Ranking Jane Austen’s Heroines — 43 Comments

  1. I agree with your ranking Anne Elliot as #1 but I think she deserves the spot on her own. My main problem with Elizabeth Bennett is her quick laughter AT everyone. Did she ever do anything nice or helpful to anyone? She always seemed more concerned with herself (and a little with Jane) and never really put herself (emotionally) at risk for anyone.

  2. I think you did well here. Elizabeth definitely deserves to share top spot. Her main fault really was believing Wickham and in my opinion that was mainly due to Darcy’s insult at the Assembly which I must admit would be upsetting (especially with Mrs Bennet’s constant comments on Jane’s beauty and not hers)
    And as you already said, you are not stupid!

    • My only comment is that Lizzy rightly owns her faults and mistakes after Hunsford. Sure, Darcy was thoughtless at the Assembly. But Elizabeth’s continued resentment of that was a sign of her immaturity, and that’s not foot-in-mouth Darcy’s fault. She needed to grow up, and she did.

  3. Of course it is difficult and somehow unjust not to place any weighting (but every method has ist shortcomings).
    My own ranking:
    1. Elizabeth Bennet (Leader or Co-Leader in Intelligence/Maturity/Wit/Beauty, 4th in Kindness) 32
    2. Elinor Dashwood (Co-Leader in Maturity/Kindness, 2th in Intelligence) 30
    3. Anne Elliot (Co-Leader in Maturity/Kindness, 7th in Beauty) 25
    4. Fanny Price (Co-Leader in Kindness, 7th in Wit) 18
    5. Emma Woodhouse (2th in Wit) 17
    6. Catherine Morland (tie) (7th in Intelligence) 13
    Marianne Dashwood (tie) (7th in Maturity/Kindness, 2th in Beauty) 13

    Possibly next week this list would show some changes, but Lizzy will always turn out first. I’m a hopeless case and therefore heartily agree with the unquestionable Happy Ever After for Elizabeth and Mr.Darcy. I don’t like Elizabeth ending up with Colonel Fitzwilliam (whom I highly esteem but he is better for Charlotte) and I don’t like Elizabeth being married before she and Darcy find together. I’m an oldfashioned romantic…

    • Everyone’s got their preferences, which is why this is fun. The only disagreement I have is that Austen herself said that Marianne and Emma were gorgeous; hence Elizabeth’s third place showing in Beauty (Remember, I did not allow ties).

      But I will say that Elizabeth Darcy is far and away the Champion!

  4. What a hoot, Jack! Well done. My only changes would be to move Elizabeth above Marianne Dashwood in Kindness and to bump Anne Eliot up to #1 in Intelligence/Perceptiveness over Elinor Dashwood. However, this would have resulted in the same tie so it’s moot. I look forward to you bravely posting more should you be inclined.

    • Elinor and Anne were toss-ups in Intelligence/Perceptiveness. It was six-of-one and half-dozen-of-the-other. The only knock on Anne was that she got played a little by Mrs. Smith (book, not movie).

  5. This is really interesting and I agree with you for the most part. The part of this that is somewhat surprising to me is that I am not a fan of Miss Anne for her waffling tendencies but overall, I have to give your rankings a bravo. Side note: I really like your brand of insanity sir. You are always entertaining and your books are always great reading. Especially reformed Caroline.

    • Pre-reformed Caroline Bingley would score poorly in this exercise, save in Beauty and Intelligence & Perceptiveness (she’s hot and sharp). My reformed Caroline Buford would come up from the bottom in all other categories, and end up middle-of-the-pack.

      You’ll see more of Caroline Buford in ROSINGS PARK (once I finish the blasted thing!).

