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  • Writer's pictureKara Chatham

leading literary ladies

As I am in the middle of working on my own fiction novel, it has been a thought that has crossed my mind a multitude of times how the female characters I read about when I was growing up have left an impact and helped form some of the opinions I have on certain topics.

For example:

there is a statement that Lizzie Bennet makes in Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice that I know is just as true for me as it was for Lizzie.

I am determined that only the deepest love will induce me into matrimony. So, I shall end an old maid, and teach your ten children to embroider cushions and play their instruments very ill.

I have a pretty decent idea of what I'm looking for in a dating relationship. And just like Lizzie didn't accept the first proposal she received because she knew that she wouldn't be happy with Mr. Collins, I know I won't just settle for the sake of it.

In Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing,

Beatrice gave me my love of wit and a sense of empowerment in my independence.

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him. (Act 2, Scene 1)

...and there may be some comfort found in my lack of interest in relationships here too. Who knows? I mean, she is essentially saying that no man can measure up to possibly deserve her. Or if you wish to stretch it, if the man has scruff (that stage between a clean shaven face and an actual beard) then he is perfect. But Beatrice is so confident in herself, that she doesn't see a need to jump into a relationship (or in this case a marriage) just because everyone else says that she should. But wait! There is more!

LEONATO: Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband. BEATRICE: Not till God make men of some other metal than earth. (Act 2, Scene 1)

I clung to some of the lines Beatrice has in Much Ado as a teenager. They gave me this sense of "I'll be fine no matter what". Let me go ahead and state that it has never been a dream of mine to be married. I'm not opposed to the idea, but it has never been the goal, for lack of a better word. Bottom line: Beatrice's independence and strength was, and continues to be, inspiring to me, as well as one of the characters that had me falling in love with literature.

Then you have the lovely Jo March from Lousia May Alcott's Little Women, who is just an inspiration as a creative, strong woman.

Alcott definitely pushes that idea that there is more to a woman than just being married and baring children. And Jo March leads the charge in the world of writing for women.

Fun Fact: Alcott never intended for Jo to be married at the end of Little Women. She was talked into adding that aspect, which is why the character of Frederich Bhaer was created.

Fun Fact #2: Little Women was challenged to be banned because of the feminist nature of the novel.

Who could forget about Anne Shirley of Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables?

Active imagination, determined, feircly independent. Anne is an inspiration simply on the account that she does not let her circumstances stand in her way of the goals she has set for herself.

For me personally, I can get stuck in this cycle that brings overwhelmment which leads to a lack of doing things - even when I say I want to do the things. It's a kind of analysis paralysis. But Anne Shirley doesn't seem to have that - ever. AND IT'S AMAZING! And I wish I could do that. Maybe I'd have more than one novel written by now if I could...


It is also possible that some of my ideals of who I'd like to spend the rest of my life with have come from the relationships of these leading ladies. If you've known me for any amount of time, you've probably noticed this. But think about this with me...

  • You have your marriage of the minds - Jo March & Professor Frederich Bhaer. Their relationships is more than just the "feeling" of love that a lot of stories try to sell you on. And let's be honest, it's that "feeling" that has Laurie convinced that Jo is the one for him, but Jo is so aware of it all that she declines his proposal. At the same time, I don't think we really get to know Professor Bhaer enough to determine what kind of man he is - I've just sat through enough lectures and done enough research to know that their relationship is classified as a marriage of the minds.

  • Gilbert Blythe challenges Anne in such a healthy way and Anne isn't afraid to challenge him right back. This is why their relationship grows so well. They refuse to just sit where they are and are constantaly looking for ways to become better.

  • Elizabeth Bennet does a similar thing to Darcy, and I think that is what truly captures his attention. All of the other women he has met are content to just exist where they are, but not Lizzie. And through their interactions they learn to love each other and themselves.

  • I don't really think that Benadict and Beatrice have a model relationship. They were tricked into falling in love with each other. I guess sometimes you need others to point out things that may or may not be present, and in your face, for things to move along? But is that healthy? I think that depends on how your friends encourage you along that path. I can't say that I've looked to them for ideals, but Lizzie and Anne have decently solid models.

Needless to say, I hope that my characters inspire others like the characters I have read have inspired me.

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