In honour of International Women’s Day, I wanted to pull together some of my favourite empowering quotes from female characters in classic literature.
I often see people complaining about the lack of strong female characters in classic novels, but honestly I think those folks just haven’t read closely enough. If you know where to look, you'll find dozens of female characters challenging the gender restrictions of their time with gumption and class.
In this article you’ll find several women and girls who, throughout the years, have inspired me to be confident, determined, loyal, kind, opinionated, and strong-willed. I hope their words resonate with you too.
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
– Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre
“Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it's unbelievable.”
– Matilda Wormwood, Matilda
“I must not think so much of how circumstances affect me myself, but how they affect others, if I wish to have a right judgment, or a hopeful trustful heart.”
– Margaret Hale, North and South
“I’ve done my best, and I begin to understand what is meant by ‘the joy of strife’. Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing.”
– Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables
“I had rather stand my ground three times among the shields than face a childbirth once.”
– Medea, Medea
“I don’t like to doze by the fire. I like adventures, and I’m going to find some.”
– Jo March, Little Women
“Whatever comes, cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.”
– Sara Crewe, A Little Princess
“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
– Elizabeth Bennet, Pride & Prejudice
“Don’t you worry about me. I’ll always come out on top.”
– Pippi Longstocking, Pippi Longstocking
“Though she be but little, she is fierce!”
– Helena (about Hermia), A Midsummer Night’s Dream
“A spider’s web is stronger than it looks. Although it is made of thin, delicate strands, the web is not easily broken.”
– Charlotte, Charlotte’s Web
“All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield a blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.”
– Éowyn, The Return of the King
"I will not be triumphed over."
– Cleopatra, Antony and Cleopatra
“I shall be up before you are awake; I shall be afield before you are up; and I shall have breakfasted before you are afield. In short, I shall astonish you all.”
– Bathsheba Everdene, Far From the Madding Crowd
“Burdens are for shoulders strong enough to carry them.”
– Scarlett O’Hara, Gone with the Wind
“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”
– Anne Elliot, Persuasion
“With the right words, you can change the world.”
– Charlotte, Charlotte’s Web
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