Friday, March 14, 2014

What Makes a Good Heroine

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By special request, we have today "What Makes a Good Heroine." After all, it would be rather unbalanced to give the spotlight to heroes and sidekicks without also taking the time to discuss the other half of the human race.

I very much enjoyed looking through my stack of books this morning to find my especial favorite heroines. There were a surprising number to choose from, and some old friends that I read often growing up, that have been quietly sitting, waiting for me to return to them. I hope you enjoy recalling some of these as much as I did! :)

So without further ado:

1. Good Heroines Honor Their Daddies
The mark of every good heroine, and indeed, some of my especial favorites, is that they honor their fathers. Whether it's Little Dorrit soothing her father in the Marshalsea, or Jane Stuart cooking for her dad in a cottage on Prince Edward Island, or Molly Gibson seeking to cope gracefully with a new stepmother for Dr. Gibson's sake, all good heroines honor and respect their fathers. Even if the father isn't worth honoring, or the family is broken, they still find resourceful ways to obey and delight in helping with their father's work. In fact, some of my favorite heroines honored their fathers when the dads were no longer living.  

2. Good Heroines are Resourceful in Helping their Heroes
Every good heroine knows that her hero is sometimes in a tight spot, and she needs to help him out. That's what women were designed for: to be a 'helper suitable'. Some examples include Jean keeping a level head for Harry in G.A. Henty's In the Reign of Terror, or the Angel helping Freckles find his voice and come to terms with his past. A lot of times heroines are there to help with emotional needs; but that isn't all they do, as we'll discuss presently.

3. Good Heroines Refuse to Compromise
When a suitor who's keeping a mad wife locked up in his attic pleads with you to marry him, every heroine worth her salt knows that her feelings must be thrown out the window. Jane Eyre, of course, was a beautiful example of honoring the laws of heaven above the pleadings of her heart and refusing to compromise her virtue for the sake of her happiness. On an even more serious level, when heroines have to choose between life and faith, they stand fast and hold to their commitment with Jesus Christ. Margaret Wilson, a martyr during the time of the Scorrish covenanters, chose Jesus, and persevered to the end, even when she executed for refusing to conform to the king's commands.

4. Good Heroines have a Feminine Maturity
I've always had a fondness for John Watson, and when Mary Morstan came along, I knew that she was a women worthy of him. Though they didn't have long together, The Sign of the Four was a fantastic portrait of Mary's careful thinking, mature perspective, and resourceful attitude through the tragedies of life. Also, Anne Elliot is perhaps my favorite Austen heroine for feminine maturity--though living with a bunch of rather selfish family members, she doesn't wallow in self-pity when she's called upon to sacrifice her own inclinations. And when her rejected suitor shows up after eight years, she goes running through the streets of Bath meets him with all the proper etiquette that any young lady should have. Good heroines, no matter what the circumstance or the awkwardness, act like grownups and carry off the situations they are in with graciousness and sensitivity for other people's feelings.

5. Good Heroines are an Intellectual Match to Their Heroes
This ties in with the point on helping their heroes, but I think every good heroine should be able to equal her hero with intellectual capabilities. And in this I'm not espousing egalitarianism; but the Proverbs 31 woman was well equipped mentally to be able to come alongside her husband in his dominion mandate. Cynthia, best friend of Father Tim in Jan Karon's Mitford series, is able to discuss everything with him from poetry to doctrine, and I love their letters and conversations--she's someone who respects Father Tim very much, yet is able to be edifying company to him at the same time. Again, why did Darcy ever look twice at Elizabeth? Not because of the sassy jabs found in '05 P&P, but because of the mature, and even sometimes jesting comments that she was able to exchange in all civility with him throughout their conversations. And again, Margaret Hale attracted John Thornton because she was a thinker who challenged him.

