Literature is filled with examples of female characters, actions, and narratives being overshadowed by their novels’ male characters. Whether this is down to the embarrassingly two-dimensional way that women are often written by men, or due to male characters being written a more diverse, interesting narrative. This nearly always involves a heroically masculine end-of-the day save, before disappearing into the sunset in the arms of an always beautiful woman. Sound familiar? Take a look at Ian Fleming’s James Bond series. With the upcoming event of International Women’s Day, it’s time to shine the spotlight on the women who make literature great.
Firstly, let’s look back at some 19th Century examples of iconic, controversial women. Both Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre turned heads when published, through their wilful defiance of social convention, the concept of a woman who broke the mould imposed upon them by patriarchal peers was intimidating, yet hopeful. These women taught readers that fighting for your ambitions leads to happiness. Both Elizabeth and Jane are intelligent, fierce, yet also compassionate examples of young women, fighting a heavy patriarchal discourse. Their success in doing so along with their outspoken and untamed personalities are the reason they are both so well loved. Both their characters have stood the test of time, still today being regarded as two of the most inspirationally iconic characters ever written.
Taking us into the 20th Century, D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was hugely controversial for its provocative nature; a woman who seeks sex outside of marriage was so uncomfortable a topic for readers that after its publication in 1928, the novel was banned on the grounds of ‘obscenity’. D. H. Lawrence’s portrayal of Lady Chatterley as human, with real passion and desires, makes her, without question, utterly iconic.
In summary, literature across the eras is certainly not short of iconic women, from Shakespeare’s Portia (The Merchant of Venice), right the way through to Philip Pullman’s Lyra Belacqua (His Dark Materials), women have made their mark within literature. A few notable mentions of iconic female characters go to, Jo March, Matilda, Nancy Drew, Katniss Everdeen, Arya Stark, Celie Harris, Hester Prynne, and Hermione Granger, all without a doubt individually iconic. Afterall we must ask ourselves, would Ron and Harry have survived past The Philosopher’s Stone without Hermione?