The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons, From Jane Austen To Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Erin Blakemore
If someone is looking for matters to criticize in a book, this gives plenty of material to choose from, including the author’s decadence and difficulty in accepting the validity of “conservative” characters and their moral and political worldviews. The fact that the author finds it necessary to write as if only women are interested in a book on heroines, an assumption that male writers do not tend to find necessary when speaking of heroes, signifies something as to the outrage culture of which this book is a part . Despite these flaws, though, and overlooking the author’s lack of imagination and optimism when it came to writing for a larger audience than one with narrow interests in left-wing decadence and women’s studies, there is a great deal in this book that any author would be able to identify with, and the author’s insights are generally sympathetic to the authors she writes about, and sometimes even profound, which makes this a worthwhile and very brief 200 page read that does not present many difficulties to the reader in encouraging empathy.
This book is organized in a very straightforward way. After a personal introduction, the author chooses a set of qualities: self, faith, happiness, dignity, family ties, indulgence, fight, compassion, simplicity, steadfastness, ambition, and magic, modeled by a particular character: Elizabeth Bennet , Janie Crawford, Anne Shirley , Celie, Francie Nolan, Claudine, Scarlett O’Hara, Scout Finch, Laura Ingalls, Jane Eyre, Jo March, and Mary Lennox, in a particular book: Pride & Prejudice , Their Eyes Were Watching God, Anne of Green Gables, The Color Purple, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Collette’s Claudine novels, Gone With The Wind, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Long Winter, Jane Eyre, Little Women, and The Secret Garden, by a particular author: Jane Austen, Zora Neal Hurston, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Alice Walker, Betty Smith, Colette, Margaret Mitchell, Harper Lee , Laura Ingalls Wilder, Charlotte Bronte, Louisa May Alcott, and Frances Hodgson Burnett. Each of the chapters combines a discussion of the character relating to their quality as well as a biographical discussion, including quotes from the work, and suggestions on when it would be best to read the book as well as some comments on literary sisters of the characters chosen from other books.
While this is not a perfect book, this book is yet more evidence, if any were needed, that a great deal of amazing art and literature springs from personal torment. As these authors wrestled, often unsuccessfully, with their demons, finding terrible relationships, struggling against despair, and transgressing the moral boundaries that should have marked their lives, and being subject to harassment and abuse of all kinds, they created art that endures and inspires in spite of themselves. Now, to be sure, I did not need this book to tell me that great art came from torture, or that writers were often troubled souls who wrote out of compulsion more than out of enjoyment. That said, this book at least gave me more writers whose lives I could relate to in many and often unfortunate ways, and it is likely that many readers will find that the same is true for them.
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