Who’s your favorite literary heroine?

Who’s your favorite literary heroine?

Because of this conversation, I’ve had the great females of literature on my mind for weeks.

Like so many lifelong readers, I’ve encountered so many spunky girls and amazing women in the pages of good books. So many.

When I was young, I discovered Anne Shirley, Nancy Drew, Emily Starr, Caddie Woodlawn. As I got older, I met new friends (because that’s absolutely how I thought of them): Lucy Pevensie, Meg Murry, Scout Finch, Jo March.

As an adult, I could name hundreds of inspiring (and completely fictional) females I’ve met. Francie Nolan, Elinor Dashwood, Cassandra Mortmain, Dorothea Brooke, Hermione Granger, Jane Eyre, Hannah Coulter, Minerva McGonnigal, Beatrice, Liesel Meminger, Margaret Hale …

My question for you today: who’s your favorite? And why?

Tell us all about it in comments.

(Psst—listen to my podcast conversation about the great women of literature, what makes a heroine, and why they have such staying power in your favorite podcast app or right here on the blog.)

P.S. Beautiful editions of Anne of Green Gables.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someonePrint this page

76 comments

  1. Helen Harris says:

    I think this might be one of the hardest questions yet! Thankfully, decades ago, I started thinking about it, when filling out a college application for Northwestern University (in their 1999 application, they asked something along the lines of “Who’s your favorite literary character?” and it got me thinking on the subject). Strangely enough, my answer hasn’t changed much since: it’s still Anne Shirley, although now she shares that spot with Hermione Granger. I just absolutely LOVE how inspirational, bright, generous, hopeful, smart, hardworking and genuine Anne is. And Hermione shares many (if not all) of those traits as well. These are two young women whom I truly wish I could meet, have a conversation with, and secretly become their BFF (or better yet, a bosom friend).

    • Misti says:

      Yes! Scarlett O’Hara! She’s not always likeable, but she’s awesome! I’ve always admired her strength and courage. And Gone with the Wind is my favorite book, I’ve read it over 20 times.

    • Ang says:

      I forgot about Scarlett? How could I do that. I remember reading that book in 6th grade and all the other kids thinking I was crazy. But I loved the story and her determination. I was obsessed with history.

    • Lisa Z says:

      Scarlett was my first thought and is my top choice too. It’s true that she did some dumb, heartless things but I love her spunk, her determination, and her will. She is a survivor and she loved deeply. If only she’d realized who she truly loved sooner! 🙂

    • Raela says:

      Ditto to what you all said about Scarlett. I commented elsewhere that I think a combination of Scarlett and Melanie would be the perfect woman 🙂

  2. Sara says:

    I only recently read Anne of Green Gables for the first time (I’m 22, and one of my oldest friends was SHOCKED when she heard I had never read it). I’m absolutely enchanted with Anne. She reminds me a lot of myself: enamored with nature and in love with the world around her. Hermione Granger is another favorite. Beatrice from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing never fails to make me laugh. She is so smart and strong, with a truly tender heart underneath. What I really appreciate about her is that she is really ready to love and be loved, in addition to being smart and sassy. It goes to show that you can be both things: romantic and intelligent, a lover and a strong woman. I don’t think that’s often how women are depicted. I have always loved each of the March sisters, but I usually feel the most affinity with Amy. Maybe that’s because she and I are both blonde, but I also share her love of culture and the arts. Of course, we all love Lizzy Bennett. I think one of my all-time favorites, though, is Eowyn from my favorite books of all time, The Lord o the Rings. Wise, strong, adventurous, daring, valorous… She is everything I want to be. In each of these heroines I see a little bit of myself, and they call me into the woman I know myself to be.

    • Leslie says:

      I read Anne for the first time at about the same. I was saying to myself, how did I miss this during my childhood. Oh well. Maybe I enjoyed more as an adult. And to make it more special, I was gifted the whole series anonymously. One of my favorite memories of reading those books.

  3. Jen says:

    I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the women of the Betsy-Tacy Series and world. I have a special fondness for Carney (who was a college bound woman before World War I) and Emily (of the Emily of Deep Valley book), but Betsy (one of the titular characters) is a well-rounded character that is fun to follow from when she is five until she is married.

    • Lisa Z says:

      Oh my gosh! Another favorite. Earlier I mentioned Scarlett O’Hara, but Claire is a close second if not a tie. The two characters are such strong, intelligent women. And both are so passionate! I love that.

