Badass Literary Ladies: Our Readers' Favorite Antiheroines

Posted by Marie on November 5, 2018


This post is sponsored by The Girl in the Spider’s Web—now playing in theaters.

They're the rule breakers, the troublemakers, the ones who scoff at societal conventions. While their vicious personalities and take-no-prisoners attitude can sometimes be frightening, and often unexpected, it’s no wonder that antiheroines keep us turning the pages late into the night.

To create this list of favorites, we asked our readers on Twitter and Facebook who their favorite complex literary ladies were and highlighted some of the most popular comments. Which antiheroines would you add to this list? Don’t forget to add new favorites to your Want to Read shelf!



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Scarlett O'Hara
from Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
"She defied the societal norms and constraints of her time, gave zero effs about what anyone else thought of her, and did what she had to do in order to survive and protect her family," says Kristin.



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"Remedios the Beauty is a 'creature not of this world.' She doesn't let anything or anyone get to her because she considers them all to be simple-minded," says missiris4397.



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Cersei Lannister
from the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin
"I love to hate Cersei Lannister. She’s strong, opinionated, has seriously questionable morals, and is not afraid of anyone. Even in her twisted head, she's always tried to do what she thought was best for her kids," says Jennifer.



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Amy Dunne
from Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
"She's so egotistical and flawed, but always one step ahead of everyone," says Nikiverse.



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Lisbeth Salander
from The Millennium series by Stieg Larsson
"A survivor who turns the tables on her persecutors in true bad arse style!" says Sharon.



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Milady de Winter
from The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
"She's detestable, but I have to admire how hard she is to kill," says Keriann.



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Lady Macbeth
from Macbeth by William Shakespeare
"She is both the seemingly savage and heartless creature and a very delicate and fragile woman," says Cristina.



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Geillis Duncan
from the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
"She is a witch and a villain, but she is also strong, powerful, and not afraid to go after what she wants," says Laurel.



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"Starting with no advantages, she always bounced back after a defeat," says GirlDougdale.




Comments Showing 1-35 of 35 (35 new)

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message 1: by Katharine (new)

Katharine The Vanity Fair listing cites William Shakespeare as the author, while the cover credits William Makepeace Thackeray. It should be Thackeray, so you might want to update the article to correct the inconsistency. Best regards.


message 2: by Kay Dee (new)

Kay Dee Katharine wrote: "The Vanity Fair listing cites William Shakespeare as the author, while the cover credits William Makepeace Thackeray. It should be Thackeray, so you might want to update the article to correct the ..."

still incorrect...


message 3: by Derpa (new)

Derpa That moment when we take psychotic, evil, shitty female characters who often murder and do other brutal acts against others and call them "badass ladies". Honestly, I am so over trying to make evil women look like trendy misfits.
Evil characters can be interesting, but it's uncanny how somehow obviously evil women somehow become yaaaaaaasssss guuuuurl slaaaay. Stupid.


message 4: by Cherie (new)

Cherie Scarlett O’Hara is my favorite heroine (I don’t think of her as an anti-heroine). She is brave, determined, and pursues what she wants. She loves passionately and grieves passionately but she is not broken by her grief. She is a survivor.


message 5: by Scott (new)

Scott Derpa wrote: "That moment when we take psychotic, evil, shitty female characters who often murder and do other brutal acts against others and call them "badass ladies". Honestly, I am so over trying to make evil..."

Agreed. Lisbeth Salander is an anti-heroine. The woman from Gone Girl is just a psycho.


message 6: by Katsuro (new)

Katsuro Ricksand Derpa wrote: "That moment when we take psychotic, evil, shitty female characters who often murder and do other brutal acts against others and call them "badass ladies". Honestly, I am so over trying to make evil..."

Yes. Thank you.


message 7: by Marilyn (new)

Marilyn Geillis was a sociopath.


Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* I hate Cersei --- good series but I detest the character, so definitely not a favorite anti-hero.


message 9: by Inciminci (new)

Inciminci Jessica Mace in Laird Barron's "Swift to Chase"... She's not only the sole survivor of a horrible massacre, she's also very very cool in an extremely weird and intriguing way.


message 10: by Samantha (new)

Samantha I love Scarlett and Amy too. I also love Ani FaNelli from Luckiest Girl Alive, the narrator of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Alice Hare from Sympathy, Lucy from The Pisces, and Cathy Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights.


message 11: by Shellie (new)

Shellie Taylor Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter series. Yeah, she's a bad guy, but she is strong, powerful, clever, and fiercely loyal, no matter how misplaced that loyalty is. She will forever be one of my favorite characters for being an anti-heroine.


message 12: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Cherie wrote: "She is brave, determined, and pursues what she wants. She loves passionately and grieves passionately but she is not broken by her grief. She is a survivor. "

That also describes Dolores Clairborne perfectly!


message 13: by Nullifidian (new)

Nullifidian My favorite anti-heroine is the Marquise de Merteuil in Les liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. While bearing in mind and largely agreeing with everything Derpa says above, I still have to admit that Merteuil has fantastic style. Besides, the same thing applies to the male anti-hero. Who doesn't think Richard III is a more interesting character than that goody-goody Duke of Clarence, for example?


message 14: by Katsuro (new)

Katsuro Ricksand Shellie wrote: "Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter series. Yeah, she's a bad guy, but she is strong, powerful, clever, and fiercely loyal, no matter how misplaced that loyalty is. She will forever be one of..."

