Literature's finest anti-heroines

Posted by
Stylist Team
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

We all love a literary villain, but certain fictional females occupy a grey area between good and bad. These flawed, complicated individuals are non-conformists who refuse to bend to expected rules of behaviour.

Pliant and mild are not this lot's bag; they're a rebellious and impulsive bunch with a penchant for the unexpected. Not so much bad as misunderstood, they're by turn ambitious, subversive, bold and manipulative with a need to stand out from the crowd.

And we admire and respect them for it, even if we don't always approve of their methods (Lady Macbeth, we're looking at you). We're also acutely aware of the way that they are victimised for pushing the boundaries of convention and standing up in what they believe in (Anna Karenina is a case in point).

So come give a toast to the fickle nature of humanity, as you parade through our anti-heroine hall of fame:

  • 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."

    No-one messes with Lisbeth Salander. A courageous and flawed vigilante genius, she stands up for the underdog and carries an impressive armoury of tattoos, piercings and provocative T-shirts.

  • Emma Bovary

    Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

    "Our duty is to feel what is great and love what is beautiful - not to accept all the social conventions and the infamies they impose on us."

    Beautiful but morally corrupt with a penchant for adultery and splashing the cash, Emma Bovary is the token bad girl of 19th Century literature.

  • 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."

    Whoever could reign in the irrepressible flame-haired Pippi? This girl is drawn to mischief like seagulls to an ice-cream and nothing will get between her and her quest for outright anarchy.

  • Daisy Buchanan

    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    "I hope she’ll be a fool. That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool"

    Manipulative, glamorous and fickle, Daisy Buchanan is a bit of a minx. No wonder she has all the boys under her spell.

  • The White Witch

    The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

    "That human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property."

    Let's face it, the White White is pretty bad-ass. And she's got that whole power dressing thing down to a T.

  • Anna Karenina

    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

    "If you love me as you say you do," she whispered, "make it so that I am at peace."

    Anna Karenina's infidelity, alcoholism and suicidal tendencies cook up the perfect firestorm with which to scandalise Russian high society.

  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles

    Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

    "Justice was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess."

    Poor old Tess can't really help that she's an anti-heroine - she seems doomed whatever she does in this deeply depressing tale. Still, at least she does get the ultimate revenge on the man who wronged her.

  • Scarlett O’Hara

    Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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

    Headstrong, petulant and self-serving, Scarlett O’Hara is a survivalist at heart. This Southern belle uses her beauty and charm to get exactly what she needs and leaves husbands, sisters and friends by the wayside.

  • Bridget Jones

    Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

    "I will not fall for any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics, people with girlfriends or wives, misogynists, megalomanics, chauvists, emotional fuckwits or freeloaders, perverts."

    Granted, our beloved Bridge isn't exactly murderous or manipulative but the fact that she chain-smokes, obsesses over unsuitable men and possesses a giant pair of Granny knickers makes her anti-heroine enough for us.

  • Lady Macbeth

    Macbeth by William Shakespeare

    "Give me the daggers/ The sleeping and the dead/ Are but as pictures/ Tis the eye of childhood/That fears a painted devil"

    Conniving and ruthless, Lady Macbeth possesses that most feared of female traits: ambition. She is merciless in her quest for power - and her ability to induce her husband to murder makes her the ultimate anti-heroine.

Share this article


Stylist Team