Role Models: Literary Villainesses

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You may have noticed that I took the weekend off from posting, which was nice because I didn’t have anything I very much wanted to get out.

But today I’d like to talk about some of the women in literature I find to be very inspiring- the women who are pretty much the devil incarnate.

Putting aside issues of women’s representation in literature and other arts, and how it may or may not be more connected to men’s imagination than female actuality… some of my favorite characters are strong, selfish, and mean people.

I’m not sure why this is, especially because I’d like to think that I personally am nothing like that.  But it’s also not difficult to see why their drive, anger, and uncompromising attitudes are appealing.  After all, the world is a scary place and women are frequently expected to be easy victims of it.

In no particular order:

  • The She-Wolf, a fairytale from Croatia. I wrote an essay on this once.
  • Undine Spragg, The Custom of the Country.
  • Catherine Earnshaw, Wuthering Heights.
  • Cathy Ames/Kate Trask/Kate Albey, East of Eden.
  • Rebecca and Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca. Rebecca is on this list despite never even appearing in the book.
  • Becky Sharp, Vanity Fair.
  • Vinny, Mourning Becomes Electra.
  • Eustacia Vye, Return of the Native.
  • Circe, The Odyssey. Fun fact: I named my favorite horse figurine Circe, way back when.
  • Lady Macbeth, Macbeth. Because, let’s face it- Macbeth was a wimp.
  • Abigail Williams, The Crucible.
  • Estella, Great Expectations.
  • Anna Karenina, Anna Karenina. Fun Fact: Tolstoy rewrote Anna to be more sympathetic (read: prettier and more refined) after being charmed by his own character.
  • Carmilla, Carmilla. Yay lady vampires.
  • Scarlett O’Hara, Gone With The Wind.
  • Irene Adler, Sherlock Holmes.
  • Madame de Merteuil, Dangerous Liaisons.
  • Morgaine, Mists of Avalon.
  • Elisabeth, The Holy Terrors.
  • Constance and Merricat, We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
  • Madame Bovary, Madame Bovary.
  • Therese Raquin, Therese Raquin.
  • Nicole, Tender is the Night
  • Cecile, Bonjour Tristesse
  • Madame DeFarge, A Tale of Two Cities.

Inspirations, all.

I’m sure there are more, but that’s all I have at the moment.  Note that I only included characters I like and admire- so no Nurse Ratched, no Dolores Umbridge, and no Miss Trunchbull.

Honestly, it annoys me that most of these women get comeuppance. I want them to win all the things.

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