Becoming a Heroine. Reading About Women in Novels

December 2, 2020
Becoming a Heroine. Reading About Women in Novels

Becoming a Heroine is a book about how women define themselvesand their lives in terms of novels. Many of the greatest novels inEnglish have women as their protagonists, and women have alwaysbeen the novels most faithful readers. Why is this so? What is itthat relates women and fiction so intimately?In this spirited and deeply intelligent study, Rachel Brownsteinargues that readers are both affected and reflected by classicEnglish novels, which focus, more often than not, on a girl whosechoosing of a husband amounts to the choosing of a self. In thethree parts of her book—'Being Perfect/' "Getting Married/' and"Thinking It Over "—she defines the ""heroine" as a fiction thatshapes actual lives as well as traditional narratives. For like thecentral character, the novel reader confronts this powerful idea ofthe heroine and like her she is conscious of her own distance fromit.Ms. Brownstein examines exactly how the stories we read influenceour notions of how we should live and seeks to understand hownovelists have construed heroism in feminine life. In fresh,wonderfully nuanced readings of works by Austen, Charlotte Brontë,George Eliot, James, and Woolf, she considers woman-centered novelsas rewritings of romance, and analyzes the thematic links andechoes that connect these works not only to each other but towomen's lives. Her splendidly provocative book shows how goodnovels, intelligent heroines, and careful readers are skeptical ofthe romantic ideal of a perfected, integral self.