She's a well-written character, but I don't really think she qualifies as an anti-heroine.


message 15: by Raven (new)

Raven I don't feel than women have to be so boxed in. I am a big proponent of female protagonists coming to the fore more often, but I don't think the whole "women tearing down other strong women" thing is even believe able. I mean, for a long time, females in movies werel it lead characters and merely relegated to either wholesome secretaries/moms/girlfriends or were what ever the opposite of that was - the slutty.... whatever. Then, women in power were 2 dimensional: either slutty and got a man to do what she wanted to get all her dreams of power filled by using some chump; OR they were the bitchy, i-can-do-everuthing-you-can-do and maybe do it better, get out of my way while I fix this archetypes. I thi k there is a much better balancing of females in every genre that are great examples of being representative of most women: competent, capable, don't like being the damsel in distress, and will help and use the help rendered by other female characters to accomplish the storyline. Strong women - sorry "Badass Literary Ladies" or "Anti-Hero" - what word do you use after that - chick? Call them what they are: fully rounded out characters that are badass broads who have backstory that motivates them, but it doesn't always make them "bad". Well -developed doesn't necessarily equate to "anti-hero"; it just means they're motivated. And unless the Antagonist is female, she doesn't have to disparage or be a bitch to every other broad she comes across. Some of the greatest Antagonists are women; don't diminish the other side of the coin with improper labeling and misuse of characters range.


message 16: by Luna (new)

Luna Derpa wrote: "That moment when we take psychotic, evil, shitty female characters who often murder and do other brutal acts against others and call them "badass ladies". Honestly, I am so over trying to make evil..."

Exactly. Amy Elliott is a villain more than anything.


message 17: by Amanda (new)

Amanda I'm a huge fan of Delilah Bard from the A Darker Shade of Magic series. I think she fits this post way more than Cerci Lannister & Amy Dunne... there's no redeemable quality to either one of those two as far as I'm concerned.


message 18: by Anneli (new)

Anneli I agree with the assessment that several of these characters are more well written villains than (equally well written) antiheroes. I submit in their place Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. Far from conventional heroes or heroines, these snarky old ladies have plenty of heart and are as quick to come to the help of those who need it as they are to dish out some magical retribution to those who deserve it. They won't murder you (probably), but they'll grab you by the ear and scold you until you wish they had. (I love them so damn much.)


message 19: by Anneli (new)

Anneli Also, Ms Adora Belle Dearheart is a gem.


message 20: by Book (last edited Nov 06, 2018 08:16AM) (new)

Book Derpa wrote: "That moment when we take psychotic, evil, shitty female characters who often murder and do other brutal acts against others and call them "badass ladies". Honestly, I am so over trying to make evil..."

I absolutely agree! Lisbeth from Dragon Tatoo is badass, but the others are psychos and/or just plain mean/malicious, self-centered and horrendously selfish. Nothing to admire about them, as far as I'm concerned.


message 21: by Jane (new)

Jane Scribner Jane Eyre ... a triumph of the spirit. And for its time, heroic.


message 22: by Mathew (new)

Mathew Varghese Only Becky Sharp, always.


message 23: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Kim Miriam Black by Chuck Wendig.


message 24: by Carl (new)

Carl Monza Murcatto from Best Served Cold (Abercrombie’s The First Law series).


message 25: by Dominick (new)

Dominick Lizzie Eustace, from Trollope's The Eustace Diamonds, is one of my favourites. She has been compared to Becky Sharpe.


message 26: by Jill (new)

Jill McCagherty Derpa, maybe they aren't all "yaaaa you go girl" type of characters as you mentioned, but they are must have female villains in literature!


message 27: by Joanna (new)

Joanna Sarat fron American War


message 28: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Lada Dracul from ‘And I Darken’ (and the rest of that series) by Kirsten White seems like the definition of an anti-heroine.
She is cruel and sadistic, and she is so angry that she isn’t taken seriously as a military leader or as someone that could rule Wallachia because she is a woman. As a young girl she would tell her brother that no one else could kill him because she would. She has her soldiers kill all of the nobility in Wallachia, including the wives and children of them, to ensure that no one stands in her way of remaking Wallachia.


message 29: by marie (new)

marie Lisbeth Salander isn't an anti-hero.


message 30: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Harvey I agree with Derpa absolutely. Evil does not make one a badass. But if you’re talking about anti-heroes in the sense that they are difficult-to-identify-with protagonists who may do outrageous things (but for a good cause), I would definitely recommend Jane from Jane Doe: A Novel by Victoria Helen Stone.


message 31: by Lady Willpower (new)

Lady Willpower Edna Pontellier from The Awakening.


message 32: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Morrell Shellie wrote: "Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter series. Yeah, she's a bad guy, but she is strong, powerful, clever, and fiercely loyal, no matter how misplaced that loyalty is. She will forever be one of..."

Yes! Love me some Bellatrix!


message 33: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Morrell Mia Corvere from "Nevernight," she does horrible things, but always for a reason, always trying to make things better, with some bloody vengeance thrown in.


message 34: by Stacy (last edited Nov 16, 2018 01:41PM) (new)

Stacy Derpa wrote: "That moment when we take psychotic, evil, shitty female characters who often murder and do other brutal acts against others and call them "badass ladies". Honestly, I am so over trying to make evil..."

THANK YOU


message 35: by Toni (new)

Toni Scott wrote: "Derpa wrote: "That moment when we take psychotic, evil, shitty female characters who often murder and do other brutal acts against others and call them "badass ladies". Honestly, I am so over tryin..."

I agree - thank you!


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