February 5, 2013

Flawed at Heart

Back in December, after I wrote a post on strawmen in literature and followed it up with a list of just a few significantly flawed literary heroes, someone asked if I could do the same for heroines.  Since then it has been on my list of Things to Write About, but I find it is not so easy as I thought it would be. Perhaps it is because I prefer writing and reading from the hero's perspective, and find when I look on my shelves that most books have male protagonists.  It may also be because most of those books are classics, and classics tend to have sweet, charming, innocent heroines.  However, it really wouldn't do to put off this post any longer, so I will make do with what I can dig up.

Thus, Joy, here is the best response I can muster.

anne of green gables

We can hardly start talking about flawed heroines without running headlong into this red-haired girl, who broke a slate over a boy's head for calling her 'carrots.'  Anne Shirley is nothing if not flawed.  Her imagination is her most memorable feature, and while it brings charm and life to those around her, it is most certainly a double-sided blade.  She has a temper to match the color of her hair; which of us does not remember her flying in Mrs. Lynde's face and calling her a sour old gossip?  She could talk both hind legs off the proverbial mule (who is always getting, in my opinion, the short end of the stick).  Less prominent, but perhaps more basic, are her struggles with pride and her propensity to hold grudges for ridiculously long periods of time.

pride & prejudice

We brought up Mr. Darcy's flaws last time, so it would hardly be fair to leave Elizabeth Bennet from the picture this time.  She primarily represents the second half of Jane Austen's memorable title, for she judges upon appearance and is adamant concerning her own hasty opinions.  (This is a trait shared by another well-loved heroine, Margaret Hale of North & South - understandably, perhaps, since Mr. Darcy and Mr. Thornton also share significant flaws.)  Elizabeth has a sharp tongue, as well, a fault many of us - myself included! - can easily relate to.  These flaws, like Anne's, are some of the most fundamental aspects of her overall literary character.

the scarlet pimpernel

Another heroine this list could not do without.  Lady Blakeney, wife of the foppish Sir Percy, appears at first blush to be even more flawed than either Elisabeth Bennet or Anne Shirley.  Though a commoner during the Reign of Terror, she is quite as proud as any aristocrat.  Her revenging herself upon a man who wronged her and her brother leads to the death of the man's entire family by the guillotine.  And, of course, when we meet her she is estranged from her husband, scornful (albeit deservedly) of his ways, and something of a flirt.  When pressed between a moral Scylla and Charybdis, Marguerite is also willing to sacrifice her conscience to save her brother's life.  The tension of The Scarlet Pimpernel pretty much revolves around Marguerite's moral flaws.

the queen's thief

Again, Eugenides, the Thief of Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief series, meets his match in the character of the Queen of Attolia.  The Queen has attained her position as most monarchs of her kingdom have in years past: through brutality.  She is willing to kill - and more particularly, to murder - to attain the safety and prestige of Attolia.  Rigidly just, but almost never merciful, she will extract her pound of flesh from anyone who crosses her.  Indeed, the Queen has few good traits at all.  Turner only manages to procure the reader's sympathy by revealing the moral struggle that still goes on inside the Queen, and by showing how other, better-loved characters feel about her.


Judy Abbott, the heroine of Jean Webster's Daddy-Long-Legs, is not such an obviously flawed character as the above-mentioned protagonists; but like any good character, the defects are there.  In escaping the rigidity of the orphanage in which she was raised, Judy naturally exercises her newfound freedom and pursues her own way in all things.  She is frequently obstinate, sometimes rude, and quite willing to flout the little authority that "Daddy-Long-Legs" attempts to employ.  Quite feminist and strong-willed, she can actually be rather irritating.

the gammage cup

This character, Muggles, is even less clearly flawed.  In general, she is quite the stand-up gal, quiet, patient, the sort of character who minds her own business and lets others mind theirs.  However, this personality lends itself to other kinds of flaws.  Muggles can be too meek, too submissive, and more willing to be walked on than to risk defending herself - aspects of her personality that only serve to make her more uniquely amazing as a heroine.  There are no fireworks about Muggles, as there are with Elizabeth Bennet or Marguerite Blakeny.  She is a simple, normal person with simple, normal flaws.  She aptly illustrates the truth that a character need not have prominent flaws in order for the reader to see his or her growth; the struggles may be much smaller than a hot temper or murderous grudges.  The flaw need only be real, and the author need only bring it to light.