  4. Tera M says:

    I think it is Hermione Granger (I started reading Harry Potter in about third grade, so I feel I grew up with Hermione — Book 7 came out when I was 19), but I recently (in the past two years) discovered the Outlander Series (through your blog!) and have to say that Claire Fraser may have won over that spot in my heart. While I know Outlander is a bit “risqué” and not exactly classic literature… I think it will withhold the test of time. Claire has such a passionate drive and protective zeal for her family… I see so many of the qualities I love in her.

  5. I have to go with Anne. There’s something about her that deeply resonates with me. I admire her pluck and the courageous way she wears her heart on her sleeve (SO the opposite of me!). Other favorites are Lucy Pevensie, Miss Marple (that mischevious sparkle in Gerladine McEwan’s eyes!), Violet Baudelaire from A Series of Unfortunate Events, Nancy Drew, Hermione, and Lisbeth Salander.

  6. Francine says:

    Molly Gibson from Wives and Daughters goes to the top of the pile for me. She is quietly thoughtful, unselfish, inquisitive, kind and levelheaded (and more).

  7. Ella says:

    Mine is Jo March. Forever and ever. I can relate so much to her: she’s a writer, a reader, she’s passionate and compassionate and full of quirks. She’s also a tomboy through and through, which summed me up when I first read Little Women when I was younger, and still holds true today. I’ve never read of a character whom I could see myself more clearly in, and while that meant a lot growing up, it still gives me a sense of belonging when I come back to the book, which is my favorite. I bawled the last time I read it. 🙃 So yes! Jo March forever!

    • SoCalLynn says:

      Jo is mine, too. She is that perfect balance between wanting to strike out on her own and feeling unable to, and being drawn to home where she knows she’s loved and where she loves so much. Love her!

  8. Ang says:

    I adore Anne. I always said if she was real she would be my best friend. Not because I’m like her, I think I’m a bit more like Diana. But I love her story. I’m so excited because next year we are actually going to PEI for the first time and I’ll get to see her “home”. I have every one of the books on my bookshelf still they are one of my few keepers. When I was a teenager I loved “The Keeping Days Series” and The main character Tish was my favorite. I recently reread those books – the other set I have on my bookshelf and remembered why I loved them. Right now I love Lady Emily in Tasha Alexander’s series. She’s just an enjoyable heroine to read about.

  9. Aleyna says:

    I would have to say Ella from one of my childhood favorites, Ella Enchanted. I love how Gail Carson Levine changed the usual damsel-in-distress Cinderella character into a spunky, head-strong, courageous heroine. Her selflessness at the end of the story always inspires me!

  10. Louise says:

    I commented on the podcast post, and then promptly remembered several other heroines I forgot to praise … isn’t that the way it always goes? So, adding to Anne Shirley, Jo March, Jane Eyre, Anne Elliot, Eowyn, Princess Eilonwy, and Harriet Vane: Margaret Hale and Molly Gibson from Elizabeth Gaskell’s wonderful books; Lucy, Aravis, and Jill from the Narnia series; Jane Stuart (of Lantern Hill); Vicky Austin from Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin books; and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.

    And now I want to promptly ignore all my responsibilities today and curl up with a cup of tea and some of these old and beloved friends!

    • Diane says:

      Yes! First mention of Anne Elliot.Wise,thoughtful,self contained and manging to survive all those years with her dreadful family and without any hope of ever seeing Frederick again….
      And Yes-the other Anne..Anne Shirley for all the reasons everyone else has ever mentioned..(not least Gilbert…)
      And Jo March-though I STILL think she should have married Laurie…I thought that the first time I read it,and even now,knowing so much more about Louisa May Alcotts background and having read feminist interpretations, I still think so…

  11. Mary says:

    What a lovely discussion. I loved, so funny to write that but so true, Anne Shirley as a girl and still do. I also love Jo March. For me, it’s interesting that I love these characters, who are different from me. How brave they were, going against certain expectations. I don’t see myself that way. My curiosity is more do we like characters that are different from how we see ourselves or with whom we identify. Or do we just like great characters who have great stories. Or do we learn about ourselves, that inner part, from great characters.

  12. Heidi says:

    I would have to say either Jo March or Emily Starr. I read Little Women every year for more than ten years, laughing and crying along with Jo as she grew up. I love the way she wrestled with her relationships with her sisters and with Laurie, her desire to do something, to make an impact. Emily is the reason I started writing journals and character sketches, I was always looking for “the flash” and I so wished I had her second sight. I have loved several heroines since, including Diana Bishop, Deanna Wolfe, Esther Summerson, Helen Rossi, and Anne Elliot, but I grew up with Jo and Emily.

  13. Kelsey says:

    Lina Vilkas is one of my favorites, from the book “Between Shades of Gray” which is about people sent to labour camps from Lithuania by the USSR.
    She was so strong and inspiring.

