In our March 1 newsletter, we asked for readers' favorite literary heroine - whether she wears a cape, runs a business, runs a household, or displays other strengths of character entirely. Here we match some great responses with a few favorites from the staff side to round out your Women's History Month recommended reading!
March is Women's History Month, and Women's History Month = March for our respondents - one Josephine March, that is! Independent Jo got four mentions out of 37 in our survey responses - from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and sequels, naturally. (That's Saoirse Ronan in Greta Gerwig's 2019 film adaptation at left.)
The second-most-mentioned heroines included
- Charlotte Bronte's virtuous and romantic Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska in the role here)
- Jane Austen's intelligent and romantic Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Ehle lends us the look)
- George Eliot's virtuous, intelligent, and romantic Dorothea Brooke (from Middlemarch - that's Juliet Aubrey wearing her sleeves) - and
- the perhaps too-smart-for-her-own-good Scarlett O'Hara, from Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind (shown here: Vivien Leigh).
Two mystery lovers also cited Harriet Vane, female lead of the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers (start here).
We said literary heroine, but we didn't specify fiction. Here's plenty of reading about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who got two shout-outs in the survey. We can also encounter Stacey Abrams in her book Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America, Michelle Obama in Becoming, and Vice President Kamala Harris in The Truths We Hold: An American Journey.
Other real-life figures included
- Eleanor Roosevelt, who wrote about herself in the collected My Day and her Autobiography (shown here with pencil in hand, photographed by Yousuf Karsh)
- Dorothy Parker, whose distinctive voice comes through in her own books and biographies such as Marion Meade's What Fresh Hell Is This?
- Virginia Hall, the remarkable spy profiled in Sonia Purnell's A Woman of No Importance, and
- Sherry Turkle, met most recently in The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir.
On the border between fact and fiction: one reader commends author Eve Babitz's various depictions of herself across her books.
The notorious RBG herself may well have looked up to Portia from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. (There's Ellen Terry in the role.) The classics were also cited for
- Lewis Carroll's Alice
- Anthony Trollope's Lady Glencora Palliser (start with Can You Forgive Her?)
- Alexandra Bergson from Willa Cather's O Pioneers!
- Aunt Betsey Trotwood from Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, and
- Virginia Woolf's Clarissa Dalloway.
Favorites we suspect of being childhood role models:
- Laura Ingalls as she portrayed herself in the Little House books (beginning with Little House in the Big Woods)
- L.M. Montgomery's Anne-with-an-E Shirley of Green Gables
- Karana, from Scott O'Dell's Newbery winner Island of the Blue Dolphins
- the girls of L. Frank Baum's Oz, from Dorothy and Ozma to Polychrome and Trot (starting with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, naturally)...
- ...and not to be outdone: Lucy Pevensie, who so memorably takes us to C.S. Lewis' Narnia.
Contemporary readers young and old appreciate Starr Carter, star of Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give, Nnedi Okorafor's "Akata Witch" Sunny Nwazue, and the genderfluid Alex Fierro, from Rick Riordan's Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series.
And who says a heroine has to be human? E.B. White's Charlotte is Some Spider.
Joining in from the last century and this one:
- Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge
- Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John
- Janina Duszejko from Olga Tokarczuk's Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
- the indomitable Mattie Ross from Charles Portis' True Grit
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "Americanah" Ifemelu, and
- the "willowy woman" who haunts Amor Towles' A Gentleman in Moscow.
Nicola Griffith's 2013 Hild portrays saint Hilda of Whitby, and N.K. Jemisin's recent Broken Earth Trilogy (The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky) tells the saga of Essun. Silvia Morena-Garcia's Mexican Gothic introduces us to Noemi Taboada and Catalina, and we meet the unforgettable Shu Wen in Xinran's Sky Burial: An Epic Love Story of Tibet.
Didn't see your favorite? Keep the conversation and recommendations coming on Twitter or Instagram - @nysoclib and #WomensHistoryMonth.