There’s a dusting of snow in the grassy areas all over the tri-state area today and a cold rain is falling from the leaden skies here in the City. The fact that April is eight days away and that this has been one of the more gruesome winters I’ve experienced in a couple of decades is enough to make me want to just go back home, get in bed and pull the covers over my head (and not emerge until June). But, if the general foulness of the weather wasn’t enough, the news this morning that Elizabeth Taylor has died makes the grayness feel a bit more enveloping. Needless to say, I was (and am) a big fan of Ms. Taylor, a great beauty, a sometimes brilliant actress, and a larger-than-life public figure who often used her powers for good, rather than evil. A woman who could have coasted on her looks all her life instead demanded to be taken seriously as an artist, businesswoman, and humanitarian, while never losing her sense of humor and her ability to mock her own faults, excesses and failures. Upon being named a Dame of the British Empire, she famously quipped, “I’ve always been a broad, now I’m a dame.”
Thinking about how much I’ve always admired Elizabeth Taylor’s spirit and resilience I came across this piece in the Huff Post featuring eight women writers’ female heroes (one of the authors is our own, wonderful Tayari Jones). I expected that the heroes chosen would be literary types—the usual suspects such as Jane Eyre, Jo March, or even some unusual ones like Olive Kitteridge—but instead, these authors picked women like Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rosa Parks, and Zelda Fitzgerald. Dynamic, smart, dogged, defiant, and mostly unforgettable real women. It occurs to me that these iconic figures spark our imaginations in ways that eventually find their lives and actions reinvented and reinterpreted (and sometimes rediscovered) in books, plays, and songs. From Joan of Arc to Eleanor of Aquitaine to Evita Peron our female heroes have become great fictional characters as well.
But how about all the literary figures who are merely based on a real female hero? What are your favorite examples of veiled portrayals of great or famous or notorious women who made their mark in the real world and whose avatars live on in fiction?