10. Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan (The Vorkosigan Saga)
Cordelia is my favorite sci-fi heroine by far. She's smart, she's funny, she is an equal partner to her love interest / husband in everything she does (without falling into the "shrewish nagging woman" trope), she is a mother without abandoning her own identity, she is a scientist in the society of her birth and a shrewd politician in the society she marries into, despite the latter's entrenched patriarchy. She is pretty without being a Mary Sue and her physicality never defines her.
9. Franny Glass (Franny and Zooey)
Intellectual, introverted, self-aware, deeply moral, passionate about her beliefs, and with a plot arc that has almost zero to do with any love interest and pretty much only has to do with her interior journey. Even though she seems like she's from a Wes Anderson film I don't care; I love her.
8. Anne Elliot (Persuasion)
Persuasion is my favorite Austen, and Anne is my second-favorite Austen heroine. Anne is loyal, compassionate, thoughtful, and self-aware (I love self-aware heroines so you'll notice a pattern here). While hers is a love story, her character arc is much more of an interior journey than the arcs of most other Austen heroines. She ends the book significantly changed — from self-destructively accommodating of others to someone who will stand her ground for what she cares about.
7. Miss Jane Marple (many books!)
I wish I could fight crime without ever dropping a stitch of my knitting. Miss Jane Marple just might be the most intelligent female heroine ever written, even more intelligent than the fearsomely intelligent #3 on this list. She is fearless, invincible, and comfortable in her skin, and survives multiple novels without a love interest (though I wouldn't be averse to reading some Poirot / Marple slash. Has anyone written such a thing? Or Holmes / Marple slash? Please tell me yes, internet.)
6. Jean Louise “Scout” Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)
I love her bravery, her loyalty, her intelligence, and her way of learning from her experiences and changing her worldview to suit her experiences rather than changing her perception of her experiences to suit her worldview. Also, she has an awesome dad, but I can't really credit her for that.
5. Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)
Smart, funny, and independent, she is perhaps less self-aware than most of the rest of my favorite heroines, but her plot arc brings her to self-awareness so delightfully and romantically
4. Matilda Wormwood (Matilda)
The kids on the bus called me "Matilda" to torment me when I was little. I know you're thinking it sounds like a sweet nickname, but trust me, it was not. As an adult, though, I live into it! Matilda will probably always be my favorite children's-book heroine.
3. Harriet Vane (Gaudy Night).
I love you, Harriet. If I had daughters I would want to name one of them after you. You are so brainy and clear about personal boundaries and self-reflective and willing to admit mistakes and one of the least stupid female heroines ever. Also, you solve crimes and write novels. I love you almost as much as Lord Peter loves you. Almost.
2. Clarissa Dalloway (Mrs. Dalloway)
Perhaps I just love her so much because the window we get into her consciousness is so beautifully formed, but I can't help admiring her introspection and the way she savors small pleasures.
1. Dorothea Brooke (Middlemarch)
After all this list of loving self-aware heroines, I love Dorothea most of all, who has an amazing lack of insight into her own mind for someone otherwise so intelligent! I'm due for a Middlemarch re-read soon, but I love Dorothea for her passionate, self-destructive, intelligent, bumbling, beautiful, saintliness.