6. Good Heroines Love Their Families
Ruth, Tom Pinch's sister in Martin Chuzzlewit, is so attractive because she loves her brother. We love him too, so we love her for his sake. And when they set up housekeeping together, Ruth shows that serving her brother is the best and most fulfilling thing she could ever think of doing.
Many people are unsure of Anne Shirley, and she does have a rather independent youth, but when she settles down as Mrs. Blythe (sorry if that was a huge spoiler...but I rather suspect not) she loves her children, her neighborhood, her husband, and her home like a good wife should. I love the later books in the Anne series because of her love for her family. All good women recognize the value of serving in their home, and their heart is with the people closest to them.

7. Good Heroines are Ready to Get their Hands Dirty
Now this is where it gets really interesting. Just because a heroine should be feminine doesn't mean she should be squeamish about blood and hard work, and here is where the best heroines often shine. Nannie T. Alderson, a real-life heroine, left her life as a rich southern belle and learned to keep house in a log cabin out west. Mary Lamington in John Buchan's Hannay series is a pretty young woman who also knows a thing or two about spy work (please take this example from the books, and not the movie).
Heroines aren't afraid of getting their hands dirty with mud--or sometimes even blood. Masouda from Haggard's The Brethren had a dagger and knew how to use it in helping Wulf and Godwin work through the perils of the Middle East. She was still a woman, and still a heroine, even though she knew the right place to strike when necessary. And she understood, as all heroines understand, that knowing how to be the first one to attack is not at all a bad thing

8. Good Heroines Grow From their Mistakes
While Elnora is the main heroine of A Girl of the Limberlost, I always coupled her mother with her as a heroine. Kate Comstock mourned a rotten husband for years until she woke up and turned her life around, and that's not easy for a woman in her forties to do. She was a hard worker, a thorough repenter, and deserves to be recognized for her acchievments. Catharine Morland learned the danger of placing too much stock in Gothic fiction; Jill Pole learned not to be selfish. Heroines know that they aren't perfect; but they don't resign themselves to their imperfections. They work to overcome them.

9. Good Heroines Give Wise Advice and Loving Comfort
This is recognized as one of the main roles of women, in real life as well as in fiction. Women are designed to be the softer influence, the comforting hand, and the place where people know they can come to if they need timely counsel. Sarah, Big Duncan's wife from Freckles, was a woman who often had a timely word for the young hero; and perhaps did as much as the Angel to shape his success. Agnes didn't give up on David Copperfield even after he married Dora, ("Do kiss Jyp and be reasonable!") and stood ready to be his friend and advisor, even when she couldn't have him for her lover. Best of all, Esther Summerson from Bleak House was everyone's little confidante, and blessed so many hearts by her gentle and sensible advice.

10. Good Heroines Have a Vision for Dominion 
All good heroines realize that they are put on this earth for a purpose, and they're to use their talents to bring glory to the Lord and better the lives of those around them. Eleanor Stuart Pruitt, when her husband had died and she was left with a little baby girl, picked up and moved west. She had a vision for showing widows that they could homestead; a better way to support themselves than taking a job and farming out their children to be taken care of by others. And through her vision, she was a great example of resourcefulness to many in her situation. Linda Strong, from Gene Stratton-Porter's Her Father's Daughter, wanted to show people how to use natural plants in California for edible dishes and resources. She used her writing to educate and to provide good recipes. And she had a vision as well for keeping American free and the schools full of hard-working students who gave other foreign nations a run for their money.

11. Good Heroines Seek to be More and More Christlike
The best heroines seek to be more Christlike. Whether its Elsie Dinsmore (who is a legitimate heroine, fellow bibliophiles) to Pollyanna seeking to show people that God is good, and everything he sends is good too, heroines seek to love the Lord, and put His word into practice. My favorite heroines to illustrate this point are Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom. They are real life ladies who sacrificed their freedom to care for the Jews, and through it all used their sufferings to be conformed to their Heavenly Father's will. These two ladies, if I were pressed to decide, would probably be my favorite heroines of all because of their Christlike work and life.

