By Lexi Bickell
Whether you’ve been inspired by women’s history month and want to brush up on your literary heroines, or if you’re simply looking for something new to read, you’ve come to the right place. This list is a compilation of some of the most badass fictional females of the last few centuries, from Georgian novels to stories published just a few years ago. Since we’re on The Gallyry, only characters created by women writers have been included, but the books range from children’s fantasy to adult dystopia, so we’re sure you’ll find something you’ll love!
Harry Potter by J K Rowling – Too many badass women to choose from!
The Harry Potter series is, as pretty much everyone knows, one of the most famous and successful children’s book series of all time. But the series doesn’t just follow Harry’s journey through the wizarding world, it also teems with interesting women. Hermione Granger is the first one that comes to mind. As one of the main characters in the books, she is whip-smart and extremely popular with readers, but there are many others peppered throughout that sometimes get left in her shadow. There’s Luna Lovegood, a classic oddball who is never afraid to be herself, even when other students laugh in her face. Or take Molly Weasley, the epitome of a mother bear, willing to do anything to protect her family. Don’t get me started on Professor McGonagall! Anyway, you see where this is going. Go and read the series if you haven’t already. The films just aren’t the same.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Katniss Everdeen
If by some circumstance, such as living under a rock, you managed to miss out on Harry Potter, you’ve probably read / seen The Hunger Games instead. The protagonist of this series, Katniss, shoots arrows, fights and wisecracks as she tries to save ordinary people from the evil President Snow. If that doesn’t qualify as a badass, I don’t know what does.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson – Jeanette
This semi-autobiographical novel (what gave you the clue?) follows Jeanette, a young girl growing up in an English Pentecostal community, who finds herself attracted to another woman. Lots of religion combined with classic coming-of-age issues gives both the character and writer space to display their strengths, and they do so in bucketfuls. Read for less fantasy and more grit than the previous two on the list.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - Elizabeth Bennet
This book is genuinely funny, not that many school students would believe that if you told them. In many schools, it’s overanalysed to such a degree that the meaning of the words vanishes, which really is a shame! For a long time, I was one of the many who missed out on how great Elizabeth Bennet is, but now I know better. She is confident, super sassy for a Georgian-era lady, and defies convention over and over again. She also generally behaves in a way her mother disapproves of. What more could you want from a heroine?
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Scout Finch
Unfortunately, this is another one of those books that is often overdone in schools, but it’s a classic for a reason. It is an examination of life in the American South during the Great Depression but it doesn’t come across as ‘heavy’ as that sounds, mostly due to the fact that its main character is a brave, insightful six-year-old. Scout Finch is the youngest fictional female on this list, but she definitely deserves her place! This one should top your reading list if you’re interested in social issues, past or present.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker – Another one with too many to choose from!
This novel is also set in the deep South of America and at a similar time as To Kill a Mockingbird, but it writes from a deeply different perspective. It is written as a book of letters over the lifetime of protagonist Celie. She is a woman severely abused in all ways by the men in her life, but she finds ways to triumph and to find good where there seems to be none. Celie becomes enamoured with a temperamental jazz singer named Shug, a woman who could be considered just as strong as Celie, but in completely different ways. Finally, there’s also Sofia, the most traditionally badass woman of the bunch, who stands up for herself physically and emotionally even when it lands her in trouble. Definitely a read for adults, though.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – Jo March
Moving further North in the US, but back in time, Little Women is set in Massachusetts during the American Civil War and follows a family of four sisters who live with their mother. Jo March is one of the sisters, but she sticks out far from the rest. Very much the Elizabeth Bennet of the bunch, Jo is hot-tempered, stubborn and won’t let ANYONE tell her how she should be.
Various crime novels by Agatha Christie – Miss Marple
Easily the oldest and perhaps the most fearless on this list, Miss Marple is an incredibly popular crime creation for a reason. Clever, kind and unfazed even by murderers, Agatha Christie’s sweet-but-sharp sleuth is one of the most successful fictional detectives of the last century. Even if you’re not usually a fan of crime writing, the Miss Marple stories might convert you.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – Offred
The Handmaid’s Tale has skyrocketed in fame over the last few years. Not only did it win multiple prizes when it was published in the ‘80s, but it was then made into a film in 1990 and more recently into a TV series, now on its third season. If you haven’t managed to catch it yet, the story uses its main character Offred to imagine a dystopian country called the Republic of Gilead that takes the place of the United States of America. It enforces female subjugation through a strict patriarchy and has several graphic scenes that will stay with you long after you finish reading. Offred risks her life by daring to break Gilead’s militant rules and will have you rooting for her from the first chapter.