Friday, 27 November 2015

Friday Five: Women in Books

Recently I read How to Be a Heroine, Or, What I've Learned from Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis, in which the author revisits the books she read as a child and young woman to see if she still admired the same female characters who had a profound effect on her in her youth.

I will return to this book in a later post, but it made me think about my childhood literary heroines, and whether I still feel the same way about them. The answer is yes - does this mean I had great taste back then, or rather, that I've never grown up?

5 Literary Heroines from My Younger Years:
  1. George from The Famous Five books by Enid Blyton: George firmly believes her gender shouldn't prevent her from doing what she wants; she tackles 'the great outdoors' with gusto and is unashamedly physical; she is greatly concerned about animal welfare; her personal integrity crosses class boundaries; she is intelligent without being intellectual; she is fiercely loyal towards her friends. Sure, she scowls a lot, but I still wanted to be her (way more than I ever wanted to be Pollyanna). And I wanted her rowing boat. And her island. 
  2. Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray - I love the novel, and her cheeky, irreverent adaptability. She is a social outsider, who uses cunning and charm to claw her way to respectability, yet never achieves it. She is also radically non-maternal; one of the few female characters who doesn't go all pathetic and uninteresting once she's had a baby. And she had a thoroughly modern moniker, unlike Pamela, Clarissa or Hester.
  3. Susan Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: as the eldest sister, she is compassionate enough to care for her family and brave enough to fight for them and stand up for her beliefs. She has arrows that never miss their target (who wouldn't want those?) but she is the voice of reason and commonsense - often she prefers to take the easy route rather than plunging recklessly into battle - even as a child, I saw the virtue in that. At the end of the series, she doesn't enter Narnia with the others, because she is more interested in 'nylons and lipstick and invitations'. In other words, she discovers sex and and drugs and rock and roll (or real life, if you prefer), and gets to grow up.
  4. Jane Eyre, from the eponymous novel by Charlotte Brontë: she's honest, forthright and powerful, acting with dignity and grace even when burning with shame and rejection. And she addresses the reader directly. She may be plain and unrefined, but she has nothing at all to hide
  5. Anne Frank - this is sort of cheating because she was a real person, but I first read her diary as though she were a fictional character, and I related to all her family frictions and teenage pretentiousness, even if I (thankfully) have never had to deal with Nazis battering down the door. Her words and ways to live have a power she could never have expected. 

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