Pop Songs Classic Literary Heroines Would Listen To

Imagine that our favorite literary heroines lived today (or, well, lived at all — but you know what I'm going for here). They'd probably be blasting the same music that we are, picking a soundtrack to their lives. So, how do the lyrics of today’s hits fit the lives of yesterday’s leading ladies?

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Anne Shirley: "Royals" by Lorde

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Clinging to bridges because your funeral boat sank is hard work, as Anne Shirley of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables knows. At the end of a particularly grueling day, after being rescued by the detestable Gilbert Blythe, every heroine needs a catchy song to perk her up again. Anne would love “Royals” not only for its rebellious, independent ethos, but also for its praise of a lifestyle where the most important character quality is to be yourself in the face of materialistic pressures.

Catherine Earnshaw: "Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus

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When Emily Brontё wrote Wuthering Heights, she forgot to put in the scene where Catherine haunts Heathcliff by singing “Wrecking Ball” until it is irrevocably stuck in his head. Catherine would be drawn to Cyrus’s song, seeing in its lyrics the heart of her relationship with Heathcliff. In fact, the words “I came in like a wrecking ball” are almost certainly on her tombstone, in the wake of her disastrous relationships with Edgar Linton and Heathcliff.

Emma Bovary: "Do What U Want" by Lady Gaga feat. R. Kelly

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Lady Gaga’s song “Do What U Want” was definitely dashing through Emma Bovary’s head when she engaged in her affairs with Rodolphe and Leon, depicted in Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. She would probably catch herself humming the tune at home as she daydreamed about romantic intrigues, and might even sing it out loud as she breathlessly strode through the country at midnight on her way to a rendezvous. She’d start singing the song in earnest after her lovers deserted her, stifled by her own delusions and debts, and would identify deeper with lyrics like “You can’t have my heart, and you won’t use my mind, but do what you want with my body.”

Jo March: "Burn" by Ellie Goulding

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Jo March, the beloved heroine in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, has a fierce spirit that’s embodied in Goulding’s fiery pop hit. Always striving to be true to herself, even when she makes mistakes, Jo would appreciate the ethos of being unafraid to declare her true self to the world, just like in “Burn.” Her choice of Professor Bhaer as a husband, and rejection of Laurie reveals her desire to determine her own path in life, and she would be empowered by lyrics such as “We got the fire, fire, fire, and we gonna let it burn, burn, burn.”

Dorothea Brooke: "Pompeii" by Bastille

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Dorothea Brooke of George Eliot’s Middlemarch would be drawn to “Pompeii,” especially after the disappointment of her first marriage when her high hopes gave way to feeling like “nothing changed at all.” The disillusionment of naïve hopes, yet persistence in bettering oneself, are themes found in the song that would inspire her as she continued to search for significance in her life.

Juliet: "Unconditionally" by Katy Perry

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Juliet Capulet, immortalized in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, would require a sweeping ballad to match the love in her daydreaming heart. She’d play the song secretly in her bedroom while gazing at her photograph of Romeo, on the back of which she wrote “Juliet Montague” in girly swirly letters. Perhaps later when Romeo snuck up to her balcony window, the lyrics of the song would leak into her declarations, and she’d tell him she loved him unconditionally.

Daisy Buchanan: "Let Her Go" by Passenger

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Imagine a sequence lost amongst F. Scott Fitzgerald’s notes for The Great Gatsby, perhaps slated to occur after the silk shirts scene, in which Gatsby told Daisy that he listened to “Let Her Go” over and over as he rose in power to win her heart. Daisy would desperately cling to the song because it would remind her of him, but if it ever came on the radio when she was out driving with Tom, she’d blush, hastily change the station, and hope those trivial details escaped his notice.

Anna Karenina: "Wake Me Up" by Avicii

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“Wake Me Up” would touch Anna Karenina’s restless, searching spirit. Leo Tolstoy’s tragedienne from his famous novel Anna Karenina would select Avicii’s song as number one on a playlist for her European travels with Vronsky. Anna would hold onto the lyric “love is the prize” upon her return to Russia, when she realized that society had shunned her, and the song would continue to play in her head through arguments with Vronsky. Ultimately, the words “Wake me up when it’s all over” would haunt her on that final train ride.

Elizabeth Bennet: "Just Give Me a Reason" by Pink feat Nate Ruess

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It’s difficult to find a song worthy of our favorite witty, passionate heroine from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but Pink’s collaboration with Nate Ruess comes close. Elizabeth would latch onto this song after she spurned Darcy’s offer yet realized she may want him after all. Holding the truth inside her, she would mull over the lyrics late at night, wide awake next to a slumbering Jane. She would find hope in the lyrics of the song, waiting for that reason to come from Darcy.

The Wife of Bath: "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke

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The Wife of Bath, who entertains fellow pilgrims in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, is sassy and always in control (except when she is truly in love, but that doesn’t happen often), and she would find Thicke’s lyrics suitably worldly and possibly useful in ensnaring a sixth husband. Lyrics such as, “But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature, just let me liberate you,” would be certain to woo any 14th century man. She’d be sure to crank up the radio when “Blurred Lines” came on, and she’d know every word.

Danaerys Targaryen: "Roar" by Katy Perry

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"Roar" is almost too perfect for Danaerys Targaryen, from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and even though she is not yet considered a classic heroine, we couldn’t resist adding her to the list. Once all the warlords and generals left her canopied tent, Dany would pull out her iPod and play her favorite pump-up jam. Whether sacking a city or ruling a kingdom, everyone needs an awesome empowering tune, and Perry’s triumphant, determined lyrics would satisfy the dragon in Dany even as she unleashed her dragons on the fools who opposed her, “like thunder gonna shake the ground.”