  6. Cannot say I disagree to much with your assessment except in the kindness category. Personally I would have put Emma Woodhouse a bit further down on the list…

    I have a request though, why not write a book on your Elizabeth Darcy 😉

    • Well, Emma is mean to Jane Fairfax and Miss Bates, but she is an attentive and loving daughter, and she means well for Harriet Smith, even though she misreads many things. And she apologizes quickly when Mr. Knightley sets her straight. So I give her points for that. But I can see Elinor moving up above Emma. Lizzy and Marianne stay at the bottom, IMHO.

      As for Elizabeth Darcy, she’s in ROSINGS PARK, so there you go.

      • I think that the interpretation of Elizabeth Darcy you describe wouldn’t be a good choice for a protagonist, a heroine, but I suppose she is perfect to be a supporting character, I look forward to see her in Rosings Park (that is, I look forward to the book in every aspect!). A completely perfect heroine would be unrealistic and probably boring/irritating, like a Mary Sue. Also, a real person, however much she has matured already, will still encounter new challenges/trials and tribulations that will reveal still imperfect facets of her character and give her the opportunity to grow.

  7. Well done Jack! Overall I agree with a tweak here and there…I think personal preference for me plays a part though. Yes, how is ‘Rosings Park’ coming along?

  8. Thank you for this list. I enjoyed reading it. I, too, would rank Ann Elliot No. 1. I want Elizabeth Bennet to be No. 1, and she might be after she grows and realizes her failings. I do not mind laughter, teasing, wit, friendliness, but I do want her to realize that her father’s sarcastic sort of humour is not a good thing and try to improve on that quality. Many of the variations do improve. Darcy sees her as kind and a worthy mistress for his estate by the time they get married, and that she is in most variations. She grows from prejudice to what I believe will be greater kindness. Ann Elliot is rally someone to like in about every way.

  9. I really enjoyed this list, and I agree, for the most part. I may have placed Emma below Marianne in the overall standings just because I “cain’t stan’ ‘im” (with nod to Singing in the Rain). Fanny Price is my favorite heroine with Anne Eliot close behind, so I was happy with their overall standings.

    Excellent idea, Jack!! 😀

    Susanne 🙂

  10. This is interesting. I, too, place Emma lower in Kindness (Elinor is definitely kinder). Also, some of the categories, especially the combined ones an be interpreted differently (I like Fanny Price and morally she is as stable as a rock but emotionally, I’m not so sure. She has an entirely wrong image of self-worth, she is shy to the degree of being socially crippling). Also, some of the heroines undergo significant character growth in some of the categories (e. g. Emma in kindness, Elizabeth in perceptiveness). Moreover, it’s easy to divide then as high-, middle- or low ranking in each category, but then I had difficulties as ties were not allowed. Is Fanny Price actually kinder than Anne Elliot? Is Emma the wittier/more outgoing or Marianne?
    On another matter, I’m not sure witty/outgoing is objectively more valuable than quiet introversion. It is a very popular trait, to be sure, but not necessarily an universal value.
    In your introduction of the topic you make a bold statement about maturity. I really don’t think you can prove Mr. Woodhouse, Mrs. Bennet or Mrs. Dashwood mature in personality – unless you mean it as an euphemism for age, which is not the issue here. I generally agree with you about maturity rankings of heroines though.
    Great topic of discussion!

    • I tried to cover Quiet Introversion in INTELLIGENCE & PERCEPTIVENESS, at least in my mind. But that’s the fun part of this. Everyone has a different idea, which is why Austen remains timeless. Thanks for joining in!

  11. Yep. My list was the same as yours, but without all the math. 🙂 I think we’ve established that you are not insane. You make a very good argument for your method.

  12. I actually agree with this list almost entirely, so no controversy here. 🙂 The only alteration I would make would be to add a 6th qualifying character trait: courage. (We are ranking heroines, after all.) As much as I like Anne Elliot, her timidity always put me off a little. And I admire Elizabeth for being brave enough to face the censure and scorn of the Bingley sisters and for having the courage to speak out and thank Mr. Darcy for helping Lydia, even though she feels awkward about it. (How this extra trait might influence the ranking of the other heroines, I couldn’t say…)

    • COURAGE is an interesting criterion. I suppose I unconsciously included it in EMOTIONAL STABILITY & MATURITY, but let’s explore it.

