Monday, December 10, 2007

The Most/Least Desirable Women in Fiction

Accentuating the Positives First:

1. Penelope- Always found her attractive not only because of her loyalty and looks, but because she is just ambiguous enough to be psychologically captivating.

2. Imogen- Forceful yet yielding. A character sufficiently strong not to be a mere ornament, a la Hero, while not quite as blustery as Beatrice.

3. Rosalind- Along with No. 2, the most magnetic of Shakespeare's heroines.

4. Jane Bennett- Contrary to popular belief, Elizabeth is overrated and feisty. Jane is where it's at.

5. Calypso- Hard to reconcile with No. 1, but I think it would be pretty hot.

And the Not So Fines:

1. Clytemnestra: Authoress of the original Shower Scene. Need I say more?

2. Guinivere, Helen of Troy, Emma Bovary, Anna Keranina: All hot, but adultery has a way of killing the ratings.

3. Captain Ahab's Wife- She only appears in one sentence in the entire book, but any woman to whom whale-hunting is preferrable can't be such great shakes.

4. Beatrice, Gloriana, Una- Symbolic and ethereal women have a way of not offering much on the physical side of matrimony.

5. Bathsheba Everdean (of "Far from the Madding Crowd")- Something about her name bothers me. Mostly though, I just don't like her.


Matthew N. Petersen said...

I think you are misreading Dante and Spenser. Many silly modern comentators think Beatrice is aetherial, but the whole point in Dante is that she isn't. Likewise, the whole point in Spenser is that Una isn't just aetherial. The false one Archimago forms is, the false Florimell Archimago forms is, but Una (and Gloriana) are not.

I suppose you could say "Dante wasn't married to Beatrice" but, I think that misses the point. Dante was in love with her, and longed for the sort of total communion with Beatrice that is acheived only in sex. Yes, he understood he could never, in this life (but he most emphatically believed in the resurrection of the body) have be so united to her, but he still absolutely longed for that union.[1] "And then may it be pleasing to Him who is the Lord of courtesy, that my soul might go to see the glory of its lady, that is of that blessed Beatrice, who gloriously gazes on the face of Him qui est per omnia secula benedictus: who is blessed throughout all the ages."

And well, Una and the St. George get married. And Arthur and Gloriana will eventually.

[1] Not that he thought he could have sex with her in the new earth. But that he thought perhaps on the New Earth--where we will be like the angels in heaven--he could be fully united to her, as we here are only partially united in sex.

Evan G. said...

I've never been able to image Beatrice as even remotely good looking.

Matthew N. Petersen said...


So here's my list:

1. The Shulamite
2. Beatrice
3. Lamia
4. Beatrice (Shakespeare)
5. Clorinda (Tasso)

(I left off Austen, I think her heroines are wonderful, but I don't think they quite make the top five. (Though probably the top six.) I think she does a better job of portraying the longed for man than the longed for woman 'cause she longed for that man. Her women are excellent, but aren't portrayed quite so striking as others.)

And not so fines:

I'm not so good at this.

1. Anna Livia Plurabelle. (Finnegans Wake) The whole book is a must skip.
2. Biddy
3. Estella
4. Molly Bloom
5. Nora

That last one's a little cheap, I'm having trouble comming up with anything.

Thomas Banks said...


Thanks- I do know that Beatrice isn't strictly spiritual, and certainly not to Dante- My point is that she has so little of what constitutes a real personality (Same with Una and Gloriana) that she might as well be.

I know it is odd to level that accusation at those particular two poets taken together, since their manners are usually 180 degrees apart; as one critic said "Give Dante a figment, and he will make it fleshly; Give Spenser a substance, and he will make it a symbol."

Ibid said...


I think you are going to marry a sweet girl who doesn't talk back to you, but you will no doubt love her. You can always argue with the guys.

Ibid said...

p.s. because you can't marry Calypso.

Thomas Banks said...

Matt, Katie-

Thanks for the comments.

BTW, Matt-

Who's Nora?

Matthew N. Petersen said...

A Doll's House.

the Emperor of Ice Cream said...

Penelope can fool the suitors, but I wouldn't necessarily say that she is ambiguous. She seemed to me to be merely flat. (That doesn't mean that she isn't desirable, I suppose.) As far as being aetherial is concerned, you might include Lavinia (Virgil). Actually, I'm not sure if she's aetherial as much as being a manikin. But what was it that caused you to leave Dido off the list of desirable women?