It is nigh on impossible to pick just ten heroes from the plethora of books I have read over the years. To narrow it down, I decided to concentrate on the characters who stayed with me long after I read the final chapter; characters whom I used as a yardstick to measure the charm and integrity of others; and characters that I simply enjoyed for their unique and enduring appeal. After much deliberation, I came up with this list:
1. Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell)
Scarlett is rebellious and manipulative but at the same time she is so full of passion, courage and determination that it is impossible not to admire her spirit. She is unafraid to buck convention: when she is young for her own gain; as she matures out of sheer loyalty to those she loves and protects. She is one of the vainest, fiercest and possibly least insightful characters I have ever read, and I simply adore her.
2. Fitzwilliam Darcy (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)
So great is his love for Elizabeth Bennett, he moves heaven and earth to save the reputation of her sister Lydia, one of Austen’s least likeable characters. Moreover, he is man enough to admit his failings and mistakes, and concede his pride. He is literature’s perfect gentleman.
3. Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte)
She is a strong, intelligent woman and like so many literary protagonists, well before her time. She utters one of the most powerfully moving short sentences in literary history: “Reader, I married him”.
© Catherine Powers 2011
4. Neville Longbottom (Harry Potter series, J.K.Rowling)
Much like the ugly duckling, Neville blossoms into an extraordinary young man and leader in the Deathly Hallows. Throughout the previous Harry Potter books Neville is constantly bullied and harassed, yet he never loses his pleasant demeanour, nor does he waver from his hatred of Voldemort or his loyalty towards his family.
5. Fanny Price (Mansfield Park, Jane Austen)
Fanny is regarded as Austen’s least likeable heroine, but she is one of my favourites. Fanny has to endure hardship and discrimination but never ever yields from her admirable scruples and innate goodness. Her childhood is hideous, she is treated poorly at Mansfield Park, particularly by the revolting Mrs Norris, yet she is never tempted to change who she is. Like all of Austen’s women she extremely self-assured, yet unlike Emma, she is not arrogant in her self-acceptance.
6. Jean Pagett (A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute)
As a teenage girl I was mesmerised by Jean in A Town Like Alice. She spent three years as a POW being marched around Malaysia, surviving the brutalities of war. Later when she finds out Joe Harman is still alive, she travels half way around the world to a very foreign country to find him. She endures the harshness of outback Australia with dignity and humour, and shows entrepreneurial skill in an era when women garnered little co-operation or respect in doing so. She is one tough lady.
7. Rhett Butler (Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell)
Much as I don’t want to list two characters from the same book (even if it is a Pulitzer Prize winner), it would be dishonest of me not to include Rhett as one of my favourite heroes. Despite his best attempts to appear otherwise, Rhett is a decent, caring and sympathetic man. Extremely intelligent, impeccably dressed, warm and sensual he may be literature’s first metrosexual.
8. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee)
The most honourable man and father in literature, progressive, tolerant and well before his time, Atticus is a true literary hero.
9. Felix (Once, Morris Gleitzman , and the sequels Then and Now)
Felix is possibly the most candid, clever, funny and likeable boy I’ve read in recent years. In a novel that tackles one of the most tragic times in modern history, the Holocaust, Gleitzman manages to create a character who is utterly charming. Felix is a beautiful hero as his spirit never changes despite the trauma he endures.
10. Grandma Mazur (Stephanie Plum books, Janet Evanovich)
Indulge me. The Stephanie Plum books could hardly be called literature, but Grandma Mazur has to be on this list because she makes me laugh out loud and I want to be just like her when I grow up.
With special mentions to: Madame (Emma) Bovary, Elizabeth Bennett, Emma Woodhouse, Anna Karenina, Holly Golightly and the Cat in the Hat.
Who is your favourite literary character?