  14. My favourite literary heroine is Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility. Anytime I do a “which Jane Austen character are you?” test, I get Elinor. She doesn’t do any outward feats of heroism, but I admire her inner strength and her determination to do the honourable thing no matter what.

    My other favourite (if we mean “heroine” as “female protagonist” and not just a doer of heroic deeds) is Lily Bart in The House of Mirth. She’s a pitiful character in many ways, both because of her tough social situation and her bad choices, and her story ends pathetically — but I just love her because she’s so flawed yet so beautiful.

  15. Amy Sullivan says:

    I have so so many! I have a special fondness for my first literary heroine, Meg Murray from A Wrinkle In Time. Sweet but awkward, with an affinity for science, mathematics, and a love for her family. That story and Meg herself had a profound impact on me as a young girl. I believe shaped me as the adult sci-fi nerdy girl I am to this day 

    • Deb Kelner says:

      Yes! Meg Murray (A Wrinkle In Time) will always be my favorite. I so identified with her as a child and I still understand her and use her to remind myself to be brave as an adult. Meg Murray isn’t beautiful, she doesn’t identify as a brainiac (especially compared to the mother and father and baby brother whom she reveres) and she doesn’t see herself as brave. Her bravery and her heroism stem from her ability to tap into her own special gift: her sensitivity and her enormous capacity for LOVE. More than anything this was the message I needed to hear 40 years ago when I first read the book, again 15 years ago when I read the book to my sensitive, tender and “different” son and again today. You don’t have to be physically strong, intellectually strong, famous, wealthy or beautiful to be heroic. You just have to find your own inner strength and ability to love deeply. Use this love and acceptance to stand up for those who are weaker, use this love and compassion to conquer hatred. Time to re-read this book!

  16. Thora says:

    Joining the rest of the group, I too love Anne Shirley. I even named one of my daughters’ middle names Anne (with an e!) after her. I used to keep track of how old she was to the month, and then compare where I was to the exact age and month to where she was. I also love Francie Nolan from a Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I loved her resilience and her family’s thriftiness in poverty – I grew up with less, to a single mom (which was ever so much more than Francie had), but I related to her mom’s, and hence Francie’s make do attitude.

    Laura Ingalls is another – excepting the First Four Years, I loved the entire series, and have enjoyed them just as much as an adult as I did a child. I think now Ma Ingalls is a hero of mine as well – being a mother I admire how much she did with so little technology and often in an isolated homestead – and while keeping a good attitude! I know that the books are fictionalized, and probably in real life there was a lot more complaining and tears, but I love the inspiration of the fictional Ma Ingalls even so.

    Of course there are adult ones – Elizabeth Bennett, Anne from Persuasion, Margaret from North and South (love Gaskell!), Valancy Stirling (the Blue Castle – my favorite non-Anne novel by L.M. Montgomery), Jane Eyre, but somehow my childhood ones feel stronger, maybe because I loved them so long.

  17. Melanie Olson says:

    This is a difficult question. When I was young, my favorites were Laura Ingalls and Trixie Belden. Laura lived in a time that fascinated me and she was the kind of girl I would have wanted to be friends with. The same with Trixie, I would have loved to have been Honey and brought out of my shell by Trixie and her endless adventures.

    • Tami says:

      I loved Laura Ingalls and Trixie Belden too, and for the same reasons! However, I have to say that Harriet the Spy is my all-time favorite. I read that book so many times as a kid I almost had it memorized.

  18. Jocelyn says:

    My childhood favourite was Beth March. Although I was and still am like the character of Jo (fly away, harum scarum, whistling with my hands in my pockets just to annoy any goody two-shoes who are about – yes you Amy March!), I always secretly longed for Beth’s goodness and sense of duty, her strength of character and her quiet devotion that never calls attention to itself or demands praise.

  19. Heidi says:

    I’ve got to say, my favorite is Tiffany Aching, from Terry Pratchett’s series. The first book is The Wee Free Men. I’ve never met a heroine more profoundly committed to taking care of herself and her responsibilities, although Meg Murry comes close. If my girls grow up to be like Tiffany, I’ll consider my efforts to have been successful. Also, the books are hilarious.

    • Thora says:

      I love Tiffany Aching! I didn’t even think of her books when I was making a reply, but I did think of The Witches books from Discworld in general. I wasn’t sure if Granny Weatherwax would eviscerate me if I said she was my literary heroine, though – it seems a bit pretentious for her. 🙂 But in general I do love the witches.

