Alice from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: she follows that white rabbit, even though he’s already in a rush, even though it’s really none of her business. And when she falls down that rabbit hole, she just seems game for anything that comes her way. Good for you, Alice.
Emily from Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery: Emily was so much darker than Anne of Green Gables; she had more of an artist’s temperament, not to mention that strange extra-sensory perception that helped her solve a mystery or two. It was like Anne with magical powers—it’s really no wonder that I loved all three books in the series.
Mary from The Secret Garden and Sarah from The Little Princess (both by Frances Hodgson Burnett). These two are so different, but I love them both: Mary begins as a contrary little girl who blossoms throughout the book, and Sarah’s inherent sweetness and intelligence endures even when she loses everything.
At the top of my literary heroine list is Wilhelmina Harker from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. If you have not read the book and have only seen the movie then no doubt you are confused by this (but if you’ve actually seen a good movie that portrays Mina properly, please email me the title). In the book, Mina is not only good and pure and loyal, she’s bright and resourceful: she types up journal entries in order to share the tales of the strange Count with others in their circle. She rescues Lucy from her strange sleepwalking ventures, and I love the detail of Mina giving Lucy her shoes, then putting mud on the tops of her own feet in order to conceal their nakedness from passers-by. She is intelligent, and in one scene the others shake her hand “as they would a man,” for she’s revealed something so insightful about the beast they are hunting—yes, this may sound terribly chauvinistic, but we have to remember that it’s not yet 1900. Above all, Mina’s bravery shines for me. She is terrified of what Count Dracula has done to her and what that might mean for her own soul, but that does not stop her from making up her mind: if she exhibits any strange behavior, each of the men are instructed to kill her in order to protect themselves. This makes for one of the most powerfully terrifying scenes I have ever read, when Van Helsing wakes to find Mina staring at him strangely…oh, oh my.