Quite a while ago now (in Internet terms at least), Preeti Chhibber started the hashtag #Womeninfiction on Twitter. She wrote about it here for Book Riot, and though it’s been a while, I still wanted to offer up my reasoning for why I chose the women I did, because I did not do so the night I posted my tweets.
I’ve said before that I have a hard time relating to female characters, with Lady Julia Grey from Deanna Raybourn’s mystery series being the most recent fictional woman with whom I’ve felt a connection.
Now, I’ll admit it’s been ages since I’ve read A Wrinkle in Time. I will also admit that, at the time, I didn’t even want to read it, because my stepmother suggested it (if you’re reading this, sorry). But then I read it. And then I loved Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit, and then I was all, “DAMN, that girl Meg Murry is impressive! I want to be like her!” Even if she wasn’t perfect, she was fierce. She was able, despite doubting herself, to save her little brother. In fact, she was the only one who could. All of this has led me to a place where I must say, I should probably read that book again. I still have the original one I read, way back in the day.
As I was thinking of my “favorite” women in fiction, I realized that “favorite” didn’t necessarily have to mean that I had to like everything about the character. Hence why I chose Rebecca Sharp from Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. Then, I had to consider why I would choose such a woman as one of my favorite characters, when she was often reviled as a “social climber” and always compared negatively to her virtuous friend Amelia Sedley? Well, I guess for those very reasons, and also because I do love satire. She was a social climber, and did use Amelia to get to where she wanted to be. Those are truths. She was also poor, and rose through the ranks of the very society she was written to ridicule. But if you look at her character for a moment, and separate it from the satire, you have to admit she knew how to get what she wanted, and she wasn’t ashamed to go after what she wanted. There are some days when I’m too Amelia and not so much Becky…and then there are days when I need to be more “Machiavellian”—”Beckian?”—and go after what I want. So there’s that. She may not be the most likable for everyone, but she is one of my favorites.
Every time one of those quizzes comes up that asks you what Bennet sister you are, I always get Elizabeth Bennet, which is, I suppose, why I liked her so much. I felt an affinity for her as soon as I started reading Pride and Prejudice, and with every re-read, that affinity grows. In case you think I’m kidding about the quizzes, I just took this one last night:
And here was the official result:
I guess the thing is, when I read Pride and Prejudice, I feel in a way like I’m reading about a part of myself there on the page, with Lizzie. That’s what books are all about, right? Finding yourself in the pages?
When I read Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State, I felt as if I had been gutted and hung out to dry every time I had to put it down. That was nothing, though, compared to what Mireille Jameson suffered. She
was is probably always will stand as the strongest female character I have ever read. If that changes, I will be so surprised. I’m not going to write anymore about her, just because I don’t want to give anything away. You need to read the book. Just go do it.
Emma Bovary was, as I began to read more literature (and compete with my boyfriend to read more books on this list than he did), one of the first very flawed female characters I encountered. Also, her story was just so very tragic and Shakespearean in a way, that I loved it. That’s all there is to that one, unfortunately.
I’m going to gloss over Anna Karenina, because she fits into the same category as Emma Bovary (even though I read Anna Karenina in high school), and instead insert a woman I had mentioned but cannot find the tweet: Nora Sutherlin from Tiffany Reisz’s The Siren. After I finished reading the book, the first thing I tweeted to Reisz was that Nora was one of the most complicated women I’d ever read. In fact, I’m still trying to puzzle through why she put herself in the position she did. Perhaps the answer to that is in subsequent books. Regardless, I loved her as a character. I loved her strength, her weakness, her vulnerability, and also her “take no prisoners” attitude.
I have written about my love for Lady Julia Grey fairly recently, so I’ll skip right on to Katniss.
Oh, Katniss. I get her. I really do. When not teaching (or writing, apparently), I am a woman of few words. I keep mostly in my head, and I think many things without saying one. I am fiercely protective of my family. I am sometimes blind to the truth of the people that care about me the most. I am sometimes blind about my shortcomings. Most often, I am completely ignorant of—and unwilling to brag about—my strengths. I never, ever trust easily.
So, there we go.
Women in fiction are awesome—all of them. Women who write, women who are written; we’re all models for other women in some way, and we have to constantly remember that. I know I wouldn’t get through some days without my ladies—in life and fiction.
Splendid piece! Thanks for sharing.