  20. This is super fun to think about. Alexia Tarabotti from the Parasol Protectorate series is one of my all-time favorites. And Hermione from HP was obviously awesome, but I have a soft spot for Mrs. Weasley in particular… the woman could knit customized sweaters, killed the Big Bad’s 2nd in command, AND survived raising 6 teenaged boys, so. Thursday Next from ‘The Eyre Affair’ is also pretty great.

  21. Abbie says:

    My favorite will always be Francie Nolan and her mom, Katie. Francie reminds me so much of myself, and, through reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn multiple times both as a child and as I grew up, I learned so much about life and humans in general from the novel. I always identified with Francie’s love of simple pleasures (peppermints and water, the library’s bowl of flowers). However, Katie’s tendency to seem standoff-ish but her extreme devotion to her family always resonated as well. I think that is something A Tree Grows in Brooklyn does so well. It allows you to see the good and bad in everyone. No matter how long I go between re-readings of the book, these two women in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn come to my mind all the time, in all different situations!

  22. Well of Course J Austens Emma, _Elisabeth, Eleonor D, Anne as they grow up as Jane with their own great worth of themselves, despite hard times they still not give up. So perhaps Jane is the big heroine. Others well Pippi Longstocking, is always here , Anne Franks diary and life is real, Anne Perrys two heroines, Mrs Thomas Pitt, and Mrs Hester Monk, two women that defies the spirit of the time. Miss Marple, Ida Rask a woman married to a poor swedish soldier during the first decennium of the2000th written by Moa Martinsson a s.k. working writer, who together with other writer wrote about the poverty and strain the poor had it during the first part of the 2000ths. Then there is the faboulos St Fidelma by Peter Tremayne.

  23. Pamela Jo says:

    Two literary ladies have been my favorites since childhood. Jo March, because she is passionate about writing, drama, and family. Her strength always appealed to me. The other is Melanie (Hamilton) Wilkes from Gone With The Wind. Another character I have always found to be strong, yet quietly so. The perfect balance to Scarlett’s personality! I adore both Little Women and Gone With the Wind, and fell in love with the books as a child and have never “outgrown” either of them. I can read them over and over again! Thank you! I so enjoyed thinking about this topic!

    • Lisa Z says:

      Scarlett is my first choice for favorites, but I adore Melanie Wilkes too. Her kindness, her loyalty (to Scarlett especially), and her understanding of human nature (which helped her with the first two qualities) are inspiring. Gosh, now I really want to read GWTW again.

  24. Sarah K says:

    As an adult, I’d choose Kristin Lavransdatter (from Sigrid Undset’s trilogy), Harriet Vane, Philippa Somerville (from Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series), Emma Woodhouse, and Polly Churchill (from Connie Willis’ two-volume novel Blackout/All Clear). From childhood, I’d pick Emily Starr and Rilla Blythe. Now I feel like I’m slighting Anne–ha! I loved her, but I resonated most with the slightly darker Emily and the scrappy, practical, but reflective Rilla. I suppose that’s also why I choose Emma over the other Austen heroines–I love all of them (although the utterly self-effacing Fanny makes me want to scream a little) but I identified most with the flawed but strong personality of Emma.

  25. Elizabeth Whittaker says:

    When I was in grade school our teacher would read to us just after midday recess. One of my favorite books was The Secret Garden. I love the tenacity and courage of Mary Lennox. Now as an adult I still find this book a favorite and buy it for each little girl I know turning 10.

  26. Jo says:

    Two ladies I love from reading are Hannah Fowler (from Hannah Fowler) and Prudence Tremaine (from Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders). Both are brave, resourceful, strong yet feminine women in dangerous situations.

  27. Liza says:

    Isi and Enna from Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl (and the whole series). I love both equally. Isi’s journey is one I hope I were strong enough to endure, were I in a similar situation. And I love how her “weaknesses” are not really weakness, but a core part of who she is. Her personality doesn’t change, but she comes into her own place of belonging and her own way of being strong. Enna is such a perfect counterpart-loyal, compassionate, trusting. But she gets caught up in situations bigger than she is able to handle and does terrible things in the name of war. She then goes through her own journey of learning to forgive herself and to be forgiven…and like Isi, her personality doesn’t change, but she becomes a better version of herself.

    I also love Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle. She also goes on a journey and becomes a better version of herself and finds her inner strength (yes, this is a theme in the books I love). I hope that I’m as headstrong as she is when I’m old.

    And Luna Lovegood. *happy sigh* She’s odd, but still intelligent and perceptive of the world around her. Her quirks are endearing and my mood is always a little lighter after reading scenes with her in them.

