Candice Carty Williams on her Favourite Heroic Women in Literature
In Queenie Jenkins, Candice Carty Williams has created one of the most memorable female protagonists in twenty-first century fiction. In this exclusive article the author of Queenie, the Waterstones Book of the Month for February, reveals her favourite heroic literary women.
My character, Queenie, spends the whole novel trying to understand how to be her own personal hero, and she was borne out of my love of heroic women in literature. Women who were varying in strength, but still powerful in character. When I was asked to choose some of my favourite literary heroes, they were all ready for selection) at the front of my mind. From Nancy in Oliver Twist to Adrian Mole’s grandmother by way of Sephy in Noughts and Crosses, here are six characters who taught me all of the different but powerful faces that heroism can have.
Georgia Nicholson from Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
I don’t think I’ve had an interview where I haven’t cited Georgia as one of the best female characters of all time. I think she’s the funniest literary creation I’ve ever read, and when I came to her when I was around thirteen, I really needed her. She’s the central cog in her friendship group, she’s kind of selfish, but she’s charming and she’s hilarious. She also isn’t always likeable. Remind you of anyone?
Edna May Mole in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend
Another book that basically informed my entire youth, I’ve got to give a shout out not just to the whole Mole family, but specifically to Adrian’s grandmother, Edna. Remember when Adrian was being bullied by Barry Kent and nobody really did anything about it? And then his grandma found out that Barry had been stealing Adrian’s pocket money? And said ‘wait here.’ And then came back with all of the money that Barry had been stealing? How could she not be a hero? That’s hero energy right there.
Nancy from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Nancy really went through it, didn’t she? Nancy was kind, she was loyal, she was loving, caring, and became unofficial big sister to a group of street urchins who were adamant on taking up any personal time she got for herself when she wasn’t running after Bill Sikes. Long live Nancy. She taught me how to be selfless, and what it was to be a tart with a heart (as she’s so lovingly often described). Nancy met such a horrible end, didn’t she? In my mind I pretend she managed to kill Bill before he could get her first. Either way, she’s still strength personified.
Rachel Samstat in Heartburn by Nora Ephron
I myself have been described once or twice (or countless times) as neurotic, and that’s fine because so is Rachel Samstat, the autobiographical imagining of Ephron herself. One of my best friends forced me to read this on a train while she slept opposite me (probably so that I could stop disturbing her with my neurotic questions) and I laughed so much at the relatability of the main character that I disturbed her anyway. Sorry, Lettice, maybe you should get some more boring friends???
Sephy (Persephone) Hadley in Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Honestly. This young woman. Her strength. Her power. Her fight. The love in her heart. Her bravery. I don’t actually think I know how many times I read Noughts and Crosses as a teenager. That Sephy was brave enough to love the enemy against all odds cements her as one of my all time heroes in anything I’ve read or watched. And that ending? I want to cry onto the page about it but I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who are slacking and haven’t read it yet. That Sephy could even carry on and be strong in all five books in the series? In creating Sephy, Malorie Blackman gave us one of those heroes whose power is strong, steady and enduring.
Sethe in Beloved by Toni Morrison
So many of my literary heroes are black women who are completely oppressed by a burden we can never know, and Sethe really tops that list. She is literally haunted by her dead daughter, who returns as a ghost to upheave Sethe’s whole life. Beloved isn’t a story of overcoming and triumph, it’s a story of living with a pain of your own making that’s in turn a making of the environment you’re in. The character of Sethe is a masterclass in black women’s endurance, in fragile strength, and in a heroism that comes at a painful price.
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