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The Greatest Female Characters in Literature, Ranked

Updated February 21, 2020 201.9k votes 21.5k voters 904.4k views228 items

List RulesVote up the most unforgettable women and girls in books, plays, poetry, etc. Please, no comic book characters.

Some of the greatest characters in literature are women and girls, but which ones are the very best? From the evil to the undeniably perfect, the always strong to those who those who never give up, these are the greatest female characters from literature of all genres. This list includes the best female characters of all ages, like the youthful girls Matilda (Matilda) and Hermione Granger (Harry Potter) to the ever-so-adult Evelyn Couch (Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe). We're even ranking immortal female characters, like Galadriel from Lord of the Rings and the goddess Athena you read about in Greek mythology.

Why do female literary characters stay with readers long after they’ve finished reading the novels these characters are featured in? Often, it’s due to the intimacy with which readers have come to know a character. Jane Eyre (and all of her desires and feelings), for example, becomes so real to readers that they feel as if they’ve met and understood this amazing female character. So many people relate to fiery, independent Jo March that her marriage at the end of Little Women feels like a betrayal - something the 2019 film adaptation addresses head-on.

Other times, readers love female characters in literature because of the audacity of their actions. Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind) was exceedingly bold for a woman of her time, while Madame Defarge (A Tale of Two Cities) is an exemplar of tireless villainy. Some of the most popular female literary characters manage to embody both wholesome and defiant, becoming reflections of the complex nature of women.

For the wide range of personality traits we find in these great female characters (and the audacious actions they’ve performed), these women have earned their titles as the best female characters in literature. They may be young or old, charming or black-hearted, but they are all memorable. Whether you love them or love to hate them, all the famous fictional heroines are here in this list of the best female characters in literary history. 

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  • 1

    Elizabeth Bennet

    Pride and Prejudice
    4,894
    1,729
    Elizabeth Darcy is the protagonist in the 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. She is often referred to as Eliza or Lizzy by her friends and family. Elizabeth is the second child in a...  more
  • 2

    Mary Poppins

    Mary Poppins series
    2,771
    859
    Mary Poppins is a fictional character and the protagonist of P. L. Travers' Mary Poppins books and all of its adaptations. A magical English nanny, she blows in on the East Wind and arrives at the...  more
  • 3
    Polar Bear added

    Athena

    Odysseus: Voyage to the Underworld
    1,909
    672
    Alea was an epithet of the Greek goddess Athena, prominent in Arcadian mythology, under which she was worshiped at Alea, Mantineia and Tegea. Alea was initially an independent goddess, but was...  more
  • 4

    Jo March

    Little Women
    3,191
    978
    Jo March is a fictional character from the 1868 novel Little Women.T he principal character, she is 15 years old at the beginning of the book, strong and willful, struggling to subdue her fiery...  more
  • 5

    Matilda

    Matilda
    3,158
    944
    Matilda Wormwood is a fictional character from the 1996 comedy fantasy film Matilda....  more
  • 6

    Éowyn

    The Lord of the Rings
    2,940
    1,145
    Éowyn is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, who appears in his most famous work, The Lord of the Rings. She is a noblewoman of Rohan who is described as a shieldmaiden....  more
  • 7

    Jane Eyre

    Jane Eyre
    2,707
    1,055
    Jane Eyre is the heroine of Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel of the same name....  more
  • 8

    Alice

    Alice in Wonderland
    3,190
    1,372
    Alicia is a fictional character from the 1976 film Alicia en el país de las maravillas....  more
  • 9

    Scout Finch

    To Kill a Mockingbird
    3,085
    1,069
    Scout Finch is a fictional character from To Kill a Mockingbird....  more
  • 10

    Hermione Granger

    Harry Potter series
    6,956
    2,762
    Hermione Jean Granger is a fictional character in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. She initially appears in the first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, as a new student on her way...  more
  • 11

    Anne Shirley

    Anne of Green Gables
    2,278
    655
    Anne Shirley is a fictional character introduced in the 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Montgomery wrote in her journal that the idea for Anne's story came from relatives...  more
  • 12
    Polar Bear added

    Artemis

    Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
    1,477
    522
    Artemis was one of the most widely venerated of the Ancient Greek deities. Her Roman equivalent is Diana. Some scholars believe that the name, and indeed the goddess herself, was originally...  more
  • 13
    celiagold added

    Professor Minerva McGonagall

    Harry Potter Universe
    4,210
    693
    Minerva McGonagall is a fictional character from Harry Potter literary series....  more
  • 14

    Dorothy Gale

    The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
    1,854
    820
    Dorothy Gale is a fictional character and protagonist of many of the Oz novels by the American author L. Frank Baum. Her best friend is Oz's ruler Princess Ozma. Dorothy first appears in Baum's...  more
  • 15

    Galadriel

    The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings
    1,768
    804
    Galadriel is a character created by J.R.R. Tolkien, appearing in his Middle-earth legendarium. She appears in The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales. She was a royal Elf of...  more
  • 16
    wendy-ya added

    Arwen

    The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
    1,442
    642
    Arwen Undómiel is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium. She appears in his novel, The Lord of the Rings, usually published in three volumes. Arwen is one of the half-elven who...  more
  • 17

    Nancy Drew

    Nancy Drew series
    1,698
    596
    Nancy Drew is a fictional character from the 2011 film My Sucky Teen Romance....  more
  • 18

    Luna Lovegood

    Harry Potter series
    4,165
    1,088
    Luna Lovegood is a fictional character from the Harry Potter series written by J.K. Rowling....  more
  • 19
    Polar Bear added

    Freya

    Das Rheingold, Der Ring des Nibelungen
    1,053
    424
  • 20
    carlybobarly added

    Lucy Pevensie

    The Chronicles of Narnia
    1,794
    475
    Lucy Pevensie is a fictional character in C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia series. She is the youngest of the four Pevensie children, and the first to find the Wardrobe entrance to Narnia in...  more
  • 21

    Elinor Dashwood

    Sense and Sensibility
    874
    431
    Elinor Dashwood is a fictional character and the main protagonist of Jane Austen's novel Sense and Sensibility. In this novel, Austen analyzes the conflict between the opposing temperaments of sense...  more
  • 22

    Katniss Everdeen

    The Hunger Games
    4,012
    1,655
    Katniss Everdeen is a fictional character and the protagonist of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Her name comes from an edible plant called katniss. Academy Award-winning actress...  more
  • 23

    Laura Ingalls

    Little House on the Prairie
    1,349
    673
    Laura Ingalls Wilder is a fictional character from the 1984 film Bless All the Dear Children....  more
  • 24
    ComediaHarmonia added

    Ophelia

    Hamlet
    795
    451

    Hamlet

    Ophelia is a fictional character from the 1964 film Hamlet at Elsinore....  more
  • 25

    Scarlett O'Hara

    Gone with the Wind
    1,847
    1,162
    Scarlett O'Hara is the central character in Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone with the Wind and in the later film of the same name. She also is the main character in the 1970 musical Scarlett and...  more