  28. Jamie says:

    I have to agree with you on Francie Nolan. I feel like she’s the soulmate of so many young woman in their ‘coming of age’ season. I also really loved Ethel William and Maud Fitzherbert in Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy – their smarts, wit, and strength in the face of unbelievable odds.

  29. Claire says:

    My favorite literary heroine would have to be Jane Eyre. I loved this book so much and just thought Jane was a woman ahead of her time. I loved her spunk and intelligence and the fact that she was so true to herself. And my favorite line is of course, “Reader, I married him.”

  30. Kim says:

    It’s always been Scarlett O’Hara for me. That girl just kept picking herself up in the face of disaster after disaster. She was the first heroine I saw that realized that she needed to take care of herself, and that she couldn’t rely on a man to take care of her and treat her like she had a brain. Granted, she made some poor choices, but she just kept on going.

    • Raela says:

      I was thinking about saying Scarlett too. She’s got her issues, but she also kicks butt! I think a mix of her and Melanie would be the perfect woman 🙂

  31. Marie says:

    I love Jane Eyre because she is uncompromisingly true to herself, and I love Una Spencer from Ahab’s Wife because she is brave, adventurous, kind, and curious.

  32. Becca says:

    My favorite heroines growing up were Harriet Tubman and Elizabeth Blackwell. As a little girl I was so inspired by these women defying social and racial stigma’s and prejudice to accomplish amazing things.
    I also loved the characters from Little Women (Jo was my favorite), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and Lucy from the Narnia series. So many great literary heroines!

  33. Jamie says:

    I had to come back (after I had smacked my head in disbelief that I had forgotten!) with RAMONA! RAMONA, RAMONA, RAMONA!!! I’m listening to the whole Ramona Quimby series again on audio book with my three kids at breakfast most mornings. It is a completely different experience listening as a parent then reading as a kid. I have so many solidarity moments with Ramona’s parents as they try to embrace their little girl who is so spunky yet also so infuriatingly misunderstood, even though her antics come from a good-heart (at least most of the time!). And then I look at my three kiddos and lightbulbs go off in my head and I almost break down in tears as I’m dishing out breakfast. Ramona has given me a whole new insight in what it means to be a kid, but also what it means to love them, too.

  34. Fiona says:

    Hi Anne, I agree with all of the literary heroines that you have discussed on the podcast – a wonderful topic! Interestingly, something that has been missing from the discussion is all of those English boarding school stories that I loved growing up (and now). Perhaps these were more commonly read in Australia (where I’m from) and the U.K? I wonder if you have other readers/listeners out there who agree. I loved Enid Blyton!

  35. There are so many wonderful, wonderful heroines. I love so many. But my absolute favorite is Jo March. I first read Little Women the summer after my 6th-grade year. I fell in love with it and Jo immediately. In 2015, I set a goal to read through all of Louisa May Alcott’s work. I did read everything that is currently published. And I got to top the reading off with a visit to The Orchard House and other sights in Concord. Little Women is still my favorite, and I plan to start reading it again on November 29 as that is the date of Louisa May Alcott’s birthday.

  36. Mary Kay says:

    I have to agree that Anne Shirley is one of the best. Hermione Granger is also a favorite of mine (so much so that my cat is named Hermione!). But I also have a special place in my heart for Emma Woodhouse. I love how she grows and learns in the story. While her good intentions may be misguided, she tries her best to be a good person.

  37. Bethany!! says:

    So many books with so many characters!!! My favorites are Luna Lovegood: quirky yet wise a true ravenclaw, Hazel Levesque from The Hero’s of Olympus; smart,and amazingly awesome with a super sad backstory that fleshes out her character, and finally Amy, from Little Women; a funny character who is creative and altogether funny.

  38. Amy says:

    Anne – I’m sure this goes without actually typing the recommendation, but have you read Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi? Alice Alexis Queensmeadow is quite the leading young lady. I just read this book and absolutely loved it! A modern day heroine perhaps? Have a great day!

  39. Molly says:

    It is so hard to choose just one favorite heroine. For a modern heroine, I have to go with Hermione Granger and Professor McGonnagal. These are two women who stick to their guns, are logical thinkers, and are given more brains than beauty. For childhood heroines, my favorite picks include Ramona Quimby and Sara Crewe and her little friend. Again, these girls had spunk and strong personalities. I love that Sara kept faith in what she knew was real (her father’s love) and stayed positive even though her situation was anything but positive.

  40. Laura Schwartz says:

    Lisbeth Salander was amazing (Stieg Larson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and sequels)! I also very much enjoyed Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and must say, his less known Sally Lockhart series also had a fantastic female main character (Sally Lockhart herself). Growing up I was a big fan of nosy Miss Marple as well as Laura Ingalls.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.