Saturday, 31 May 2014


I have found my best friend in book form. There have been many over the years (sad Nora no-mates that I am), but this is like stumbling into the kitchen at a party and discovering everyone you ever liked in one room.

It probably started with Pippi Longstocking. Or maybe she's just the first I can remember. Pippi was followed by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne of Green Gables and Nancy Drew and endless, endless fairy tales. (It will be obvious by now that I was one of those children who had a deep-seated belief that I was really adopted and it was only a matter if time before my real parents came to claim me.) As I grew up, I transferred my literary affections to Lizzy Bennett, and then on to Tess of the D'urbervilles and Sylvia Plath. Cheery, I know.

So How To Be A Heroine by Samantha Ellis is my dream book. The book I (and I'm sure many of my book-loving friends) wish I'd written. A memoir in literary heroines. Ellis was inspired to write the book after a (gentle) dispute with her real-life best friend over whether Cathy Earnshaw or Jane Eyre was the more worthy literary role model. Cathy's selfish romantic spirit versus Jane's independent (and dare I say pious) nature...? It was a tough call. (My vote would go to an entirely other Bronte character, the strong-willed Helen Lawrence/Graham, but that's a whole other blog.) Over eleven chapters, Ellis explores heroines as diverse as Anne of Green Gables, Flora Poste, Scarlett O'Hara and Scheherazade, the way in which they shaped her, and indeed us. The result is a nostalgic - but not deluded - homage to the women who made her, and indeed me. I loved it.

One final thing: As if that's not enough, the bibliography by chapter at the end is enough to keep you reading for a year or more. In fact, I'm kindling them all now. Samantha Ellis, I will be sending you the bill.

(This blog first appeared on Bazaar on Books,, 15 January 2014)

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