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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Searching for a heroine

<ir="ltr">If there is one way I usually introduce or characterize myself, it is by declaring my love for classical British literature. Through early middle school to current day, reading novels by Jane Austen and the Bronté sisters has been my favorite way to pass time. While there are definitely reasons why I would never want to be a member of the English gentry, I can’t help but get caught up in the romance and the splendor of the lives of the women Austen and the Brontes write about.

Recently, I read Samantha Ellis’s How to be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading too Much. After I read it, I couldn’t help but sigh in exasperation: Samantha Ellis had basically written my life story. She revisits the books that she read throughout her lifetime, analyzing what made her think that the heroines were great and criticizing her early view with what she knows to be true about life now. While I didn’t read all of the books that Ellis did, I certainly identified with loving Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudcie, and Charlote Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

Unlike Ellis, however, I despised the heroine of Wuthering Heights. Ellis lauded her for being so romantic, so passionate. I found Cathy Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights to be self-sabotaging, inauthentic, and cruel. (This is not an English essay, so I feel that I can make these claims with less evidence than usual. Spoiler alert: Cathy ends up with a man other than the one she loves. She values advancing in society over her love for Heathcliff.) I suppose there is something beautiful in Cathy’s declaration that “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” To that, I say: then why did you leave him, Cathy?

Cathy was supposed to be the romantic heroine, and for Ellis, she was. Yet what Ellis comes to realize is that, when she was aspiring to be Cathy, she should have been modeling her life after Jane Eyre. When I first read Jane Eyre, I found in her everything I had been missing from a heroine. Jane has her own morality, her own guiding compass that she will not compromise to please others. She is compassionate and curious, but most importantly, she is independent. She makes her own choices. She leaves Gateshead, then Longwood, then Thornfield, mostly in charge of her own destiny. She chooses love when it is right for her. She “cares for [herself]” as she so boldly declares to Rochester. Jane wasn’t like Cathy by any means.

I see a trend in the heroines that I love, a trend that marks them from Cathy. While Cathy is self-indulgent and careless in her passions, Jo March, Lizzie Bennet, and Jane Eyre were not. Jo March was passionate about writing, didn’t agree to marry a man because she didn’t truly love him (even though he was rich and lovely), and ended up living a happy life. Lizzie Bennett was headstrong in love, but not selfish like Cathy. Lizzie refuses inauthentic proposals and proposals that simultaneously profess love for her and throw shade to her whole family and existence (shout out to Mr. Darcy). In the end though, she listens, learns, and stays true to herself, helping out her sisters above her own needs and falling in her love.

We need even more heroines like Jo, Lizzie, and Jane. We need to read at a young age about women who are unapologetically themselves, who value love of all kinds (familial, friendship, romantic). We need to read about women who pursue careers and dreams. We need to read about women who don’t always succeed, but who persevere (as all women do).  We need to read about women who make their own decisions. The list goes on for what I’d like the future generation to read about when they look for heroines. I hope we all look for heroines and continue to find them, and if we don’t find one that we can identify with: make your own. Better yet: be your own heroine.

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