Literature's Feistiest Females

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Stylist Team
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The simpering cries of damsels in distress can be found in acres of texts - but not the ones Stylist is looking at in this gallery of literature's strongest female characters.

We're celebrating fiery females of the literary world, from the likes of Astrid Lindgren's precocious Pippi Longstocking and Stieg Larsson's fearless Lisbeth Salander, to Virginia Woolf's quietly determined Mrs Ramsay and Agatha Christie's dignified yet unyielding Miss Marple.

Reminisce over the characters you admired as a child and explore strong women's place in history - from the bawdy Wife of Bath to the wit of Much Ado About Nothing's Beatrice. Which literary female do you most identify with? Flick through the gallery, below, and let us know on Twitter.

Words: Anna Pollitt

  • Elizabeth Bennet

    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

    “There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”

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  • Anne Shirley

    Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud

    “There's such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I'm such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn't be half so interesting.”

  • Lisbeth Salander

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

    “There were not so many physical threats that could not be countered with a decent hammer.”

  • Little Red Riding Hood

    Little Red Riding Hood by Roald Dahl

    "The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.

    She whips a pistol from her knickers.

    She aims it at the creature's head,

    And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead."

  • Jane Eyre

    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

    "Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! - I have as much soul as you, - and full as much heart!"

  • Pippi Longstocking

    Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

    "Grown-ups never have any fun. All they have is a lot of dull work and stupid clothes and corns and nincum tax."

  • Beatrice

    Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

    "What should I do with him - dress him in my apparel and make him my waiting gentlewoman? He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him.”

  • Becky Sharp

    Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery

    "I have brains," Becky thought, "and almost all the rest of the world are fools."

  • Jean Louise "Scout" Finch

    To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

    "I split my knuckle to the bone on his front teeth. My left impaired, I sailed in with my right."

  • Jo March

    Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

    "It's bad enough to be a girl anyway, when I like boys' games and work and manners! I can't get over my disappointment in not being a boy; and it's worse than ever now, for I'm dying to go and fight with Papa, and I can only stay at home and knit, like a poky old woman.”

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  • Miss Jane Marple

    Nemesis by Agatha Christie

    "She's a rotted corpse and there's no-one to kiss her awake!"

  • Matilda Wormwood

    Matilda by Roald Dahl

    "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."

  • Scarlet O’Hara

    Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

    "Marriage, fun? Fiddle-dee-dee. Fun for men you mean"

  • Cleopatra

    Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

    "I will not be triumphed over."

  • Hester Prynne

    The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

    "It is too deeply branded. Ye cannot take it off. And would that I might endure his agony, as well as mine!"

  • Medea

    Medea by Euripides

    "We bid the highest price in dowries

    just to buy some man

    to be dictator of our bodies …

    How that compounds the wrong!"

  • The Wife of Bath

    The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

    "Telle me also, to what conclusioun

    Were membres maad of generacioun

    And of so parfit wys a wright y-wroght?

    Trusteth right wel, they were nat maad for noght."

  • Kay Scarpetta

    Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell

    "The dead have never bothered me. It's the living that I fear."

  • Marquise de Merteuil

    Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

    "The shame love causes is like its pain; we only feel it once. We may feign it afterwards, but we do not feel it. However, the pleasure remains, and that is indeed something."

  • Gwendolen Fairfax

    The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

    "Of course I will, darling. How long you have been about it! I am afraid you have had very little experience in how to propose."

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  • Miss Jean Brodie

    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

    “These years are still the years of my prime. It is important to recognise the years of one's prime, always remember that.”

  • George Kirrin

    Five Are Together Again by Enid Blyton

    "If Julian can do it, then so could I."

  • Catherine Earnshaw

    Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

    "I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free ... Why am I so changed? I'm sure I should be myself were I once among the heather on those hills."

  • Anna Karenina

    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

    "Above all, I wouldn't want people to think that I want to prove anything. I don't want to prove anything; I merely want to live."

  • Celie

    The Color Purple by Alice Walker

    “You a low down dog is what’s wrong. It’s time to leave you and enter into the creation. And your dead body just the welcome mat I need."

  • Anne Frank

    The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

    "I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out."

  • Lucy Honeychurch

    A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

    "It was unladylike. Why? Why were most big things unladylike?"

  • Joan of Arc

    The Tale of Joan of Arc by Christine de Pizan

    "Oh! What honour for the female sex! It is perfectly obvious that God has special regard for it when all these wretched people who destroyed the whole Kingdom - now recovered and made safe by a woman, something that 5,000 men could not have done - and the traitors exterminated. Before the event they would scarcely have believed this possible.”

  • Kinsey Malone

    D is for Deadbeat by Sue Grafton

    “I love being single. It's almost like being rich.”

  • Eliza Doolittle

    Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

    "I'm a respectable girl: so help me, I never spoke to him except to ask him to buy a flower off me … They'll take away my character and drive me on the streets for speaking to gentlemen."

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  • Arrietty

    The Borrowers by Mary Norton

    "I was 'seen,' " cried Arrietty. "I couldn't help being 'seen.' Papa was 'seen.' I don't think it's all as awful as you're trying to make out. I don't think human beans are all that bad."

  • Mary Frith

    The Roaring Girl by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker

    "Tis impossible to know what woman is thoroughly honest, because she's ne'er thoroughly tried; I am of that certain belief there are more queans in this town of their own making than of any man's provoking. Where lies the slackness then? Many a poor soul would down, and there's nobody will push 'em: Women are courted but ne'er soundly tried, As many walk in spurs that never ride."

  • Aurora Leigh

    Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

    "You misconceive the question like a man,

    Who sees a woman as the complement

    Of his sex merely. You forget too much

    That every creature, female as the male,

    Stands single in responsible act and thought

    As also in birth and death."

  • Moll Flanders

    The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

    “As for Women that do not think their own Safety worth their Thought, that impatient of their present State, resolve as they call it to take the first good Christian that comes, that run into Matrimony, as a Horse rushes into the Battle, I can say nothing to them, but this, that they are a Sort of Ladies that are to be pray'd for among the rest of distemper'd People...”

  • Emma Bovary

    Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

    "Before she married, she thought she was in love; but the happiness that should have resulted from that love, somehow had not come. It seemed to her that she must have made a mistake, have misunderstood in some way or another. And Emma tried hard to discover what, precisely, it was in life that was denoted by the words 'joy, passion, intoxication', which had always looked so fine to her in books."

  • Mrs Ramsay

    To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

    "[S]he could not say it ... as she looked at him she began to smile, for though she had not said a word, he knew, of course he knew, that she loved him. He could not deny it. And smiling she looked out of the window and said (thinking to herself, Nothing on earth can equal this happiness) - “Yes, you were right. It’s going to be wet tomorrow. You won’t be able to go.” And she looked at him smiling. For she had triumphed again. She had not said it: yet he knew.

  • Laura Ingalls

    Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

    “We had no choice. Sadness was a dangerous as panthers and bears. the wilderness needs your whole attention.”

  • Mary Poppins

    Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

    "Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way."

  • Connie Chatterley

    Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

    "She felt a triumph, almost a vainglory. So! That was how it was! That was life! That was how onself really was! There was nothing left to disguise or be ashamed of. She shared her ultimate nakedness with a man, another being.”

  • Pollyanna

    Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter

    "Oh, I'm so glad! I'm glad for everything. Why, I'm glad now I lost my legs for a while, for you never, never know how perfectly lovely legs are till you haven't got them--that go, I mean. I'm going to walk eight steps to-morrow."

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