Novels with emotionally courageous women
June 24, 2020 10:49 AM   Subscribe

I want to be inspired by female characters who are able to say difficult things, articulate their needs, and create honest, meaningful relationships.

I often lack courage to say what I really feel. Sometimes I don't even know what I really feel. Feed me some inspiring women who know how to do this. I like realistic, contemporary literary fiction, but others may like other genres, so whatever you'd like to recommend is fine.
posted by Frenchy67 to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
 
Persuasion by Jane Austen
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Not quite your question, but I think you’ll still like the Olive Kitteridge books by Elizabeth Strout, for a strong female character who speaks her mind freely but is often not quite sure of her needs or what she really feels.
posted by sallybrown at 10:58 AM on June 24, 2020 [5 favorites]


Oh wow the Elena Ferrante novels
posted by clew at 11:42 AM on June 24, 2020 [7 favorites]


The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery.
posted by orrnyereg at 11:56 AM on June 24, 2020 [7 favorites]


So the book Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is about a woman with a traumatic past gradually growing into a place where she can be more emotionally courageous. She is very much not emotionally courageous at the start, but the journey is rewarding. I don't know if this is the sort of thing you're looking for.
posted by zeusianfog at 11:57 AM on June 24, 2020 [4 favorites]


Villette by Charlotte Bronte.
Anything at all by Ursula Le Guin, but especially the later Earthsea novels, Tehanu and The Other Wind.
Fucking Octavia Butler holy shit you will never read more implacable clear-eyed women characters.
Hild by Nicola Griffith.
Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston? It's been a while since I read that one.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 12:01 PM on June 24, 2020 [7 favorites]


I like the character Dalva in the book by the same name. She's very no-nonsense and empowered.
posted by salvia at 12:45 PM on June 24, 2020


Villette by Charlotte Bronte.

Honestly I think Jane Eyre also fits the bill. She says difficult things, articulates her needs, and (literally) walks away from relationships when they're not right. It does take her a long time initially to act on her romantic feelings--partly because of the power dynamic--but once that relationship is established she communicates her needs insistently.
posted by trig at 1:17 PM on June 24, 2020 [10 favorites]


Marmie in Little Women is emotionally courageous and I think the narrator in A Room of One's Own is as well.

Sorry, I wish I had more contemporary books to mention.
posted by Duffington at 2:12 PM on June 24, 2020 [1 favorite]


They are both YA, but Chime by Franny Billingsley and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.
posted by Jeanne at 2:34 PM on June 24, 2020 [1 favorite]


Cold Comfort Farm.
posted by Mchelly at 2:56 PM on June 24, 2020 [2 favorites]


Linda Holmes's 2019 Evvie Drake Starts Over.
posted by correcaminos at 3:35 PM on June 24, 2020 [1 favorite]


If you're okay with historical romance, Rose Lerner's books are fantastic for this, especially Sweet Disorder and the novella Promised Land, which was part of the anthology Hamilton's Battalion.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 3:39 PM on June 24, 2020


So the book Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is about a woman with a traumatic past gradually growing into a place where she can be more emotionally courageous. She is very much not emotionally courageous at the start, but the journey is rewarding. I don't know if this is the sort of thing you're looking for.

I just finished this one yesterday and I think this is a good example because she goes from being a strong woman who says what she thinks but in a way that isn't effective to being a strong woman who figures out how to pitch what she is trying to get across in a way that does herself justice and also makes it more amenable to the person she's speaking to at the time. That might make her sound like she has become a pushover but she hasn't - she learns exactly what you are looking for: to build honest, meaningful relationships.
posted by urbanlenny at 3:44 PM on June 24, 2020 [3 favorites]


SF and fantasy, Lois McMaster Bujold's work focused on Cordelia (SF) and Paladin of Souls (fantasy).
posted by geek anachronism at 3:47 PM on June 24, 2020 [4 favorites]


I came in to say Lois McMaster Bujold as well - especially Cordelia in the Vorkosigan Saga, but also Ista in Paladin of Souls and Fawn in the Sharing Knife series, and plenty of minor characters in all three series as well.
posted by bananacabana at 6:29 PM on June 24, 2020 [1 favorite]


Read Molly Ivins and watch the movie. She apparently was not great at relationships, was an alcoholic, was a terrific writer and advocate, and I miss her.
posted by theora55 at 7:41 PM on June 24, 2020 [1 favorite]


Middlemarch and Howards' End!
posted by aws17576 at 9:51 PM on June 24, 2020 [2 favorites]


This may be off the wall, but Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle leapt into my mind. tt has a passage about emotional independence that resonated strongly with me when I read it. It’s short.
posted by bluebird at 2:34 AM on June 25, 2020


The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell.
posted by codhavereturned at 6:28 AM on June 25, 2020 [1 favorite]


In the fantasy sphere, Robin McKinley, Naomi Novrik and The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S Tepper all jump to mind as being great for this.
Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Armin is a lovely gentle example of emotionally courageous women where you don't have to wade through horrible things happening to anyone, which I really appreciate.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall would be my pick of any Bronte novel - I've read way too many takedowns of Jane Eyre lately to feel right recommending it for most circumstances.
posted by dotparker at 10:49 AM on June 26, 2020


I am constantly recommending Marge Piercy novels here but her heroines are so great at this. They know what they want and they go after it. I especially love her historical epics, because they are full of women going after what they want even when that was extremely difficult for women (especially the working-class women she writes about). Gone to Soldiers (about WWII) is the best, but Sex Wars (about the suffrage movement after the Civil War) and City of Darkness, City of Light (about the French Revolution) are great too.

Jennifer Weiner's novels are good for this - not quite so literary (though she's famously pushed back on this judgment!) but full of gutsy, confident women.

Seconding Octavia Butler.

Lately I've been into reading memoirs, and really enjoyed the memoirs by Cameron Esposito, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, and Glennon Doyle (the latter being a lot cooler than I expected).
posted by lunasol at 12:57 PM on July 2, 2020


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