1. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Best Strong Female Characters in Literature

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Steerpike, Jan 6, 2014.

    The subject came to mind because I'm re-reading Jane Eyre and got into a discussion of the novel with someone who didn't like her as an example of a strong female character. The objections were, to my mind, more rooted in time and place, and not in Jane's character.

    So my vote is going to stay with Jane. She's smart and witty. She certainly has agency. She doesn't compromise herself. She has faults, like a real person would, but when she stumbles she picks herself up and is stronger for it. I think she's a great example, personally.

    Name your favorite example of a strong female character. You certainly don't have to go back to the classics for it.
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Hermione Granger. And Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird.
     
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  3. We Are Cartographers
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    We Are Cartographers Active Member

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    .
     
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  4. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Murakami has a lot of strong, well-developed female characters. It's one of the reasons I like him as a writer.
     
  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Anne Shirley, in Anne of Green Gables? I'd say she acts more than she's acted upon ...which is one way I define a 'strong' character.
     
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  6. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Until recently most of my reading was limited to classics, and it's quite difficult to find strong female characters in a time when the ideal female was beautiful, weak, and needy. Only a few come to mind.

    Alexandra Bergson of Cather's O Pioneers! is one of my favorites. She's probably the best example I can think of from the classics I've read. In addition, I'm quite fond of Alice from Lewis Carroll's books and Gerty Farish from The House of Mirth (though her role is fairly minimal, IIRC).

    Bathsheba Everdene from Far From the Madding Crowd is a bit tricky--I often found myself admiring her, but then there were scenes where she completely fell apart for me (like her begging Frank Troy to love her, boooo!). But I chalk that up to Hardy's complex characterizations. I also like Cora Munro from Last of the Mohicans, although I despise the book because of how the Munro sisters are characterized and subsequently dealt with--the fragile beauty gets the big strong man and the independent clever girl gets a knife in the chest.

    The more modern books I've read do tend to have favorable female characters as more commonplace. I particularly admire Kingsolver's Taylor Greer (The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven) and Hurston's Janie Crawford (Their Eyes Were Watching God), and I also kind of liked McCarthy's Rinthy Holme (though Outer Dark was really effing weird).

    Also, Hermione Granger might be the textbook definition of strong female character.
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Rumer Godden's characters come to mind. I loved her children's books best--and find it particularly pleasing that the female characters in those children's books are strong.

    Birdie from A Doll's House--she was a hero, even if she was a doll made from celluloid. And Marchpane from the same book, as a strong villain. The mouse from The Mousewife--even though she was a mouse. Holly from Holly and Ivy. Gem from Little Plum.

    Lovejoy from An Episode of Sparrows--an adult book, though it's primarily about a child. She knew what she wanted. She lied, fought, and stole for it. And in the end she got it. Olivia, from the same book--she looked weak, with only silently held opinions, but in the end she made her will felt, too.

    Going on to other children's books, Mary Lennox from Francis Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. Shifting closer to modern, Harriet the Spy. And Ramona the Pest.

    Hm. Should it worry me that I find it easy to find character after character after character in children's books, and it's a little harder in adult literature?
     
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  8. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Made me remember Ibsen's play, and his strong character of Nora Helmer. Forgot about that one since it's not on my shelf.

    I remember admiring her for the most part, though once Dickon entered the picture I seem to recall her becoming more of a beta role. Could just be foggy memory, though.

    Yes, very much. There's a dearth of good female characters (though it's gotten better). That's one of the reasons I like writing female MCs.
     
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  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    He was to a great extent in charge in the garden, but it was Mary that bullied...was it Colin? into walking, and stood up to his tantrums when all the adults were terrified of him.
     
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  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Many of the characters I read are strong in very obvious, kick-ass ways: Tess Gerritsen's Jane Rizzoli, Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, Patricia Cornwell's Lucy Farinelli, and Linda Barnes' Carlotta Carlyle.

    Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander is strong in a broader sense - she sets her own rules and lives by them. She observes no limits to how she accomplishes what she deems necessary, but she's not capriciously cruel. And she remains, at the same time, vulnerable.
     
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  11. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The first that came to my mind was Dagny Taggart in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged! Weird ... it's been a long time since I read that.

    Pilar in Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls definitely qualifies. As does Cathy/Kate in Steinbeck's East of Eden, though she's a horrible villain.

    How about Lady Macbeth? Or Portia from The Merchant of Venice?
     
