For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:
February 21: Favorite Heroines (or heroes, if you prefer!) I love Jo March, Jane Eyre, Anne Shirly and Lizzie Bennet as much as the next reader. But rather than put them on another list, I decided to do some underrated heroines, who rarely turn up on these lists.
Margaret Hale in North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell – While Jane Eyre often tops these lists, Margaret Hale rarely does (in spite of the fact that North and South has gained some notice in recent years due to the 2004 BBC miniseries). She comes from a comfortable background, but when she’s exposed to people who live differently, who don’t have some of the advantages that she’s had, her horizons broaden. She supports local mill workers fighting for better treatment. At the same time, she deals with tragedies and upheavals in her own life.
Betsy Ray from the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace- I’ve only read the first four in the series so far, but I already know Betsy is a kindred spirit. Little Betsy reminds me a lot of Little Fran in that I was also always trying to organize performances, tell people about the stories I made up, and was generally rather annoying! Betsy is lucky enough to have two best friends in the neighborhood, which I didn’t, but still… As I read these, I couldn’t help but relate to Betsy’s life and the trials and tribulations of her childhood, in spite of the fact that my family was a bit different, I lived a few hundred miles away from Betsy, and almost a century later.
Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – It’s been about a million years since I read this one (should give it a reread at some point) but I remember being obsessed with this character as a kid. Based on a true incident, this twelve (at the start) year old girl was left behind on the Pacific island of San Nicholas after her family goes to California. She lives the next eighteen years, mostly in solitude. Even as a kid I admired that kind of strength, independence and self reliance.
Miss Marple from the Miss Marple series by Agatha Christie – I love that people look at Miss Marple and see nothing but a little old lady thinking about knitting and gardening. That just makes it sweeter when she proves herself to be the smartest person in the room. She also encounters quite a lot of nastiness in her line of work, but as long as people’s secrets aren’t homicidal, she takes kind of a live and let live attitude.
Eloise from Eloise by Kay Thompson– When I was a kid, I soooo wanted to be Eloise! Who wouldn’t? She lives in the Plaza and never gets bored (it’s not allowed!). She has all kinds of adventures and drives her neighbors and her nanny absolutely crazy. Yes, her environment is different from that of about 99.9999% of children, but that’s kind of why it’s fun. What kid wouldn’t love to spend their days dealing with self-imposed responsibilities like ordering pointless things from room service?
Emily Starr from the Emily trilogy by LM Montgomery – As much as I love Anne (and she’s one of my all time favorite heroines!) I think Emily is definitely the underrated one. I was ridiculously happy to see Emily of New Moon serve a plot point in the second season of Russian Doll! I think that seeing Emily write her way through grief and toward an adult identity is really beautiful. She’s a little bit darker than Anne in that she’s hurt by some of the negative things she’s experienced, but her journey is very rewarding, and ultimately optimistic.
Emma Woodhouse from Emma by Jane Austen – I know calling an Austen heroine underrated is a bit of a stretch, but I feel like Emma sometimes gets some hate for being “spoiled.” She is. But that doesn’t mean she’s not interesting. She’s very smart, but in her own little world, where things have been fairly easy for her. She’s expected to be pleasant, charming, and decorative, and she is all those things. She’s never really left those set of expectations, and because they allowed her to excel, she’s never learned humility through mistakes and failure. I really enjoyed seeing her come to realize that other people aren’t toys for her to play with. She discovers that everyone has a lot happening beneath the surface, that she may not realize. Through these discoveries she begins to understand the kind of person she wants to be. Even though the novel ends with her marriage, I love that she’s not afraid to reject the idea of it, and think her life would be well spent taking care of her father, among the company of family and friends.
Prudence Sarn in Precious Bane by Mary Webb – Born in Shropshire with a cleft palate, Prudence thinks of this as her “precious bane.” It sets her apart from her neighbors, who treat her with scorn and suspicion. But that sense of distance allows her to think beyond the confining boundaries of their lives. In may ways she is happy: she loves the country where she lives, she even loves her ambitious brother. But most of all she loves the weaver, Kester Woodseaves. Prudence is an intelligent, compassionate heroine who is able to find value and beauty in something that others would curse.
Marian Halcombe from The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins – Because Marian is the daughter of her father’s first wife, she’s not entitled to any of his fortune. To add insult to Victorian injury, she’s not very attractive, so she really doesn’t have any hope of marrying “well.” In spite of that, she’s never bitter or jealous of her beautiful younger sister, Laura, who can inherit. On the contrary she’s very protective, and when Laura is in danger, Marian stops at nothing to save her sister. Throughout the novel she bravely takes on the archvillain Count Fosco. Even better, she does it with a sense of humor!
Irene Adler from “A Scandal in Bohemia” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – In the story, Irene isn’t in the position of heroine per se. Actually she’s the antagonist to Sherlock and Watson. But she’s notable for evading Holmes’ traps, outsmarting him and getting away from him. Holmes is not a ladies man by any stretch of the imagination. But he even he ends up respecting her. Because her actions aren’t technically evil or malicious, I think that in looking back at the character from modern day, we can see she’s pretty awesome. Adler features as a fairly prominent character in fanfiction. Sometimes she’s turned into a love interest for Holmes, which isn’t really true to her portrayal here. She’s someone he admires and respects rather than loves.