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Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

On Older Female Protagonists

A few days ago, Anastasia, Memory, Chris and I were talking on Twitter about books with older female protagonists. When you start getting older, it can be harder to find books with female protagonists close to your age. Even if you aren’t reading Young Adult, New Adult, Middle Grade or Children’s books, it’s not unusual to find that the main female is in her early twenties. Or maybe, we’re just really starting to look for some older female protagonists, so don’t really know where to look.

I started looking through my own books, hoping to find some with older heroines, and surprisingly found more than I had anticipated.

  • Bridget Jones's DiaryIn the first book in Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget is in her 30’s. The second book follows immediately, whereas in the most recent book in the series we find Bridget in her 50’s. All these books follow Bridget and her quest to get laid, find a man, raise her kids properly, lose weight, and become a successful career woman. One of the things that is so appealing about the Bridget Jones books is that she’s a relatable charter, and you can totally see a real person her age struggling with the same things that she does.LibraryThing.
  • The Blue CastleThe Blue Castle is a lesser known books by L.M. Montgomery – and yet, everyone I know who has read it, positively loves it. This book starts off on the night before Valancy’s 29th birthday, and covers the following year where she finally learns to live the live that she wants – all because she thinks it is the last year that she will ever have. LibraryThing.
  • The Silent LifeI read A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife in December, and quite liked it. I’ve passed this book on to my mom, so I can’t check on Jodi’s exact age, but I know that she and her husband have been together for almost 30 years… putting her probably mid 40’s to early 50’s, depending on when they first got together. This book focuses on the deterioration of Jodi and Todd’s marriage, presenting two characters who are very real and extremely flawed. This was Harrison’s debut novel, and she unfortunately passed away last year. LibraryThing.
  • American ElsewhereIn American Elsewhere the main character, Mona, is a middle aged woman who has moved to a new town to inherit the house that her mother grew up in. It’s not only a story of Mona learning who she is, or where she came from, it’s also a story of supernatural beings that almost have some of overtones from the Cthulhu mythos. This book was written by Robert Jackson Bennett. LibraryThing.
  • Notes on a ScandalNotes on a Scandal, written by ZoĆ« Heller, tells the story of Sheba, a teacher in her 40’s, who has an affair with one of her students. The narrator of the story, Barbara, is slightly older than Sheba, and seems to take some kind of perverse delight in the downward spiralling of Sheba. This had been adapted into a movie starring Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench. LibraryThing.
  • PersuasionOne of my favourite Jane Austen books is Persuasion. Much older than Austen’s other heroines, Anne Elliot is 27 – positively an old maid at that point in time! Anne’s love life takes an interesting turn when an old fling comes back into the picture, the dashing Captain Wentworth. I really like how this book gives a good glimpse into what it would have been like to be an older single woman in the regency period. LibraryThing
  • Frenchman's CreekLady Dona is almost 30 in Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek. This isn’t one of du Maurier’s more popular novels, and it doesn’t have the gothic feeling that you would expect from a du Maurier novel. It does, however, have an fiercely independent female lead, who escapes life in London for the quieter country living, and who ends up in an adventure with pirates. (I mean, really, who doesn’t love a pirate story?) LibraryThing.
  • Cheating at SolitaireCheating at Solitaire is one of my favourite chicklit books… Ally Carter wrote both this book and it’s sequel, Learning to Play Gin before she became known for her Gallagher Girls and Heist young adult series. In Cheating at Solitaire, 34 year old Julia James has made a name for herself writing nonfiction books for single women. What I loved about these books was that even when Julia ended up with a man, she wasn’t the type of character who thought she couldn’t be happy single. She was successful, independent, strong, and highly likeable. LibraryThing.
  • Shannon Hale - AustenlandIn Shannon Hale’s Austenland, Jane Hayes is a 30-something woman who is obsessed with Pride and Prejudice. Sound familiar? When Jane is sent on a holiday where everyone dresses and acts like they belong in the regency period it sounds like a dream come true – until she is actually there and required to give up her cell phone and all other modern technology. Jane is written in such a way that she really reminds me of a lot of other female 30-somethings that I know in real life. LibraryThing.
  • Black Sheep - Georgette HeyerOh, Georgette Heyer. How I love her regency books! Since Heyer’s books were written a few decades ago, and not actually during the regency period, it’s not too unusual to find her female leads slightly older and slightly more independent than woman of that time would have really been. For example, Abigail Wendover is 28 in Black Sheep, and Annis Wychwood is in her late 20’s in Lady of Quality. While not all of her protagonists are of the older variety, it’s not too difficult to find those that are. LibraryThing.

