The 10 Greatest Songs About Literary Heroines

by Tricia Lowther

It’s easy to understand why powerful women and girls in literature have often proved to be inspirational characters for songwriters. Authors have already created compelling characters and storylines for lyrics, so the addition of a decent tune should equal a hit. Check out these ten top tunes, all sparked by fictional females:

Charlotte Sometimes

Penny Farmer’s haunting children’s book Charlotte Sometimes (1969) is the inspiration for this single by The Cure from 1981. It’s the story of schoolgirl, Charlotte, who travels back in time and exchanges days of her life with Clare, a girl who lived during World War One.

Anyone who knows the song will find the first line of the book very familiar: “By bedtime all the faces, the voices had blurred for Charlotte to one face, one voice.” Lots of the lyrics are lifted from the book with very little alteration.

The song is a great favourite with fans of The Cure, although the video was slammed by their biographer as a major mistake and one of their worst.

Dorothy at Forty

What would Dorothy Gale be like, thirty years or so after her adventures in Oz? American indie rock band Cursive say she’s unfulfilled and that her amazing dreams have only ever held her back. Singer Tim Kasher urges middle aged Dorothy to wake up and go to work.

Author L. Frank Baum, who wrote fourteen novels based in the Land of Oz, would probably have been surprised (and perhaps somewhat alarmed) to hear this. His Dorothy eventually made her permanent home in the Land of Oz. Of course, in the popular 1939 film, Oz turned out to be a dream, and it’s this idea that “Dorothy At Forty” plays with.

The Dog

Vampire child Claudia is the inspiration for this sinister sounding album track by The Damned. Claudia is one of the main characters in Anne Rice’s 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire.

More people will be familiar with the 1994 move of the same name, which starred Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and eleven-year-old Kirsten Dunst in the part of five-year-old Claudia.

Mrs. Robinson

“Mrs. Robinson” was recorded by Simon & Garfunkel as part of the soundtrack to the 1967 movie The Graduate, based on a novel by Charles Webb. It was the pair’s second US chart-topper, as well as being a worldwide hit.

Their first effort at a song for the film was rejected by director Mike Nichols, so they quickly adapted a song which had originally been written as a tribute to former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. This may explain why some of the lyrics, such as, “Going to the candidates debate,” don’t quite fit with the idea of the Mrs. Robinson in the film and book.

Wide Sargasso Sea

Dominican author Jean Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso Sea in 1966 as a “prequel” to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847). Set in Jamaica and England, the novel tells the story of Mr. Rochester’s first wife and explains how she ended her days locked in the attic of Thornfield Hall.

In 2011, Stevie Nicks, best known as lead singer with Fleetwood Mac, released this track on her 7th solo album, In Your Dreams. Lyrics like, “She burned his house down saying, you may have forgotten me, but you’ll remember this,” add a nicely melodramatic touch to this soft rock ballad.


In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the character Ophelia descends into a form of madness that would in those days have been called “erotomania,” a condition said to stem from woman’s biology and emotion. The male equivalent was melancholy, then thought to be a disease of the intellect.

The title track of Natalie Merchant’s second solo album depicts Ophelia as many different women, an array of female tropes in fact, implying that female characters in popular culture are often viewed as objects in relation to others, rather than being portrayed with a depth that befits “real” human beings, men.

Merchant’s song suggests that rather than being driven mad by love, Ophelia was only perceived as “mad” because she didn’t fit into the gendered expectations society placed upon her. The song is an exasperated swipe at narrow minds and gender stereotypes, the message delivered via Merchant’s signature bittersweet vocal style.

My Antonia

My Antonia, published in 1918, is one of the best known works by American author Willa Cather. As is often the way with female authors, Cather was ignored by male critics and teachers and her work slipped into obscurity for many years. She regained prominence after her works were republished by feminist publishing house Virago, in the 1980s.

Emmylou Harris wrote the wistful song “My Antonia” for her 2000 Grammy award winning album Red Dirt Girl, where she performs it as a duet with Dave Matthews.


“Julia” was written by Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart as part of the soundtrack to the film of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The novel’s protagonist, Winston Smith, initially hates Julia, who appears to be a zealous advocate of the totalitarian regime where everyone exists under the watchful eye of Big Brother, but the two become lovers and together defy the power of the Party until their short lived affair is discovered.

The song is a spare and poignant track and the video, which films Annie in close up for the entire song, proved to be an inspiration for Sinead O’Connor seven years later with “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

Wuthering Heights

This has to be one of the most well-known literary songs ever written. Kate Bush was only nineteen in 1978 when it made her the first UK woman to have a number one hit with a self-penned song.

Sung from the point of view of Cathy’s ghost, the spirit of a woman compelled to wander the moors until she can be reunited with the soul of her earthbound lover, the song evokes superbly the mood of Emily Brontë’s nineteenth century novel of the same name.

White Rabbit

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865) was the inspiration for this psychedelic 1960s single by Jefferson Airplane. Songwriter Grace Slick has told interviewers that the book was often read to her as a child, and remained a vivid memory into adulthood.

Considered to be one of the defining songs of 1967’s “Summer Of Love,” many people associate White Rabbit with hallucinogenic drugs. Slick has talked about how lots of children’s stories contain references to mind-altering substances.

Pink performed a cover version of White Rabbit for the soundtrack of Tim Burton’s 2016 movie, Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Top photo: Disney’s Alice In Wonderland

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