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Monday, July 27, 2015

She's Like Heroine to Me

Back in the ‘50s and ’60s, finding an inspirational, strong, nonconformist heroine (in books) wasn’t easy. I wanted one. Needed one!

If a little Kennedy/Johnson/Nixon era girl wanted to grow up to be a schoolteacher, a mommy or a nurse there were myriad examples in life and literature. If hopes and dreams differed? Eh, good luck.

I just finished a tremendously interesting book by Samantha Ellis, a British playwright, titled How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I've Learned from Reading Too Much. I swear, Ms. Ellis wrote this for me! OK, mebbe not so much. Still, the entire way through, I felt like I was sitting in a café, sipping my Jamo while having a deep convo with a kindred spirit.

I looked for heroines, role models, in books too. We moved so damn often that it was impossible to find honest to god, real ones within any of the towns where we'd land. Perhaps, even if we stayed in one place for more than a year or two, I still wouldn’t have met any potential heroines. After all, second wave feminism was just beginning.

Like Ellis, I was mad for Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables. I envied her only childness. Granted, she was a late adopted kiddle and initially unwanted (Marilla wanted a boy to help her brother with the farm. Why couldn’t a girl do that, I thought!) BUT she’d found a home, friends, love. She was able to go her own way pretty much—to be the creative, lively soul that she was meant to be.

Seemed ideal. Samantha Ellis faults author L.M. Montgomery for having Anne give up on her authorial dreams, her writing, to be a mother. Well yes, there is that. Why couldn’t Anne write AND be a mother? If I’m remembering accurately, Anne was a teacher. At least she had a noble career.

Why did women in books always have to marry and have children? For my part (and Ellis’ too I gather), I wanted a heroine who wasn't all about hooking up with some dude. I wanted one who made her own aspirations bloom for herself.

There was Nancy Drew who never grew up—a perpetual teen sleuth.
Nancy Drew, a sixteen-year-old girl in the suburb of River Heights, visits a friend and learns of a mystery, typically involving a lost treasure or a missing heir. An anonymous note slipped under her door warns her, “Keep off the case, or else”; high jinks and a car chase ensue. While sleuthing, Nancy gets knocked out by a crook, and comes to in an elegant old mansion (“Nancy saw lovely damask draperies, satin-covered sofas and chairs”), where she partakes of a refreshing tea service and cinnamon toast; renewed, she discovers a secret passageway, thanks to a cunning knob of some kind, rapidly solves the mystery, and restores social order.
In our house, her mysteries weren’t considered fine, intellectual reading. She was a guilty pleasure, read on the sly.

I was mad about Anne Frank after reading The Diary of a Young Girl.

"I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.”
But she doesn't get to live, to grow and glow. Neither, to my mind, did any of my other heroines who went on to marry the prince stand-in and have a herd of kiddles. Harsh yes BUT I really, truly did not want to have to be a mother. I wanted choices just like everyone else.

Who are the heroines for young girls now?

Hermione Granger? Katniss Everdeen? Lyra Belacqua? Buffy? Frankly, I prefer Faith, she has a much more interesting story arc.

Back to Samantha Ellis’ awesome book though—she talks about all her faves like old friends, dissecting and analyzing their lives.

Of The Little Mermaid:
“It seems that Operation Win The Prince is a go, but sadly the prince is unworthy of the Little Mermaid’s love. He pets and calls her ‘dear little foundling,’ but he doesn’t twig that she’s the one who saved him from the shipwreck…”
“I can’t quite believe that I was so keen on a story about a mermaid who gives up her legs to get a man.”
At home, in bed with Rocco, I found myself yelling ‘I KNOW. Tell me about it!’

Poor cat ran for safety.

Of Little Women:
“I never realized before that in Little Women, each March sister is tamed, one by one, apart from Beth, who doesn’t need taming because she’s a personality-free doormat.”
And Rocco was zipping off for his secret closet hideaway as I cried ‘Tell it sistah!’

Of Gone With the Wind, she writes (amongst other things):
"The most direct result of reading Gone With the Wind again is that I have become more assiduous about using hand cream”
Heh. Yes.

She included one of my all time favorite quotes.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”
~Nora Ephron
And yes, this tune's been playing on the old internal turntable since I picked up this fab book.

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