How to be a heroine - and get a bunch of new female friends

It's the kind of book I gobbled up, wanting to go slow to savour it - but unable to stop

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The Independent Online

I’ve been catching up with some old friends of late, and, I hope, have met some new ones. They’re all women (or girls) and they’ve all been introduced, or reintroduced, to me by a writer called Samantha Ellis. Her new book, “How to be a Heroine (Or, what I’ve learned from reading too much)”, is about the fictional female characters who have an important place in her life as well as on her bookshelf.

Some of Ellis’s heroines - Jane Eyre, Cathy Earnshaw, Katy Carr, Lizzie Bennet, Flora Poste - are great pals of mine, too. Some I’d never heard of but would very much like to get to know - Franny Glass, Lolly Willowes, Mary Yellan - and some I’ve heard of, but haven’t ever spent any time with - Scarlett O’Hara, the “Ballet Shoes” gals. Ellis introduces them warts and all, explaining how she felt about them when they first met, how they’ve inspired or annoyed her over the years and the role they’ve played in her life so far.

Hers is the best kind of book: one that I gobbled up, wanting to go slow to savour it but unable to stop reading until it was all gone. One that made me want to run to the bookshop to buy copies of novels I’ve never got round to reading and devour those, too.

The other old acquaintance I reconnected with recently is my namesake. Gorgeous, horrible, (SPOILER ALERT) murdered Rebecca De Winter, Daphne Du Maurier’s great creation who my mother named me after (something I’m still not sure whether to be honoured or worried about). Mum is a huge fan of the Hitchcock film and forced me to watch some of it the other day for the first time. Having read the book a few times over the years, associating first, as a teenager, with the nameless young narrator who had form for sobbing like a One Direction fan, and later with the rather more swashbuckling Rebecca, it was strange to see the characters on screen. Except for the heroine (well, possibly the anti-heroine - Rebecca was a total cow) who is only ever described by others. never seen herself. Poor Rebecca. No wonder she’s so vile. Never getting a chance to put her side across while everyone slagged her off.

Still, while she’s one of my favourite characters, I don’t think of her as a friend. Too mad, too bad and definitely too dangerous to know. 

Samantha Ellis, on the other hand, is someone who I’d very much like to have as a friend. So it’s lucky that I can dip into “How to be a Heroine” and meet up with her and the girls whenever I like.