Saturday, October 16, 2010

Saturday Salon: Five Favorite Literary Heroines

Before I go any further, I must thank Carolyn over at A Few Of My Favorite Books blog, for posting her own literary favorites and giving me the idea to post mine. I was babysitting my granddaughter Julianna last night and stayed up late to find that the Yankees won (humph!) the first game of their play-off against the Texas Rangers (I am not a Rangers fan, I am just an anti-Yankee fan) so today I'm a little tuckered out - just a little. I declare this a perfect day for list-making. So without any further ado, here are Five Favorite Heroines:

1) Amelia Peabody in all the Peabody books by the wonderful and oh-so-prolific Elizabeth Peters. Amelia is a Victorian lady (and self-styled Egyptologist) with a mind of her own, a personality able to withstand the rigors and strictures of Victorian society and a woman, as she says, with enough purpose for two. There is no trouble, no danger, no inconvenience which Amelia can't handle and put to rights. In the first book in this long-running series, CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK - written in the style of H. Rider Haggard's thrilling Victorian melodramas - we are introduced to our stalwart heroine, first in England, then as she embarks on a lifelong adventure to Egypt. There she meets the recurring cast of characters which will people Peters' books for many novels to come. Most importantly, she meets the irascible, incorrigible, impatient and brilliant, Egyptologist (I call him the 'loony' Egyptologist, but that's just me) Radcliffe Emerson, whom she will marry and with whom I will fall unabashedly in love. It's enough to say that if I could pick a man in all literature to marry, it would be this very same lunatic. (Though I say this with all due affection.) Ha!

2) Jane Whitefield in all the books by Thomas Perry. Jane has a very unique profession, she is an expert 'guide' whom people in trouble call upon when their backs are up against the wall and they have no other option but to disappear. Her clients are many and varied, but they all have one thing in common: their lives are in danger. We first meet Jane in VANISHING ACT and her adventures continue in several more fascinating books. Jane is everything I am not: Native American, brilliant, brave, cool-headed, beautiful, tall, slender, physically adept and willing to kick butt and lay down her life for her fellow man if she must. A truly remarkable character in a truly remarkable set of books. One of the most interesting asides is how wonderfully Jane is conceived as a female character by a male writer. Not an easy thing to do.

3) Elizabeth Bennett in, of course, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen. I admire Miss Elizabeth Bennett for her intelligence, her youthful fortitude, her sturdy sense of self, her ability to note and generally understand what is important in life and her adaptability.
NOT to mention her good fortune in having chosen and been chosen as loving companion in life, by the incomparable (though admittedly, stiff-necked) Fitzwilliam Darcy. Through that fortuitous marriage, Jane comes to live at Darcy's beautiful estate and family home, Pemberly, while at the same time saving the fortunes of her slightly scatterbrained and impecunious family. Phew! Not bad for a young, fairly restricted, Regency country lass.

4) Jane Marple in Agatha Christie's famous mysteries begun in the 1920's. I like Jane Marple an awful lot for her superb sense of self-containment and her intelligence. I am so fond of the quirky, intelligent heroine. Although Jane Marple is not, really, the heroine of the Christie stories (though, of course, she does solve the murders), she is the heroine of her own life. Astute and clever and remarkably self-assured for a lady who has spent most of her life living alone in a small English village, Jane Marple is not some warm, sugary old dithery-headed lady, though she gives that appearance. She possesses, in fact (as many a criminal has found to his or her detriment), a mind like a steel trap. Something else I believe she has, though Christie never mentions it, is a photographic memory. I can understand why a woman like this has never married. What man could help but be daunted by her falcon-like observational and intuitive skills?

5) Mary Russell in all the Holmes/Russell books by Laurie R. King. Well, this is an obvious choice for me, since Sherlock Holmes is my favorite fictional character of all time. Russell (as Holmes refers to her throughout their friendship, association and eventual marriage) is but fifteen years old when she first meets the brilliant, aging and prematurely retired consulting detective on the Sussex Downs - he is studying some bees and she, busy reading and not paying attention to her surroundings, fairly trips over him. Now, the great age difference would pre-suppose that no romantic attachment between them would be forthcoming, but Laurie R. King is no coward, somehow she manages it through expert writing ability and much guile. Though of course, Mary still has several years of growing up to do while attending Oxford in those early pre WWI years.

