As promised in the first part of this post, ten of my favorite angry heroines. Warning: mild spoilers for all these books!
1. Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It meant so much to me that Mary was a bratty, unattractive little kid and she still got to blossom and be a heroine. Way too many classic children’s book heroines are sweet, self-sacrificing, and beautiful even at age 8. I loved A Little Princess too, don’t get me wrong, but The Secret Garden had a special place in my heart.
2. Beth Ellen from The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh. Beth Ellen SEEMS like a sweet little girl. Her grandmother always tells her it’s important to be ladylike, and she listens. But underneath, her feelings are sometimes different and disturbing.
This is by the author of Harriet the Spy and all the Harriet characters make appearances. It’s a brilliant, brilliant book and the ending is ridiculously satisfying. I read this book over and over again as a kid.
3. Sophy from Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. I love love LOVE the romance in this book. Howl is a vain, cowardly wizard who’s really nice and charming, and Sophy is a responsible oldest sister (but her sisters are nice, not awful! and even her “wicked” stepmother gets a fair shake) who’s transformed into an old woman. She gets a job as Howl’s cleaning lady and yells at him a lot. It’s really quirky and sweet and I highly recommend it, especially if you’re a fan of beta heroes.
4. Jessi from Kyle XY. (N.B. The link goes to Season One but Jessi doesn’t show up till Season Two.) I love very nearly everything about this show. It’s a surprisingly naturalistic yet dynamic portrayal of family life, it’s heartwarming and wholesome without ever being saccharin, and the plot is driven forward naturally by believable character motivation and conflict, and people COMMUNICATE with each other. On a shallower note, this show introduced me to my current top celebrity crush, Nicholas Lea.
But one thing that stands out to me is the range of well-developed female characters and the way all of them, even the super-extra-nice ones, get to express anger and stand up for themselves.
I love ALL the women on this show, every last one of them, but I think my favorite is Jessi. Jessi came out of a pod at age 16 (it’s a sci-fi teen drama) and has to learn how to be a teenage girl. She’s not a naturally empathetic person, and she doesn’t have a very nice early life. She tries, and tries, but she doesn’t quite get how she’s supposed to behave, and why. And she’s angry.
5. Agent Lisbon from The Mentalist. She struck such a chord with me from the moment she walked onscreen in the pilot. Finally, a woman who cares deeply about her job, who takes things seriously and follows the rules and who isn’t made fun of for it. Her issues with intimacy and relationships are never, ever minimized by the show. She’s tough and kickass with angsty backstory and a lot of buried anger starting from her childhood and extending into all the awful things she sees everyday running a California Bureau of Investigation homicide unit, plus she has a great smile and sense of humor and she looks out for her team. She’s wonderful.
6. Harriet Vane from the Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers. What can you even say about the romance between Harriet and Peter? It’s SO GREAT. And Harriet’s resentment at her obligation to Peter, his acceptance and respect for that anger, and her learning to deal with it and make peace with it without surrendering her independence and selfhood, is one of my very favorite things about it. There’s this bit in Gaudy Night where she says “I only know that if I once gave way to Peter, I should go up like straw.” And her friend asks, “Has he ever used it against you?” And he hasn’t. ♥
7. Agnes from Agnes and the Hitman by Bob Mayer and Jennifer Crusie. I loved this book. Agnes has anger management issues. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a romance heroine with honest-to-God anger management issues before, and I was thrilled. Is Agnes more violent than I was personally comfortable with? Yes. But I have read so, so many romances where the hero goes into black uncontrollable rages from which only the heroine can talk him down, and I wanted a heroine to be allowed to do the same, and not be judged. Plus, everyone in this book is incredibly charming and there are flamingos and a mob wedding and really, what’s not to love?
8. Mary Wollstonecraft from Godwin’s Memoirs of the Author of “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.” Perhaps this is cheating a little since it’s technically a biography, but it’s a biography written by her husband after her death, and he loves and admires her so much. it’s obvious how brilliant and brave and amazing he thought she was–he praises her to the skies on every page–but he still portrays her as a full person, not as some sweet cardboard cutout (and he’s not even visibly jealous of her previous relationships!). It’s incredibly romantic.
In the first chapter he’s talking about her childhood and he says, “Mary was what Dr. Johnson would have called ‘a very good hater.’ In some instance of passion exercised by her father to one of his dogs, she was accustomed to speak of her emotions of abhorrence, as having risen to agony.”
9. Lydia from The Last Hellion by Loretta Chase. This may be my favorite Loretta Chase, although it’s a tough competition. Lydia is just so angry, and so determined to maintain her independence, and so afraid of losing face because her tough image is the only protection she has in a world that doesn’t much like independent women. Plus, she’s a girl reporter! I LOVE girl reporters.
10. Lily Sharpe in Fall from Grace by Megan Chance. ALL of Megan Chance’s heroines are wonderful and angry, but Lily may be my favorite. Adopted by the outlaws that killed her parents (it’s a Western), she’s vowed her entire life to get her revenge and escape to live the life she should have had as a respectable woman. And she’s not going to let her marriage to the gang leader’s son stop her, even though she might actually love him.
This book is amazing. I love the romance between Lily and Texas as they gradually come to realize the lies they’ve believed about themselves, each other, and their relationship. At the start of the book, Lily has run away and Texas comes after her. She’s living in a boarding house and she’s bought two bonnets. Texas just can’t see Lily, his gun-toting Lily, wearing a bonnet. She tells him it was just a cover and leaves the hats behind without a backward glance, but Texas can’t get them out of his head. Gradually he comes to understand what the bonnets meant to Lily, the entire life she’d been dreaming of without his knowing, and it’s just…I swooned. Because he really, really wants to understand her, and he figures it out no matter how hard she tries to keep herself hidden.
I realize I’ve strayed off the track of her anger, but…she tries to kill him. Twice. How often do you see that in a romance?
Tell me about your favorite angry heroines!