In (almost belated) honor of International Women’s Day, here are ten of my favorite fascinating female characters from books, movies, theater, and television. Spoilers for the works discussed!
Lady Jessica Atreides from Dune: Someone you definitely don’t want to cross, Lady Jessica is a powerful woman who literally takes the course of the universe into her own hands by producing a son when she was ordered to produce a daughter. Perhaps my favorite scene of Dune occurs when Thufir Hawat accuses Lady Jessica of having betrayed the Duke. She turns the tables on Hawat, making him question his rationalizing abilities. Her words leave no room for interpretation; she forcibly puts Hawat in his place for daring to question her loyalties.
Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice: The literary queen of wit, Elizabeth Bennet is remarkably clever and stubborn. Jane Austen wrote her some of the best dialogue of any character in literature. But Elizabeth is perhaps one of the greatest literary heroines because she isn’t perfect. Throughout Pride and Prejudice, watching Elizabeth understand her errors of judgment makes the novel all the more satisfying.
Dr. Juliet Burke from Lost: Juliet Burke is yet another intelligent but flawed character on my list. Though a nearly genius fertility doctor, Juliet seemingly functions as a double agent on the Island. Juliet’s true nature comes to light throughout her tenure on the show, as does her one fatal flaw: love. Juliet has a weakness for falling in love with the wrong people. Her ex-husband controlled her life to the point of misery before she went to the Island. On the Island, she falls in love with a married man, the husband of her therapist, but becomes the boss’s object of obsession. Her romantic entanglements with the crash survivors are no less complicated. Despite her intelligence, Juliet simply cannot make the right choices when it comes to love. She goes through so much hardship because of these mistakes, which adds an emotional strain to her already-stressful life.
Lady Mary Crawley from Downton Abbey: At first resembling a cross between Elizabeth Bennet and Scarlett O’Hara, Lady Mary is an enigma on this list, a much more passive character than the others. Unlike Scarlett, she refuses to fight for the man she loves because he is engaged, though everyone encourages her otherwise. Mary has a habit of listening to the wrong advice and making bad choices; her steely exterior hides a confused young woman. But Mary also owns up to her mistakes (well, those not involving her sister Edith), apologizing when she is in the wrong. Her many layers make her very real and very fascinating to watch.
Agt. Olivia Dunham from Fringe: I realize that having Olivia on this list is a bit difficult, seeing as Fringe has thus far included about five different versions of her. Though I favor the original, blueverse version of Olivia of Seasons 1-3 (for the most part), I think that the multiple versions all add greater depth to her character. Like many of the characters on this list, Olivia has a stoic exterior that masks a charming, caring, and, at times, wounded person underneath. She overcame a traumatic childhood to become a sharp, loyal woman.
Lady Éowyn from The Lord of the Rings: The prototypical female warrior, Éowyn utters one of my favorite quotes from The Lord of the Rings. When asked what she fears, she responds, “A cage. To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.” Éowyn famously seeks the glory of battle when it is expected that she should stay behind and lead the kingdom. Unafraid to get her hands dirty, Éowyn has an inspiring internal drive to act.
Alicia Florrick from The Good Wife: Alicia Florrick is on this list because she is so real. Never when watching The Good Wife have I felt that Alicia began acting out of character. Alicia has a strong conscience that forces her to be good even when she doesn’t want to. At the beginning of the series, her husband’s scandal forced her to go back to work. The series sees her as a woman constantly struggling to balance her work, her children, her healing relationship with husband, and her growing relationship with her boss and former flame.
Hermione Granger from Harry Potter: What can I say about Hermione? At the beginning of the series, she is a remarkably bookish top student who harbors a very deep-seated fear of failure. But Hermione comes to see that there are more important things to life than academics. Immensely loyal, she never leaves Harry’s side, even when everything is bleak. She fights for what she believes in, whether it be Harry’s word or elf rights. And honestly, in Deathly Hallows, Harry and Ron wouldn’t have gotten far without Hermione’s planning and quick thinking. She is a true heroine.
Lady Macbeth from Macbeth: The most morally dubious character on this list, Lady Macbeth is the main reason why Macbeth (so far) is my favorite Shakespeare play; her scheming is delightfully eerie to watch. And who can forget how easily she persuades Macbeth to kill Duncan? By questioning his manhood, she knows exactly how to make him carry out the dark deed. It is chilling how well she understands him. But Lady Macbeth also grows to understand the wrong her of ways, and watching her unravel is riveting.
Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind: If ever there was a woman who knew what she wanted and never gave up, it was Scarlett. Not the most morally upright character, she spends almost all of the novel/film chasing after another woman’s husband with an almost comical unwillingness to budge. But when she realizes that her true love just walked out on her, she vows to get him back – and I don’t doubt that somehow she will get him back. But Scarlett’s strength stems beyond this, as she fights for her own land. Transforming from southern belle to field worker, Scarlett herself keeps the plantation going during and after the devastating Civil War. Although Scarlett changes in that she begins to work harder towards her goals, throughout her story, she refuses to change her attitude; her steadfast determination to get what she wants never wanes.
Honorable Mentions: I couldn’t go without giving these women a mention as well:
- Eliza Doolittle from Pygmalion and My Fair Lady
- Melanie Hamilton from Gone with the Wind
- Hildy Johnson from His Girl Friday
- Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter
- Catherine Sloper from Washington Square and The Heiress
What female characters intrigue you?