about Catherine Morland, I was thinking, and of course, Claire is Emma…. Perhaps you are just too practical and level-headed!

      It’s nice to find someone else who’s heard Helen Humphreys, after I read The Lost Garden, I had to read most of the rest of her books and even found a volume of her poetry in a booksale in Banff.

  4. Yvette says:

    I love lists! Most especially, literary lists. So these are double-good.

    Great to read your choices, Carolyn. I’m not familiar with a few of them, so obviously, that means more titles on my ever growing, ever dangerously tottering TBR pile.

    I think I’ll do my own list over on my blog, of favorite female characters. What a great idea! Is this what they call ‘a meme’ type thing? ; )

    • Carolyn says:

      So sorry again Yvette, that I didn’t get back to you on this comment sooner. I’m very fond of a good book list too and my husband is obsessed with them, so it’s fun to make up a few of my own.

      A meme is usually a set of questions that gets passed around on the internet many times, often with specific rules about passing it on and answering it a certain way. I like to be a little more flexible, so don’t usually do a lot of them.

      Now I’m off to check out your literary heroines!

  5. BuriedInPrint says:

    And now I want to re-read The Lost Garden too. I remember painstakingly copying out some rather long favourite passages from that one. I think it’s great that you’ve included such a contemporary choice alongside classic heroines.

    • Carolyn says:

      It’s so nice to meet another fan of The Lost Garden! Yes, I also had to write out many of my favourite quotes from that book, I think it’s so beautifully written, one of the very few contemporary books I really love.

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