Wherever you look these days, images of perfection are rife. Whether it’s in films, Love Island or perfume ads (seriously HOW does Keira Knightley get into that skin-tone catsuit??), the women in the public eye seem to be pretty darn perfect.
Open up a book, though, and things are a different story.
The heroines in books are flawed. They have off-days, they make silly mistakes and they are constantly offending people. For this, I am grateful.
These five literary heroines aren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but completely boss at life nonetheless.
Emma Woodhouse – Emma
“I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other.”
The go-to example of a literary heroine who isn’t all that heroic, Emma is frankly quite annoying most of the time. An ego that’s been massaged by a lifetime of luxury leaves Emma with a concerning tendency towards smugness.
Most of the time, I’m scoffing from a distance. But when she makes that awful faux pas with Miss Bates, I’m suddenly right there with her, clapping palm to face and wringing my hands with social angst.
Emma is a nice person who hasn’t quite learned how to show it. But her refusal to be flattered into a marriage that doesn’t interest her leaves her free to shack up with the man of her dreams, Mr Knightley.
Bridget Jones – Bridget Jones’s Diary
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.”
Ah, Bridge. The genius of Helen Fielding is that we truly all see ourselves in Bridget, while simultaneously feeling that she is our best friend. As she stumbles from one awkward moment to the next, the shame at my own social malfunctioning washes away.
Bridget is proof that you can find happiness in a world of emotional fuckwittage. Just as you are.
Arwen – The Lord of the Rings
“It is mine to give to whom I will, like my heart.”
Strong independent women do a few things: they don’t take any crap, have confidence in themselves and never compromise who they are for a guy.
So Arwen is slightly turning this on its head when she throws away her family and eternal life to pursue this fling with Aragorn. She may not be winning any friends at the next elven reunion, but Arwen was brave enough to follow her heart, even when it involved making huge personal sacrifices.
Admirable or foolish? Either way, you’ve got to hand it to her, that girl’s got guts.
Jo March – Little Women
“Tell another story, Mother, one with a moral to it, like this. I like to think about them afterward, if they are real and not too preachy.”
Of all the Little Women, Beth may be the most saintly, but Jo is the one you actually want to hang out with. Boyish, bookish and outspoken, Jo refuses to conform to the expectations of friends and family, including when it comes to marrying her loaded best friend Laurie.
Jo’s words and imagination tend to run away with her, meaning that more often than not she’s putting her foot in it – just like a real person.
Her story may end in marriage, but the fact that it’s to an eccentric older German man who helps her run a school for boys makes the whole thing a little more Jo.
Catherine Morland – Northanger Abbey
“She had nothing to do but to forgive herself and be happier than ever.”
Catherine is every teenage girl. Resigning herself (rightly or no) to the fact that she’ll never be the prettiest girl in the room, agonising for hours (if not days) about what people think and getting herself into a flap about the man of her dreams – we’ve all been to those places several times before.
We sympathise with Catherine, but also see a little too much of ourselves in her (if you don’t, congratulations on having far smoother-running teenage years than I!) In any rom com, Catherine would be the goofy sidekick, but Austen rightfully gives her centre stage and a fairy-tale ending in her first novel.
The heroines of these books and others have one message: being yourself, yawning personality flaws and all, is what will make you happy in the long run. Ladies, I salute you.
Isobel is a freelance blogger and writer who specialises in getting into the head of the lost at sea 20-something (namely, her own). When not writing, she enjoys yoga, cheese-eating and watching trashy TV. Follow her on Twitter @ireadpastbtime to see the life you too could lead if you spent all your time on the internet.