The other day when we were in town, Nic picked up seasons 1 and 2 of The West Wing on VHS from a charity shop. It was a pretty good deal because they were still wrapped in cellophane and he reasoned that we could watch them, and then donate them back when we're done. I think it's a pretty good plan, and I've thoroughly enjoyed watching the show again and getting reacquainted with the characters. I've been telling Nic for ages how much I adore Allison Janney, and her character C.J. Cregg, and it's been really good to see how much he's been taken with her as well. It got me to thinking about female characters I admire. So, get ready readers, here's a list of my Top 10 Fictional Females (in no particular order)
I'll start with C.J Cregg
Why I love her: I think it's impossible to watch The West Wing and not love C.J. For one thing, she is formidably intelligent. She manages the press room and briefs with dignity and humour, and she can balance a friendly relationship with the press with a sense of professionalism and loyalty to the Bartlett administration. She succeeds Leo McGarry as White House Chief of Staff, managing to bring a resolution to a humanitarian crisis in Darfur despite a relative lack of experience with foreign policy. In short, she's awesome. On top of this, she is funny and warm and loyal. On an unashamedly fangirl note - she has the most endearingly goofy smile, and I'm always captivated by her elegance. Yeah, I love Claudia Jean.
Why I love her: I've written before about my love of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? and it's fair to say that the main draw the show has for me is the marvellous James Bolam. On repeated watches, however, the character that really stands out is Thelma Ferris (nee Chambers) wife of Bob and friendly adversary of Terry. It would have been easy for Clement and La Frenais to write Thelma as some sort of 'her indoors' type character, but they resisted the temptation to do this. Thelma is extremely intelligent and hard-working. She wants a happy marriage to Bob and a comfortable middle class home on the Elm Lodge Housing Estate, but there is much more to her than this. She uneasily tolerates Terry, despite his seemingly bad influence on her husband, and on more than one occasion she shows her mettle by defending Terry to others. She's independent and has a mind of her own, and while she is keen to move up in the world she hasn't forgotten the bowl she was baked in. In the episode Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? she steps in to defend Terry against the sneering and snobby Brenda, despite the social cost to herself. I feel she deserves a mention not for enduring Terry Collier's intrusion into her marriage, but for being married to whiny old Bob.
Why I love her: Some of this is to do with a love of Myrna Loy, I'll admit. But Nora is an excellent character. From her first scene in The Thin Man, in which she executes a perfect fall into the Gin Mill in which she is searching for her husband Nick, Nora Charles had me captivated. She has a nose for trouble and a taste for adventure, rousting Nick from his comfortable life and pushing him back into detecting. She's a willing companion and is intelligent enough and quick witted enough to really participate in solving the mystery. Best of all, she is good fun. This is what really sparkles in The Thin Man, Nora's amused looks, her sly teasing of Nick, and their very obvious attraction to one another. Nora Charles is a classy lady in more ways than one.
Why I love her: It was only a matter of time before I got to Anne, wasn't it?! She is the most enduring of my childhood literary friends. I return to Anne time and time again, when I'm feeling sad or anxious, and also when life is good. Like the other women I've written about, I love Anne because she is so intelligent. She's sentimental and loving, and she makes lots of mistakes. She's quick to temper, but quick to forgiveness (with the exception of poor old Gilbert, he has to wait a while!) I think what I love most about Anne is the way that she is so fully realised. She is thoughtful and intelligent, and deeply spiritual and she loves pretty clothes, and good books, and tasty food as well. Anne is more real to me than some of the real people I know, and I'm not ashamed to admit that.
Why I love her: Adrian himself is obviously the star of the Adrian Mole novels, but there's a big part of my heart reserved for his mother Pauline Mole. She makes many, many, many mistakes over the course of the novels. She isn't the type of mother that Adrian wanted. She's loud and vulgar and she drinks and smokes too much. She makes bad choices about her relationships (affairs with Rat Fink Lucas and Ivan Braithwaite come to mind.) Despite all of her failings, she's one of the most entertaining characters in the novels and she comes through for Adrian more than once. She discovers feminism while pregnant with Adrian's sister Rosie, and names her after Germaine Greer. She takes part in the Greenham Common demonstrations. When Adrian can't deliver his TV tie in cookbook Offally Good, Pauline steps in and writes it for him. She has other ambitions as well, and in the most recent novel she is writing her own 'misery porn' memoir entitled A Child Named Shit. Excellent.
