Forget damsels in distress — we take a look at some of romantic literature’s most feisty females — classic and contemporary fiction’s most complex women characters, from the bright and beautiful to the tearful and tragic.
1. Elizabeth Bennett
Both playful and pragmatic, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice protagonist has won over millions of readers with her good nature and sharp wit. Her outspoken opinions are the central source of conflict in this 1813 classic, getting her into hot water when she disastrously misjudges superficial love-rat Mr Wickham and wrongly badmouths the handsome yet aloof Mr Darcy.
2. Bridget Jones
An icon for single women everywhere, this chain-smoking, calorie-obsessed, hapless and hopeless romantic was an Elizabeth Bennett for the nineties. The big-hearted thirty-something delighted readers of Helen Fielding’s fictitious diary, Bridget Jones’s Diary, in which she must decide between love-rat Daniel Cleaver and the uptight Mark Darcy, all executed in a refreshingly honest tone. Why not visit iconic locations from the 2001 film while on a London break, including Borough Market, Clink Street and the ICA?
3. Jane Eyre
Passionate, resilient and morally admirable, Charlotte Brontë’s influential heroine has remained a firm feminist favourite since the book’s first publication in 1847. Despite a loveless childhood and disastrous engagement, Jane continues to bounce back from difficulty, refusing to marry for what she believes to be the wrong reasons, and exercising independence in an age when it was not conventional to do so.
4. Juliet Capulet
Plunged into adulthood over four dramatic days, Shakespeare’s adolescent heroine from Romeo and Juliet is thrust into the tumult of love and death when she and her star-crossed lover are caught amid feuding families. Demonstrating a deep emotional intelligence and capacity for forgiveness, Juliet deals with an unwanted betrothal, disinheritance, and the death of her cousin, alongside the trials and tribulations of love. Why not see Shakespearean heroines on the stage first hand with a theatre break in London?
5. Catherine Earnshaw
Emily Brontë’s wild and wayward Wuthering Heights heroine has become something of an icon in romantic literature. Deeply flawed and full of contradictions, Cathy is as wild and fierce as the Yorkshire moors in which the novel is set. Capricious and spoilt, she is at the centre of a love triangle between her brooding foster brother Heathcliff and the insipid Edgar Linton.
6. Emma Bovary
Despite her countless flaws, it’s hard to dislike Flaubert’s idealistic heroine from Madame Bovary, one of the most complicated characters in literary fiction. Tired of her humdrum home-life, she pursues passionate affairs and a luxury lifestyle, a quest which leads to her eventual downfall. Charming and charismatic, she rebels against the attitudes of the day, refusing to conform to the idea that a woman should stay at home and obey her husband.
7. Estella Havisham
Raised to break hearts by the jilted and vengeful Miss Havisham, this cold-hearted debutante begins Dickens’ Great Expectations as a rather unlikable character. However, through the course of this Victorian masterpiece about love and fortune, she becomes both an object of pity and a tragically noble figure.
Refusing to entrap and deceive the smitten Pip, she marries the thoroughly unpleasant Bentley Drummle, in order to inflict her icy lack of love on a husband who deserves it.
8. Holly Golightly
Truman Capote’s 1958 New York society girl has become an American cultural icon thanks to her captivating complexity. A seemingly superficial bon vivant and good-time girl, she charms with her outspoken opinions and quirky lifestyle, all of which masks an inner sadness and a fear of being possessed. The death of her brother and her heartfelt affection for the book’s narrator reveal a painful past and a genuine capacity for love. You won’t want to miss Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
9. Lady Brett Ashley
Enigmatic and aristocratic, the sophisticated star of Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises is typical of the Lost Generation, flitting from one glamorous Parisian party to the next. Enchanting every man she encounters, her polished veneer hides a vulnerability that’s glimpsed only briefly in the beautifully-told story. Desperately unfulfilled despite her power and wealth, she reveals a heart-rending emotional depth and sadness through her relationships with war hero Jake Barnes and bullfighter Pedro Romero.
Nabokov’s teenage temptress is a wonderfully rebellious character, repeatedly sidestepping others’ attempts to refine her wild character. Starting the novel as a wayward twelve-year-old, she ends it as the exhausted pregnant wife of a working-class man, remaining painfully dispassionate throughout. Despite losing her childhood innocence, she demonstrates a remarkable lack of self-awareness and introspection, moving from one powerless situation to another before her tragic and untimely end.
Written by Show and Stay, the providers of London theatre deals.
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