  1. Well I do like this list. Very good choices of the heroines, and I feel enabled to say that because all but Muggles are very well known to me. Marguerite. Oh Law, yes. She's quite annoying at times and yet we love her. Emma Woodhouse, too, I think. (And I only thought of *her* because I've always pegged Marguerite as looking just like Barbara Spooner in Amazing Grace who was played by Romola Garai who in turn played Emma in the 2009 version. Sheesh. Running on here...)

  2. This was fun! Love Anne and Elizabeth. Have Daddy Long Legs up on my shelf, but have yet to read it. Another character that comes to mind....Emily Starr from L. M. Montgomery's Emily series.


  3. Jane Eyre comes to mind because when authority is unjustly mean, she feels like there is no justice in the world and is fierce, though I'm not sure if that is a flaw.
    Good list! Is the Gammage Cup a good book?

  4. Aww, thank you, Abigail dear, for making this lovable list of flawed heroines! While I confess to have not read any of the books these characters come from, almost all but the last two are unfamiliar and they're all such good examples :).

    To be honest I think Muggles from 'Gammage Cup' is my type of flawed character whom I enjoy the most especially for main character heroines. I don't know, but I honestly find it so hard to find and allow my main characters to have flaws (Valerius, Claudia, Jane...). It is just such a struggle to make them have any major weaknesses or character idiosyncrasies/faults. I usually come up with far more three-dimensional and realistically flawed characters in secondary characters... I guess that has something to do with my love of great heroes in general and hate being annoyed by a main character, especially a female. But so far, my secondary characters have not annoyed me and have actually captured my attention a lot better.

    Whatever it is, I really need to work more on finding the flaws in my heroines :D.

    P.S. I echo's Writer4Christ's question. How good a book is Gammage Cup?

  5. ooops, I mean that none but the last two characters are unfamiliar ;). I definitely know something of Miss Shirley!!!!!!

  6. The Gammage Cup is only one of the best books out there. Not exaggerating.

  7. Rachel - Oh, Emma Woodhouse is definitely Austen's most flawed character; Catherine Morland doesn't count, since she was really just a flighty twit with too much curiosity. And Romola Garai does a brilliant job. I wonder how she would do as Marguerite...

    Becca - I heartily recommend "Daddy-Long-Legs" as a light read for a rainy day: it a lovely, whimsical, happy sort of book. I haven't read the Emily books, I'm afraid. I am not well versed in Montgomery's works, apart from the Anne series!

    Writer - Hmm, interesting thought. I know Charles Dickens thought Jane was a flawed character; he considered her impudent, while Bronte thought Dickens' Esther Summerson was a doormat! Personally, I would call Jane a strong character, but I don't see many prominent flaws in her. She's a very "stand-up" sort of gal.

    And yes, "The Gammage Cup" most certainly is a good book! It may be a children's novel, but it ought to be read by everyone. It's clever, witty, and just all around brilliant.

    Joy - I can see what you mean about character flaws. As I mentioned in "Flawed to the Bone," flaws have to be integral to the character, developing along with the character just as they would in a real person. It can be difficult to pinpoint them, though - and then there's the danger of trying to stamp them out. I think one important thing to realize is that flaws do not lessen a character's appeal. We wouldn't love Anne Shirley if she weren't a firebrand; we wouldn't be carried along with Elizabeth's wit if she weren't prejudiced; John Thornton wouldn't be unique if he wasn't a hard-nosed mill-owner. Heavens! I don't think I'd love Charlie Bent if he weren't a lying fop.

    Like you said, flaws are just another dimension to a character, and they really do capture our attention more. They can be frightening, but we can't let that scare us away from them.

  8. I shall read then! In return, I heartily recommend the Emily series! The characters are more alive than most of the books I've ever read. :)



meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
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Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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