Kick-butt Women of Literature

From the press releases, you’d think Katniss Everdeen, the unwilling action hero of The Hunger Games, is one of the greatest power icons of literature.

Maybe…we’ll see.  Time will thresh out the staying-power of the character. I’d rather look at women who’ve endured the test of high-school reading assignments and snoozer college classes. This is not a comprehensive list…not even a top 10. They’re powerful to watch. And most importantly, have influenced the characters and stories that came after them.

I present….

Women who kick-butt without using fists or arrows.

2005 Film Adaptation of P&P

Elizabeth Bennett: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. You can put Elinor Dashwood on the list, too. They use their smarts, weaving through the frustrating conventions of the time to get what they want. Awww, heck…..Bronte’s women should be here, too, but Austen published several decades before Bronte, and had the spine to use her real name, so she gets first billing.

Yes, there's a movie about the Bard's Women

Paulina: Winter Tales. If you Spark-noted your way through English Lit, you may have missed Shakespeare’s fierce woman. She defends the queen, unrelentingly condemns the king (after the queen’s death), and is the agent of the queen’s resurrection. (Now that’s butt-kicking payback that heals). Actually most of the Bard’s heroines have more chutzpah than their male counterparts.

Whoopi Goldberg. Source: madamenoire.com

Celie: The Color Purple. (by Alice Walker) Oppressed by men her whole life, this character learns to grow into her own power.

Source: nancydrewsleuth.com

Nancy Drew: Snort if you want. This curious, titian-haired gal proved to generations of girls that the Hardy Boys weren’t the only ones empowered with deductive reasoning.

by John R. Neill, Wikipedia: Public Domain

Dorothy Gale: Not the one in the movie. Frank Baum’s Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz series (1900-1920), didn’t croon “Over the Rainbow.” She wore silver shoes, eventually lived in the Emerald City, and taught millions of children to value themselves when facing adversity. For years The Wizard of Oz wasn’t even on children’s reading lists, and it was banned from Detroit, Michigan’s libraries (1957).

Source: Drawing Nightmare.deviantart.com

Scheherazade: One Thousand and One Nights. The King listened with awe as she told her first story, stopping at the breaking of the day—before the tale was finished. So, of course, he spared her life for one more day to hear the rest of the story. After 1,000 nights, he’d fallen in love with her.

Isn’t that what all stories should do? Resonate long after the last page?

Thank the characters that came before you, Katniss Everdeen—and take note—there’s more than one way to save a life.Smiley

Of course, everyone has their favorites…which fictional female of literature influenced you?  (Yes, guys, we’d like to hear from you, too.)

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About Barb

I escaped from a hardscrabble farm in Oklahoma. I'm not sure why people think I have an accent. I miss the sunshine, but not the fried foods.
This entry was posted in A Laugh, Change, Literature and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

66 Responses to Kick-butt Women of Literature

  1. kellermelody@yahoo.com says:

    There’s also Jo March of “Little Women,” determined to be a writer no matter what. Never liked her spoiled sister Amy, though, because at one point in “Little Women,” Amy vindictively burned Jo’s stories. All of Jo’s hard work, gone! Bad Amy!

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  2. Harriet Vane (later Lady Peter Wimsey, later Her Grace, the Duchess of Denver).
    Angélique de Sancé de Monteloup.
    Eowyn, and Lúthien Tinúviel.
    Queen Orual of Glome.
    Nikki Heat 😉 (I’m not sure yet about Clara Strike).

    Like

    • Barb says:

      Nikki Heat? Oh, John, you make me smile. We all know the real reason you and Nathan Filliion like Nikki Heat. (And who can blame you?)
      Thanks for dropping by.

      Like

  3. Reblogged this on Scott Andrew Hutchins and commented:
    The literary Dorothy is kick-butt in a way the film Dorothy is not. I wish it were easier to convince people of this.

    Like

    • Barb says:

      Welcome, Scott. It’s amazing how many people have never read the original Wizard of Oz. I guess it’s hard to convince them when they can see part of it in technicolor.

      Like

  4. Marilou says:

    Great site you’ve got here.. It’s difficult to find good quality writing like yours these days.
    I really appreciate people like you! Take care!!

