“The Final Girl” is a phrase for slasher movie heroines who gets to kill the big bad and survive at the end. Long before we had Jamie Lee Curtis and slow moving serial killers, we had Victorian pillars of virtue who got to kick a little ass in their own way. Okay, so they don't really fit the true description of the "Final Girl" trope, but let's give a hand to the earliest of the horror story heroines who didn't just faint and wait to be rescued.
The Woman in White: Marian Halcombe
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins isn't really a horror story, it's more of a psychological mystery about how women's lives were effected by greedy men a time when they had very few legal rights. Collins, a good friend of Charles Dickens, also managed to fill the story with a number of murders. Marian is one of the heroes of the tale. The less-wealthy and therefore less-eligible for marriage female character compared with Laura. Laura is Marian's beautiful and sweet half-sister, the perfect Victorian woman. She is also the antithesis of the headstrong and intelligent Marian. As her sister is caught between her love for the very-good art teacher Walter Hartright and the evil plans of murderous men, it's Marian who has to help Walter to unravel the mystery. She is the one who overcomes grief to take charge of a situation that women did not handle in that time. I do not want to give away the mystery, but Marian is fantastic female character and the book is one of my favorites.
Dracula: Mina Murray Harker
I will always defend Mina Harker no matter how anyone interrupts this book. I have read Bram Stoker's tale of horror many times and I say Mina was, by Victorian standards, a strong character. Yes, Mina is a demure lady who sweetly stands by as the start of the vampire's terror effects her life. But once Mina is aware of what is happening, she's the one who asks the right questions and wants to put a stop to it. She takes care of the ailing Jonathan Harker when he returns from Dracula's castle, she agrees to be the center of the dangerous climax, and she is one of the few characters that Van Helsing shows respect to. She's brave and loyal and not the stereotypical Victorian damsel.
The Phantom of the Opera: Christine Daae
Forget the musical where all she wants to do is cry and hide. In the original Gaston Leroux novel, Christine is trying to be logical and caring while protecting her childhood crush and adult love interest, Raoul. Yes, she has compassion and an interest in the Phantom (a.k.a. Erik). But she is also trying to be in control of her own life and find a way out of the trap her “music teacher” set for her (by tricking her into thinking he was an angel sent by her late father which is a psychological mess I’m just not going to get into). It's she that rescues everyone in the story through sacrifice and kindness, but she also has a will and a mind of her own. Even Raoul cannot control her or make her his little "housewife". In the book, Christine is, for lack of a better word, sassy. She does what she has to do in order to survive and keep others safe without compromising her own opinions.
The String of Pearls: Johanna Oakley
Another example of how the musical differs from the original book. The String of Pearls, later re-titled Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, was a penny dreadful primarily from the point of view of Johanna Oakley, the fiancee of a sailor who asks the help of his friends to find him. We don't know for certain who wrote this story that made the infamous Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett the legends of nightmares and farce. What we do know is that, although not the greatest work in English literature, the fantastical story places the characters in several horrifying situations including the insane asylum and in the clutches of Todd himself. What makes Johanna a badass isn't simply her gathering the characters to help her find out the truth of what happened to her boyfriend, but how she herself finds out. She disguises herself as a boy and takes a job in Sweeney Todd's shop when no one else will investigate. C'mon. For a woman in a novel written in 1846 that's pretty cool.