Forget damsels in distress, these literary ladies are strong, sassy and certainly a force to be reckoned with – whether you love them or just love to loathe them, says Neha Shariffi
Ten feisty fictional females.
Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
“Everyone wants this. Everyone wants to be us,” declares Miranda Priestly, editor of fictional fashion magazine Runway. Clearly a woman who knows how much power she wields, she’s dominant, determined and sometimes downright rude. The classic nightmare boss, she sets impossible tasks for her subordinates (including sourcing unpublished Harry Potter manuscripts for her children), refuses to remember names, and could devastate even the most pompous of prima donnas with a mere slant of her eyes. But harsh and demanding though she is, she’s also goal-oriented, fiercely successful and commands the kind of respect we just cannot deny. As the icequeen herself would say, “That’s all.”
Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
Thirtysomething singleton Bridget Jones’s quirky character debuted in journalist Helen Fielding’s column in The Independent. Adapted into a hugely successful 1996 book, the novel pays homage to Fielding’s favourite classic Pride and Prejudice and Mark Darcy, the charismatic man in love with Bridget, is a modern version of Jane Austen’s dashing Mr Darcy. Always on a quest for self-improvement with her attempts to lose weight and give up her vices, Bridget is an optimistic, intelligent woman with a disarming sense of humour. Ambitious and enthusiastic yet endearingly insecure, the crux of the book’s action revolves around the fact that the supposedly unattractive Bridget has two men vying for her attention. This brutally honest diary will make you laugh out loud and we can’t wait for Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, the third book in the series, to be released in October this year.
Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Vivien Leigh won the Academy Award for Best Actress for portraying the complicated, yet much-loved character – Scarlet O’Hara in the 1939 film adaptation of this classic book. Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, this book depicts Scarlet as a woman way ahead of her time. Her character develops from a shallow girl into a strong independent woman, who enlists in the army and single-handedly runs her husband’s business after the war. Impulsive and headstrong, widowed Scarlet then marries Rhett Butler while still in love with her childhood beau. Margaret Mitchell created an unforgettable character in her only published book, which also won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1937).
Jo March in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
This hot-tempered, ambitious young bookworm and writer is thought to be largely based on Alcott herself and the novel is a semi-autobiographical account of her childhood growing up with her three sisters in 19th-century Massachusetts. Direct, outspoken and clever, Jo’s character speaks to changing standards of girlhood in the late 1800s and she defies the gender constraints of her time with her rebelliousness and determination. While her sisters think about marriage, Jo is happy to focus on her writing career. Although by the end of the book she finds love and accepts her feminine side, she’s described by some critics as one of the first feminists, before the term had even been invented. Girl power! character – even Jane Austen’s herself, who described Elizabeth thus: “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print”. Unlike the saccharine heroines of the majority of early 1800s novels, she’s complex, and brave, determined to marry for love over and above the economic security required of her times. By no means perfect – the ‘pride and prejudice’ of the title refers as much to her as to any of the other characters – she admits her faults, and it’s impossible to judge her too harshly. Her rich and unconventional character is a major reason why this 1813 novel remains timeless to this day.
Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
In a world where impressionable tweens’ air– waves are being dominated by the questionable likes of Miley Cyrus, Suzanne Collins chose the perfect time to create the dignified and empowered teenager Katniss as a positive role model for young women. The family breadwinner following her father’s death, Katniss is practical, courageous, quick-thinking and displays her heroic self-sacrifice when she takes her little sister’s place in the deadly Hunger Games. Her dogged determination and inner moral compass give her an edge over the other competitors and not even romance can deter her from reaching her goal.
Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The tattoos, piercings and spiky hair are always the first things people notice and Lisbeth Salander is often misjudged. However, a social misfit with a lack of emotion, extreme intelligence and
Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The witty, down-to-earth Lizzie Bennett is everyone’s favourite
foresight, Salander often reminds the reader of detective Sherlock Holmes. She is fiercely independent and wants to protect the powerless and punish those who terrorise them. A genius hacker, she uses this skill set for some excellent investigating with Blomkvist, publisher of a political magazine. Originally written in Swedish, this crime novel was published posthumously and Stieg Larsson’s widow requested publishers to print the unedited version. It was later adapted into films in both Swedish and English. Female characters didn’t get much coverage during Shakespeare’s day, but Lady Macbeth is an exception. She makes for a deliciously villainous personality, whose manic, OCD-style hand-washing (“Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”) remains one of the 17th-century Scottish play’s most iconic scenes. While in some sense a cartoon villain, plotting and conspiring and urging her husband to further his career through murder, she is also psychologically complex. Her evil machinations and subsequent trauma make her one of the most sought-after characters to reprise by posh-actor types like Natalie Portman, who has been cast to play Lady Macbeth in Justin Kurzel’s newest film adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s darkest tragedies.
Holly Golightly in Breakfast at
Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
With a croissant in hand, a glamorous woman in an LBD stands admiring a window display at Tiffany’s. Of course, it’s Holly Golightly. One of the most iconic creations by Truman Capote in his famous Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly is beautiful, charming and unconventional. Holly’s character breaks the mould from the stereo– typical women of the 1940s. Her progressive and nontraditional values of success and freedom make her a strong independent Audrey Hepburn portrays Holly Golightly in the 1961 romantic comedy based on Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s woman, whose mysterious past defines her. The narrator, she calls Fred (after her brother), is an older man who cares deeply for this young carefree soul who refuses to be tamed. Played by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 adaptation of the novella, Holly has become a household name that is even mentioned in movies like Kate and Leopold, Ocean’s Eleven and the Gossip Girl TV series.
Emma Bovary in Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Far from the ideal of an 1856 French gentlewoman, Madame Bovary is childish, flippant, selfish and vain. She was a shocking character in the era that the book was written and brought with her many controversies that saw Flaubert put on trial and narrowly escaping conviction. Emma’s silly romantic illusions lead her to make poor decisions throughout the book, showing her up to be morally corrupt and self-centred. As her good fortune unravels, she turns to retail therapy for solace, leading her to fall deeper and deeper into debt. Flaubert’s first published novel, Madame Bovary is considered one of the most influential novels ever written and we all love to hate this scandalous 19th-century shopaholic.
Meryl Streep plays
powerful editor Miranda in the screen adaptation of The Devil