    Like

  5. lian92 says:

    ok since im from Russia ill add some of the Russian classic heroines Nina Dgavaha from Knigna Dgavaha this girl was realy fierce and new how to ride horses better than any one else , and survived mean girls in bording school. And speaking of classiks i realy liked Helen in Jane Eyre and think in ways she was stroger than Jane . I still realy love Katniss

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  6. Helen says:

    I’m a bit late commenting on the Strong women blog, but wanted to tell you that I agree. The wonderful women you portrayed were but a snapshot of the powerful women in everyday life, that in spite of all obstacles feed and raise their children and strive for a better life for them. I love your insight and the clever way you put it into words. Thanks Barb

    Like

    • Barb says:

      The humbling thing is that we stand in their footsteps. If they hadn’t walked their journey and broken the trail for us, we’d still be trailing far behind. Think of what we’re leaving for the future!!!

      Like

  7. I haven’t been into the Hunger Games, but may see the movie since it was filmed in my home state, NC. Helen Keller, Jo March, Scarlet O’Hara – tough cookies.

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  8. Lisa Nowak says:

    I’ve been seeing a lot of these lists, lately. One day, I’d like to see my character, Jess, mentioned as a tough heroine. Time will tell.

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  9. riatarded says:

    I love confident women! 😀

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  10. Excellent post, Barb. Great points about what makes a heroine. I’m not sure why, but I’m just not into the Hunger Games phenomena.

    I was going to list my faves, but they’ve already been mentioned: Laura Ingalls, Trixie Belden (LOVED those books growing up!) Nancy Drew, of course. Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird–my favorite of all!

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  11. mj monaghan says:

    Loved Hunger Games movie, and will now read the book!

    Elizabeth Bennett, Nancy Drew – two of my favorite choices. I love the strong women characters in books, tv, and movies.

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    • Barb says:

      I liked the first book of Hunger Games better than the next 2 books. I thought they did a good job, cutting out extra characters and substories which made the plot stronger.

      Like

  12. I meant, I always thought….

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  13. I always though, women are powerful, not only with their words but with their great ability to care, love and nurture. Today, it’s a joy to read the amazing works of these remarkable women. I toast to all the amazing you women out there. A toast to you my friend, a woman who inspires and motivates. thank you.

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  14. winsomebella says:

    There are many, but to narrow it down……Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird, and very early on, Laura in The Little House books. Fun to read everyone’s thoughts….thanks for posing the question Barb.

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  15. Margie says:

    As a young teenager, I loved the Trixie Belden books (I love detective mysteries). To that genre of young crime solving girls I would have to add Flavia de Luce who is the sleuth in three novels by Alan Bradley.

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  16. digipicsphotography says:

    Scheherazade was one smart cookie! She kept that king hanging on to her every word, wanting more.

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  17. Jon says:

    Nora from Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”. It was a toss up between her and Dan’s answer. Nothing we can do about genetic predisposition.

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    • Barb says:

      Thank the Lord for gender differences.

      Like

    • I don’t think that’s right about Nora. She doesn’t walk out because she’s some kind of feminist, she walks out because she’s just discovered her whole damn life has been a lie and she can’t think of anything else to do. She may become a kick-butt woman later—Ibsen never told us—but right now she’s just a kitten who’s been kicked.

      Like

  18. Roxie Matthews says:

    Enough with the false modesty.
    Sanna, from The Sanna Chronicles, is who I wanted to be when I grew up. My favorite kick-butt leading lady.

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  19. Nisha says:

    Oh dear, way too many women for me to list but let’s see: Margaret Hale is one of my favourites(from Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South), Precious Ramotswe from Alexander Mcall Smith’s No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, Mina Harker from Dracula and Hermione Granger from Harry Potter.
    Courtesy of the Bard, I also dig Viola from Twelfth Night… 🙂

    Like

    • Barb says:

      You sound like a fan of The Bard’s women. And yes, don’t you love the wisdom of Precious Ramotswe. I wish she could pull up a chair and we’d have tea and talk.

      Like

      • Nisha says:

        Not All his women-I found Lady Macbeth(although the 3 witches were quite enetertaining) and Juliet quite annoying.
        Yeah, Precious rocks! She’s so much better than Miss Marple!

        Like

  20. Arindam says:

    You referred to many books for me to read. I am going to keep this list with me, until I will come to know all these characters. I hope it’s going to be a big challenge for me. 🙂

    Like

  21. millodello says:

    Mary Poppins. Oddly I think she is a better female role model for a man than a woman. I liked her personal strength. She had a rare and genuine self-confidence tempered by being a woman.

