My 27 Favourite Heroes, Heroines, and Villains from Classic Lit
These famous literary heroes, heroines, and villains are some of the best fictional characters ever created! They’re well developed, memorable, and inspiring. (The heroes and heroines, that is. The villains are wonderfully awful!)
On September 1st, I added another birthday to my collection.
It’s been my tradition for the past few birthdays to publish a “just for fun” list post to help my readers get to know me better. Two years ago, I shared 25 Things About Me, and last year’s topic was 26 Things I Need to Nail Down Before I Get Any Older.
For my 27th birthday, I’d like to introduce you to 27 heroes, heroines, and villains who I think are some of the greatest literary creations (or I just happen to personally like).
Is this list heavily weighted towards classic British literature? Unashamedly, yes.
Am I leaving out many excellent candidates? Inevitably.
But I’m only 27, after all.
Greatest Fictional Characters from Classic Books
1. Sir Percy Blakeney
From The Scarlet Pimpernel (and series) by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. Although he’s adept at donning disguises to rescue French aristocrats from the guillotine, his best disguise is the one he lives daily–that of a foolish, frivolous Englishman whom nobody would suspect as a hero willing to risk his life repeatedly.
2. John Rokesmith
From Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. For most of the book, he plays the part of a quiet, dutiful secretary to an elderly couple. His heroism lies in his loyalty and his patience as he waits for the rest of the society–and one girl in particular–to know him for who is really is.
3. Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey
From the Lord Peter novels by Dorothy Sayers. In Lord Peter, Sayers intentionally created the ultimate hero: handsome, rich, witty, and in every way desirable. And he solves murder mysteries for fun. (But he’s deadly serious.)
4. Hercule Poirot
From the mystery novels by Agatha Christie. Although he has a completely different personality and physical appearance from Lord Peter, Poirot is no less dear to my heart. And the man’s a genius.
5. Harry Feversham
From The Four Feathers by A.E.W. Mason. The interesting thing is, Feversham wouldn’t have been such an admirable hero if he hadn’t been so gravely un-heroic to begin with.
6. Dr. Peter Blood
From Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini. What do you get when you take a respectable English doctor and send him to Barbados as a slave? A pirate, apparently! But one with a code of honour, bravery, and leadership, or course.
7. Henry Tilney
From Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. He doesn’t hold a grudge like Captain Wentworth, and unlike Darcy, he’s warm and generous at first introductions. As much as I admire the heroes from other Austen novels, there are few as likeable, genuine, and unselfish as Henry Tilney.
8. Gabriel Oak
From Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. The most plain and unassuming of all the heroes on this list, I fully admit that I mistook him for “just a shepherd” at first.
9. Nancy Drew
From the Nancy Drew mystery series by Carolyn Keene. Nancy Drew is brave, smart, independent, feminine, good with people, persistent, a good friend, a loving daughter…I could go on! She might be too perfect, but I honestly don’t care.
10. Emily Starr
From the Emily series by L.M. Montgomery. Did you think I was going to say Anne of Green Gables? This lesser-known heroine is more introverted than Anne and faces harder struggles, but is deeply and elegantly drawn. As an introvert and Thursday’s child myself, Emily has a special place in my heart.
11. Laura Ingalls Wilder
From the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Maybe I like Laura so much because I envy her! Hearing those books read aloud, I always wanted to be her, riding horses bareback across the prairie, exploring new places, or just reveling in simple, everyday rituals.
12. Sara Crewe
From A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett. I admire Sara’s indefatigable optimism, her story-telling, and the way she chooses to treat people around her.
13. ALL of the March sisters (and their mother!)
From Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I could never pick a favourite, and reading the book, I could identify at parts with each one of the girls. And Marmee? She is a wonderful homemaker and a wise mother.
14. Marian Halcombe
From The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Although she doesn’t look the part, Marian is the good angel in this page-turner of a Gothic novel that’s heavy with melodrama, intrigue, and exquisite writing.
15. Rose Campbell
From Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott. As much as I enjoy rooting for unlikely heroines, sometimes it’s just fun (and refreshing) to meet a heroine who has beauty, brains, money, and likability!
From Christy by Catherine Marshall. Christy heads into the the Appalachian mountains as a school teacher and finds herself in a completely different world, culturally. I love how this book is based on a true story; it’s one of my favourite bildungsroman novels.
17. Lizze Hexam
From Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. I was hard pressed with picking Bella or Lizzie for this list. Although I like and identify more with Bella, I think Lizzie is the more “true” heroine. At first glance, she’s a docile, one-dimensional Victorian “angel in the house,” but by novel’s end she’s proven her mettle as strong (both physically and mentally), sacrificial, and realistically human.
18. Jane Eyre
From Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre was one of the first pieces of classic British literature I ever read. I drank it in, spellbound by the inner workings of Jane’s mind and letting myself feel as deeply every choice she had to make.
19. Anne Shirley
From Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery. Okay, fine. Who am I kidding? I could never leave Anne off this list!
20. Count Dracula
From Dracula by Bram Stoker. While modern-day stories like Once Upon a Time are bent on redeeming and softening every villain that enters the story, Stoker makes it clear that Dracula is elementally evil.
21. Signor Montoni
From The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Montoni presides as the villain in this “ultimate” grandfather of a Gothic novel. He’s at once passionate and utterly cold, alluring and repulsive, and as a reader, you never feel like you can entirely grasp his character or what secrets lie in his past, moldering in shadow like the castle he lives in.
