Though I come from a rather literary family, I don’t read nearly as much as they do and usually read books as they are recommended to me. This often means recommendations fall into the popular or classics categories, which don’t always include a high percentage of female authors and characters. The following are three examples of strong, clever female characters WRITTEN by women that have had an impact on me.
- Mary Russell – Laurie R. King
Perhaps spurring from my love for Nancy Drew, I was thrilled to discover the character of Mary Russell in Laurie R. King’s popular series. I already had a fond appreciation for the tales of Sherlock Holmes, so when the character of Mary Russell, half his age but his equal in intellect and deductive reasoning, became his partner in the book The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, I was hooked. In the book, Mary Russell is a student of science and theology, two areas women aren’t often portrayed pursuing, and her skills are paired with wit and bravery. Reading about her adventures, often with Holmes as the tagalong, was a breath of fresh air among so many stereotypical female characters. From her ink-stained hands to courageous spirit, I found a strong, smart, and bold female character I couldn’t read enough about.
- Elizabeth Bennet – Jane Austen
As most English students are required, I read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice among other classics in high school. Partly because of my engaging, analytical English teacher, partly because Austen is considered by many as one of the best English authors, but mostly because of the strong-willed, well-spoken Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice became one of my favorite books. An intelligent woman with a playful, yet confident attitude, Elizabeth resists societal and familial pressure to marry for economic security. Instead, willing to die an old maid, Elizabeth embraces who she is rather than conforming to what is expected of her. And, as it is still fiction, she ends up having both love and good fortune.
- Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson, and “Skeeter” Phelan – Kathryn Stockett
A more recent find of strong, smart, and bold female characters in a recommended book was in The Help by Kathryn Stockett, which tells the story of three women in the early 1960s who work together to challenge relationships between black and white families in Jackson, Mississippi. Though these women face serious shame, estrangement, and physical danger by sharing their stories “in their own words,” they demonstrate the power of a community of women and their united voices. These ordinary women turn heroic by challenging a system of injustice.
Each of these books tell the stories of women who faced societal restraints, whether life-changing or merely inconvenient, yet refused to be content with the status quo and proudly took their place in the world.
What female characters have had an impact on you? Who would you recommend I try reading?