It’s lilac time in Calgary. You can’t walk down the streets without noticing the wonderful smell of spring:lilacs!
I frequently walk, on my close-to-home adventures, past a house with really old lilac bushes, the kind of bushes that look more like trees. Of course, this house happens to be Nellie McClung’s house. How wonderful to live in the same neighbourhood of one of Canada’s most amazing women!
Nellie McClung is one of Canada’s Famous Five; five women who fought to have women recognized as persons, and to sit in Senate. As a Canadian woman, I am grateful to these women for fighting for their rights, and the rights of all Canadians.
As I was walking and thinking of Nellie McClung this week, the Famous Five, and the lilac scent, I couldn’t help but remember some of the most influential female characters that have helped to shape me. When I got to thinking of these characters, I realized that there are some truly amazing female characters in fiction! I was talking with my Mom on the phone about the strange presence of strong-willed and independent women in Victorian/Edwardian literature and we had a great conversation about how these female characters were created by strong women who were encouraged in their writing and in their independence. So please indulge me as I list some of my favourite Victorian/Edwardian heroines.
1.) Helen Graham/Huntingdon from Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.
Tenant of Wildfell Hall is one of those books that captured me right away. When I was in high school I started to read this book one evening after supper and I didn’t put it down until I had finished it when my alarm clock went off (needlessly) the next morning. This novel is the story of Helen. Helen is a woman who definitely has a strong backbone. Although she makes a mistake in marrying the wrong man when she is young, she sticks to her values and stays strong. When her husband becomes abusive toward her and her son, she gets up and leaves. Not only does she move out on her own (which would have been unheard of at the time Bronte was writing), but she also supports herself by selling her paintings in London. At a time when women were sometimes used and abused (just think of Millicent), Helen takes charge of her own life and stands tall.
2.) Anne Elliot from Persuasion by Jane Austen
Just like Helen, Anne makes a bad decision as a young girl: she refuses the offer of marriage from the man she loves in order to please her family (they persuade her to refuse). Again, this is a novel that captivated me. It is the only Austen novel that I have reread. This story is about Anne. Yes, Anne felt obligated to her family when they told her to refuse Officer Wentworth and her obedience to her family does cause her eight years of heartache and sorrow, yet she triumphs in the end. The reason why Anne is on my list is because she stays true to who she is and when her true love (the now Captain Wentworth) shows up, she stands up for herself and refuses to be persuaded into marrying anyone but Captain Wentworth (even though her family tries to persuade her into marrying her cousin). She is a character that remains constant and after her mistake of being persuaded as a young woman, she learns from her mistakes and makes a life on her own terms. I love that in the 1995 film adaptation that the final scene shows Anne onboard Wentworth’s ship and she looks truly alive and free.
3.) Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
I know I have already written about Jane Eyre on this blog, yet I couldn’t complete my list without her! Ms. Eyre is independent, strong-willed, fierce, creative, intelligent, and willing to go on her own rather than sacrifice what she believes in as true. As a teenager, I loved this novel and connected with this young, artistic, and sensitive character. She makes her own way on her own terms and possesses an amazingly strong backbone.
4.) Margaret Hale from North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
I will admit that this is a case where I saw the film adaptation before I read the book, but I loved both. I will also admit that at the beginning, Margaret is a silly girl with naive ideas and ideals. Yet, as the pressure on her increases (like finding a house to rent for her and her even sillier father), she steps up and shows that she is courageous. She even faces a mob of strikers at a cotton mill, for which she gets a rock thrown at her head. Margaret is not afraid to speak her mind, share her opinions, and eventually make smart business deals with her fortune. She is not reliant or dependent on anyone and chooses to have a man, John Thornton, in her life.
5.) Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
Again, Pride and Prejudice is a case where I saw the Colin Firth adaptation before I read the book. In fact, my favourite history teacher and I would talk about this film and Colin Firth at length. When I graduated, she gave me a copy of Pride and Prejudice as a going away present. So from a strong woman I received a book about a strong, independent woman! As tempting as it was to put up a picture of Colin Firth in his wet shirt (I think of Bridget Jones when I say that), I wanted to make sure I found a picture of Elizabeth in her full glory. Elizabeth is independent, intelligent, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Moreover, she is not afraid to turn down insulting marriage proposals. While her best friend Charlotte marries just to be married, Elizabeth seeks more in her marriage and eventually gets what she wants. She is not good and submissive like her older sister nor wicked and silly like her younger sister: she is unique and stands up for herself and her beliefs.
My summer goal is to learn more about Nellie McClung and the Famous Five. I have a lot to be thankful for as a woman living in Canada, and I know that reading the stories of these five women will be an inspiration. Stay tuned for my non-fiction list of inspirational women!
Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. (1 Peter 2:16)
The truth will set you free. (John 8:32b)