For centuries, it was quite normal for female writers to use a masculine pen name.
“[Female writers] never used their real names on the title page while Emily and Anne [Brontë] were alive,” says Emily Auerbach, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of Searching for Jane Austen. “But the pen names helped them open the door and at least get a reading.”
Regardless, female writers have been writing fiction for centuries -- and some of the greatest fiction has memorable characters that served as a voice and an inspiration to readers.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ll pay homage to a few of our favorite inspirational female characters.
Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
When we first met Hermione Granger, she was an eleven-year-old girl with a can-do attitude. Hermione represented young girls in education and had the power to inspire readers that applying themselves will lead to great things.
Through seven books, Hermione showed true inspiration and empowerment through her intelligence, bravery, and kindness.
Not to mention that Hermione was the most masterly girl in their class -- after all, she could single-handedly take down a mountain troll.
(Fun fact: Author Joanne Rowling wrote Harry Potter under the pen name J. K. Rowling, which sounded more masculine. Rowling’s publisher thought that her target audience -- young boys -- would not read the books if they knew it was written by a woman.)
“But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. Because there are somethings you can't go through in life and become friends, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.”
Matilda by Roald Dahl
At six years old, Matilda knew right from wrong more so than most adults- -- and had read more classics more than most adults, too.
As a bumbling genius, Matilda was constantly demeaned by her family and bullied by her evil headteacher. But this never stopped her from educating herself, standing up for what was right, and giving people a taste of their own medicine.
Matilda became a true icon for children everywhere to always do the right thing and never settle.
“Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable…”
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hester Prynne lived during one of the most troubling societal times in history. Though obviously looked down upon today, in Puritan times adultery was one of the biggest sins one could commit and had potential for great punishment.
When Hester was found guilty of adultery, she was forced to wear a scarlet A every day, stand on a public scaffold to endure public humiliation, and then later was sent to prison. But Hester became a prime example of man versus society.
By being scrutinized by her village, Hester observed the hypocrisy of punishing an individual for her sins while walking around with a basket full of your own.
“Happy are you, Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret! Thou little knowest what a relief it is, after the torment of a seven years’ cheat, to look into an eye that recognizes me for what I am!”
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Josephine March was one of four all-female siblings but held the title for the most outspoken and honest. The March siblings lived during a time when most women were treated like housewives and property, but this did not stop Jo from taking on non-traditional views and roles.
One of Jo’s most memorable acts was when she cut her hair for extra cash so she could help fund Marmee’s trip. This was not just a selfless act -- but a brave one, as women simply did not have short hair in the mid-nineteenth century.
Jo also had career aspirations and was truly a pioneer beyond her years, acting as a voice for all the young women during that time.
(Fun fact: Author Louisa May Alcott used a male pen name for years called A. M. Barnard.)
“I want to do something splendid before I go into my castle--something heroic, or wonderful--that won't be forgotten after I'm dead. I don't know what, but I'm on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you all, some day. I think I shall write books, and get rich and famous; that would suit me, so that is my favorite dream.”
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
There was not a lot of wiggle room when it came to Elizabeth Bennett’s choices.
As a woman, Elizabeth’s father couldn’t pass on the family estate to her, which meant she had to marry a wealthy man. Elizabeth resented this idea and was on no search for a man to call her own.
She remained true to her beliefs by not settling for just anybody to spend the rest of her life with (especially her cousin!). She challenged the present society’s views on marriage, arguing that marriage should not be about business deals, but love and respect.
(Fun fact: Jane Austen published this book under the pen name “A Lady.”)
“She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was a union that must have been to the advantage of both; by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgement, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.”
What do you think of our list? However you feel, drop a comment below, in the forum, or send us a tweet (@KentburyLit) with one of your favorite female characters in literature. Maybe she will be featured in our next article!