I recently finished Samantha Ellis’ How to Be a Heroine. I liked it, she’s a fantastic writer, and I loved following her along her journey. She’s a little whiny at times- I mean, honestly. Not every female character is written to be a completely flawless role model for you. That’s not the point of writing women. I loved her depiction of growing up as an Iraqi Jewish girl in London and all the sexual and ethnic tensions that come with that.
Growing up as the treasured daughter of Whitey McWhiterson and his legally and sacramentally bound wife in Safe Little Haven, USA, I had quite a different upbringing. But I still read a ton, and I still identified with the women I read about, and had my share of heroine-lust throughout the years. It was fun to see, like Ellis, how these women hold up under further scrutiny.
Nancy Drew- ages 7-9
Nancy Drew was my first girl love. I devoured those books. I wanted to be just like her. I wanted titian hair (I convinced myself it was close to the ashy auburn I had in real life) and while I didn’t want MY mom to die, I certainly admired the freedom that great tragedy apparently lends you. I loved Nancy. I saw nothing unbelievable in any of those books, just amazing wonderful stories about an amazing wonderful woman.
Of course, I’ve read them again. As a grown-up. And honestly guys, they’re all the same book. Like. For serious. With different weapons. I realize now that there was no reason for her to be doing LITERALLY anything she does in those books, and for someone with no formal education and a freaking housekeeper she knew how to do literally everything.
And she was kind of a jerk to Bess about her body. Which as a mom with a mom bod I DON’T APPRECIATE NANCY.
I still love her.
Saddle Club Girls- ages 9-13
Oh these girls. Rich, happy, literally nothing touches them. I wanted to be all three of them at different times, depending on what actual crap was going on in my life. I mean, Carole’s mom is dead and presumably that’s hard to handle, but would you know it? Nope. Good ole Col. Whatever His Name Was is the perfect chaste widower dad and Carole grows up without an adoptive mother desperately googling “CHILD OCD SPECIALISTS IN *AREA*”
Oh sorry. Too close?
Cathy Earnshaw- age 12
I read Wuthering Heights for the first time when I was 12, sitting on the floor in my grandpa’s hospital room. I was still pretty unsure of what the actual mechanics of sex were, but it sounded a lot like what Cathy and Heathcliff wanted to get up to in that big old gothic mansion. And that sounded like fun.
In most of these fantasies, the role of Heathcliff was played by my grandfather’s middle aged Jewish cardiologist, a dude named Leonard.
It was a pretty boring time in my actual life.
As an adult, I’m like dear Lord guys, GET OVER YOURSELVES. First of all. Love is not that grand. It’s wonderful. And amazing. BUT NO ONE LITERALLY DIES OF A BROKEN HEART. Sheesh. Go clean something or I don’t know, TRY LOVING YOUR ACTUAL SPOUSES.
(And hey, if my husband ever asks why I was so dead set on staying at a castle on our honeymoon it definitely was not because of this book. Not. At all.)
Betsy Ray, age 9-whenever I die.
I read the Betsy Tacy books in reverse order- I found Betsy’s Wedding in a resale bin at the library and read it when I was like nine or ten. And then I fell in love with it and went back and read all of them and THEY ARE AMAZING GUYS GO GET THEM FOR YOUR CHILDREN. I have like three copies of each book.
But it’s the Betsy from Betsy’s Wedding that speaks to me the most, still. She’s honest and in love but not flighty and she and Joe make a real life together. And (most importantly I think) she admits when she’s being obnoxious as I tend to be obnoxious to my husband and need help admitting it. I’m suuuuper bad at admitting it. But Betsy’s not. She goes to church and is like, “All right God. Help me out here. I’m not being the best wife I can be and I need help.” And guess what? He helps her! Because He’s God. And that’s what He does. And THESE BOOKS SERIOUSLY GO BUY THEM.
As a mother, and someone who is not necessarily a writer but struggles with feeling like she has let all of herself go in the process of getting married and having children, watching Betsy struggle with that as well but not shirt her place int eh family is inspiring.
Scarlett O’Hara, age 12
This was my brief, not-so-flattering phase where I walked around saying things like “I don’t know why everyone whined about slavery.”
(Editor’s Note: I understand completely why everyone abhorred, not whined about, slavery.)
I fell hard for Book Rhett and hated Movie Rhett though so I had trouble reading it again after the initial one. I did keep a list of dirty parts written on a page and tucked in my copy. Because I was a little pervert apparently.
Now, I see Scarlett as she is- spoiled, manipulative, and completely unaware of her dignity as a woman. But with a seventeen-inch waist.
The Second Mrs. DeWinter, age 15
Guys, I loved Rebecca. Another English country manor on the moors where people moped around and loved inappropriate people and had sex in four-poster beds…huh, teenage Kathleen was a little weird, I’m starting to realize now.
Anyway. The Second Mrs. DeWinter is married to an older guy whose wife died tragically and she was young and pretty and sexy and perfect and dead so she gets to stay that way. And, you know, we get to know her name.
#2 mopes through the book, unmoved basically even by admissions of murder and tries to be like Rebecca and even lets her maid dress her up like Rebecca for a party which at the time I thought was tragic, not weird.
(It’s weird, guys.)
I read it over and over again for years until I met a widower and realized I was going to marry him but decided I wanted my children to know my real name. I know, selfish.
Also, you need a lot of chutzpah in that situation. #2 had negative chutzpah. She was a wet, whiny blanket. In fact, I have so many thoughts about this that I think I’m going to read my copy again and blog it. So get excited.
What about now, you ask? These were all fifteen years ago. You’re thirty now, Kathleen. Married, two kids, established in your community. Who are your heroines now?
Easy. My mom. The Blessed Mother. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. My faithful and loving friends. My sister. My daughter.
They really have it figured out. None of those ladies (except Betsy) really did.
Even if there is way less mansion sex in real life.
(And by less I mean none. No mansion sex.)
(It’s okay. A real, true, life-giving marriage is even better.)