My View: What makes a great heroine?

A while ago through my research around my studies, I came across this article on The Guardian whilst doing some essay research for my Austen and Brontes module. It reviews Samantha Ellis’s biblio-autobiographical How to Be A Heroine:

I found the article very provoking in terms of the ideals that heroines present to their readers in novels. The classic for me is Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. I have always maintained I would have loved to have lived in the romantic Recency era of courtship and gentlemenly pursuits,where morals and behaviour were paramount to a persons’ reputation. Then I received the sudden jolt that comes with being absolutely deceived in any previous misconceptions I had about love. I always knew that gentlemanly chivalry was severely lacking in the 21st-century and I thought I’d re-discovered it when I immersed myself in reading Pride and Prejudice year after year. However, like the classic deceit of the Disney princesses who make young girls believe the first man they meet will be their ‘Prince Charming’, the more I read Elizabeth Bennet’s story, the more I felt like she was letting me down.

Ellis describes a similar moment of anagnorisis when her friend suggests Jane Eyre is a more suitable role model and heroine than Cathy Earnshaw. Although the discovery devastated Ellis’s illusions of true love in Wuthering Heights, I can’t help but feel that Jane Eyre simply plops herself into the same ‘disappointing-heroine’ boat as Elizabeth.

I read Wuthuring Heights at the height of my cynicism about love and relationships and I can only describe myself as incredibly satisfied that what had been described to me as “the greatest love story”, was actually a realistic depiction of the lies and betrayal that occur in a relationship. In my bitter misanthropy I felt pleased that Cathy and Heathcliff never had their chance at real true love together, that both the characters either through marriage or death experienced the loss of each other and the full impact of their mistakes.

On the other hand, we have my complete disillusionment with Elizabeth Bennet, when, after her strong-minded independence and rejection of two marriage proposals despite them being in her best interest, she then proceeds to turn her morals on their heads and live happily ever after. Her complete subversion of everything a 19th-century woman should be is what makes her such an appealing and identifiable character, paving the way for early feminism and the ‘new woman’ ideals.

Then she marries him.
As does Jane Eyre to Mr. Rochester.

Why is it necessary to remove all the values of a heroine which made them so initially lovable to the reader?

As Ellis relates in her book, she hated Dickens for killing Nancy in Oliver Twist. Why? Because she was the female character embodying independence and wit, which made her so lovable to the reader and audiences. So why kill her? Because she didn’t fit that Victorian gender norm? Because her unconventional character would disrupt the ‘natural’ progression and ending of the story.

The reinstatement of conventional behaviour in both Elizabeth and Jane are simply plot devices allowing Austen and Bronte to reconcile their novels to the 19th-century readership. Ultimately, readers could take from characters what they wished. I could chose to take the stories of the Disney princesses as true and realistic. But they aren’t. I can choose to take the character of Elizabeth Bennet pre-marriage OR post-marriage as my role model. But the fact is that the two sides of her character cannot be reconciled in our time. A time when a female becoming their husband’s ‘possession’ is quite frankly a ridiculous idea.

Time and era is essentially what it comes down to then. I choose to take the pre-marriage Elizabeth Bennet as my role model, whilst the Regency era would have chosen the post-marriage Elizabeth as theirs, as an image of prevailing hope for any girl who can’t find a suitable match.

And that is why I think Cathy Earnshaw is a better heroine. Not because of what she does; she still gets married and has children as is expected of her. I think she is a better depiction of a heroine because she doesn’t gain the fulfillment that the reader expects her to ultimately – she never gets to marry Heathcliff and her death renders any chance of that impossible. Subversion of readers’ expectations is what I think ultimately makes a great heroine.

But maybe that’s just my cynicism. What does everyone else think?


Say Hello to the New Chief Copy Editor for UEA’s Student Newspaper!

The hectic last few weeks and lack of blog posts for a couple of weeks has finally paid off as last week I found out I had been successful in my application for copy editor of Concrete, my university’s student newspaper.

The job is unpaid but massively rewarding as I get to see the result of my hard work and the rest of the senior editing team in the fortnightly publication of the paper. But I found a lot of my friends asking what the position actually involved…

Copy Editor is mostly considered US terminology for what we would call a Sub-Editor. However, the distinction seems to be less important now and as that is the title I’ve been given and the job description is the same then Copy Editor it is!

The copy editor essentially designs (which is called lays out or lays up) the pages of the paper. It is their responsibility to edit, proofread and cut copy (main text) to an acceptable standard to print. Often the role can involve re-writing or re-wording of sentences or even headlines and captions in order to create the most effective and visually impacting article for readers.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, the world is moving into the online sphere. So the world of editing now often involves lay outs of articles on online applications or on-screen programmes. I’ve had to learn many of the basics for such a programme in order to speed up the editing process to meet print deadlines.

Concrete, the university student newspaper has been around for over 20 years now and is a free fortnightly paper which can be picked up all around campus and at many locations within Norwich. Some of the sections include, News; Features; Lifestyle; Travel; Sport; Comment. It also has a cultural pull-out called Venue which covers Arts; Music; Fashion; Creative Writing and much more.

In the past the paper has received awards for its achievements including Best Student Newspaper of the Year from both The Guardian and NUS.

I’m really looking forward to getting involved in such an exciting experience and meeting the new team of editors that I will be working with, as well as appreciating the sense of achievement from being involved in a newspaper such as this.

Check out Concrete at: