Sunday, 16 November 2014

Forty Days: Pt 29 (Heroines)

I have run out of time today, this is going to be short (busy day doing almost nothing, watching Ze 'Unger Gemms, losing at chess and eating pho).

So I finished the lovely heroines book and it was moving and astute and fascinating, going from Catherine Earnshaw to Scheherazade via Judy in Lace and all points in-between. It's interesting, this idea of constructing yourself, or bolstering the self you want to become, through books and through their heroines. Clearly the process of absorbing and being influenced by a heroine isn't a conscious one and this book is a looking back and unpicking of all those unconscious influences, but the idea is that they did leave a lasting imprint of some kind; a suggested roadmap how to be a woman, right or wrong, appropriate or disastrous.

But it made me think that I'm not sure I have literary heroines and I can't even remember any from when I was little. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps because I am such an enlightened and evolved being that I require no external inspiration to self-actualise and assume my ultimate form, hem hem. I read so much growing up, but no one seems to have stuck in my mind as a formative influence. Real life heroines, sure. French actresses, absolutely. Authors, emphatically (Colette, Muriel Spark, Miles Franklin, Jean Rhys, Carson McCullers, Donna Tart..). Literary heroes? Loads. Just William, Jeeves, Sherlock Holmes, Rumpole of the Bailey, Lord Peter Wimsey... But literary heroines? Hmm.

This is a cheat and utterly obscure, but there was Christine McKenna. I read her memoir about learning to ride side-saddle to be in Flambards and for several years it was my Ultimate Book - horses and acting (I wanted to be an actress when I was little, somewhere after 'boxer' (7-8) and  'three day eventer' (9-11) and before 'French' (16-30)). She was funny too. Does this even count? I don't think it does, she's not fictional.

I mentioned Gwendolen Harleth last week but she's absolutely not the kind of heroine you aspire to be: she's proud and bad and wrong-headed and things turn out badly for her. Who else? Miss Jean Brodie? Becky Sharp? Maddie and Verity in Code Name Verity are pretty fabulous.. I feel like I'm missing someone, or lots of people. I would want steely courage and humour in a worthy heroine, no drippiness or sanctimony or getting in a flap about plays, zzzzzz Fanny Price. Who haven't I read, or who have I forgotten? Who are your literary heroines?

19 comments:

Jo said...

Miss Marple, mainly for multi-tasking, knitting AND solving crimes. Also, Lucy Eyelesbarrow in 4.50 From Paddington. She is a force of nature. And Miss Oliver. Writes novels, eats apples, is continuously wrong about whodunnit. I think she is a marvellous role model.

I also love Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series. The first book opens with 11yo Tiffany conducting an experiment involving monsters, using her little brother as bait. She dispatches the monster with a frying pan and goes on to have a successful career as a witch. Now there is a heroine I can relate to.

Anonymous said...

Bridget Jones, for being hopeless and damned good at it. Jeeves second.

the auntologist said...

Pippi Longstocking, Laura Ingalls, Harriet Vane, Kivrin from The Doomsday Book, Professor McGonagall. I'll have to think about who else.

the auntologist said...

Yes, Tiffany Aching! I love her!

Katrijn said...

Pippi Longstocking, Ronia the Robber's Daughter, Thura from 'Kinderen van Moeder Aarde' (I don't think this has been translated), Hasse Simonsdochter from the novel of the same name (also not translated), although thinking back both of them are high on steely courage and low on humour. Rachel Walsh from Rachel's Holiday (Mammy Walsh too, actually) for being my worst self and turning out surprisingly well, currently the mothers in Jip en Janneke: how do they maintain their equilibrium while stuck at home doing chores with two unstoppable naughty toddlers? (And why am I reading these stories to my own toddlers?)

Margaret said...

Nancy Drew! The early ones where she was an intrepid girl detective with her own car and no lame boyfriend.

Mrs Jones said...

Lucia, from the Mapp & Lucia books.

Lizabeth Salander aka the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

mountainear said...

I was thinking Scarlett O'Hara because, well, she could wear curtains and knew what she wanted and was damned well gonna get it, but decided she was a bit of a bitch. Melanie? too soppy.

It might have to be Mrs Miniver - does she count?

HelenB said...

Lettuce from On the Flip Side - for kicking ass
Pippi Longstocking - for kicking ass, gingerly
Jo from Little Women - for kicking ass in long skirts
Orlando - for kicking gendered ass

cruella said...

