The Heroine’s Bookshelf
Jo March, Scarlett O’Hara, Scout Finch—the literary canon is brimming with intelligent, feisty, never-say-die heroines and celebrated female authors. Like today’s women, they placed a premium on personality, spirituality, career, sisterhood, and family. When they were up against the wall, authors like Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott fought back—sometimes with words, sometimes with gritty actions. In this witty, informative, and inspiring read, their stories offer much-needed literary intervention to modern women.
Full of beloved heroines and the remarkable writers who created them, The Heroine’s Bookshelf explores how the pluck and dignity of literary characters such as Jane Eyre and Lizzy Bennet can encourage women today.
Each legendary character is paired with her central quality—Anne Shirley is associated with irrepressible “Happiness,” while Scarlett O’Hara personifies “Fight”—along with insights into her author’s extraordinary life. From Zora Neale Hurston to Colette, Laura Ingalls Wilder to Charlotte BrontË, Harper Lee to Alice Walker, here are authors and characters whose spirited stories are more inspiring today than ever.
Whenever life hits a bump in the road or I find myself stressed out the first thing I turn to is a book. Books ground me and give me a form of escape from my present circumstances. They let me take a step back and look at my problems from another point of view and provide a much needed mental health break. While I have done this all my life I have often felt very alone in my solace in fiction, until I discovered the internet anyway. But a print book, in IRL, now that’s a different sort of validation and this is why The Heroine’s Bookshelf is ranked among my top reads this year.
In times of struggle, there are as many reasons not to read as there are to breathe. Don’t you have bigger things to do? Reading, let alone re-reading, is the terrain of milquetoasts and mopey spinsters. At life’s ugliest junctures the very act of opening a book can smack of cowardly escapism. Who chooses to read when there’s work to be done?
Call me a coward if you will, but when the line between duty and sanity blurs, you can usually find me curled up with a battered book, reading as if my mental health depended on it. And it does, for inside the books I love I find food, respite, escape, and perspective.”
In her book Erin Blakemore showcases twelve books with their fantastic heroines and authors and shows how each one can help inspire and improve our lives in different ways. She covers everything from faith to dignity, compassion, ambition… even magic. Each chapter covers one theme and talks about how both the heroine and the author embody that theme in their lives and in their books. Laura Ingalls Wilder embodies Simplicity, Charlotte Bronte and her heroine Jane Eyre show steadfastness, while Margaret Mitchell and her heroine Scarlett O’Hara fight every step of the way.
I loved how each chapter covered not just the literary heroines and their themes and adventures but also took the time to research each author as well. Often the history of an author proved to be surprising and very relevant to both the heroine they would go on to write and the theme that both they and their heroine would represent. Both Lizzy Bennet and Jane Austen were true to themselves against great financial and societal odds. Both Celie and Alice Walker led lives of dignity in impossible circumstances. It surprised me as well how many of these great female authors were forced to publish anonymously or under male pseudonyms and often led lives of poverty and degradation because they wanted to be true to themselves and write.
What I loved most though was how reading the chapters dedicated to my favorite books offered me insight into my own life that I hadn’t considered before. The lines she draws are fascinating to follow and I really felt like I learned a lot about my favorite literary heroines, about my beloved female authors and, within this new context, myself as well.
Highly recommended reading for bookish types, The Heroine’s Bookshelf offers more than life lessons, it offers new insight into favorite characters, great authors and even yourself.