    Like

    • Barb says:

      Now that’s fascinating..I liked the chimney sweep. I think this is so cool. Everyone likes something different. It gives me hope that all sorts of books will survive the digital transition.

      Like

  22. Rose L says:

    Esther Greenwood, from The Bell Jar:…Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, from To Kill a Mockingbird…Janie Crawford, from Their Eyes Were Watching God…An-Mei Hsu, from The Joy Luck Club…Anna Karenina, from Anna Karenina…Tess Durbeyfield, from Tess of the d’Urbervilles…Hester Prynne, The Scarlet Letter…all of The women of A Song of Ice and Fire

    Like

    • Barb says:

      I enjoy your list. I wanted Scout Finch,too. But I thought if I made the post too long people wouldn’t read it. Thanks for sharing some great reads.

      Like

  23. Red says:

    Mab from Mary Stewart’s Crystal Cave series. Yes, a villain. Wickedly, ruthlessly intelligent villain none the less.
    Red.

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    • Barb says:

      Whooohooo. Bad girls can be powerful,too.I’m not familiar with her, so I’m looking forward to meeting Mab.

      Like

      • Red says:

        She is the evil Queen counterpart to the Lady of the Lake in the Arthurian legend. I loved the presentation in the CC series. A very relaxed read. I think I read them all the same week.
        Red.

        Like

  24. Great post! I was mesmerized by Alice Walker especially as she writes her essays “In Search of My Mother’s Gardens” before she wrote “The Color Purple.” In “Gardens” she introduces us to one strong, creative soul after another. How did these women press on? I didn’t want to read the last essay as I wanted to meet more. I agree, Nancy Drew, inspired us and kept us reading one mystery after another.

    Like

  25. Elyse says:

    Miriam in A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. The mother in How Green Was My Valley — strong silent type.

    I’m going to come back and find books that I haven’t read and need to re-read. Thanks for posting this — wonderful piece. Thanks Barb!

    Like

  26. souldipper says:

    Mary Magdalene – one of the unsung disciples. Just wait until the (newly found) Gospel of Thomas is available for public devouring…

    Like

  27. Roxie Matthews says:

    Portia in The Merchant of Venice. Kate in The Taming of the Shrew. Judith in the Bible. Bradamont in the Chanson de Roland. Deja Thoris in all the Barsoom books by EdgarRice Burroughs. Not a wilting lily in the bunch!

    Like

  28. ansuyo says:

    Yikes! Trying to make me think????? I’ll have to sleep on it. Great post. I’m glad Nancy Drew made the cut 🙂

    Like

    • Barb says:

      Nancy says….”
      Spend time in the gym to build upper body strength.Detective work may involve fending off a vicious hair-pulling.” from the Thirteenth Pearl.

      Like

  29. All of your choices are great, and with all the bazillion books I’ve read, I’m sure there are many more strong female characters I could come up with if I gave it enough thought, but the first one who pops into my head is Scarlett O’Hara. She’s a royal pain in the patottie in a lot of ways, but her strength and resilience are really admirable by the end of the story.

    Like

  30. jmgoyder says:

    Bambi’s mother.

    Like

    • Barb says:

      I snorted out loud when I read this. The more I thought about it, the more inspired I think your answer is. That scene deeply affected me, and I remember it to this day. However, I cannot award you points or even a pair of oven mitts because Bambi was never in literature (only a Disney Video which has netted $268 million for it’s 70 minutes of emotional string-pulling.) But I still enjoy your genius wit.

      Like

  31. Where’s Jo of “Little Women”? She inspired a particular generation–tho tastes change and I think that book is too ponderous for most kids in the current generation.

    Like

  32. magsx2 says:

    Hi,
    I love the characters you have chosen, all great. My husband’s favourite is Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider movies plus of course other great Kick-butt movies, Lara Croft is also big in the game industry as well. I also enjoy a lot of her movies. 😀

    Like

  33. dan says:

    How many teenage boys would have never learned to read if it wasn’t for Wonder Woman.

    Like

  34. momaescriva says:

    Katniss Everdeen will most likely endure as a heroine in the minds of today’s teenager just as the teenagers in Austin’s time and other authors. However, hang time for these young adults is far less and their fickleness changes as fast as the wind changes direction. Your posts always makes one think! Oye, my tired brain.

    Like

  35. El Guapo says:

    Hopefully, The Hunger Games will inspire its readers to keep on reading, even the classics, and maybe even write some of the next generation of incredible woman characters.
    Great post!

    Like

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