Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder

Editors' Note: A while back, we received a lovely email from Erin Blakemore, who had some very kind words for the blog. But that's not the cool part. This is: you see, not only is Erin is a longtime Gone with the Wind fan, she is also a first-time author! Her first book, The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder, debuts in bookstores today.

Erin was kind enough to send us a review copy of her book, which explores classic literary heroines and includes a chapter on our much-loved Scarlett O'Hara. So today we're delighted to offer you a look at
The Heroine's Bookshelf.  Also, be sure to stay tuned later this week for an interview  with Erin about her book, literary heroines and, of course, GWTW and Scarlett. Thank you to Erin for her generosity and kindness in sharing her book with us. Congratulations to you!
--iso and Bugsie

It starts with a heroinea larger-than-life, unforgettable heroine. Boil down the many divergent reasons why all of us are fans of Gone with the Wind and you’ll find that the reality is actually quite simple: the story of Scarlett O’Hara moved us at some intrinsic level, so much so that we return to her story again and again, trying to unlock what made her tick, sharing in her triumphs, mourning in her epic defeats. Scarlett’s journey is both her own and ours. 

And it is this very kind of intersection—the literary journey of the heroine and the emotional journey of readerthat Erin Blakemore explores in her insightful new book, The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Heroine’s Bookshelf takes twelve classic heroines down from the bookshelf to explore the enduring values modern women can learn from their literary sisters. You’ll find many familiar and well-loved characters within its pages: Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennet, Jo March, and Anne Shirley, among others (including Scarlett O’Hara for us Windies).

The Heroine’s Bookshelf examines each heroine in light of her defining characteristic (ex: Anne Shirley embodies ‘Happiness,’ while Scarlett O’Hara naturally represents ‘Fight’). Blakemore offers reflections, at turns both poignant and funny, about how women can thoughtfully apply these timeless values in a modern world that can be infinitely harried and complex, one that all too often does not allow for moments of introspection. Each chapter also ends with two fun tidbits, “Read This Book” (life situations especially suited to the heroine’s novel) and “Literary Sisters” (a list of literary characters similar to the heroine).

But The Heroine’s Bookshelf doesn’t just discuss these remarkable heroines’ stories in a vacuum. For behind every literary heroine stands another powerful and even more important womanthe author of each book. Blakemore weaves in insights about how each author’s life informed the literary world she chose to create, from great personal joys, in some cases, to devastating life blows, in others. Taken together, the vignettes of both authors and literary heroines come together to offer a meditation about the nature of writing, the enduring meaning of literature and the power of the human spirit. 

Ultimately, there are many adjectives to describe The Heroine’s Bookshelf. “Clever,” “touching” and “insightful” are but some. But if we had to pick just one it would be “timely.” In today’s world, fraught with economic turmoil and flooded with problems large and small, who couldn’t use a little inspiration from some of the bravest, coolest women in literature? We here at How You Do Run On obviously can’t turn that down. We really enjoyed this charming book and we know you will too.

So be sure to check The Heroine's Bookshelf and reacquaint yourselves all over again with the tremendous heroines you know and love. You won't be disappointed.  In fact, it might just make you square your shoulders, gather up your strength and declare "Tomorrow is another day..."


  1. But is there any mention of Eleanor of Aquitaine, tee hee. Thank you ladies.

  2. Sounds like a great book! I'll be keen to read it Erin, well done and congratulations!
    I wonder, does Becky Sharp have a chapter? I love Vanity Fair, and there aren't too many great novels out there with a lovable anti-heroine. I also find it interesting MM chose Thackeray to have Melanie refer to.
    So, please share everyone... apart from our poor old Scarlett, who are your other favourite literary heroines?
    After GWTW, my Austen obsession comes in. I think Lizzie Bennet is super. While I like both Dashwood girls, Elinor is a bit too serious for her own good, Marianne, with her vehement opinions, can be irritating. I like Catherine Morland, and I also like Anne Elliot, though apparently Jane Austen disliked her so much she could barely write about her.
    And I could never bring up this topic without mentioning Celie from The Colour Purple. Alice Walker, you're a genius!

  3. Well, there are 12 heroines in Erin's book: Lizzie Bennet, Scarlett O'Hara, Jane Eyre, Janie Crawford, Anne Shirley, Celie, Francie Nolan, Claudine, Scout Finch, Laura Ingalls, Jo March and Mary Lennox. Read more here: http://theheroinesbookshelf.com/

    My favorite heroines? I'll try to think of some, though my brain is the ultimate attic jumble, so this will be really random. I like Lizzie Bennet, but I think I like Anne Elliot even more. (It's interesting what you say about Jane Austen disliking her. If you read Erin's book, the chapter where she talks about Austen's life actually made me think of Annie more than once.) I also like Jane Eyre, though okay, probably not her whole personality, but I do love the book. I like Connie from Lady Chatterley's Lover. I love Dorothea from Middlemarch, delusional as she is. I like Maud Bailey from Possession. I like for a reason I can't entirely identify Clavdia Chauchat from The Magic Mountain. Isabel Archer from The Portrait of a Lady. And that's all I can think of right now.

  4. I read a biography of Jane Austen last year and that's where I read that. I agree with you, that Jane matched Anne more closely than her other heroines, and perhaps her dislike of her reflected some self-loathing. I think Miss Austen may have lived to regret some of her decisions. But I always believed Lizzie Bennet was to Jane Austen as Scarlett was to MM.
    I'm glad Celie got a chapter. Since that story came my way, I've never been able to not admire that colour...

  5. I really love Emma Woodhouse, which I find interesting, because Jane Austen was so convinced no one but she would like her. I find Emma to be so charming in her self-delusion.

    My favorites in this book are definitely Anne Shirley, Scarlett O'Hara and Jane Eyre--obviously three that are off the CHARTS different.

  6. Interesting...

    "Emma" is the one Austen novel I've never been able to get through, and I think it's largely because I find Emma Woodhouse herself to be annoying. It's given my book club great amusement over the years that I generally have to like a novel's protagonist at least a little bit in order for me to like the book itself. There have been several books we've read over the years that I couldn't finish because I couldn't muster up any sympathy for the main character.

  7. Let's see. My other favorite literary heroines...

    Scarlett ranks right up there, but I'd also add Elizabeth Bennet ("Pride and Prejudice"), Anne Shirley ("Anne of Green Gables"), and Jo March ("Little Women").

  8. Oh yes- I love Emma Woodhouse for the same reason! She's adorably delusional and sort of reminds me of Scarlett in that regard. I also love Anne Shirley- the Anne of Green Gables series was one of my favorites as a kid. Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennet are pretty cool too, although it's been years since I've read either Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice, so they are likely much cooler than I remember. :)

  9. I agree with you on that count Blue, I simply cannot read a book with a protagonist I don't care about.

  10. Iso, you must reread Pride and Prejudice! It's pure brilliance.
    Yes, Emma is like Scarlett in that regard. I wonder at Jane Austen not being able to conceive people's love for this character. I, personally, am drawn to characters that have realistic flaws.


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