. . . Who’s my favorite of them all?
Some time ago I wrote a list called “The Most Gentlemanly Gents,” a list of my favorite leading men in Jane Austen’s books. Today I’d like to take a look at the six leading ladies from each of Austen’s six major novels. Each heroine has her good qualities, but if these ladies were living and breathing today, which one would I get along with the best? Which ones would make me want to be like them? And could any of them become my bff?
I will freely admit that Emma is not my favorite Austen leading lady. She is pretty, wealthy, and well-liked by those around her, but there are times when she forgets: other people have feelings too! She runs amok in other people’s romantic lives and her interference almost prevents Harriet Smith from being united with the man she loves. She’s downright mean to Miss Bates towards the end of the book. In short, she comes across (at first) as a self-centered and spoiled young woman.
But there are things about Emma that I admire, too. She manages her father’s household by herself, which means she’s hard working and intelligent. She is unfailingly kind and patient with her fussy father. And she’s no snob. She’s friends with Harriet despite Harriet’s illegitimacy and much lower social standing. My verdict? If Emma sent me a friend request on Facebook I’d probably accept it. But she’s not someone I would tell my deepest, darkest secrets. I wouldn’t trust her not to try to manage my life, too.
Some of you may remember that I wrote an article last year praising the heroine of Mansfield Park. My opinion has not changed! Fanny’s not the most popular Austen lady, but you have to admit that she has a lot going for her. Her shy personality masks her strong, uncompromising moral beliefs. She has more inner strength than almost anyone I know. She will not be dissuaded from what she knows is right, even when it hurts. She’s the friend I could count on to tell me the truth even if I didn’t really want to hear it. We all need someone like that in our lives, don’t we? Let’s hear it for Fanny Price!
While we’re cheering for our favorite heroine, let’s hear it for Elinor Dashwood!
Confession time: I don’t know Elinor very well. Of all of Austen’s novels Sense and Sensibility is the one I’ve read the least. But that doesn’t make it a bad novel and it certainly doesn’t make Elinor a bad character. She’s wonderful! She’s practical, sensible, and loving towards her family members. She keeps faith in Edward even after he becomes engaged to another woman, and she displays grace in trying circumstances. But for some reason I’ve just never “clicked” with her. I think if she and I met in real life we would be, as Jane Bennet might say, pleasant but indifferent acquaintances. Instead I would have fun hanging out with this woman:
Catherine Morland makes me laugh. She’s so sweet, so kind and so naïve that I just can’t help but like her. She reminds me of myself in junior high, when my best friend and I wrote lengthy novels starring thinly disguised versions of ourselves and our classmates getting into the most amazing adventures. (Think spying in Russia or getting trapped in hurricanes.) If Catherine were a real person that’s probably exactly what we would do together–write silly novels involving people we know in the most unlikely circumstances. And then we would be HORRIBLY embarrassed when other people discovered that we were writing about them! (Nope, that totally never happened to us in real life! 🙂 ) Catherine is the friend I’d get into trouble with. Do you have a friend like that in your life? If not, you probably should!
Anne is one of the most appealing of Austen’s leading ladies. She has a maturity about her, a quiet patience that none of the other Austen heroines have. She knows what it is to love, lose, and keep on loving anyway. She also knows how to keep her head in a crisis, and that’s a great quality to have in a friend.
If I were in an dire situation, if a loved one went into the emergency room or if I had just received dreadful news, Anne would be the first person I’d call. She’s the one who would drop everything, come rushing right over, and let me cry on her shoulder. She’d give me a big hug and tell me that everything was going to be just fine, and she’d stay up half the night just so I wouldn’t be alone. Everybody should have an Anne Elliot in their life.
And everybody should also have at one of these:
Elizabeth doesn’t have Anne’s patience or Catherine’s innocence, but what she does have is a strong sense of loyalty. If she’s your friend, she will be your friend for life. She’s also got a wicked sense of humor and doesn’t take herself too seriously. Yet she’s also kind. When she laughs at other people, it’s only because their faults and foibles remind her of her own. She’s the friend who can make you laugh even when your heart is broken and show you the silver lining in any dark cloud. If she and I met in real life, I think we would be best friends immediately.
So there you have it, my list of Austen’s leading ladies. If I had to choose just one of them it would probably be Elizabeth, but it would be a close race between her and Anne.
What do you think? Do you agree with my picks? Tell me in the comments below which Austen heroine would be your favorite in real life!