How to be a Heroine began with that age old question: Emily or Charlotte? Do you prefer the wild and passionate Wuthering Heights, or the strong and independent Jane Eyre?
It seems that people who have read both Charlotte and Emily always fall on either side – I’ve never met anyone who likes or dislikes them equally.
Until recently, my favourite Brontë was Emily. I enjoyed Jane Eyre, but the unedited length of her time with Sir John and his sisters killed my momentum and thus, interest. I never thought Cathy superior to Jane, it was the primitive love in Wuthering Heights that beguiled me.
Now, the Brontë I admire most is Anne. Anne who shunned the imaginative and set herself completely in reality. Her stories are reflective of the suffering of her peers, and I admire her for it.
It’s discussions like this that immediately draw me to a book, and after I saw Ellis talk at Daunt Books Festival I knew How to be a Heroine would be the book for me.
“While debating literature’s greatest heroines with her best friend, thirty-something playwright Samantha Ellis has a revelation—her whole life, she’s been trying to be Cathy Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights when she should have been trying to be Jane Eyre.
With this discovery, she embarks on a retrospective look at the literary ladies—the characters and the writers—whom she has loved since childhood. From early obsessions with the March sisters to her later idolization of Sylvia Plath, Ellis evaluates how her heroines stack up today. And, just as she excavates the stories of her favourite characters, Ellis also shares a frank, often humorous account of her own life growing up in a tight-knit Iraqi Jewish community in London. Here a life-long reader explores how heroines shape all our lives.” GoodReads.
If I read as a child, I don’t remember much of it. I feel quite envious of people who began their love of reading so young, I’ll never be able to catch up with that sort of devotion. Aside from Enid Blyton (I wanted to be part of the Famous Five) and What Katie Did, I couldn’t tell you another book I read independently.
So, Ellis’ journey through all the heroines she read and loved as a child was just magical. As if my years of not reading had never happened.
Alongside this rereading, Ellis talks us through her life. I found it both enlightening and emotional to read about another childhood. Another childhood rather different to my own. Had How to be a Heroine only focused on novels, and not their impact on Ellis it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.
I lost interest slightly when I became unfamiliar with the books, however, this was no fault of Ellis’. Her writing is consistent and inquisitive, carrying you through the chapters.
There isn’t much more I can say about this book other than, it’s a delight, go and read it.