Whether or not you’ve been watching Sarah Lancashire in the latest series of BBC’s Happy Valley, you can’t have missed the kudos the actress has received from the media for her intense performance as Sergeant Catherine Cawood.

“Not many actresses could convey such a banquet of emotions in a few glances,” wrote one newspaper, and the bravery and determination with which she approached the role has some describing the character as ‘the most inspiring woman on telly.’

So (and this is strictly just for fun so please don’t lambaste me for choosing somebody you don’t agree with) I wanted to highlight other women we can take inspiration from; characters from both TV and literature, and celebrate the varied ways in which women are represented in books and on our TV screens.

Remember, these are only a small selection, and you will undoubtedly have many more to add to the list!

Elizabeth Bennett – Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth is not a conventional female of her time. She displays wit, bravery, independence, and feminist views which make her a completely different young woman to others of her society, who were expected to be meek and weak.

Fearless and independent, Elizabeth is also intelligent and inspires others to be confident and courageous.

Edie Falco in The Sopranos as Carmela Soprano

Carmela Soprano – The Sopranos

Not just included in this list because I share her name, TV mafia wife Carmela became an icon in her own right when she starred in The Sopranos.

It might be easy to see her primarily as Tony’s long-suffering wife, but that is just surface – her force is not to be reckoned with.

Carmela is incredibly complex and a figure of pathos and ambiguity. She may turn a blind eye to her husband’s affairs but she’s no mug, and doesn’t permit any kind of threat to her home, children or her status as a woman.

She is also never afraid of confrontation. As the formidable Tony tells her once: “Carm, you aren’t just in my life. You are my life.”

Jo March – Little Women

Creative, strong minded and independent – Jo was the March sister all women aspired to be in Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel.

Jo speaks her mind, not really caring what others think. She remained independent, and supported her family because she was a working woman able to earn money using her mind.

She is flawed in her anger and quick temper but rather than making her unappealing, these flaws suggest she is human.

Celie – The Color Purple

Celie starts to write a diary to God after being repeatedly raped by her father and in her series of letters, learns a lot about herself.

Despite hardship and challenges, such as being beaten by her husband, and constantly being told she is useless and ugly, Celie still manages to gain strength and gains confidence, succeeding through the opportunities she takes full advantage of, and most importantly – learns to love and be loved.

Samantha Jones in Sex and the City, played by Kim Cattrall

Samantha Jones – Sex and the City

A controversial choice, since this character is mostly known for her frequent sexual encounters with the opposite sex, but you can’t deny that Samantha Jones knows exactly what she wants and exactly how to get it.

Tough and supremely confident, Samantha rules the PR world and knows every inch of her worth. When she’s successful she rewards herself for it, and never once apologises for being herself, no matter how much it might offend other people. always goes after what she wants without hesitation and never apologises for being herself.

Samantha always has a solution and she’s always totally honest.

Which female characters from TV and literature would you say were inspiring?