These female characters are brave, stand up for their beliefs and aren't afraid to break the status quo.
Some of the most amazing characters in literature are strong and powerful women, and for International Women's Day we want to celebrate the courage and fearlessness of some of our favourite protagonists.
There are so many women soaking up the literary spotlight and are the centre of their own stories. These female characters are brave, stand up for their beliefs and aren't afraid to break the status quo.
From Eliza Brightwell in Moonlight and the Pearler's Daughter to the classic heroine Jane Eyre, all are strong women who live their lives without apology.
Bonnie Garmus brings us Elizabeth Zott in her stunning debut Lessons in Chemistry. Elizabeth Zott is uncompromising and unconventional. In the 1960s she is a chemist and a single mother who becomes the reluctant star of America's most beloved cooking show, Supper at Six. Elizabeth's unusual approach to cooking proves revolutionary, but as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn't just teaching women to cook. She's daring them to change the status quo.
From the Penguin classic Jane Eyre, this female protagonist struggles to make a life for herself in a cruel and indifferent world. As orphan Jane becomes governess at Thornfield Hall, she falls in love with her employer, Mr Rochester, only to discover that he has a terrible secret, one which may jeopardise their future happiness. Jane Eyre's struggle for independence has echoed with readers ever since she was introduced, and Jane's self-worth and strength has made her one of the most beloved female characters in literature.
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Matilda is one of the world's most adored female heroines. As a young girl she's had enough of her mother playing bingo every afternoon, her dad condemning her over her love of reading, and the bullying of her principal Miss Trunchbull. Matilda is an extraordinary little girl with a magical mind and these grown-ups better watch out, because Matilda teaches them a lesson they'll never forget.
The second child in a family of five daughters, Elizabeth Bennet is the true heroine in Jane Austen's The Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth is quick-witted and intelligent, and while she is prodded to seek marriage for economic security, she vows to only marry for love and rises above a society that is class-bound. When Elizabeth meets Mr Darcy, she instantly dislikes him, despite his reputation as a wealthy and eligible bachelor. However, she overcomes her own hasty judgements to see who Mr Darcy truly is and discovers first impressions aren't always correct.
Offred is a Handmaid in The Republic of Gilead, a religious totalitarian state in what was formerly known as the United States. She is placed in the household of The Commander, Fred Waterford, and her assigned name Offred means 'of Fred'. She has only one function: to breed. If Offred refuses to enter into sexual servitude to repopulate a devastated world, she will be hanged. Offred navigates this terrifying new world with courage, intelligence and kindness, and will do anything to survive. Throughout the novel Offred's character develops and she starts to question the rules and beliefs.
Eliza Brightwell is the centre of the immersive female-led novel Moonlight and the Pealer's Daughter. When her father mysteriously disappears at sea, Eliza fights to uncover the truth and unearths hidden secrets along the way. Author Lizzie Pook describes her character as active and courageous and a woman who breaks out of the confines of what was expected of her in the 1800s, and is a heroine who refuses to be oppressed as a woman.
Kyuri, Miho, Wonna and Ara
These four female characters are balancing on the razor-edge of survival in If I Had Your Face – a novel that plunges us into contemporary Seoul where extreme plastic surgery is rife, women compete for spots in secret 'room salons' to entertain wealthy businessmen and ruthless social hierarchies dictate your every move. The novel follows Kyuri, an exquisitely beautiful woman whose hard-won status at an exclusive 'room salon' is threatened by an impulsive mistake with a client; her flatmate Miho, an orphan who wins a scholarship to a prestigious art school in New York, where her life becomes tragically enmeshed with the super-wealthy offspring of the Korean elite; Wonna, their neighbour, pregnant with a child that she and her husband have no idea how they will afford to raise in a fiercely competitive economy; and Ara, a hairstylist who works long hours and is mute after an accident in her teenage years. If I Had Your Face is a feminist read that examines gender and class struggles.
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Lessons in Chemistry is getting TV treatment with a new Apple TV+ series based on the book. Learn more about it here.
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Congratulations to the winners!
We caught up with Bonnie Garmus after a whirlwind year of success with her debut novel, Lessons in Chemistry.
Winners will be announced on 25 May 2023.