Influential Women

Emily Temple, at Flavorwire, posts on the ten most influential females in literature.

Who is missing? Who is the most influential for you?

Since March is Women’s History Month, we’ve been thinking a lot about the women who have had positive and lasting impacts on our lives — and perhaps not surprisingly for a bunch of literary geeks like us, we’ve realized that many of them are fictional. For all the hullabaloo about the dearth of strong female characters in modern culture, thankfully there are some wonderfully powerful, kick-ass maidens that have inspired us with their strength, self-discovery, and incredible brilliance over the years. Click through to see our list of ten of the most powerful female characters in literature, and then be sure to pipe up with your own suggestions — we’ve chosen the ten who resonate most deeply with us here, but since there are many more than ten strong ladies in literature (thank goodness), we want to know which ones blow you away on a daily basis.


"I think the point is not about errors or inerrancy, or specific hermeneutics (literalism v. ..."

The Word of God is Not ..."
"As a child growing up in a conservative church, I heard all the "emotional" arguments ..."

What Women Want (Leslie Leyland Fields)
"I did a bit of research on this a while ago. A few comments.Other than ..."

The Word of God is Not ..."
"And then you ask, 'So what did the early church believe was the gospel?' and ..."

Which Century Changed The Story?

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Just Sayin’

    I think Juliet, the other half of Romeo, slightly nudges out Hermione Granger . . .

  • Flannery O’Connor–by no means is she unknown, but she ought to be mentioned with the likes of Dostoevsky, Hugo, Joyce, etc.

  • Diane

    This Jane Austen fan is having the vapors: Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. There’s hardly a stronger, wittier or more delightful character in English literature.
    And let’s not forget Scarlett O’Hara and Melanie Wilkes from Gone with the Wind.

  • Diane

    Then Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights and Jo March in Little Women.

  • Ava

    Anna Karenina: real and captivating flesh, blood, soul, spirit.

  • kerry

    In the classics I would nominate Eowyn in Lord of the Rings, Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, and Jo March in Little Women.

    More recently, Minny in The Help stands out as a pretty feisty number!

  • Nick

    How about Anne of Green Gables?

  • pepy

    Particularly fond of Jane Eyre and Nancy Drew.

    And real or fictional: Calamity Jane and Lucy.;)

  • Karl

    Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset

  • RJS

    Interesting choice Karl, I read that back in High School and would never of thought of it here. But you are right, she definitely fits – and is better than many of the choices in the article linked in the original post.

  • Percival

    It’s sad that we have a woman’s history month. What’s next? Old people? Short people? Bald people?

  • Eric Wilson

    Janie in Zora Neal Hurston’s There Eyes Were Watching God!

  • P.

    Why is celebrating women sad?

  • Percival

    No. Regulating women’s history to a month is sad. Human history is women’s history. I don’t like any “recognition” that is a by-product of marginalization. That’s all.

  • Percival

    Oops. I meant “relegating” 🙂

  • Diane

    Nancy Drew–how could I forget her? A fearless champion of the downtrodden. She must be on the list.

  • Diane

    As a woman, I’ll take a month to highlight women. I don’t find it degrading.

  • Richard

    Nancy Drew, Jo March, Elizabeth Bennet are overlooked imo.

    Seems like “influential” primarily means “holds her own against men or carries weapons” in the eyes of the list generator

  • How about a list of female writers. Thinkers. Game changers. Even theologians?

    It wouldn’t surprise me if there aren’t memorable or strong female characters in literature, if so much of it is written by men. But I am by no means knowledgeable about literature.

  • Just Sayin’

    Helen of Troy.
    [Apparently some bot is telling me that this comment is too short!]

  • Susan N.

    Maya Angelou.

    Isak Dinesen (a/k/a Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke), for her memoir-turned-screenplay ‘Out of Africa.’ As portrayed in the film, she is a tremendously strong, courageous, and wise female.

    Melody @ #19, I submit — Mother Teresa.

    Richard @ #18 said, “Seems like “influential” primarily means “holds her own against men or carries weapons” in the eyes of the list generator”

    …I am generally not too impressed with that particular brand of female heroine. Who fantasizes about such warrior-females? Men?

    Strength that I aspire to is of a more persevering, faithful, humble, peacemaking kind. The girl w/the dragon tattoo and similar ass-kicking avengers offer a tempting outlet for outrage against injustice — and I admit that at times I can slide too easily and comfortably into that role (sans tattoo) — but it’s not worth celebrating, imho. Fail…

    I still look to Jesus as my main role model and hero. All others, male or female, are pale imitations.

  • Lucy Edling

    Speaking of women authors: Mary Doria Russell’s science fiction book The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God, are thought provoking and lovely. She also wrote A Thread of Grace, a novel about the actual heroic actions of Italians hiding Jewish refugees during WWII.

  • bnwin

    23. My mother, who first taught me about God, and who left a war torn country when I was just a month old–because she took a huge leap of faith by going into the ocean in a fishing boat. My family was picked up by a US cargo ship and brought to the US.