Flavorwire: Katniss and Hermione and Jane Eyre — but no Bella?

Where to begin with this Flavorwire assessment of 10 of the Most Powerful Female Characters in Literature? Do we need to note first the absence of any characters not made into popular films? Or should we mention the evident bias against women who find love and marriage rewarding, not to mention faith of any kind? Jane Austen’s heroines are shut out, Anne of Green Gables is a loser, and Shakespeare’s shrewish, brilliant Kate is a non-starter. How about literature beginning in the 14th century? No Penelope, Clytemnestra, or Beatrice for this power focused group of feminist readers… and don’t tell me you believe Mulan makes the list except for the Disney flick and an ironic nod to cultural diversity.

How about just the mistakes and mistaken memes? Hermione is the only member of the Terrible Trio that never falls apart come crunch time? Katniss Everdeen “annoys us to no end with all her boy-related waffling and wailing”? I think this bizarre “annoyance” and the love note addressed to Jane Eyre (” Though she suffers greatly, she always relies on herself to get back on her feet — no wilting damsel in distress here”) are meant to be arrows aimed at Bella Swan. Because we all know Bella is stupid, totally boy crazy and dependent, and incapable of independent feminist action, right?

For the counter-spell or antidote to this political correctness about Twilight, check out these posts at The Briarfield Chronicles about both Keats’ Eve of St. Agnes and Lamia. There’s a lot more to Bella than those despising so-called ‘Chick Lit’ would have you think (as in “all of Victorian letters,” none of whose heroines made the powerful list, either). Considering the deep Jane Eyre roots of Bella’s Twilight adventures, it’s a hoot that she is left off as ‘despised’ on a list that her ancestor and inspiration tops.

Really, where’s the love? Or the parameters? I do love this kind of list because of the things it reveals, most notably, the blinders and biases of the list makers, not to mention the opportunity to make a sweeping review of Canon. And this Flavorwire piece was rich in both regards. (Hat tips to Prof. Baird-Hardy and Caroline at Briarfield).


  1. I concur with the commenter who mentioned Lucy Pevensie (for her strong convictions) and Elinor Dashwood (who basically guides and cares for her mother and sisters). Though I wouldn’t have included Bellatrix. 🙂

    Interesting if annoying post suggesting that in one small sense, Bella is more empowered than Katniss here on Salon.

  2. Thanks, Jenna, for that Salon link!

    Here is why Laura Miller thinks Bella the more empowered heroine than Katniss:

    Underlying Katniss’ unacknowledged mixed feelings is the trilogy’s own profound ambivalence about desire and power. In some ways, Katniss is more passive than Bella, allowed to have all kinds of goodies but only if she demonstrates her virtue by not really wanting them in the first place. At the beginning of “Mockingjay,” Katniss seems to finally break out of this bind by making a free, affirmative choice to don the Mockingjay costume for the rebel broadcasts. In contrast to the Capitol, the rebels won’t force her to perform, and despite certain similarities in style, Katniss is no brainwashed Patty Hearst. “We can’t go back,” she tells one of her admirers when she decides to actively back the uprising, “Death to the fascist insect that preys on the life of the People!” — no, wait: that last bit was Patty Hearst. And then, at last, she asserts the one thing (besides being left alone in the woods) that she truly desires: revenge. In a startling departure from character, she demands the right to kill the evil president of the Capitol herself.

    No surprise, this leads to pages and pages of highly imaginative, video-game-like carnage followed by coda full of mournful ruminations on the folly and tragedy of war. It’s a little like an orgy movie that concludes with the characters deciding that they prefer monogamy after all. Part of this is a classic American ambivalence: We love violence, fame, the media and wealth — all of the apparatus of power — even if we claim to disapprove of these things. Our pop culture narratives invariably default to violent resolutions, but not before explaining that the hero had no other option than to blow the bad guy away in a climactic smackdown-plus-explosion. It was self-defense! An accident! Saving the world! He drove me to it! I didn’t want to — I’m not that kind of guy. He made me!

    But this sort of passive-aggressive emotional logic is not unfamiliar to certain romance novels, either: The hero makes the heroine accept what she craves while she gets to deny how much she craves it. Need I add that this demonstrates a twisted attitude toward female desire?

    If Katniss sought to be the center of attention, if she chose to string along two handsome young men more than willing to give their lives for hers, if she wanted to have her every movement photographed and admired, if she dreamed of leading the revolution, if she longed to compete and to win — if she had any ambition at all — she would be a bad girl by such a standard. Perhaps we’d be scrutinizing and critiquing her character the way so many of us (myself included) have dissected Bella Swan’s. For all her irritating flaws, Bella, at least, has the courage of her desire. For what, besides a well-earned vengeance, does Katniss Everdeen truly hunger?

    I am not a Laura Miller fan, as readers of this blog know; she invariably applies a politically correct filter to genre fiction for which such treatment is a clumsy and more often than not grossly misleading application. This is nowhere more evident than in the above compare-and-contrast of romance and dystopian fiction (well, no, her take on Narnia is the best example of this ‘the political moral is the only layer of meaning permissible in the contra-metanarrative metanarrative — “Truth to Power” or nothing!’).

    Having said that, I was cheered that Bella got the best of Katniss at Salon, as empty as the comparison must be, really. The Queen of Forks deserves a break, even if it has to come as always with a demeaning, misogynist slap at the Romance Writer as Moron (by definition) [cf., “Collins (is) more culturally literate than Meyer by far”].

    Thanks again, Jenna!

  3. I think a forgotten heroine, Lucy Snowe, from Charlotte Bronte’s Villette would have done as well. Do you notice that acknowledged heroines are those who are in a relationship or get married, and end up resolving their issues? If the odyssey is greater and the issues unresolved despite the heroine’s strength it shows how brave they are to confront it. Like Hamlet. Lucy’s suffered far more than many literary heroines but she survives. Her life isn’t a perpetual bliss but as she has carved out her own identity despite being plain, unwanted and having no real adventures, you have to applaud her. She has survived the social forces of poverty and solitude, and that is something. She doesn’t rely on a man either though she is not impervious to human affections. As she is far unluckier than other heroines she is a true tragic figure to uphold. For a more passive heroine, try Anne Elliott (though I wouldn’t really call her tragic and heroic).

  4. I don’t fault a heroine who would willingly die for love (you could argue its epic in emotion that way) but what I can’t forgive in Bella was she led Jacob on despite loving (lusting?) Edward. She kissed him just to make him do as she bade him, which was not only giving him false hopes, but cheating on Edward. Much as I dislike Edward, encouraging a heroine to cheat on a boyfriend, no matter how lame, isn’t sweet or romantic. Her kissing Jacob has only destroyed whatever respect I might have had for her depth of love for Edward. Also, it would have been great that a weak heroine emotionally dependent on her boyfriend could have exerted her strength in a passive way (refusing Jacob firmly and absolutely, and not using him as an Edward-substitute). She chose to rely on Jacob and shattered whatever nobility existed in the series.

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