There are a few other good heroines that I couldn't fit in the above categories, including Marguerite Blakeney from The Scarlet Pimpernel and Maid Marion from Robin Hood, but I love them all the same and can't bear to end this blog post without mentioning a couple more. I always thought of Lucy Pevensie as a heroine, for believing in Narnia even when no-one else did; she is a good example of holding fast to what she knew to be true even when it was ridiculed.  Polly from An Old-Fashioned Girl was always another of my favorites--her friendship with her cousins and the way she blessed the lives of those she met through her simple cheerfulness. And last of all, Capitola, however forward a young lady, is one of the most interesting, funny heroines that you can find; I highly recommend making her acquaintance in The Hidden Hand.

Those are a lot of heroines. And with their example (and a few others that I simply didn't have room for) we would be hard-pressed to say that literature has no women worth aspiring to imitate. These women have all combined in their way to help teach me what a woman is and can be, and I am grateful for their example. Though most of them are fictional, they hold worthy lessons for any young woman seeking to embrace vision, hard work, and femininity.

Lady Bibliophile


  1. Glad you did this one! ;) I love the heroines you brought up...they were perfect for each point. The Princess Adelina was a book that came to mind of a good heroine who honored her husband even though he was a pagan. And I think Bree made a good heroine, too. :D
    Your one point about good heroines being an intellectual match for their heroes reminded me of this quote:
    ..."Because he is the only one in the room with whom one can have an intelligent conversation." XD Poor Marianne....
    I'm glad you did these posts! I really enjoyed them. :D :D


    1. Princess Adelina is a wonderful real-life heroine. :) And Bree too! Some others I liked but couldn't include were Mara from The Hidden Hand (who I think could deserve the title of heroine) and a girl from Martin Chuzzlewit, as well as a woman from the Brother Cadfael chronicles, and Eleanor Dashwood.

      And that quote from Marianne was priceless. XD

      So glad you enjoyed them!


  2. Hi Schuyler, I'm Sarah, Joy's sister (from Fullness of Joy). Joy has told me a lot about you and your lovely blog :)
    This is a really Lovely post. I really enjoyed reading it. I agree with your points on what makes a good heroine. I'm not familiar with all the heroines you've mentioned, but Jane Eyre, Amy Dorrit, Molly Gibson, and Margaret Hale are some of my really special favourite heroines :)
    Yes, intellectual compatibility is a very important element of a heroine with her hero. It's very important.


    1. It is such a pleasure to welcome you here on the blog! :) I've been a long-time lurker at yours, btw, ever since you started it, and I enjoyed your heroines post as well!

      Yes indeed, your favorites and mine correspond very nicely. :) If I were forced to pick my top three I would probably choose Amy, Molly, and Margaret. And thanks to your post I remembered Margaret, or Elizabeth's Gaskell's heroines might have escaped my memory completely!

      God bless, and thanks for stopping by!


  3. You mentioned so many good heroines!
    Lucy Pevensie is special, I think, because of her relationship with Aslan...her love is so pure and deep. She is a heroine I admire, even though she's only a little girl.
    I love Polly, too, and Betsie Ten Boom. And Amy Dorrit and Molly Gibson and Esther Summerson. And Margaret Hale as well...but she and I share enough common faults and crosses that it can be painful to read about her.
    Another heroine I like is Elinor Dashwood. I admire her stoicism incredibly. And one of my favorite characters of all time is Esclairmonde de Luxembourg from The Caged Lion, by Charlotte M. Yonge. She is a little on the perfect side, but I think perfect people need to be loved, too. ; P I love the earnestness with which she seeks Christ. She sets her hope in him and therefore can be calm even when there seems to be no earthly power that can help her; and she is willing to give up precious dreams at the altar of her yet more precious Lord. She brings me to tears.
    Thank you for yet another enjoyable blog post. : )

    The Philologist

    1. Every time I take a Jane Austen quiz I come out as Elinor Dashwood. :) I think Austen in that novel did a brilliant contrast between two personalities--an introvert who was too introverted, and an extrovert who was too extroverted, and how they both learned to overcome communication weaknesses.

