Those who like medieval literature, and read things like Mallory “La Morte d’Arthur,” have gotten used to the damsel in distress who appears (out of nowhere) in the forest from time to time, and the knight has to save her – which is not always possible. And what happens is that the knight cuts off the lady’s head and takes it with him as a symbol of his failure. I know… creepy.
- Read it: Literary genres: Fiction
We don’t even have to say that this type of character is out of date, do we? Today, the debut of our series “Characters Who Made History,” let’s talk a little bit about the evolution of these characters and try to understand what the future holds.
Before this sinister phase of knights carrying girls’ heads around, we have unforgettable characters like Penelope (in Odyssey), who waits for Odysseus for several years, deceiving her suitors. Although Penelope is theoretically only waiting for her beloved, she is not inactive. She stayed there, weaving and unweaving her quilt and got what she wanted, her man. A strategist like Sherazade of A Thousand and One Nights, who manages to stay alive by telling stories to the king.
In this vein, Emma Bovary, the protagonist of Madame Bovary of Flaubert, appears. This work of the end of Romanticism scandalized France at its release because it showed the dissatisfaction and the longings of a woman. And Women were – surprisingly – very sexually and socially repressed at that time. Flaubert even went to a popular jury because of this book! It was a complete uproar.
And for those who think that Jane Austen is beautiful and full of passionate couples, there are readings of Jane Austen that are much cruder. The idea that her work is romantic is considered by some to be an innocent reading. One theme that always recurs in her books is the injustice of the law of England at the time when women could not inherit anything. You were there, so focused on Elizabeth and Darcy, did you notice that Elizabeth’s family can lose their home because her parents only have female children? Yes, they all get married in the end and live happily ever after – but that too might be a requirement of the publishers at the time. If the main character were female, she would need to get married at the end of the book.
With the leveraging of women’s publications, the protagonists have changed. They are active, exposed (it was about time, after several centuries of being exposed through men’s eyes). Katniss, the iconic character of Suzane Collins, shows her strength and courage, while also showing her weaknesses. Certainly, Katniss will enter the list of memorable women.
Literature is full of wonderful women… and the next protagonist to enter the history of great women characters may be yours.
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