So there’s a handful of books with female protagonists who are older than 25… Anastasia has also created The 25+ Club list on GoodReads – a list of books with female protagonists older than 25.

What about you? Do you find that as you’ve gotten older, you prefer to read books about people who are older as well? Do you know of any additional books with older female protagonists?

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 8:21 pm February 5, 2014.
Category: Listed

  • Anne A. Radcliffe

    Oh man, “older” female protagonist now starts at 25? #oldfart

  • raidergirl3

    Gotta be checkin’ out the rocking Canadian authors:
    Carol Shields has some older main characters doesn’t she? ‘Unless’ has Reta who is a mother with a 20 yr old daughter. ‘The Stone Diaries’ follows the women all her life.
    Margaret Laurence’s ‘The Stone Angel’, and is it Hagar Shipley? She was really old and dying.
    Also, Exit Lines by Joan Barfoot is set in a old age home.

    Here’s a list titled Fiction Featuring Cranky, Eccentric Old Folks at librarything about with older main characters, but some of these will be men.

  • Courtney Wilson

    LOL. Even now in my 30’s most of what I read is young adult and middle grade. So books with characters that are 25 years old is “older” compared to that.

  • Courtney Wilson

    Oh! I forgot about Carol Shields’ books! Thanks!

  • Melissa @ Bookmark Dragon

    Ooh, I loved Austenland. Have you read Midnight in Austenland? That heroine is even older, divorced, and has two teenage kids. And she totally rocks.

  • Courtney Wilson

    I haven’t read Midnight in Austenland yet, though that IS on my TBR list. Definitely am going to need to pick it up!

  • Mona (Moxie-Dude)

    Great list! I shared the link with my step-mother who is an avid reader :-)

  • WordLily

    Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody!

    And I think even in the first book of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, Precious Ramotswe is in her 30s.

  • Kelly Rogers

    Man, I have to admit this is not something I really think about… I read a lot of fantasy, so sometimes age is not even mentioned! Memory used to mention the age of characters in her posts, though, and sometimes I would have an ‘I feel old’ moment. haha

  • Courtney Wilson

    I find that a lot of fantasy that I’ve read centre around younger women – even that not in the YA genre.

  • Courtney Wilson

    I’ve never read No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, though have often meant to. Thanks for the comment. :)

  • Courtney Wilson

    Thanks Mona!

  • CDG63

    What a fabulous list of books to read! I have to get The Blue Castle. for some reason it’s one of LM Montgomery’s books I haven’t read, and I’ve read many of them. Ditto American Elsewhere. Thankfully I have read Bridget Jone’s The Age of Reason, and I love Persuasion, one of my all-time favourite books. I have to get Frenchman’s Creek too, it sounds interesting. I’ll try to think of some books with heroines over 30 (or are considered older), but the most immediate one that comes to mind is Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold, the heroine is in her late 50’s. Fabulous fantasy book that I love.

  • Courtney Wilson

    You haven’t read The Blue Castle? Oh, you are in for a treat! Sourcebooks has republished it, so it’ll be easier to find now than it was previously! It’s such a wonderful book; enjoy it!! :)

  • Heather Hill

    I write books with much older protagonists. My first was about a 40 year old and my second has three protagonists, all in their sixties!

  • wirdmonger

    I googled ‘older female characters’ and got this blog. I was looking for recommendations about women characters in their 50s – that invisible stage for a book character before she becomes the detective in a cosy book while she quilts and cares for her cats. I’ve been casually looking for a while and you know what? I think I’m gonna have to start writing…

  • wirdmonger

    Link please!

  • wirdmonger

    I love Precious Ramotswe! I actually read her as much older and that was part of the attraction. It’s great to read a wise woman character.