International Women's Day is one of those internet holidays I still need Instagram Hashtags to remind me is happening. But Instagram did its part so I am here to do my part.
In Our Current Year, there is a lot of fiction that writes women as though they are all spunky, independent free-spirits, not like 'other girls' (Game of Thrones writers, I am looking at you.), super clumsy (to facilitate meet-cutes), and lovers of chocolate. (Writers of Frozen, I am looking at you.)
I am not mad at those books (Write them! Be successful! Sleep on a bed of gold bricks!) and I've even written a version of that girl. But since there are many and varied ways to be a woman, I give you 4 Literary Heroines for International Women's Day.
At the outset of Anna Karenina, Katerina (Kitty) Shcherbatsky is your standard-issue society girl who just wants the hot jock to notice her. This hope ends poorly when he goes on to hook up with the head cheerleader but Kitty is wise enough to pull herself out of her Emo Decline eventually. She becomes a woman of patience and sense, confident in who she is and what is truly valuable. By the end of the novel she's not only managing her husband's household but also his lengthy philosophizing with a "I see you. I hear you. I also need to make sure dinner gets on the table." aplomb.
Mrs. Miniver is not always nice. She would be baffled by the suggestion that all women should support all women. If you suggested she should, she might tell you about the hell of pottering all weekend with her hostess at the last house party she attended. She might tell you about the joy of hating the kind of women who claim to love all children. She would have words about keeping a proper cook. Written into a series of articles and turned into book form in 1939, the titular character is someone who might turn to a dinner companion and believably complain the it is so hard getting good help these days. Still, even when her internal monologue is the WORST, you love her because she takes delight in such small things: Autumn. Finding the perfect date book. Of having children pile into her bed to open Christmas stockings.
Mrs. Bagnet belongs to a book I haven't even finished yet. (Dear Bleak House, It has been six months since my last reading session...). She runs her household with determination and has a keen eye out for an opportunity for advancement. Her husband, who owes all his bassoon success to her, says of her: "[Who] could you leave--in another quarter of the world--with nothing but a grey cloak and an umbrella--to make its way home to Europe? The old girl would do it to-morrow. Did it once!" Even MacGyver had a roll of duct tape.
Last but not least, everyone seems to have an asterisk beside the name of Fanny Price, heroine of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. She's not any fun. She's not spunky. She's not the life of any party. In short, she isn't the kind of woman we are supposed to admire. (Which is why we get remakes which seemed embarrassed by the source material and which star a giggling Billie Piper who looks like she was dropped off by Dr. Who and told to 'blend in' until his return.) But what Fannie does have is an unbending core of inner strength. When Henry Crawford takes aim at her heart she gets grief from all quarters. She is told that she is a burden, a poor relation, that she should feel lucky such a swell guy wants to marry her, that she is going to have to return to squalor if she doesn't shift her opinions. And instead of saying, "Oh, you know what? I have always dreamed of taking on a fixer upper of a husband who has the attention span of a gnat and the morals of a tom cat. I didn't understand that the way out of poverty was to lower my standards. SWIPE RIGHT.", she says:
So there you are. My gift to you on International Women's Day--4 Literary Heroines who light the Spunky Supermodel Who Knows Auto Mechanics trope on fire. (I am no trope hater. I love all the tropes. ) Who are your favorite literary heroines?