The story of a woman who must travel from place to place searching for love or freedom or answers has been told for centuries.
–Jody Gentian Bower - Jane Eyre's Sisters - c.2015
Don’t you just love it when you pick up a book at random thinking it looks vaguely interesting and then you devour it? That is what happened me with this book. I spotted it among the new books at the library and almost didn’t pick it up, mainly because I haven’t been into non-fiction all that much this year, and also non-fiction literary criticism can be very dry and academic and, to put it bluntly, boring.
But it was talking about the heroine’s journey in literature and sure, if I didn’t take to it, I could always toss it.
There was no need to toss it. In fact I think I might have to buy a copy for myself because it is the sort of book that I could return to, even if just for a chapter every now and then. Plus there are notes and further reading, you know, because I don’t have enough to read as is.
Jane Eyre’s Sisters is a book all about women in literature, and sometimes in real life, and in pop culture. So you have, obviously Jane Eyre mentioned herself, but we also get mentions of BSG’s Starbuck and Buffy the vampire slayer and Game of Thrones.
And there is so much in this book that struck a cord with me that I was hard-pressed not to write down everything, as it is I have a fair few quotes on my tumblr [ref]excuse the typos I was often typing on the phone[/ref]
Bower focuses on the idea of the Aletis as the female archetype in literature. She is the wandering heroine who often sees herself as an outsider in her own home or community and so at some point she leaves home. She wanders from place to place. Often she goes to another woman, a witch or learned woman, and learns from her. When her lessons are complete, she moves on. Often she wanders. Sometimes she returns home. But always she is changed by her experiences.
Bower contrasts that with the hero’s journey. Yes, he leaves home too, but more often he is almost forced into leaving by the appearance of a mentor/wizard, whereas the Aletis chooses herself to go. A mentor looks for the hero whereas the Aletis is the one to search out the mentor and she is the one to decide to leave, unlike the hero who often loses his mentor through death, at a time when he still wants that mentor along.
And straight away I thought about how in the Wheel of Time series you can see both the Aletis and the Hero begin their journey in the Emond Fielders. Male and female alike leave, but the boys are urged, the girls (Egwene and Nyneave) chose to leave. They then travel on to learn from the powerful females and again, leave of their own choosing [ref]or are tricked into leaving, but still, they make the decision[/ref] whereas Rand, Perrin, and Mat are forced away from their respective mentors. Perrin is taken away from Elyas and the wolves by the Whitecloaks. Mat & Rand are taken under Thom’s wing but lose him to a Fade. And later Rand loses Moraine to the rings. [ref]yeah, this all means nothing to all you non-WOT readers, but think about heroes in popular culture and contrast that with heroines and see what happens.[/ref]
I’m not so sure about the ending of the journey and how it fits. But still, that certainly struck me.
I also loved how Bower talks about a woman’s right to be selfish. No one thinks it strange if a man is career driven, but for a woman to be so is almost an affront to other people. She is cold and unnatural. And not only does Bower point this out, but she also says that this is a bad thing for men as well as women. And that it is terrible for those people who are truly devoted to being parents; that devotion is not recognised because it is a role that everyone is just expected to fall into.
I could probably talk about this book forever. And I’m sure I’ll think about it as I read other books in the future. You should read it, it may be literary criticism with a sociological/feminist slant, but give it a try. It is very accessible and easy to read. Highly recommended.