Feisty romantic heroines

Freind contends that pre-feminism, virtually all independant, strong-minded female characters were “shrews” that needed to be tamed if they were ever to fit into a happy conventional marriage.

I agree in part, but argue that she is oversimplifying and that there are many cases where feminine independance is problematic or excessive, but also attractive and appealing; and that while some characters are tamed in part, (e.g. Tracy Lord) that does not mean their independance is totally extinguished (As Kate’s is if you take the last scene of the Shakespeare play at face value). Some examples of what I’m talking about would be some of Katherine Hepburn’s characters, or Mary Kate Danaher in The Quiet Man. Bacall wouldn’t work as the characters she was playing, while both strong-minded and attractive, were not headed for a conventional, happpily-ever-after marriage-and-kids ending. (These are all film characters, but literary ones are sought as well.)

The contention is that the message to girls was that you had to choose between either being independant and strong-willed or else having a husband and children and domestic happiness; I am looking for contradictions to that contention.

IIRC, Star in Robert Heinlein’s Glory Road remains independent to the end, and gets the guy. Heinlein seemed to like portraying strong women, and though they would often settle down at the end, they didn’t stop being feisty.

I present to you Claire Fraser of The Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. A feistier, more independent, strong-willed heroine would be hard to find, but she also has a happy marriage and children. In fact, it is her very independence and feistiness that Jamie loves most.

The original feisty heroine is Elizabeth Bennet.

Eowyn, the Shieldmaiden of Rohan was pretty damned feisty and strong.

(Some have argued that her putting away her sword and turning to healing showed a weakness, but I think it was more that she was tired of war and bloodshed, and wanted to do something that would aid life, rather than destroy it.)

Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Dejah Thoris? Definitely pre-feminist, definitely non-domestic, and I’d do 'er.

Beatrice was pretty feisty in Much Ado About Nothing. (My favourite Shakespeare comedy, by the way.)

As I recall, the unnamed narrator eventually ditched Star because he wasn’t willing to be the obedient and submissive one in the relationship. He returned to Earth, found that he didn’t like living there, and decided to spend his life as a planet-hoping freelance adventurer, but I think he never relinked with Star.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any books written before 1970 that would contradict Furt’s friend’s assertion. Some of the fantasy novels of E. R. Eddison and James Branch Cabell do feature strong-willed women, but they’re typically minor characters and it’s not clear whether they lived “happily ever after”.

I just picked up a book on Robert Riskin and realized he was pretty good with independent women characters. It Happened One Night is really about a woman trying to become independent from her controlling relatives – and Gable doesn’t get her until someone blows Joshua’s horn, indicating that she is in control in one way or another, at the end.

Jean Arthur stays pretty independent all the way through Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Indeed, Arthur generally played very independent women (see The Devil and Miss Jones where she stands up to her boss throughout).

30s movies – especially Warner Brothers movies – abounded with women like that. Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday goes toe-to-to with Cary Grant for the entire film.

And, of course Mae West never softened in anything. If she got the guy, you can be sure she had the upper hand.

Jo in Little Women is independent and strong-minded, although she settles down with Professor Bauer in the end. Jo is an interesting character, because even though she doesn’t fit the traditional model of femininity, she retains her attachment and loyalty to her family, and her family never wavers in their love and support for her. She does mellow as the book progresses, but I see that as her maturing more than anything else.

Holly Hunter in Always.

Francie Nolan, the protagonist of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, as well as her mother, Katie, was fiercely independent and hated the idea of being submissive and demure.

Katie, at one point, it is said, feels her life is incomplete without “a man to love her”, but I saw that more as being lonely after the death of her husband, and wanting a companion, now that her older children are leaving the nest. She hated the idea of taking in charity even after Johnny Nolan dies and she has two children and a newborn baby to take care of. She said she’d rather seal up the entire apartment, then turn on all the gas jets before she’d accept a charity basket.

Anne Shirley, of Anne of Green Gables. How long did it take for Gilbert to win her, for her to finally break down and admit she loved him in return? And even then she still kept writing, I believe.
And a real life heroine-Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Santa Yeager, in O. Henry’s Hearts and Crosses.

The women are usually the ones pulling the strings in screwball comedies, and It Happened One Night kind of defined the genre.

I read those books again awhile back. Maybe it was because Ingalls was a product of her times, where ladies were shy and retiring, but in the books Laura never comes out and says she loves Almanzo. I think the closest she comes to is “We belong together.” She also doesn’t allow him to put his arm around her or kiss her until they’re engaged, but again, that may just be the morals of the time.

I get the feeling that Caroline Ingalls was pretty strong-willed and independent. She put her foot down a few times in the Little House books.

Most of L. M. Montgomery’s heroines were spunky- Anne, Emily, Valancy, Pat, Jane.

Julia and Cordelia (from Brideshead Revisited) were both strong women. Admittedly Cordelia isn’t a romantic heroine, but Julia certainly is, and she certainly has strength of character and moral resolve.

I don’t think Jane Eyre Rochester was ever very submissive, either.

I don’t know when exactly you would claim to be the era of feminism, but let’s say that it began in 1970. Some of you are giving examples from books written well after 1970 (Gabaldon, for example). It doesn’t matter if these books were about characters from long before feminism, that’s not an example of what the OP is asking about. Indeed, if a book written this year about a romantic heroine in 1800 showed her as feisty, then the portrayal (it could be argued) is unrealistic. The OP is asking a question about fiction written in pre-feminist times, not about life in pre-feminist times.

Of course, in those kinda novels we never find out what the subsequent marriage was like and how much freedom the heroine was able to keep.

Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights . . . OK, bad example.

Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter . . . OK, worse example.