Wednesday 19 November 2014

5 Fascinating Female Protagonists in Fiction

Here's my guide to five of my favourite female protagonists in fiction: from the headstrong, to the downright disreputable:

Jane Eyre:

“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! - I have as much soul as you, - and full as much heart!"

From one of my all time favourite classics, Jane Eyre may be from a lowly background in which she is poorly treated, but she refuses to let that taint her own morals. The novel, written by Charlotte Brontë in 1847, has themes of the gothic, love and social class. Her interactions with Mr Rochester are intriguing; she becomes very much his equal, despite them being from different classes and she is able to see past his cold exterior unlike anyone else in his world.

Catherine Earnshaw:
'There [Catherine] lay dashing her head against the arm of the sofa, and grinding her teeth, so that you might fancy she would crash them to splinters!'

I adore this character from Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, although she is not all likeable. Catherine comes from a wealthy family that take in the orphaned Heathcliff. At first, when Catherine is a child, she is very close to her foster brother as she has not been subjected to ideas about social class. However, later in the novel she becomes cruel, aggressive and twisted, hurting Heathcliff intensely (as he does her) even though they are fiercely in love. She becomes a product of snobbery and filled with spite; this is what makes her fascinating. If you have ever acted irrationally due to a relationship, you may just recognise flickers of yourself in this awful woman!

Fräulein Else:

'The world is so beautiful when one can fly.'

I read this on my degree and it struck a chord with me somehow. Else feels like the world is just happening to her; she feels like she has no control over how people will see her or who she will be able to be. I think many of us have felt like that at one time or another. 
Written in 1924 by Arthur Schnitzler, this novella has been translated from German. It is written as a stream of consciousness from the viewpoint of a young rich girl who has been asked to seduce a rich man in order to keep her family from going bankrupt. Fräulein Else is often a humourous and brutally honest narrator who draws criticisms of the bourgeois ideals of the late 19th century. Above all, she is a young woman who does not fit into a world of shallowness and greed.

'I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance. If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending.'

Offred is the narrator of Margaret Attwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale (1985). I wanted to read this a long time before I actually picked it up because once you get to hear about this book, it is one you want to experience. The story follows Offred ('of Fred') as she finds herself separated from her husband and five year-old daughter and forced to live the life of being a commander's (Fred's) property- hence her name 'Of fred'. Her main purpose in life is now to act as a womb to give birth to her commander's children. Having known a life before this society came to be, Offred shares her inner thoughts with the reader which are full of strength and insight. The novel is not simply about female oppression, but also the nature of freedom in society and what happens when freedom is lost. I would read this again in a heartbeat.    

Amy Dunne: 2012
'Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl... Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want.'

Amy Dunne from Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is a complex character. On the surface, she is the ideal woman. Men love her sweet ways and good looks; women want to be her. Through her diary entries we see a very different side to her as she talks about her unstable marriage. We come to realise that the image she projects is not necessarily how she feels inside. Without spoiling the book (or film) for those that haven't seen or read it yet (I am yet to see the film), Amy Dunne is a character you will never forget!

Who are your favourite female protagonists?
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