Feisty romantic heroines

How about Scarlet O’Hara? She always did what she wanted, and Gone With the Wind certainly was written in pre-feminist times.

Now I think of it, Scarlett probably does not meet the OP’s requirements either. None of her marriages were happy ones. (AFAIK; I’ve only seen the movie, where she has three husbands – I’ve heard that in the novel, she has five or six.) It does appear to be a general presumption in pre-feminist literature that a woman can be an independent, strong-willed person, or a happy wife and mother, but not both at once. (Maybe both in succession.)

Three husbands in the book too–Charles Hamilton for spite, Frank Kennedy for tax money and Rhett Butler, and all the while she dreams of Ashley.

Melanie Hamilton Wilkes is the real feisty heroine of the book–she marries for love, supports Scarlett through war, poverty, hard times, and scandal, stands up to anyone who challenges her family and her beliefs, yet remains a lady the entire time. Margaret Mitchell considered Melanie “the heroine of the book.”

How about Rebecca Sharp from Vanity Fair? . . . Even worse example . . .

Possibly Scarlett’s Mother would fit. Mrs. O’Hara was described as an iron fist in a velvet glove and was really the one who ran the plantation. The impression I have is she loved her husband and family, ran the plantation and always was a lady.

Your impression is incorrect. Ellen Robelard’s true love was her cousin Pierre, who her family forbid her to marry, and he was killed in a duel, she was brokenhearted. She married Gerald only to get away from her family, and he was old enough to be her grandfather.

Wow, sure don’t remember that part. Guess I need to go back and read gone with the wind again. thanks.

It’s in the begining, when they talk about Scarlett’s parents, and how they got together.

At any rate, Gerald was always dumping problems off on poor Ellen, making her stay home from the Wilkes’s picnic in order to see about firing the overseer and such.

How about Morgan le Fay? Before she was turned into the villain of the Arthurian series, she had a positive role to play, as did the Lady of the Lake.

I remember reading in a history of censorship that movie heroines up until the 1920s were feisty types who often duked it out with the bad guys. Then the censors got in there and said it would give people bad ideas if women got in fights and got punched out by the bad guys. So the moviemakers had to stop showing wimen fighting. There went yer fiesty heroines for a long time to come.

Millamont in Congreve’s Way Of The World fits

Oh, they were plenty fiesty – the 30s are filled with them. They just didn’t use their fists.

Take a look at She Done Him Wrong or I’m No Angel, for instance. And Joan Blondell in Footlight Parade. Ginger Rogers in 42nd Street (who not only knew what she wanted, but also knew her limitations – she was strong enough to turn down the lead in the play because she knew she wasn’t right for it).

Indeed, 30s movies are filled with gold-digging women who were out to seduce wealthy men and get money on their own terms.

Incidently, the Production Code (See this site, which has the worst navigation scehem on the web) makes no mention of a ban on women fighting.

Ann Veronica - HG Wells.

Of course, it all depends what you mean by pre-feminism; feminism pretty much began with Mary Wollstonecraft in the 18th century. Since then, you could argue that practically all literature written by women (and quite a few by men, as well) are ALL about the whole problem with independence versus marriage, and coming to lots of different conclusions, so don’t so much reflect society’s opinion of women at the time as examine it. Jane Eyre, for example, is very feisty, but still needs Mr Rochester

to be half dead, and her to be a heiress, before they are equal.
Even in the 20th century, pre 1960s feminism, marriage is always seen as something of a sacrifice of personality. Harriet Vane knows that she has to choose between marrying lovely Wimsey or becoming an academic. Mrs Dalloway suspects that marriage has diminished her somewhat into a vapid society maiden. The protagonists of The Yellow Wallpaper and Wide Sargasso Sea go mad, partly from it.

So in short, I agree with the OP in that it’s a grey area.

NITPICK: Her cousin Phillippe, and she died calling his name. She got her father to approve her marriage to Gerald by threatening to become a nun if he didn’t go along with it. She is described as “an empty shell” after the death of Phillippe.

Scarlett also confused her with the Virgin Mary as a child and, as an adult, saw no reason to correct that misimpression. Ellen devoted herself utterly to her family, with the same degree of intensity, Mitchell writes, that she would have given to God as a nun. Without Phillippe, her life is over and she only exists to serve and, in fact, dies from typhoid which she contracted while tending to the sick illegitmate child of the dismissed overseer and the “white trash” neighbor, Emmy Slattery.

What book?

It’s just called “Ann Veronica”.

OP just dropping in to thank all for the contributions.

Fortean and wendell wagner make good points about the diciness of defining a time frame for “feminism” … nontheless, for purposes of this thread, we’ll say 1970 was when feminism went pop.

And while some of these are good examples of what I was looking for, the fact that many of the texts listed here are relatively obscure is leading me to suspect that **BrainGlutton ** and my freind are right: the general presumption in pre-feminist literature was that a woman can be “an independent, strong-willed person, or a happy wife and mother, but not both at once.”

Still, the exceptions are interesting. Keep 'em coming.

D’oh! That’s right.

If we’re defining “pre-feminism” as “pre-1970s”, then Christine Linde, from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, certainly qualifies.