If I Could Be Like My Favourite Literary Heroines, This Is the Kind of Person I’d Be


The best literary heroines are worth imitating. These women may be (mostly) fictional, but they have a great deal to teach us about ourselves and the real-life stories we find ourselves in.

Movie still from 2011 Jane Eyre - Jane in bonnet and shawl standing on the moors

Classic Literary Heroines Worth Emulating

Some people gobble up self help and development books like their personal success really does depend on it. Oh, and I admit, I enjoy dipping into this genre a few times throughout the year myself!

But I’ll be demmed if I don’t find much more impetus for self improvement in the novels I read.

Funny how being in another time and place, surrounded by people I’ve never met in real life, can make me understand my own self and place in the world so much better! A good author with a good novel can do that to you. She can write characters that make you say with a nod “oh yes, that’s me! That’s one of my faults, too.” Or, “Her dreams are shaped like mine. If she can find some of hers, perhaps I can as well?” Walk through the heroine’s journey, and you tread a little more of your own.

Surely you’ve noticed that in your real, everyday life the people you’re in contact with rub off on you. After being around a certain person or group of people for a while, you begin to imitate them ever so slightly. You adopt hints of their mannerisms, accent, moods, and likes and dislikes.

I’m convinced we don’t just mirror our real-life friends, but also the characters we watch on TV, the people we see online, and the characters in the books we read. And here, too, we must choose our companions wisely. Who’s rubbing off on you? Who’s helping to develop you as a character?

Personally, I’d like to be influenced by people who are praiseworthy. In classic novels I’ve found many heroines to emulate, whether they be orphans or governesses or society women fallen on hard times. I can never part with these literary kindred spirits or finish their journeys without finding myself changed, too. I want to get to know these women better, to revisit their stories and inhabit them more deeply.

Profile of girl blowing dandelion flower at sunset

Who would I be like, if I could? These are some of the most complex female characters in literature: well-drawn and still relevant for today’s readers.

My Favourite Strong Female Characters from Literature

1. Elinor Dashwood

If I could be like Elinor Dashwood, I’d be stalwart but ever tender. Did you see how her life was turned upside down and twisted inside out–repeatedly? But she remains a constant lover and caring sister, with a generous nature even to the undeserving.

2. Anne Shirley

If I could be like Anne Shirley I’d win others to my side–and hold my head up high even if I couldn’t. Half the characters in the first Anne books don’t like her initially, but end up counting her as a friend, like Rachel Lynde does. As for the Josie Pyes of the world, Anne’s not afraid to walk a ridgepole at their dare, or to take a more mature tack later in life and simply say “Well, never mind the Pyes.”

3. Mrs. Miniver

If I could be like Mrs. Miniver I’d see the joy, idiosyncrasies, and poignancy in every situation. We get the treat of her thoughts in common things like family road trips–or scary things like gas mask fittings. Every vignette makes me cherish life a little more.

4. Margaret Hale

If I could be like Margaret Hale, fortitude would be my virtue. Margaret has much to complain of, but never develops a martyr complex; she bears it all like a saint.

5. Jane Eyre

If I could be like Jane Eyre I would know myself. Jane leaves Lowood school “to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils,” but one of the best outcomes of this new intelligence is knowledge of self. Burgeoning self knowledge gives her agency in the trials throughout her story. As she says to Rochester, “your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.” Jane makes impeccable use of hers.

Stack of classic books with apple blossom sprig on top

6. Emily Starr

If I could be like Emily Starr I’d ache with the beauty of the world…and try to capture some of it with my pen. She’s never blind to loveliness and mystery, even when it’s found in unexpected places like the red panes of glass on the front door at New Moon.

7. Bella Wilfer

If I could be like Bella Wilfer I’d learn not to grasp wealth and pleasure so tightly. You know how most heroines start out likeable, although they have more development ahead of them? Well, Bella is different in that she’s not much of a heroine at first, and hardly likeable. Her desire for money and status eclipse all her good qualities. But watch: it’s her poor beginnings that make her transformation all the more admirable.

8. Laura Ingalls

If I could be like Laura Ingalls I’d run free in the fresh air, putting my heart into the land and letting each place I live leave its own indelible mark. On the surface of it, it would seem that Laura is a wanderer, always rootless. But read her books and you’ll see that in reality wherever she is, she’s always home.

9. Jo March

If I could be like Jo March I’d relish playfulness and imagination. These are traits that mature in Jo but never go away. And the best part is that she doesn’t hoard them, as people with a rich inner life sometimes do. Her imagination and sense of fun are gifts to her dearly-loved family, and she’s a generous giver.

These heroines all change, they grow, they strive before they flourish. They soften and learn to understand. They discover what’s truly important in life and learn to realign their ambitions. That’s what I love about my favourite fictional heroines, and that’s the kind of real-life heroine I want to be.

How about you?

Still not convinced there’s practical merit in reading novels? Read my post on The Jane Austen Cure: Why Women Need Fiction to Replenish Their Souls. For other praiseworthy literary characters you can root for, check out the Gryffindor House Reading List.

P.S. There are so many amazing heroines I had to leave off this list for sake of time. So please, fill in the Comments section with your own imitation-worthy female characters in literature! Also, for more on literary heroines, check out these posts on How to Be an L. M. Montgomery Heroine in a 21st-Century World and 11 life lessons from Nancy Drew. You might also enjoy this post on 10 Memorable Literary Friendships, and find other heroines to love in this book list for fans of Little Women, and this one of books like Anne of Green Gables.

Girl in a pink skirt, white blouse, and floppy hat standing in front of an old-fashioned house

If I Could Be Like My Favourite Literary Heroines, This Is the Kind of Person I\'d BeIf I Could Be Like My Favourite Literary Heroines, This Is the Kind of Person I\'d Be


  1. What a great post! We are of like minds in regards to Margaret Hale and Jo March! If I could be like Elizabeth Bennett I would have a realistic view of the world and the ability to find humor in it. If I could be like Polly Milton I would always be true to myself and my values.

    1. Sarah, I love Polly Milton! That’s a name I haven’t heard in a while!

      If I could be like Eowyn in Lord of the Rings, I’d fight against evil with all my strength and soul. And when the war is over, I’d help bring beauty and healing to the desolate places.

  2. Yes!!!!! Reading a good novel teaches me so much about myself and my place in the world. Elinor Dashwood is one of the heroines I identify with and want to cultivate the best parts of our shared personality. Jane Eyre teaches me about what is is to be a woman each time I read it.

    1. I love how Austen shows us Marianne’s realization of her sister’s strength of character. It’s wonderfully validating to see Elinor’s traits finally appreciated by someone on that deep level–and I think it makes it even more inspiring for us readers!

  3. My own imitation-worthy favourite is Elizabeth Bennet. Actually, she is more respectable and geniune one, whom i remember when a talk is going on literary heroines .

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