I was v-e-r-y taken with Jill Crewe of the Ruby Ferguson horsey books when I was in middle school. Her ability with horses, disdain and wit impressed me no end.

Anonymous said...

My best friend IS Tiffany Aching crossed with Agnes the opera singer - she can belt out exquisite high coloratura with a hand up a sheep! My OTHER best friend (can't choose between them) has a face like a happy apple, a disgusting laugh and a wonderfully disgraceful history; basically the embodiment of Nanny Ogg..whereas I am the Weatherwax beast in training with a broomstick up my bum and a fierce glare/horrific spell for anyone being mean to something weaker than themselves. They call me Esme and it is a compliment..sort of. I'm so grateful Pratchett wrote them for us to grow into.

My Blyton heroines were a bit lesbotic with hindsight: George, because her dog slept on the bed and Bill, because she had a horse called Thunder who she adored. BTW I remember utterly outraged by Julian's condescension to Anne that she would make a great little housewife one day, but INCENSED by her response: "Anne glowed with pride." Never mind the bloody racism...

Skink from Carl Hiaasen's fabulous Florida books shows me what it means to be a proper environmentalist..stinky and skeeter ridden..but his vengeance against the man is so so sweet.

Very few heroines were independent enough for me to truly warm to them, but that thought has prompted a lovely memory of Emmeline in the A A Milne poem. Her hands were "purfickly clean" and she hadn't just wiped them on the curtains at all...

Sal aka Esme

Motb said...

Anne of Green Gables
Deborah Grantham - Faro's daughter by Georgette Heyer

Anonymous said...

Miles Franklin and Jean Rhys are my all-time heroes. I gave Good Morning, Midnight to a friend to read; she gave it back, looked at me oddly and said it was beyond depressing. Tried to explain that's what makes it uplifting. Failed, and never saw said friend again.
Sasha (real name so it really spoke to me. Actually discovered Jean Rhys when this book fell off a Parisian bookshop shelf, landing at my feet)

Patience_Crabstick said...

Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Nancy Drew, Belinda Bede from Some Tame Gazelle. There must be dozens of others but I can't think of them right now.

JJ said...

Susan Calvin. I still want to be her.

When I was little, Nancy Drew. And I'd like elements of Esme Weatherwax and, maybe this is an antiheroine, but I loved Amy's control in Gone Girl.

I really like the heroines in these two books too - Becky Masterman Rage Against the Dying and All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Eye by Christopher Brookmyre.

(What happened to Christopher Brookmyre anyway? I stopped reading when it all got unnecessarily gory and violent. But I might read the upcoming book because I have a crush on Jack Parlabane.)

Waffle said...

JJ - oh yes, the early Christopher Brookmyre's were so FUNNY and clever. Don't know the other one and give your impeccable taste will be seeking out instantly.

Jane said...

One of my favourite literary heroines (in more than one sense) is Thursday Next from the books by Jasper Fforde (the first one in the series is The Eyre Affair) - great stories, and wonderfully funny but also very clever.

JJ said...

On topic: I also wanted to be in the Bene Gesserit.

Off topic: I found the Becky Masterman book by doing regular stalking* of Sarah Weinman and coming across her review.

*god, not really. I mean either she doesn't tweet all of her reviews or I miss them so every so often I try to find the ones I've missed because I love her taste.

Kate said...

I love so many suggestions here.

Seconding:
- Thursday Next (clever, career woman, cheeseholic)
- Laura Ingalls Wilder (independent, resourceful, taught me very useful housekeeping tips)
- Esme Weatherwax (older role model, feisty even though I hate that word)
- Jill Crewe (God I love those horse books and I still use her slang expressions today, incomprehensible to anyone else)

Would also suggest:
- Flora Poste (independent, thinks she knows best, obsessive tidier and criticiser) - less a role model and more a guilty acknowledgement that SHE IS ME.
- Rumour, from the Bridget Wood book Sorceress. The book is a bit over the top but Rumour is a wonderful role model - powerful in a feminine way, learned, independent (that's three times I have used that word now - get me to a thesaurus) and a great believer in the power of treating oneself to lovely food, clothes etc as a way to resurrect your self respect after a harrowing time.

Love this post. I haven't heard of the Heroines book but have promptly ordered it as it sounds directly up my alley.