Amy is, I think, the ultimate emblem of the Dickensian heroine, and one of my favorite literary heroines. She truly is to be admired, and makes an excellent role model.
I always see lots of similarities between Esther and Amy. Not only are they practically the only two females who are the main characters in any of Dickens's stories, they both come from hard backgrounds, tragically lose some parent or other, and are pursued and proposed to by men they do not love. (Only in Esther's case, the man is a little creepy.) They both go through many hardships and are required to be strong, and suffer grief and uncertainty about the men they love. Actually, many of the heroines have these things in common. But I'll get to that later.
Esther, a girl of unknown parentage, is raised for some time by a woman who is cruel and seems to despise her; then she is sent away to school. Fortunately for Esther, a kind gentleman by the name of John Jarndyce becomes her guardian. At the age of 21, she meets the wards of the famous (or perhaps infamous is a better word) Jarndyce case - a court case about a will, or rather more than one. Ada Clare and Richard Carstone are due to get money if and when the real will is discovered. Mr. Jarndyce is their guardian as well, and Esther is engaged by him to be Ada's companion. They all go to live with him at Bleak House.
Mr. Jarndyce is as gentlemanly as they come - kind, considerate, friendly and agreeable. Though more than old enough to be her father, Mr. Jarndyce comes to love Esther and eventually proposes marriage. She accepts even though she is interested in someone else: a Mr. Woodcourt, who has gone off to sea as a doctor and who knows when he'll be back. She has a few reasons for thinking he couldn't care for her, and she respects Mr. Jarndyce and says she thinks she would come to love him.
During the course of the story, Esther undergoes a severely dangerous disease, is stalked by the above-mentioned creepy guy, finds out who her mother is under very trying circumstances, sees people she cares about die, as well as constantly sharing other people's burdens. (This story isn't all doom and gloom, though; it has it's light points. I do not wish to mislead you.) Then of course there is the Woodcourt/Jarndyce issue. After accepting Mr. Jarndyce, Mr. Woodcourt comes back and, surprise! he wants to marry her. Which puts Esther in a very awkward situation. She refuses Mr. Woodcourt as a lady of honor and constancy would. Of course she ends up with Mr. Woodcourt in the end, because Mr. Jarndyce decides to release her from the engagement.
Putting the age difference problem aside, I always prefer Mr. Jarndyce. He's just so... nice. Poor guy... I suppose Mr. Woodcourt was best suited for Esther, though.
Esther certainly meets the criteria of a Dickens heroine in being selfless, kind, considerate, honest, etc.: although she isn't as meek as some of the others.
Lizzie Hexam, Our Mutual Friend
Though Lizzie isn't technically the heroine of Our Mutual Friend, she definitely has the makings of a Dickensian heroine and deserves to be classed with them.
Agnes fits right into the mold with the others mentioned so far, especially Amy and Lizzie, except her father is a goodly gent and they are more well-to-do. She has no mother, though, and does take care of her father in a sense. She is also pursued by someone undesirable, as Esther and Lizzie are (although Esther's case wasn't as bad). The man is Uriah Heep, the villain of the story, and quite creepy - in a slimy sort of way - as well.
And here we have it again; a caring, motherless girl who takes care of her father and is rather poverty stricken. Mr. Bray has to be the worst of the fathers, though. Mr. Dorrit and Mr. Hexam at least had some sort of affection for their daughters; this one is more of a villain. He's selfish through-and-through, demanding, and pretty much just evil, agreeing to marry Madeline off to a man (who is, incidentally, another villainous person) in exchange for settling his debts, without a care for her.
Mary, an orphan, is employed as companion to an old man named Martin Chuzzlewit. She possesses most of the Dickensian heroine traits, as well as being very beautiful.
Estella is just about as different as possible to the other heroines. I suppose it wasn't completely her fault as she was raised to be the way she is; but then, the Dickensian heroines didn't have the greatest backgrounds, either. Estella is mean, cold, and selfish; rather than falling in love with a man she can't marry, it happens the opposite way; and Estella actually marries her creepy pursuer. The man who falls in love with her but can't marry her is "Pip," the main character in the story.
Though Bella isn't anything like Estella, she's not the usual Charles Dickens heroine, either. She couldn't be called sweet, gentle, or patient, and at the beginning of the story she isn't very exemplary, either. She's impertinent, proud, values money too highly, and is rather snide sometimes to her poor admirer Mr. Rokesmith.
Melody is the author of Regency Delight where she bogs about all things Jane Austen, classic literature and period dramas related. Her sweet Charles Dickens posts include reviews of Little Dorrit (2009), A Christmas Carol (1984), Nicholas Nickleby (2002) and a guest post review of Bleak House (2005).
Thank you Melody for taking time to put together this delightful post and for sharing about your favorite Dickensian heroines!
Now, dear readers, it's your turn:
Which Dickensian heroine is your favorite?
Which Dickensian heroine is your favorite?