Author: Samantha Ellis | Publisher: Random House | Pages: 272 | Source: GiftedPart of my Christmas haul |On a pilgrimage to Wuthering Heights, Samantha Ellis found herself arguing with her best friend about which heroine was best: Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw. She was all for wild, passionate Cathy; but her friend found Cathy silly, a snob, while courageous Jane makes her own way. And that's when Samantha realised that all her life she'd been trying to be Cathy when she should have been trying to be Jane.
So she decided to look again at her heroines - the girls, women, books that had shaped her ideas of the world and how to live. Some of them stood up to the scrutiny (she will always love Lizzy Bennet); some of them most decidedly did not (turns out Katy Carr from What Katy Did isn't a carefree rebel, she's a drip). There were revelations (the real heroine of Gone with the Wind? Clearly Melanie), joyous reunions (Anne of Green Gables), nostalgia trips (Sylvia Plath) and tearful goodbyes (Lucy Honeychurch). And then there was Jilly Cooper....
*I don't normally review non-fiction but… this one's worth it, okay!
MY THOUGHTS: How much you enjoy this book is honestly down to how much you can relate to it. If you're like me and fell dangerously in love with the brutal and passionate Wuthering Heights, ever since yearning to be a wild Cathy as opposed to a more reserved "plain Jane", then you'll love this book. If you finished Little Women, and although you enjoyed it on the whole, couldn't stand the ending Jo March was given, then you'll love this book. If you're a feminist who's obsessed with heroines on the whole, then you'll enjoy this book. If you're a self-confessed classics-addict, then you'll enjoy this book. If you want to read an autobiographical account of a woman who grew up in an Iraqi–Jewish community and is looking back on her life through the eyes of her heroines, then you'll love this book. If you've said no to all of these then: A) WHAT?! and B) this book most definitely isn't for you.
How to be a Heroine is one of those books I, personally, wish I had written. The chapter about Anne Shirley had me nodding throughout, as did the chapter about Esther Greenwood, and I was laughing through the tears (or crying through the chuckles, it was difficult to tell) as I read about Lizzy Bennet… she's always been my heroine, you see – or one of them, at very least. It's just blatantly obvious that the author has such a passion for literature and, from one reader to another, her sheer enthusiasm for these heroines is something I understand all too well.
"I'm beginning to think that all readings are provisional, and that maybe we read heroines for what we need for them at the time."
Samantha Ellis dissects each heroine fully, not only discussing what she learnt from them at that point of her life, but also criticising the authors for some of their choices. And, if anything, it really is a celebration of these intelligent, headstrong, complex characters and how they help us to decode the world around us.
As you can see, I'm struggling to coherently express my love for this book, but surely that fact alone should persuade you to pick it up… right? I'll have a follow-up post coming soonish, where I'll go through a list of my fictional heroines, but for a now, all I can say is: if this book sounds like one you might enjoy, then please, please don't hesitate to give it a go.