  12. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    I'm mostly into movies, so when I think of strong female characters, I don't think of Cpl Vasquez of "Aliens," but more Ellen Ripley, or Jane Fonda's character from "Agnes of God."
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Oh yes, Portia! One of the few women with real dimension among Shakespeare's works.
     
  14. O. Snow
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    I'd vote for Denna from The Kingkiller Chronicles, she may be annoying at times but definitely a strong female character.

    Also, since this thread seems to have a focus on a lot of classic literature you guys should check out "Well-Read Women Portraits of Fiction's Most Beloved Heroines" by Samantha Hahn. It has a quote and water color portrait for each heroine depicted. It's very pretty and I find it inspiring.
     
  15. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    How about Ellie Arroway in Carl Sagan's Contact? Or Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs? Or just about any character Jodie Foster played in the movie version ...
     
  16. Robert_S
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    Oooohhh, I forgot those two. I always liked the characters Foster portrays and the way she pulls them off.
     
  17. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Kay Scarpetta is in a bunch of Patricia Cornwell books. She is smart, witty, and doesn't take crap from anyone. If you haven't read any of Cornwell's books you should!
     
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  18. Albirich
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    Albirich Active Member

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    A lot of people say that George R R Martin writes women exceptionally well in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. I don't like the main character Daenarys, but Cersei Lannister, Margaery Tyrell and Catelyn Stark are three prime examples very strong and good written females.
     
  19. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Dina from Herbjörg Wassmo's Dina's Book. A 19th century woman who took shit from no one, men or women, and weathered some pretty bad storms.

    If she was a he, she'd be just an asshole, not even a strong asshole :D
     
  20. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    At the moment, I'd say my favorites are both from fantasy works even though finding well executed female characters is pretty rare in the genre filled with examples of characters (male and female) who scream wish-fulfillment:

    Brienne of Tarth from A Song of Ice and Fire.

    Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter from The Deed of Paksenarrion.

    The two characters actually share quite a few characteristics, both physical and mental, but Paks is more resourceful than Brienne, who at times had me frustrated with her apparent inability to make smart choices. Hence, if I had to choose a favorite between the two, I'd have to go with Paks even though Deed is, as a story, very different from Song. Among many things, I liked the fact that neither woman's world revolved around a love interest.
     
  21. Wyr
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    Wyr Active Member

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    I grew up loving Sherlock Holmes stories, but my absolute favorite was always A Scandal in Bohemia. I'm not sure if she qualifies because she only appears in a short story, but Irene Adler is definitely a strong female character.
     
  22. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Since you mentioned this in a thread about strong female characters, I can't help but wonder is it really a component of a strong female not to have a love interest who's the center of her world? 'cause males can also do incredible feats to save their damsels in distress but they are still considered strong... or at least they aren't considered weak because of that, or?

    I have to wonder, because my favorite strong female character shows her strength especially when she's dealing with the men of her life, and she goes to insane lengths to have -- even possess -- the man she wants, so one could claim her life revolves around this man once she's met him the first time. So is there a connection between 'strength' and 'an important love interest'? Would Brienne and Paks be weaker if they, like Dina, had been written to love a man as fiercely as Dina did?
     
  23. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I actually thought of Dagny Taggart last night, I don't know why I didn't write this myself. Yeah, she easily qualifies.
     
  24. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, Dagny qualifies.

    I also like Paks a lot. Another good example.

    As for the romantic element, I think a strong character in a story can certainly focus around a romantic element, particularly if that's what the story is about. Male characters aren't branded as weak solely because of a fixation on a romantic object, nor should female characters be.

    Claire in Outlander is a strong character, and the story is a romance at heart, so of course the object of her affection is a key element to the book.
     
  25. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    My apologies, I worded my comment badly. What I should have said was: I find it a refreshing change of pace that for once (or twice, actually) the lives and deeds of those characters did not revolve around some guy. I never meant to imply people who love are weak, being in love myself. :)

    I like love stories just as much as the next guy, but sometimes a story without such romance-of-the-century as a central element is a welcome change. To me, anyway.

    But this is off-topic. In my eyes, Paks and Brienne wouldn't be any less strong even if they did have some hubby waiting for them in some hut in their home villages while they hacked and slashed their way around the world, but the lack of such a romantic element sets these characters apart from oh so many other female heroines (especially in fantasy?) that I see it as one of the less important defining characteristics of these characters but a defining characteristic nonetheless.
     
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