While debating literature’s greatest heroines with her best friend, thirtysomething playwright Samantha Ellis has a revelation—her whole life, she's been trying to be Cathy Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights when she should have been trying to be Jane Eyre.
With this discovery, she embarks on a retrospective look at the literary ladies—the characters and the writers—whom she has loved since childhood. From early obsessions with the March sisters to her later idolization of Sylvia Plath, Ellis evaluates how her heroines stack up today. And, just as she excavates the stories of her favorite characters, Ellis also shares a frank, often humorous account of her own life growing up in a tight-knit Iraqi Jewish community in London. Here a life-long reader explores how heroines shape all our lives.
While growing up in London's Iraqi-Jewish community, Ellis knew early on that she didn't want the happy ending her parents wanted for her: "marriage to a nice Iraqi-Jewish boy." In this charming memoir, playwright and journalist Ellis revisits and reevaluates the books that, in childhood and young adulthood, she read to figure out what kind of woman she wanted to be. Her journey begins during an argument with her best friend about which of the Bront sisters' heroines is best, when she realizes that, rather than Wuthering Heights' tumultuous Cathy Earnshaw, she should have been defending rational, clear-sighted Jane Eyre. She goes on to revisit her early admiration for Anne of Green Gables, Lizzy Bennett, and Franny Glass, while also admitting that some of her heroines fall short today, whether because they are too insipid (The Little Princess) or preachy (Little Women). She's unsparing even toward her all-time favorite novel, Wuthering Heights, finding Cathy and Heathcliff's love "the kind... that could only be written by someone who had never been in love." Likable and open about her own vulnerabilities as well as her characters', Ellis concludes that "maybe it's by appropriating our heroines that we become heroines ourselves."