I tend to gravitate towards books with women protaganists and identify more with them than I do books that feature men protaganists. Give me a good strong, complicated female character any day of the week. I could talk for hours about literary women and their impact, especially when they don’t fall into what we at the GUYA like to call the “Bella mold.”
Bella mold – whiney, self-depricating, indecisive, blames herself for everything kind of character
Anywho… modern literary characters aside, some of my favorite literary characters are women who were ahead of their time, who were so shackled by the constraints of whatever period they lived in that they bucked the system. The two actresses I’ve featured here today might not have portrayed characters who bucked the system quite as hard as some of my other favorite female characters, but they did struggle to find their own places in their worlds.
1994 Winona Ryder Best Actress Nominee Little Women based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott
This is one of my all-time favorite movies EVER and Winona Ryder will always been Jo March to me. Jo is the type of girl who longs to be a boy, who hates the thoughts of being confined to the rules that are forced upon women. As she grows into womanhood, she realizes that she has to find her own place, to develop her own mind and talents to achieve her dreams in a world where the dreams of women aren’t as easily achieved.
In past adaptations of this novel, Jo has been wild, outspoken and brash – someone I haven’t been able to relate to. But Winona Ryder manages to retain this wildness of the character while showing the deep struggle she feels as she tries to find her place. She’s not as stern and rough around the edges as other actresses have portrayed the character, which I honestly prefer. I always thought of myself as a Beth, maybe a Meg, but Ryder’s performance makes me wonder if deep down I’m a Jo… struggling to escape the world I sometimes feel trapped in and pursue my dreams and become great.
Although… if Teddy looked as dreamy in the books as he did in the movie, I’ll never understand why she turned him down. Never ever.
1939 Vivien Leigh Best Actress Gone With the Wind, based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell
What Oscars Moviebooks post would be complete without mentioning Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind? Love her or hate her, Scarlett O’Hara is the quintessential literary character that will, in my opinion, never be topped.
I’ve always loved Scarlett, the way she’s arrogant and naieve; how she flits around like she’s the queen of Atlanta. I love how underneath it all she’s a scared child who finds her bravery, trying to keep her world together while the war rages on around her. I love that she’s shrewd and uses her feminine wiles to get her way, whether it’s a husband or a business.
Vivien Leigh portrayed all these qualities so perfectly, so honestly. I think it could be easy to lose sight of a character’s personality, especially when it’s as complex as Scarlett’s, but Leigh manages to hold onto all the things that make Scarlett who she is. From the very beginning to the last scene she shows us Scarlett’s fear, her uncertainty, while masking it behind an air of snobbery and brattiness. Leigh portrayed a character that is easily hated, easily despised, but shows us how despite this we can still love and feel for Scarlett because we know the struggles she faces.
The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are: