Literature has produced admirable heroines. They have strong personalities and are quite complex in their character. They make mistakes, and are difficult to compromise with. They may be beautiful or plain-looking, poor or rich, but they are remembered for being dazzlingly complex. I have admired many such characters while I read about their lives and adventures.
Meet the twenty-year-old Miss Elizabeth Bennet, complex, honest, outspoken. She is the second of the five sisters, belonging to the estate of Longbourn, in the village of Meryton in Hertford-shire, England. She is intellectually bright, with a playfulness, which finds delight in trivia. She is a wee bit impertinent, although she takes care not to offend. However, she is proud of the agility of her mind and her ability to judge people’s motives and behaviour. Her father favours her because of her mental acuity.
A recent acquaintance is Precious Ramotswe, the first female private detective in Botswana created by Alexander McCall Smith. She is wise, intelligent and patient, as revealed in her approach to the cases that she takes on as a private investigator in a small town in Botswana. The assignments include tracking down missing husbands and children to bring them back to their families. She responds to her clients’ questions with humanity and kindness. Sometimes this means meeting the client’s desire for closure. In some investigations, she urges the clients to compromise, reconciling past bitterness. Often she does not reveal specific details of her discoveries to avoid distress to the clients. Precious Ramotswe is a traditionalist in her adherence to the old Botswana moral values. She is also of ‘traditional’ build. She relies on social relationships to find information with the motherly touch of a woman of middle age. She loves the melons that grow in her yard, the character of her countrymen, and the austere beauty of the Kalahari desert.
Katniss Everdeen, the narrator of Hunger Games and the sequels, is another strong character. Katniss is described as a slim, black-haired beauty with grey eyes and olive skin. She attends a school in District 12, the coal-mining region. District 12’s residents are fond of her because she provides a supply of game for the people, often near starvation. Katniss Everdeen lives in the apocalyptic future where children provide TV amusement by participating in death games. Katniss’s battles for survival and her political awakening come in the way of her fondness for two men, Peeta the baker and Gale, the hunter.
Lucy Montgomery’s red-haired, freckle-faced orphan develops into the aggressive and passionate Anne of Green Gables. When Anne arrives in Avonlea, she is an orphan with a sad past. However, she finds roots in Green Gables and the community of Avonlea. Anne’s spirited rebelliousness brings life to the stiff overbearing atmosphere at Green Gables. Her desire to become beautiful, her unbridled imagination and her essential goodness guide her behaviour. She is constantly lost in daydreams, much to the irritation of her guardian, who believes that she should be thinking only of decorum and duty. She forges deep friendships with people she believes are kindred spirits. Her grudges against people who cross her are legendary. Her fierce temper flashes at even trivial provocations. She despairs at her ginger hair and longs for a golden hue. As she grows older, Anne mellows, coming to terms with her looks and world, although her imagination remains active.
We meet Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. The story in contemporary Sweden focuses on Lisbeth, investigating brutal crimes against women. Lisbeth is clever and skilled in questionable pursuits like computer hacking and martial arts. She collaborates with Blomkvist, a journalist, to solve the enigma of Harriet Vanger’s disappearance. Lisbeth’s signature is her nonconformity, fond of tattoos, piercings, and gothic clothes. Her reticence makes her a victim of misinterpretation. In the story, we find Lisbeth constantly subverting the expectations of people around her as she continues to surpass them in intellect and foresight. Lisbeth is driven by her moral code, which makes her commit to punishing perpetrators of violent sex crimes against women.
Jo March, the heroine of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is the March sisters’ second-oldest. Alcott describes her: “Fifteen-year-old Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of a colt, for she never seemed to know what to do with her long limbs, which were very much in her way. She had a decided mouth, a comical nose, and sharp, gray eyes, which appeared to see everything, and were by turns fierce, funny, or thoughtful.” She is outspoken, brave, and independent. She can be scathing in her comments and is passionate about writing stories. She rebels against constraints imposed on compatriot women. Jo is committed to keeping her family united, and she will do what is required to fend for herself. She is said to be the personification of Louisa Alcott. Jo March is dazzlingly original: stamped with loyalty, principles and boldness. She is often lost in reading or writing, scribbling away at stories or plays. Her imagination dreams up wild escapades, in which she is the star. She regrets being a girl because she is constrained from speaking her mind and going wherever she wants.
Why do we love our fictional heroines? In a seminal monograph (1), Caughey tracks the history of (2) “lifelong bonds that people in different cultures have conventionally had with gods, monarchs, spirits, and other figures that they may never have had the chance to meet in person. Proceeding with the bonds that people built in relation to 18th-century drama, musicians, and celebrities alike, Caughey ends up with the trends that are characterized by a specific romantic or sexual interest”. A more recent study (2) analyses public online discussions to conceptualize what has come to be referred to as ‘fictophilia’, a psychological term for a strong and lasting feeling of love or desire toward a fictional character.
- Caughey, J. (1984). Imaginary Social Worlds: A Cultural Approach. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
- Karhulahti VM and Välisalo T (2021) Fictosexuality, Fictoromance, and Fictophilia: A Qualitative Study of Love and Desire for Fictional Characters. Front. Psychol. 11:575427. DOI:[10.3389/fpsyg.2020.575427