I’ve always been a big reader (no surprise, eh?), thinking back on the books that were most meaningful to me as a child, I realize their heroines were introvert role models.
Harriet the Spy, for example. I loved that book and read it over and over. Harriet was kind of a surly little girl, which I could relate to. She wasn’t a people pleaser. She had two close friends, both quirky outsiders, and didn’t put a lot of energy into the other kids in her school. And she was a writer. She carried a notebook everywhere and wrote down all her observations, which were usually astute and often not nice. But she considered them her private thoughts and respected them.
And when the other kids found her notebook—oh, what a mess that was—she stood her ground. She bought another notebook. She kept writing. She was ostracized and that made her sad, but she nursed her wounds privately and remained true to herself. And ultimately, her real friends forgave her and returned because, though she might have been a tad eccentric, she was certainly interesting.
Then there was Sara Crewe, the heroine of the classic Victorian tearjerker, A Little Princess, about a little rich girl who is orphaned while at boarding school and relegated to an attic room to be starved and worked nearly to death by the school’s heartless headmistress. (Victorians are infamous for abusing children in their stories.) She finally is befriended by a secret guardian, then rescued and returned to a pampered lifestyle.
Sara was popular with her classmates, but also not a people pleaser. She was self-possessed. She liked the other girls but didn’t seem to need them. Her closest confidant was a doll. She had a rich imagination that she shared freely, telling stories that enchanted the little ones, and her imagination helped her stay strong when life was bleak. She was a deep thinker and a reader.
Sara is still my role model for grace under pressure, and in many ways she is my moral compass. But I realize, too, that quirky little Sara helped me feel OK with quirky little Sophia. She made curling up in my room with a book feel like a perfectly fine thing to do. (Although coming from a reading family, I wasn’t ever shamed for that.) She helped me see that disliking dislikable people was OK, but you could treat them kindly all the same by keeping your protective introvert shield up—no need to get all wrapped up in other people’s crap. Of course, Sara also wasn’t above giving people a tart little what-for when they deserved it. Quietly and politely, but effectively.
Finally, there was Randy Melendy, one of the four (then five) Melendy siblings in a series of books that include The Saturdays and The Four-Story Mistake. When Randy was given the luxury of a Saturday to explore New York City, she took a long walk to an art gallery. And when the family moved to The Four-Story Mistake, a rambling house in the country, Randy’s favorite spot was the cupola. “In it, she seemed to be detached from the house, and the world, floating aloft on a sea of branches.”
Doesn’t that sound divine?
Introverts don’t make great television, since so much of the excitement in their lives is invisible to others. They do turn up in movies ocassionally, since films can paint characters slower and with more nuance
But books are full of introverted protagonists. Right now, I’m reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which is all introverts.
But I am particularly grateful for those childhood storybook introverts, who helped make me who I am.
Who are your literary introverted role models?
My book, The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be released December 4, just in time for party/festive/family-togetherness season. You know you need it.
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