      It is true that Elizabeth stood up to Lady Catherine, but there is more to courage than speaking out. Remember, impertinence means insolence. In other words, rudeness. You’ll notice that Elizabeth becomes far less impertinent as the book goes on, as she matures. If being outspoken is a sign of courage, then Lady Catherine is the bravest figure in all of Austen’s canon.

      So, let’s take a gander at our ladies’ expressions of courage and how I would rank them. Poor Catherine ends up last. The only courage Emma shows is in the various apologies at the end of the novel. Anne doesn’t show well, either, except for standing up for Mrs. Smith and defying Lady Russel’s attempt to match her with Sir William Walter Elliot. If she had one honest conversation with Wentworth, the novel could have been cut in half.

      Marianne and Elizabeth act fearlessly, but both are proven foolish. If anything, Marianne is more obnoxious than impertinent. Their courage comes from their vows to reform.

      Elinor cannot speak out about her feelings for Edward because he is an engaged man, but she quietly supports and defends her family. However, if standing by one’s principles in the face of unrelenting criticism and temptation is the ultimate sign of courage, then the bravest lady in Austen literature is Fanny Price.

      Revised scoring then would be: Catherine – #7; Emma – #6; Marianne – #5; Anne – #4; Elinor & Elizabeth – #2 (tie); Fanny – #1.

      • I prefer your revised ranking with courage added in, Jack, as I am a firm fan of Fanny Price and not a fan at all of Emma.

        And I agree completely with you in this line: “However, if standing by one’s principles in the face of unrelenting criticism and temptation is the ultimate sign of courage, then the bravest lady in Austen literature is Fanny Price.” Yes, indeedy!

        This is such a fun conversation!! Thank you, Mr. Caldwell!! 🙂

        Susanne 🙂

      • Thanks for exploring that, it was interesting to read! I by no means think Elizabeth is perfect, and will grant you that when she stood up to Lady Catherine it was more insolent than courageous. 🙂 I just really liked that she was willing to have an open conversation with Darcy in the end, because so many of Austen’s heroines stay silent until just the right circumstances come along. Elizabeth might be the only one to have initiated the climactic conversation (even if she wasn’t the first one to mention feelings). However, I completely agree that Fanny Price deserves the top spot for courage!

  13. I like these rankings. Elizabeth is so emotionally immature. She really is. She is a tantrum thrower. I love her, but she’s a total diva. 😉

  14. Well done. I can understand how you thought this out – an exercise I am too lazy to attempt presently. I think I would need to reread the novels and take notes. Although I do think Anne is a favorite even tho’ P&P is my favorite story. Elizabeth took too much at face value and never checked out the facts. Tsk, tsk. Interesting exercise. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Sorry I didn’t get this read until just now, Jack, but look what a fun and thought-provoking post/discussion I inspired! I was going to add one thing to the discussion, but Agnes beat me to it, suggesting that “outgoing personality” isn’t an inherently superior trait but a matter of personal taste. However, it IS your list, so you’re entitled to make up the criteria. 🙂

      • Hi, Agnes. It was a “Tuesday Trivia” question I posted on the Austen Variations FB page October 3rd. I asked readers to rank the gentlemanly-ness of the Austen heroes, and then I gave my OFFICIAL ANSWER from my source (a book). You can hunt back and find the whole discussion on FB, but I’ll give you the “official” list in case that’s all you wanted. 1)Mr. Knightley, 2)Colonel Brandon, 3)Henry Tilney, 4)Darcy, 5)Edward Ferrars, 6)Cpt. Wentworth, 7)Edmund Bertram

  16. OK, just because Catherine Morland finished at the bottom of your list, what I appreciated is your affectionate respect for her.

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