How do fictitious heroes shape a nation's identity?

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Fiction and reality are often intertwined. Indeed, reality can inspire fiction and fiction can, reciprocally, have a strong impact on reality. Fictional heroes can thus become role models that can help forge a nation’s character.

I The Legend of King Arthur, fact or fiction?

1 The origins of the legend

King Arthur probably never existed but might have been inspired by a leader called Arturus who fought against the Saxons in the 5th century. The heroic character emerges in medieval stories in the 6th century, but the first coherent account was written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century.


a sword: une épée a deed: une action a knight: un chevalier chivalric: chevaleresque

Arthur is the illegitimate son of Uther Pendragon, king of Britain. One day, Arthur pulls a sword from a stone and is acclaimed king. He marries Guinevere and lives in Camelot, the starting point of many heroic deeds and extraordinary adventures for King Arthur, his sword Excalibur and the Knights of the Round Table, with the help of the wizard Merlin.

2 A long-lasting impact

Though Monmouth’s book later proved unreliable, it gave Britain a valorous and noble ruler and the chivalric ideal of courage and loyalty. That’s why King Arthur’s myth became more important than history.

The Arthurian legend has evolved throughout the centuries. However, it is still a great source of inspiration and a reference today: lots of books, films, series and even computer games deal with it or allude to it.

II 19th century heroines

The age of the novel provided many inspiring female characters, the most influential ones being created by women writers.

1 Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet

Elizabeth Bennet is the heroine of Pride and Prejudice(1813) and one of the most famous female characters in English literature. She is an unconventional protagonist, honest and virtuous, intelligent and witty, ironical and independent. She overcomes various obstacles in the strictly organized society of Regency England (1811-1820) but also surmounts her own flaws and her prejudice against Darcy to finally achieve romantic happiness.

2 Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

Jane is the protagonist and narrator of the eponymous novel published by the most famous of the Brontë sisters in 1847. As an orphan child and a plain and poor girl, Jane has to face oppression and injustice but chooses human dignity and education to become an independent young woman.


plain: quelconque to assert oneself: s’affirmer prejudiced against: qui a des préjugés envers

When she falls in love with Rochester, the married man she works for, she manages to assert herself while remaining loyal to her own principles of justice and morality. In Victorian England and a society prejudiced against women, she believes in gender and social equality.

3 Their influence in today’s world

Elizabeth and Jane are clever, independent and uncommon heroines ahead of their time and still speak to modern women today. Both have inspired a variety of authors, film directors and TV screenwriters.

In the Bridget Jones’ film series or the television film Lost in Austen(2008), for example, Elizabeth becomes a modern-day young woman. And the film Jane Eyre by Cary Fukunaga (2011), acclaimed by critics, was seen as Jane’s message to women: even if you are “poor, obscure, plain, and little,” you can still make what you want of your life if you are true to yourself.