Mary Beth Lacey
Why I love her: Mainly, because she's amazing. Don't get me wrong, I love Christine Cagney as well but for me the heart of Cagney and Lacey is Tyne Daly's Mary Beth Lacey. Of the pair, she's the one who is more by the book. She doesn't have the obsessive nature of her partner Chris, but she is a good detective. She has a strong moral compass, holding liberal and feminist values. At times Cagney accuses her of just being in the job to pay for the orthodontist's bills, but Lacey is a public servant and serving her community and her city is important to her. She's opinionated and she sometimes gets it wrong, but she is loving and dedicated and has as good a line in wisecracks as anyone else I can think of. Also, you should check out the pins on her - she is a seriously elegant lady.
Why I love her: It's Barbara's concern for her student Susan Foreman that results in her being kidnapped, along with her colleague Ian Chesterton, by the mysterious Doctor. She's just being a good teacher, and she finds herself being whisked off into space by an eccentric and frequently untrustworthy old man. Barbara has become my favourite of the Doctor's companions (sorry Jo and Liz, excellent though you both are) as well as one of my favourite fictional women. She is extremely strong-willed and it is her refusal to be patronised by the Doctor that leads to there being some sort of understanding between the Doctor and his companions. She is very caring, becoming a maternal figure for both Susan and Vicky. What makes Barbara stand out for me, however, is her resourcefulness. She has so much fight in her! In The Dalek Invasion of Earth she becomes the leader of the resistance against the Dalek conquerors of Earth and is instrumental in their defeat. In The Aztecs she plays the part of the Goddess Yetaxa and she is determined to convince the Aztec people that their practice of using human sacrifice is wrong, before coming to the painful realisation that she cannot interfere in history. However, it is Barbara's poise and presence of mind that allows them to escape. Barbara doesn't need to be rescued, instead she uses her considerable intelligence and her remarkable bravery to get through some very dangerous situations. On a more shallow note, I also really love the way she looks - her big dark eyes and enormous beehive hairstyle is impossible to look away from.
The Provincial Lady
I don't have a picture of the Provincial Lady herself, so here is a picture of E.M. Delafield instead
Why I love her: Because she's just as funny as Charles Pooter. She never feels quite right in any of her clothes or hats, she struggles in social occasions, she doesn't have enough money. But she is eloquent in her self-deprecation, and funny with it. Really, to do her justice I just need to say that you should go and read her diaries. They're wonderful.
Detective Chief Superintendent Sandra Pullman
Why I love her: Her high-flying career in the Met was brought up short by a botched bank raid in which she shot a dog, and Pullman was given the leadership of UCOS (Unsolved Crime and Open Case squad) as a sort of punishment. Instead of languishing in a basement, she made it her own. Pullman is a good girl, and she believes in playing by the rules. She's frequently irritated by the way that her men break the rules or pursue unorthodox lines of enquiry. However, she's a good and imaginative detective and she looks out for her boys. She doesn't take any crap and she likes to be in control. Of course the writers of the show can't resist putting in one female-cop cliche - she has a string of failed relationships behind her - but she's excellent and thoroughly entertaining all the same.
And for my final entry, I'm going to cheat. It's my blog and I can do what I want, so ner...
Carrie Bradshaw, Miranda Hobbs, Charlotte York, Samantha Jones
Why I love them: Okay, so maybe you want to call these women whores. And maybe Sex and the City 2 made you so angry you wept tears of rage. But I love these fictional women. I won't repeat all of the things I wrote a few weeks ago in my defence of Sex and the City but I love these women for lots of reasons. They're successful (even mad old Charlotte is good at her job before she jacks it in) and intelligent. They make lots of mistakes, fashion and otherwise, but they support and love one another. They resolve their problems by talking about them to one another. They're funny, and have a sense of humour about themselves and their lives. They're ridiculously extravagant, but sometimes that's what I want in my fictional ladies. Sometimes, it's just good to look at the nice clothes.
So, there you have it. It's taken me ages to write this, and there are a few ladies who were just edged off the list. Close contenders were Lucy Van Pelt, Dr Elizabeth Shaw, Helen Gordon and Laura Hobson. I'd be really interested to hear who you'd nominate - let me know in the comments!