By Alexandra Israel, Publicist
I recently came across a Flavorwire article called “The Bookshelf: Unlikely Heroines in Literature,” which made me start thinking that there are so many anti-heroines in literature, but how exactly do you accurately describe what an “anti-heroine” is?
By definition, an anti-heroine is “a female protagonist, as in a novel or play, whose attitudes and behaviors are not typical of a conventional heroine.” Flavorwire had a more up-to-date definition, inspired by author Leslie Jamison: “Fairy tales introduce us to certain standard breeds of heroine: beautiful innocents, homely martyrs, and plucky tomboys. These heroines aren’t those ones… they make it hard to look away.” This definition is true; anti-heroines are sometimes what keep us going in long novels.
Here are four examples of anti-heroines that I’ve come across recently—some of them have qualities that are admirable and others survive hardships that are inspiring:
Tess from Thomas Hardy’s, Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy:
I just started reading this novel this week, and I can’t put it down. Tess belongs to a lower-class peasant family, until her father accidentally discovers that they are of noble blood. In Hardy’s description of her, there is something that immediately catches your eye: she is striking and attractive, but Tess is not afraid to speak her mind especially when it comes to rejecting the affection of her cousin Alec D’Urbervilles. I won’t spoil the entire plot for those who haven’t read it, but Tess encounters some pretty tough situations including dealing with the death of her child, Sorrow.
Penelope from Homer’s, The Odyssey
There will never be a round-up that doesn’t reference the Odyssey if it is written by me. Even though her husband has been gone for 20 years, Penelope never gives up hope that her husband will come back to her. Sweet and pleasing on the outside, Penelope is as tough as they come: she has a devised a secret plot in order for her to stay available until Odysseus comes back. Each night she entertains the suitors that want to marry her, and after they leave, she secretly unweaves the funeral shroud that she has been sewing.
Anna Karenina from Leo Tolstoy’s, Anna Karenina
Anna abandons all common sense when she meets Alexei Vronsky—leaving her husband and her child for him in a fit of passion. Even though she is incredibly flawed in terms of her familial priorities, Anna is out-spoken, tough and knows what she wants. In a time when women didn’t much have power, Anna is not afraid to ask her husband for a divorce or to start-over her life entirely.
Jane Eyre from Charlotte Brontë’s, Jane Eyre
Poor Jane Eyre has no idea what skeletons are hanging in Edward Rochester’s closet when she marries him. Despite how young she is, Jane has endured a lot. She has overcome the cruelty and insensitivity of her Aunt Reed who locks her in a closet as well as the harsh words of her headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst. Most people would not be able to handle the surprises that life has thrown her—but Jane handles the discovery of another woman, Bertha, and Mr. Rochester’s deception with grace and compassion.
Related: The Rise of the YA Dystopian Novel