22. Miss Minchin
From A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett. Petty, capricious, and artificial, Miss Minchin is the antithesis of Sara Crewe in every way.
23. Armand Chauvelin
From The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. Chauvelin is intrepid, ruthless, and cunning in his knack for using others to get to Sir Percy, his arch-rival.
From Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I’m not sure if the people who swoon over Heathcliff as a romantic hero have actually read the book! Granted, he has a sympathetic background. But it’s clear by the end of the novel that’s he’s chosen to be a villain.
25. Count Fosco
From The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Gothic novels definitely win the jackpot for vivid villains! Although he enters the book with a magnetic personality, Fosco doesn’t appear at first to be the arch villain of this story. And that makes him all the more sinister as he’s gradually shown to be the real mastermind behind the plot.
26. Gilbert Osmond
From The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. This despicable man is detached, entitled, inhuman, unscrupulous, and all manner of other unsavory adjectives.
27. Mrs. Danvers
From Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier. Like many good villains in literature, Mrs. Danvers lurks in the shadows, haunting the novel’s heroine both by her silence and by poisonous words, carefully chosen.
[question]Alright, I know you CAN’T WAIT to tell me about all the people I’ve left off this list! Who are your favorite heroes, heroines, and villains?[/question]
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Happy Birthday!!! I love Emily Starr (and Anne, of course!). Hope you have something fun planned to celebrate your day!
How lovely to have a Fall birthday – hope it is a special one! Just finished reading Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin. Not sure if Alice is my favorite character but the one that comes to mind – during the Great Depression she goes to Kentucky to deliver donated books to a small town library. An easy read but I enjoyed how she grew as a person.
Happy Birthday! there are some really good reads in this list
Elsie, love your list! Of course, I always prefer a book over its movie version, but I just watched both Far From the Madding Crowd movies, first the one from the 60s then the new one. I liked the one from the 60s so much more.
Good to know! I haven’t seen either movie version, although I did catch a preview for the recent one. Now I want to watch both to compare!
My daughter and I would like to add Sir Daniel Brackley from “The Black Arrow” by Robert Louis Stevenson to the ‘Villians’ list. Totally cunning, ruthless, and duplicitous. If you haven’t read, you should. But this is a great list, I’m going to use it as a ‘to read’ list, for all the ones I haven’t yet, possibly starting with “The Woman in White” which has been on my bedside table longer than I care to admit, or Our Mutual Friend, because – Dickens <3
Thank you! It sounds like we’re kindred spirits, if you love Dickens and The Woman in White is on your nightstand!! I hope you’ll come back and tell me (or email me!) about how you like those two books, once you read them. Our Mutual Friend was Dickens’s last completed novel before The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It’s very satisfying, and beautifully, intricately plotted.
I actually have NOT read The Black Arrow, I’m sad to say! I started it when I was young, and something must’ve sidetracked me because I know I never finished it. So, I need to do that. I did think about including Alan Breck Stewart from Kidnapped, though. (As a hero, of course!)
HA! Finally someone who recognizes Heathcliff for who and what he was! He was a mean little boy and an evil man. Sometimes I think those who paint him as “romantic” have only seen the horrid movie adaptations of this book and have certainly not read the unabridged story.
Precisely. He’s “romantic” in the sense of a Bryonic tragedy. But not romantic in the sense that he’s a hero or a worthy lover.
I just stumbled across this blog post and feel the need to defend Heathcliff 😉
I teach Wuthering Heights in my AP Literature class, and most students are surprised that they actually enjoy the book. But I had one insightful student who said that the character development of Heathcliff is heartbreaking. She could see his potential, his love for Cathy, his goodness, etc. But because of the child abuse at the hands of Hinley, the racist/classist attitudes of the Lintons, and Cathy’s cruel rejection (not intended for Heathcliff’s ears), Heathcliff kills his own heart so he doesn’t hurt.
Also, I think the argument could be made that everyone is villainous and heroic in some way in the novel. At least, everyone in the first generation is the villain: Hinley, old Cathy, Heathcliff, Edgar Linton, Isabelle Linton, the Lintons, Mrs. Earnshaw, and Mr. Earnshaw. They all engage in violence, whether physical or with words that cut. The 13-year-old Heathcliff says “I shall be as dirty as I please; and I like to be dirty, and I will be dirty” before he runs away from Cathy; yet, then the very next page he says “Nelly, make me decent, I’m going to be good.” It is in these moments when the reader sees Heathcliff’s desire to be good/heroic. His heroism is stunted, but it is still there.
Anyway, I didn’t mean to write a long post, but just wanted to provide a counterpoint (from someone who has read the book 🙂
I’m sorry I’m late on replying to this…in my mind I already had! I completely agree that Heathcliff is a sympathetic character. It’s one of the things that makes him such a compelling villain later on. And for sure there are a lot of other problematic characters and pivotal moments when characters make a fateful choice. It’s a great book. But still, with what Heathcliff becomes and with the choices he makes, it’s impossible for me to place him with true and admirable heroes like Gabriel Oak and Harry Feversham (two men who were also spurned by the women they loved).
Happy birthday and thank you for the list. There are several books here that I haven’t read yet and being a lover of classic British literature myself, I definitely will be adding some of these books to me to-read list.
P.S. I know that I am totally
being predictable but my favorite hero and heroine will always be Darcy and Elizabeth.
It’s so nice to meet a fell Brit lit enthusiast! Darcy and Elizabeth are pretty awesome, no question there!