      Need to read Charlotte Younge. Need to read her soon.

      And yay for perfect heroines! They deserve just as much accolades as the feisty Capitolas of the world.

      So glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for commenting!


  4. A post on heroines! Yay :). I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Schuyler, with your thoughts on what makes a good heroine, and cheering over the examples I was familiar with. While I am unfamiliar with many heroines you mentioned, I noted many I do know, either through reading/watching them or generally hearing so much about them being classics!!

    I am glad you threw in Margaret Hale ;), and Mary Morstan for poor dear Doctor Watson *cough cough* - I loved her story in the book 'Sign of Four'. I have to say though, merely mentioning her name catapulted my thoughts to season 3 of Sherlock and the adaption of her character... her story was different (to a degree - she IS still very brave!), but... uhm... well, I cannot say anymore because it is all spoilers. In the end, I loved her just as much I think as in the books!! :)). I want to read Little Dorrit - Amy sounds like such a sweet character indeed. Jane Eyre, of course. And a real life character, Margaret Wilson (I would not have thought of her, but oh yes, she's one beautiful example of a godly heroine!). And I love Lucy Pevensie and Jill Pole, both for very different character qualities!

    As for the qualities of a good heroine... I loved all the points you made, especially the ones about them honouring their fathers, loving their families, have feminine maturity, and also intellectual powers matching their heroes - to be honest, I always tend to appreciate the application of the intellectual powers of Margaret and Thornton or Jane and Rochester over Darcy and Elizabeth's, simply because their discussions have far more depth and seriousness... there is a deeply moral groundwork as foundation for their intellectual and social discussions... :D

    I think I could add to the list of what makes a good heroine, the virtues of servanthood or having a servant's heart which I think is a very important one... it is hard to think of many fictional heroines with such a quality obviously in their traits (though many of them implicitly are), but there are many real-life ones!, and if we dig, I am sure this virtue can be found in the fictional as well. It is close to the one you mentioned of heroines not being afraid to get their hands dirty, but I think a more biblical characteristic. That, coupled with courage - true valour found in characters such as Eyown from The Lord of the Rings or Lady Carliss in Chuck Black's novels. I can think of so many real-life heroines with those two traits, - as you yourself mentioned: Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom which are personal favourites <3.

    I have to admit that my favourite heroines tend to be drawn predominantly from real-life woman of the past. Ones who have truly inspired and challenged my life. Hmm, perhaps your post has inspired me to try and share some of my real-life heroines in a blog-post sometime. That would be an interesting subject :). But there are also some wonderful fictional ones, as you've shared here, and I truly enjoyed reading of them.

    Many blessings, Schuyler!
    Love in Christ,
    Joy <3

  5. So glad you enjoyed this post, Joy! And I very much agree with the points you brought up! Courage and a servant's heart are two key and wonderful qualities that all heroines should have. In Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (I think you're reading JA right now, so I will cite this example, but if you aren't, please forgive me) Fanny Price is an excellent example of a young woman who often gave up her own inclinations for the sake of serving others. I have truly never met a fictional heroine who's servant spirit I admired so much as hers.

    There were so many real-life women that came to mind as I did this post, too! Since this is a book blog, I had to limit my scope. But I should be very glad to read a post of yours that widens the scope a bit to include nonfiction examples as well!

    I really enjoyed your comment and the points you brought up. :)


  6. Good Heroines certainly make a difference in the stories they're in. The heroines I especially love are the ones that act like what real women should be, and act Christlike despite their faults. You brought up some good examples of some good heroines.
    Good post Lady B! ~The Book Reviewer(A.J.H.)

    1. Those are good heroines to like! Thank-you very much; I'm glad you enjoyed the blog post. :D



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