Lesser-known literary heroines*
Most of us have heard of Jane Eyre, Jo March (in Little Women), Anne of Green Gables, Elizabeth Bennet and perhaps Matilda.
Now here are a few books with more literary heroines who are less well-known:
Fingersmith by Sarah waters: Victorian petty thief or 'fingersmith' Sue Trinder is one of the most audacious heroines of recent fiction. But she meets her match in the wealthy heiress Maud Lilly, heroine number two. This literary pas de deux is the most fabulously plotted example of girl power ever (Virago.co.uk).
The Blank Wall by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding: Lucia Holley's life is so 'placid' she struggles to find anything to write about to her absent husband. That is, until she is implicated in a murder. Hitchcock named this stealth masterpiece one of his 'favourites in suspense'. Lucia rises to the occasion magnificently (persephonebooks.co.uk)
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton: It is hard to pick from Wharton's world-class line-up, but Lily Bart is one of the greatest women ever written. As a 19th century lady without means, she is in need of a fortune. But she keeps not closing the deal. Can she reconcile her desire for love with the socio-economic imperative? (Penguin.co.uk).
Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann: Set in the interwar years, this is a peerless evocation of the shift from childhood's 'mysterious enchantment' to adolescence. Judith Earle is besotted with her glamorous cousins, and they become besotted with her. Sublime prose, too (Virago, co.uk).
Age of Iron by JM Coetzee: Elizabeth Curran, an aged South African professor, is ravaged by illness, just as her country is ravaged by apartheid. A homeless drunk becomes Curran's closest companion. Their odd-couple relationship, and her immense (at times baffling) compassion, is heart-wrenching (penguin.co.uk).
The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig: When a rich relative whisks Christine Hoflehner away from her impoverished small-town life in 1920s Austria, her eyes are opened to a life of luxury and, above all, liberty. But that glorious vista of a very different existence is just as quickly taken from her. Devastating (sortof.co.uk).
All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West: In the wake of her august (and pompous) hussband's death, the 88-year-old Lady Slane finally gets to live her own life, to the horror of her children. New friends, a new home, a new joy at life lived to the fullest and truest, hers is an inspiring story. Old age can be celebrated, not feared (virago.co.uk).
No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym: Mousey, suburban and recently finace-less, Dulcie Mainwaring seems rather dull. In fact, she is an amateur sleuth, on the trail of the unsuspecting (and entertainingly vain) Dr Aylwin Forbes, object of her unrequited love. We he ever notice her? Just one of Pym's many excellent women (virago.co.uk).
Heartburn by Nora Ephron: Her husband may be cheating on her while she is pregnant with his child, and the whole of Washington may know about it, but who cares? Rachel Samstat has all the best lines - Ephron at her hilarious, skewering best - and some pretty good recipes too (virago.co.uk).
Angel by Elizabeth Taylor: Angelica Deverell is a shopkeeper's daughter who writes her way to a life of fame and fortune. That 'Angel' writes so badly (schlocky blockbusters), that she is so grandiose and humourless, makes Taylor's triumph all the greater: you cannot get enough of her heroine (virago.co.uk).
* from the Telegraph Stella magazine, 29./6/2014
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and to remind us of some of the old favourites, here are a few links: