There’s a special place in hell for women who refuse to support other women, right? Or, if not hell, at least a central role in a classic novel.
Yes, literature (particularly “classic” literature for and about women) loves a mean girl, an archenemy, or an undermining frenemy. This archetype is often realized as a charming blonde who’s either a snob guarding her place against interlopers, or a determined social climber herself. For every spunky heroine, she’s the foil. She’s the prissy antagonist who scorns our protagonist’s rough ways, while her nimble feet fight for their place on the rungs of a novel’s social ladder. She represents the apex of the idea that men can fight each other out in the open, but women are forced to be underhanded in their jockeying for alpha status. Her machinations make plots get thicker and tension ratchet up.
Here’s a selection of literature’s most delightfully nasty mean girls. We love to hate them.
Nellie Oleson, Little House on the Prairie Books
“Laura, your poke bonnet is just utterly too-too!” says spoiled girl Nellie Oleson, which is totally a backhanded compliment for prairie girls, didn’t you know? Nellie guards her complexion while the other girls toil in the sun, and complains about how much more civilized life is “back east.” A foil for Laura Ingalls and a composite of several people from her real life, Nellie shows up over and over again, even intruding on Laura’s courtship with Almanzo Wilder before being kicked to the curb.