The first book in the series, THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE did go on to win just about every prize a mystery could win and rightly so. Mary Russell is a brilliantly created character, the equal of Holmes in every respect - the only woman of his heart. The only type of woman a man of his sort would EVER fall for. King is smart enough to understand that and smart enough to have created her. My second favorite book in the series is O JERUSALEM, a fascinating, danger-filled adventure into Palestine, practically on the eve of the British giving up control. Mary spends most of the book disguised as a young Arab male and gets away with it. I've reread this book many times and always approach it with grand expectations that are always met.

So, how about you? What favorite heroines do you have? There must be one or two or five?
I'm not finished yet, there will probably be five more at some point. Right now I'm getting ready for the next Yankee/Texas Rangers game and trying not to give in to a sense of dread. Baseball is not for the faint of heart.


  1. So, are you rooting for the Yankees or Rangers? We've got the game on now.

    My List:

    Elizabeth Bennet
    Claire Fraser
    Amelia Peabody
    Scarlett O'Hara
    Jean Paget
    Anne Shirley
    Tatiana Barrington

    I'm sure there are more, but these are the ones that come to mind off the top of my head.

  2. Well, I'm a Mets fan, so that doesn't help any. But I HATE the Yankees. The problem is: my daughter is a major, MAJOR Yankee fan. So I have to put up with her ridicule. HA! My granddaughter ALREADY has a little pink Yankee cap and Yankee t-shirt.:)

    I'm not familiar with some of your heroine choices, so you may have to do a post on your blog and elaborate! Scarlett O'Hara, forgot about her. She's a good one!

  3. I, as well, am all things anti-Yankee. Good to know I'm in fine company at that! :) I love your list of favorite literary heroines -- it will take me quite some time to compile my list, I love this idea!

  4. Thanks! Yes, I thought it was a great idea as well. I'm also going to do a Favorite Literary Heroes List one of these days. But first I think I'll do five more heroines next week. Want to round it off to 10.

  5. Yvette, I'm much too lazy to post at my blog (I'm way behind in reviews as it is!), but I'll enlighten you a bit.

    Jean Paget - A Town Called Alice a great story, I listened to it on audiobook. She's a young post WWII British women who travels back to Malay and Australia to become reunited with the young Aussie soldier that saved her life while in a POW camp in Malay during WWII. Great story, I also saw it years ago on Masterpiece Theatre. I love her, strong, stubborn, courageous.

    Claire Fraser Outlander One of my all time favorite strong women in literature. A nurse during WWII, she time travels back 200 years in the highlands of Scotlands where she meets Jamie Fraser, her true love. Claire becomes a doctor in the series, using her 20th century know how on 18th century germs. Tons more, but another very strong, resourceful, humerous and together heroine - a great match for Jamie.

    Anne Shirley - Anne of Green Gables I love this brave little red haired orphan who is adopted by an older brother and sister in Eastern Canada at the turn of the 20th century. Anne hates her hair color, and reminds everyone her name is spelled with an "e". She is no pushover and she gets herself in scrapes and predicaments while pretending she cares nothing for the annoying (but kind of cute) Gilbert Blythe, her nemesis and a distraction all through her life. I love Anne, a real original.

    Tatiana Barrington - The Bronze Horseman A young Russian woman who lives in Leningrad during the seige in WWII. She watches all her family members perish, while falling in love with a young Red Army soldier, Alexander Barrington that saves her from certain death. They have a deep and mind boggling love - intense. As small and frail as Tatiana is, she has the courage of a lion, nothing stops her, there is almost nothing she cannot accomplish when setting her mind to it. One of the strongest heroines I know of out there in literature. A great trilogy.

  6. Oh Julie, thanks for listing your favorites. I am going to add these titles to my ever-expanding TBR list. I've never read ANNE OF GREEN GABLES - I must be the only one in the world who hasn't. And A TOWN CALLED ALICE sounds like a wonderful story. The others look good too. Tons to read, tons to think about.
    One thing's for sure: I'd better live forever if I'm going to read all the books I want to read.:)

  7. Yvette, I realize, the name of the book is A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute - fabulous!

  8. Thanks for the correction, Julie. I read Shute's ON THE BEACH many MANY years ago. Nancy Pearl recommends him highly.

  9. I quite like Miss Marple too and she almost made my list, but I picked a different Christie character instead. She reminds me of an old Elizabeth Bennet in a way, both of them love to observe and analyze the foibles of their neighbours!

  10. Yes, great comparison, Carolyn. Thanks for dropping by. Funny thing: I was just reading some very early Miss Marple short stories and didn't like them much, didn't like the way Miss Marple was first portrayed - all dithery and gossipy. I'm glad she didn't stay that way.


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