These are women we wish to be, women we are, women we admire, women we fear. The women writers I spoke to about their favorite female fictional characters overflowed with names—Lauren Olamina from Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Lily Bart in Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, Dicey Tillerman in Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming—but we asked each for one. This list could be so much, and so easily longer—pull in Anne Shirley, Katniss Everdeen, Laura Ingalls, Meg Murray, Francie Nolan, Sabriel, Sula, Mrs. Ramsay, Miss Jean Brodie, Jadis, Ada Doom, Sophie Stark, Celie, Mazie, Bette Fischer, Úrsula Iguarán, Bertha Mason—and I have to stop myself. I’m stopping. What this list isn’t is exhaustive or authoritative. What it is is deeply personal, and I think all the more meaningful for it.
35) Lila and Lenù, the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante
Two strands of the same fictional double-helix, Lila and Lenù are admittedly individual characters but also inextricable ones. How to talk about one friend without the other? Their relationship, which sparked Ferrante Fever across Italy and the world, is at turns symbiotic and parasitic, intense and distant over the six decades that span the four Neapolitan novels. One hard, one soft, one flickering, one steady, they are each eachother’s brilliant friend.
—Molly McArdle, books editor, Brooklyn Magazine