My Childhood Literary Heroines

By Monday, July 24, 2017 , , ,

“When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” –Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail (1998 film) 

I agree, Kathleen, I agree. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know I’m a strong believer in reading and in its power to teach us deep lessons about ourselves, others, and the world we live in. I’ve been thinking about this above quote from You’ve Got Mail lately (if you haven’t seen this movie, please stop right now and go do yourself the favor of watching it) and am realizing just how true it is. The books and characters I connected with when I was young have stayed with me in profound ways through adulthood and I find that I’m still learning from them. 

These musings have even more particularly gotten me thinking about the literary heroines that have shaped me (Carrot Top Paper Shop and Lucy in the Sky over at Etsy have also had hands in this). Which ones made an impact on me as a young person? Which heroines taught me about life and girlhood then and now continue to teach me about womanhood? Why do I love them and what keeps me coming back to them? Here are some primary favorite heroines who have come to mind over the past few days and the characteristics that I think drive my love for them. 

Anne Shirley – Joy 
Lucy Maud Montgomery surely had no notion of the treasure she was giving the world in Anne Shirley when she first wrote Anne of Green Gables. Anne’s fascination with the world and zest for life inspire everyone she meets, whether they’re in the story with her or reading it from the outside. She lives fully, dreams big, and wants everyone to see the beauty in both the big and small things. I need more of all of that, so thanks, Anne.

“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It makes me feel glad to be alive – it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it?” –Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables 

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March – Love 
The March sisters of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott are fairly ordinary, and I think that’s why so many people love them. They’re a normal family of sisters doing their best with the hands dealt them. They struggle with the same things we do today – family quarrels, growing up, romance woes, friends’ betrayals, finding life callings, and so much more. But at the end of the day, they love well. The sisters are quite different, but all of them love boldly and wholeheartedly, and that makes me value this story deeply. They love each other, their parents, their friends, and their eventual spouses with unswerving devotion, and they do their best to be faithful in whatever life sets before them. 

“My dear girls, I am ambitious for you, but not to have you make a dash in the world, marry rich men merely because they are rich, or have splendid houses, which are not homes because love is wanting. Money is a needful and precious thing, and when well used, a noble thing, but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for. I’d rather see you poor men’s wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace.” –Mrs. March, Little Women 

Jane Eyre – Truth 
Few characters I’ve encountered cling to truth and morals with the tenacity that Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre does. She prizes honesty and loves her hero counterpart with all the vigor her tender heart possesses. But when it comes to choosing between what is right and what is most desirable, she takes the path less traveled at great cost to herself. Jane is a gentle soul, yet she is full of quiet strength that never compromises on what is right. I think we could all stand to learn from her in that regard.

“Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour… If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth – so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane – quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.” –Jane Eyre 

Elizabeth Bennet – Wit 
Who doesn’t love Lizzy Bennet? Even her creator Jane Austen confessed that she found Elizabeth “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print.” Delightful is right – she laughs easily, diffuses tension with her playfulness, and always has a quick and witty comeback. She certainly learns the folly of judging too quickly, but throughout Pride and Prejudice, her insight always contributes substance to a conversation and her presence is a joy to those who know her well.

“Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her.” –Pride and Prejudice 

Sara Crewe – Courage
From riches to rags and back to riches, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s little Sara Crewe of A Little Princess is forced to grow up far too quickly, but she handles it with bravery and grace that few adults could muster. Though poverty-stricken for much of the story, she valiantly looks outside herself and never loses hope that there is goodness in the world. She befriends the outcasts at her London boarding school, turns to daydreams for comfort, and endures cruelty without retaliation. 

“If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in a cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.” –Sara Crewe, A Little Princess 

Mary Lennox – Perseverance 
Bless her, Frances Hodgson Burnett gave me two childhood heroines, and Mary Lennox of The Secret Garden was actually the first. Mary begins the story as quite a spoiled brat, but she slowly learns to think of other people and to take new interests, namely, resurrecting an abandoned garden on the estate of her new home in Yorkshire, England. Her determination to bring new life to the garden mirrors her own growth and her efforts to help her sickly cousin find purpose again. None of these processes happen easily, but Mary’s optimism grows as she does, and perseverance becomes one of her strongest suits.

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” –The Secret Garden

If you don't have the pleasure of knowing these ladies, I cannot recommend them highly enough :) What are your favorite books from childhood? What characters shaped you? I'd love to hear in comments!

You Might Also Like


  1. My favorite books were the Little House on the Prairie books and I definitely admired Laura Ingalls Wilder. I have to say I was a fan of Nancy Drew also! Even though they were "formula books", I still enjoyed Nancy's perseverance in solving mysteries.