In honor of International Women's Day, March 8th, we thought it would be fun to do a feature on memorable girls and women from the pages of novels. Although most of them aren't real historical figures, these characters have been written well enough to inspire, entertain, and most of all take on a life of their own in our imaginations! We've come up with a pair of great characters, youthful and fully-grown, in each of a few themed categories.
The Case of the Missing Marquess is the first book in the series by Nancy Springer
14-year-old Enola Holmes is the feisty, much-younger sister of Sherlock Holmes. Like her brother, she has a keen mind and a persistent curiousity, which comes in handy in her investigations into missing person cases. Unfortunately, unlike her brother, as a girl, there are many societal expectations and limitations she must contend with while following her mystery-solving instincts. In the first book of the series, Enola's mother disappears, so Enola sets off to London to investigate (thereby escaping the plans of her brothers to send her off to finishing school). It's easy to relate to Enola and fun to hear her take on life as a female in the 19th century: corsets, anyone? Not if you have mysteries to solve! She refuses to live the life that her society and class have predetermined for her, instead making her own way and living as she chooses.
Precious Ramotswe (The No. 1 Ladies' Detective agency series by Alexander McCall Smith)
“Why don't we sit down and have some tea, and you can tell me all about this difficult matter.”
With these exact words Precious Ramotswe, first -- and only -- female detective in Botswana, launches her cases, which are, rather than being true crimes, investigations of various aspects of human nature, conducted with her unique methods of detection.
Mma Ramotswe, the larger-than life heroine of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and (so far) twelve sequels, is so well created that she seems to be more a real-life person than a fictional character. She is strong-willed, independent, with her own set of beliefs and unique value system. She has known great love and joy, as well as great loss and sadness in her life. She gets angry and frustrated, she fusses over unimportant things, she has weaknesses she tries to hide, makes mistakes, and often questions the rightness of her decisions. Yet above all, she has deep humanity, inner wisdom and an understanding of human nature.
Lisbeth Salander, the protagonist of the Millennium Trilogy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattooo,The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Lisbeth Salander is a survivor of a traumatic childhood, introverted and antisocial. She’s unable to conform to social norms, but possesses a unique and fanatical sense of justice. She is highly intelligent, has an eidetic memory and she’s a world class computer hacker… Unconventional, dark, full of rage, an anti-heroine and a superhero at the same time, the girl with a dragon tattooed on her shoulder is also one of the most compelling characters in contemporary popular fiction.
Pipi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
In the interviews with the press, Larsson admitted that American and British crime fiction writers such as Sara Paretsky, Agatha Christie, Val McDermid, Dorothy Sayers and Enid Blyton significantly influenced his work. A great inspiration for his unforgettable heroine comes from one of the best beloved characters in Swedish juvenile literature: Pippi Longstocking, the main character of a series of children’s books by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. Unconventional, assertive and in possession of superhuman physical strength, Pippi Friendly is kind to those she likes, but can be angry and even vengeful in dealing with bullies. Pippi has no proper manners, and very little formal education, but she compensates for it with remarkable survival skills.
Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking had given a voice and encouragement to many repressed children, especially girls. Stieg Larsson believed Pippi would not have functioned in modern society and would have been likely diagnosed with all sorts of physiological/behavioral disorders, so he let Pippi walk into the present as Lisbeth. Tattooed and pierced, armed with her incredible intellect and logical thinking, she fights the system – giving voice to the most vulnerable members of society - and transforms herself from a victim to a victor.
The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
Since the movie has come out, many of us are familiar with Katniss--an accidental revolutionary, drawn in to defiance of the oppressive Panem regime when her younger sister Prim is selected as an "tribute" for the brutal, televised fight-to-the-death Hunger Games. In this dystopian near-future world, Katniss does whatever it takes not only to survive but to protect those close to her. But underneath the surface of day-to-day survival, she's very much still a typical teenager, trying to figure out herself and her relationships, trying to maintain her identity and her humanity in impossible situations. As we get to know Katniss better, we wonder: if I were living in her world, how would I cope? Could I survive?
In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker is the first of The Company series
Mendoza is a botanist, a young woman in love... and she's also been genetically altered to be a semi-immortal time-travelling operative by The Company. Rescued from the Inquisition by Company recruiters and trained as a botanist, her mission in the first novel is to find and preserve a rare species of holly which will later be threatened with extinction and will provide a cure for cancer. But her main mission is sidetracked when she falls in love. This first novel introduces Mendoza as a character who, despite her extraordinary circumstances, is fully real and believable. The premise of this series is fascinating, but it is the connection readers form with the characters that drives the narrative. As for how Mendoza becomes a revolutionary... you'll have to read the series to find out!
Flavia de Luce
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan C. Bradley is the first in the series
Flavia de Luce is a chemist. She has a passion for all things chemical, but most especially for poisons. She is often to be found in her lab carrying out scientific inquiry through chemical experimentation, and is not above seeking revenge by the same means. She's 11 years old, has two awful older sisters who torment her constantly, and finds herself becoming an amateur criminal investigator in the first novel in the series. Although she's already busy enough with her experiments and with fending off her sisters, she's drawn into solving the murder which has taken place on the grounds of her family's decaying English mansion when her father becomes the prime suspect.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
This historically-based novel set in early-1800s England is about fossil hunter Mary Anning. Mary has grown up collecting "curies" (curiosities) on the beaches of Lyme Regis to sell to tourists, making enough money for her family to get by. She meets Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-aged spinster (also a historical figure), who has been exiled to the area with her sisters upon her brother's marriage, and the two become friends. Elizabeth has the education to introduce Mary to the scientific names of the fossils, and tries to protect her friend from the male scientific community who try to take credit when Mary makes a major fossil discovery. By bringing to life these historical women who were the first to make a major contribution to the male domain of paleontology, Chevalier also brings to light the lives of women at the margins of scientific and upper-class society in a tale about friendship and scientific discovery.
We hope you'll enjoy meeting some of our favourite women in fiction, and we'd love to hear about some of yours! Leave a comment with a remarkable girl or woman you've met in the pages of a novel.